Bruce Varner Photography


Shooting With The Brownie Hawkeye

--Exposure Details for a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye*--

Updated 07/05/17

This article is designed for the person who needs more information about how to actually capture images using the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera.  There are many articles on the web adequately describing how to evaluate a Hawkeye.  How to clean a Hawkeye.  How to repair a Hawkeye.  Because of this I cover none of those topics on this article.  Instead, the information provided is intended solely to assist the new shooter of the Hawkeye.  My method to accomplish what is for the intended purpose of any camera, to capture images.

Image 1 (Hawkeye Flash Camera Kit)


Image 2 (Hawkeye Camera Used For Testing)


The Hawkeye has: A fixed aperture of “f15”**, and a fixed Shutter of “1/40*** second.  This means that ALL changes to exposure can only be accomplished by using different film speeds &/or filtration.  Therefore knowing what lighting situation you will be shooting in, and choosing the correct film speed with which to load the camera is a critical factor to be determined BEFORE you load the camera. 

My recommendations below are based upon my experiences.  With a stock, fixed shutter speed Hawkeye camera, film speed determines the minimum amount of light under which you can capture a correctly exposed image.  You can and must use filtration to accommodate higher light levels, but the minimum amount of light under which the camera can correctly capture an image is determined by film speed only.  This does not exclude the possibility of manually holding the shutter open to guesstimate the exposure.  While that may work for night shots, it does not work adequately for daytime exposures.  Therefore, I estimate the least light that I expect under the condition I intend to be shooting, and make the film choice based upon that fact.   Then as the light increases I can apply the appropriate amount of filtration to compensate the extra light. 

Also remember that you do not need to be limited to ND filters for filtration.  You can use any of the common filter that are available for other affects, and still achieve the needed light reduction.  This would include filters such as polarizers and color filters.

For Daylight Situations:
-Full Sun
(ISO 50 Film Shot @ ISO 25)

·         Day light scene in full sun with light colored main subject (Light skin, light colored vehicle as main subjects).  This would be the minimum light under which you expect to be shooting.  At or close to the nominal capture using the Hawkeye with this speed film. [f15,1/40”,ISO 25].  Light meter reading at or near ISO 25 with f15 and 1/40' shutter speeds locked in the app.

·         Day light scene in full sun with medium colored main subject (medium skin tone, medium colored vehicle as main subjects).  [f15,1/40”,ISO 25 + 1 Stop ND].  Light meter reading at or near ISO 50 with f15 and 1/40' shutter speeds locked locked in the app.

·         Day light scene in open shade (Medium toned main subjects) [f15, 1/40’, ISO 25, + 4 Stop ND]  Light meter reading at or near ISO 400 with f15 and 1/40' shutter speeds locked locked in the app.

·         Day light scene in deep shade (or very dark toned subjects) [f15, 1/40’, ISO 25, + 5 Stop ND]  Light meter reading at or near ISO 800 with f15 and 1/40' shutter speeds locked locked in the app.


-Overcast (ISO 50 Film  or ISO 100 Film Shot @ Box Speed)

·         Shoot as for Full Sun except that the overcast raises each exposure by 1 or 2 stops.


-Early Morning or Evening (ISO 400 Film or ISO 800 Film SHot @ Box Speed)

·         Shoot as for Overcast except that the lower light raises each exposure by 2 or more stops.


Indoor/Nighttime Situations:
-(ISO 800 Film Shot @ ISO 800 or More)

·         You are limited to situations with enough light to require at least require 1/40’ shutter speed, or

·         Use the “B” bulb setting to make longer exposures.  Because of the inability to use a shutter release and no strong method of keeping camera still, this situation is very tricky.

·         Remember that capturing the moon uses a relatively fast shutter & can be possible.

·         On your own here as there are so many possible lighting conditions.

Image 3 (Front of Hawkeye w/Red Filter + iPhone & app open)


Any accurate light meter can be used to measure the light to determine what the proper exposure should be.  Just remember that the only variable should be the film speed.  Shutter and aperture will remain locked.  The below filters & Neutral Density Film**** strengths can be stacked as necessary to achieve the necessary light reduction for the situation.  For example:

Ø  When shooting B&W film I might use the Red 3 Stop Series 6 filter and additionally stack the 1 Stop ND Film to achieve a total of 4 Stops light reduction.

Ø  When shooting Color film I might use the Series 6 Skylight filter and additionally stack the 1.5 Stop ND Film.  Then also hold the 1.5 Stop Polarizer filter over the lens to achieve a total of 3 Stops light reduction.

Filters I Carry:
1 - Ednalite 25.5mm Slip-on to Series 5 Filter Adapter
1 - Ednalite Series 5 to Series 6 Screw-on Adapter
1 - 2 Stop Kodak Series 6 Yellow K2 Filter
1 - 3 Stop Kodak Series 6 Red Filter
1 - Skylight Kodak Series 6 Filter (Used to hold the ND Film in Place)
1 - 1 Stop Neutral Density Film (Cut to Series 6 Size)
1 - 1.5 Stop Neutral Density Film (Cut to Series 6 Size)
3 - 2 Stop Neutral Density Film (Cut to Series 6 Size)
1 - 1 ½ Stop Polarizer Filter, Hand Held in Place

This is not a camera that you can load before you leave home and use the same film no matter what situation you find yourself in during the day.  Plan exactly what lighting conditions in which you will be shooting and take several options in film speed so that you can make the final decision at the last minute, on the scene based upon the current condition.  As an example: The weatherman says sunny, but you arrive to an overcast sky which may turn to rain.

You may follow all the above suggestions and still very well have significantly less than stellar results.  There are several other considerations to be addressed because of the simple construction of the Brownie Hawkeye.  I have some listed here.

Compensate for the Slow Shutter

As noted above, the Brownies Hawkeye has a fixed shutter speed of approximately 1/40 of a second.  For most of us this is just too slow to reliably hold the camera in an unsupported manner.  The resulting images will not be reasonably sharp at best, and downright blurry at the worst.

The answer is to find a method to steady the camera during exposure.  The Hawkeye does not have a tripod mount, so other means must be used.  Remember that unless you are using the “B” setting, the shutter will function at the 1/40” speed no matter what speed film is loaded.

If there is any solid object around, use it if you can, to set the camera on or to hold it against.  Instead, I always use a tripod.  I remove the base that screws into the bottom of a normal camera.  Instead, I lay some rubbery material over the top of the tripod and always hold the camera very steady down on the tripod to study the camera when releasing the shutter.

Do not forget the act of shutter release.  The Hawkeye shutter release is spongy and has a long travel.  Couple this with the slow shutter speed, and if you do everything else correctly, but fail to have the most soft, slow, deliberate shutter release, the image will be blurry.

Compensate for Less Than Flat Film Plain

The Brownie Hawkeye does not have a method to prevent double exposures.  The shutter of a Hawkeye returns to an always cocked position after you release the button.  Therefore, the shutter can re-open on the same length of film, as many times as you press the shutter.  Because of this, the common advise on such cameras is to always wind the film to the next exposure immediately after a shot is taken, to avoid accidently taking a second image over the last one.  Here I disagree with this philosophy.

In order to determine why, we must first discuss loading film in the camera.  The Brownie Hawkeye method for centering film for exposure is less than ideal.  In more expensive and newer cameras, there is some type of flat surface in the back of the camera that presses on the back of the film at the spot where it is to be exposed.  This pressure helps ensure that the film is a flat as possible when the shutter is released.  The Hawkeye has no such piece.  Therefore loaded film is wound from one film spool to the other, over the sides of the film plain chamber with only the tautness of the winder causing the film to be reasonably flat at the time of exposure.  This was a poor system.

Think about any exposed roll of film you have ever seen or handled.  When hanging free it curls.  Not only does it curl from end to end as expected due to being stored on a spool, but it also curls from side to side, in towards the center.  This is because one side of the film contains emulsion and the other does not.

The loaded unexposed film in a Hawkeye camera does the same thing.  Only the amount is often to a degree that is not easily observed.  Any curve to the film at the time of exposure results in places on that single exposure being in focus and others being more or less out of focus.

Let’s say you are going out tomorrow to shot with your newly cleaned Hawkeye.  To save time tomorrow, you have loaded the camera tonight.  So what happens.  You have the film sitting on exposure #1, all night.  By the time you take your first image the next day, the film has had several hours with that length of the film off of the spool and starting to curl.  The result is an image that it more likely to be less than clear across the full negative.  How best to avoid this?  Do not load you camera until right before you intend on taking images.  Try to take the complete roll of film in relatively short order.

We now come back to winding for each subsequent exposure.  Do not wind the film for the next exposure until you are ready for that next exposure.  This means you must not be absent minded.  If you do you could double expose!  Why give the film any more time than necessary to begin its natural tendency to curl?

Also, you notice that there is nothing at the points where the unexposed roll is attached to the camera that prevents the roll of film from continuing to unroll, except for the tension of the metal clips where the roll is secured.  If you  get in a hurry and roll to the next exposure fast, it could very likely cause the unexposed side spool to ever so slightly excessively unroll.  Again causing the film plain to be less than flat.  Also be very sure that you do not have a tendency to even slightly move the film winding wheel after a wind to the next exposure.  This can also cause the film at the time of exposure to not be flat.  Wind the film slowly and deliberate to each exposure.  Do not turn the knob back, or allow it to hit anything that might cause the knob to be less than taut.

Watch for Flare

The Hawkeye has a glass meniscus lens along with a simple piece of flat glass over the front of the lens.  This makes the camera susceptible to lens flare.  Do not have the camera pointed anywhere near the sun or a strong light when capturing an image.

For initial experiences using the Hawkeye I would use only fresh, brand name B&W film.  Such film has much latitude and is forgiving.  After experience with this film, you will know your camera and any tweaks that might be required before trying a first roll of say, reversal film in your Hawkeye.

Do all these things and you have a chance to obtain acceptable images with this wonderful camera.

Test Rolls:

Below are some images taken with the pictured Brownie Hawkeye to give you an idea of my results with this camera.  Enjoy!

Delta roll Exposed on 07/25/16 using Ilford Delta 400 Shot @ ISO 800.  Light meter readings taken with iPhone “Light Meter” App.  f stop was locked @ f16 & ISO locked @ 800 in the app.  Shutter speed fluctuated by light reading.  f stop difference was then applied to establish the correct light reduction to apply.  Given under each image is the amount (If any) of filtration applied over the shutter to bring the exposure in line with each reading.  Day began bright but overcast and by the end of the shooting session was sunny with clouds.

Pan F roll Exposed on 08/18/16 using Ilford Pan F Plus ISO 50.  Light meter readings taken with iPhone “Light Meter” App.  f stop was locked @ f16 & ISO locked @ 50 in the app.  Day was full sun with sparce clouds.

Film was developed professionally.  I scanned images on an Epson V600 using ViewScan, flat on the glass bed covered with Anti-Newton Ring glass.  Exported each as .tif files.  In Photoshop CC each image had a curves adjustment applied and capture sharpening only to compensate for scanning softness.  I found it very difficult to establish horizontal with the camera.  Notice that most shots were slightly skewed.

Image 4 (Frisco Steam Locomotive Front Shot.  Kodak Pola Screen filter.  20’ distance.  This was 1 1/3 stop filter for the ISO 50 film.  Day was full sun.  Notice the light streak down the side of these images.  Apparentlight leak or film not flat.)


Image 5 (Former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base tower.  Same Kodak Polar Screen Polarizer. 65’ distance.)


Image 6 (Cass County, MO. Court House.  Kodak Polar Screen Polarizer.  Building 48’ distance.  Street light about 15'.)


Image 7 (Cass County, MO. square.  Kodak Polar Screen Polarizer.  Building 40’ distance.  Hydrant about 10'.)


Image 8 (Gas Pump.  Ilford Delta 400 film shot @ 800 ISO.  2 Stop ND Film + Kodak No. 13 Close Up filter. 4’ distance.)



*The information provided in this article is to help provide general real-world guidance to someone wanting to actually shoot film in their Hawkeye.  It is based upon my observances using my equipment.  Someone else obtaining slightly different settings is an understandable occurrence and does not mean that either opinion is false.  Simply produced cameras can provide different results from camera to camera.  However, if you have any knowledge that information I have provided is totally inaccurate, please let me know.  I am not a scientist.

**f15 is my estimated aperture for the Hawkeye.  This is based upon measurements of the aperture for size.  Depending upon where you measure, results in an aperture of f14.5 to f16.  I have chosen a middle figure a my general guide.

***1/40 sec shutter speed was obtained through testing and averaging of numerous shutter speeds from several Hawkeye cameras after cleaning.  I used “Shutter Speed” iPhone app & associated diode that plugs into the iPhone microphone spot to capture these measurements.

**** Neutral Density Film.  Created from sheet film originally created for use in studios to adjust lighting.  Comes in various light-stop values.  Then cut to the same size as a Series 6 Filter.
(If I were to shoot this setup very often, I would grind Cokin Neutral Density Gels into circles this same size & use instead, as they would be much more optically clear.)

Epilogue: People say that going to all this trouble is crazy or stupid!  Well their right, it is.  But then again you made it to this point in the article, which means you must have had some interest in the idea.  So maybe it is not so stupid after all.  I love it when I show an image that was captured with this camera and people say "Wow, I did not know you could capture such a great image with this old thing!"  That is satisfying because at that point you know that the subject matter and the way you presented the image was appreciated, not just how fancy a camera you used.  Remember, stupid is as stupid does..........

Copyright: Bruce Varner 1972-2021