Before I even got in to film photography, my mother gifted me a Kodak Brownie — a Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 — complete with original box, manual, and envelope to mail in the film. The camera sat on my shelf for months, until I decided to see about getting some film for it. I had read online that it was possible to use 120 film, so off to Amazon I went. However, upon finding out that using 120 involved modifying the spool to fit into the camera, I abandoned the idea.

Three years and two months into COVID quarantine later, I’d decided to use my newfound free time to start developing my own film, and the idea of dusting off the Brownie sprung up anew. I had known that 620 film was available from the Film Photography Project for some time, but the prospect of spending nearly $4 a shot including processing was just too much. Home development meant I could get that cost down to a mere $2.

Armed with my Brownie, my partner and I set off for a walk through Toronto

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this 70+ year old camera, but I have to say that for such a simple device, I was pleasantly surprised. The camera produces a 6x9cm negative, so there’s plenty of detail, even if it’s not very sharp by modern standards. While film photography is already an exercise in minimalism, shooting with a camera this rudimentary is even more so. You have a shutter lever, two aperture controls, a bulb mode, and that’s it. That coupled with the high cost of shooting it really makes you slow down and consider the images you’re making.

The images — shot on Kodak T-MAX 400 — were adjusted slightly while scanning, but for the most part, they are exactly as they were on the negative. I was worried that a 400 ISO film would mean blown highlights on the sunny day, but it seemed like the opposite was the case with some areas falling deep into shadow, although that might have also been down to vignetting.

While this camera won’t be an everyday shooter, I am excited to run some colour film through it and experiment with some double exposures. Its combination of lo-fi and utter simplicity will probably lead to some interesting results and new creative possibilities. At an average cost of $20, grab one if you can—they’re much more than just decorations!

~ Conor

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Conor McSweeny

Conor McSweeny is a Toronto-based photographer who loves all things film and live music.

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6 Comments

 

  1. I so enjoy seeing a Brownie being used. I’ve collected many Brownies (I’m a fan) and don’t use them enough, so if I can see them in action through others I’m happy.
    Thank you Conor for taking up the challenge, lovely to see your results. I think you’ll also get a kick out of using colour when you give it a try.
    I’m a fan of re-rolling 120 film onto 620 spools, so I usually do a few rolls at a time. I think this way means there are no hiccups, so hang onto any 620 spools you come by.

  2. I have two of that type of camera in my collection, but never consisted shooting with them. Looks like your’s is in very good condition. I’m always concerned about the accuracy of the shutter after a camera like this been sitting around for years without use. But I think those old Kodak snap-shot camera were built well and meant to last for years. I know your average family were occasional photographers and it not unusual for a camera to only have about three to five roll and on a rare occasion you can find one of these antiques with an original roll still in it. My mother gave my sister a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye for Christmas of 1958. She shot two rolls at home and about four rolls on a trip to Yosemite, after that the camera ended up back in the box and sat on her curio shelf. Photos were mostly an after thought or something to relive a celebration, Family Holiday or vacation. Today the Smart Phone has become the Kodak Hawkeye for the 21st Century. There’s no need to worry about film or processing and photos can be immediately viewed and shared on the spot.

  3. Once you’ve used one roll from FFP, you should hang on to the spool and try re-spooling 120 to the 620 spools.
    I’ve not tried it but I think that the following scheme (in a dark bag or dark room) should work.
    1) Roll the 120 roll onto a 620 spool (so it’s now as it will be when finished)
    2) Take the other 620 spool and roll the film back on, taking care when you get to the start of the film. Doing it this way rather than using a 120 spool for the reversal stage should minimize the length differential problem — if there is an excess or shortage you might have to move the fixing tape but hopefully not much.
    3) You now have a properly spooled roll of 620.
    4) Take it out of the dark bag carefully as it’s not taped and load into the camera.
    5) Shoot….

    BTW: @Ben F. I had a similar issue and sheared the end off the winder, just trying to see if glueing a bit of aluminium from an old garden chair onto the stub will work.

  4. I intended to do the exact same thing this week using the nail-clipper hack on a 120 roll. Sadly I cannot seem to get my 6 & 20 open. I’ve tried every way, I now fear I’m going to rip it open. Might be rusted on the inside, maybe although it’s perfectly clean on the outside. Oh well…

    1. Ben F., you probably already know this, but opening that type of Brownie is a two stage operation. In addition to the spring lifted at the top, the winding knob should be pulled out slightly as you turn it. If the knob feels stuck, GENTLY use pliers to help you turn and slightly pull out the knob. As for film, I would not use a modified 120 spool. My Six-20’s don’t have room inside of the case for one of those thicker spools, though your experience may be different. I always re-roll onto an old 620 spool.