Thursday, March 17, 2011

Brownie Reflex (1940-1942).

brownie reflex5


I realized I didn't know anything about shooting film (digital only so far) and, considering how much I love to take pictures, I felt it was high time to expand my knowledge base right now. That's usually how it is with me. I need to figure it out right now, in the midst of a sprained ankle, my car getting broken into, filing my taxes, fighting a bogus parking ticket and shopping for 1-bedroom apartments.  I'm convinced my habit for taking on overly complicated projects I know nothing about during stressful times, is some sort of coping mechanism for the 90%. 

There are a number of easier ways to learn about film and cameras.    Basically any other route besides this one will do. 

My period of interest is the 1940s so I bought a Brownie Reflex which was made between 1940 & 1942. $10 + shipping on ebay.  (At the same time, I also got an Argus C3 from the '40s, for $0.99.  Not a typo- ninety nine cents.  The Argus shoots 35mm film and is my Plan B camera in case the Brownie Reflex project goes to hell in a handbasket).  Looking back on it, I probably should've done more extensive research on the Brownie before I bought it. But in a way it's lucky I didn't because had I known the full extent of what it was going to take to put film in it, I probably wouldn't be posting this now.

This camera takes 127 film. Which is not readily available. It's also not cheap. And you have to have it shipped to you. And then you have to find someone who will develop it for you.  Luckily there's an Option #2 for the budget-minded.  I made a pact with myself that I would not start throwing cash at this project to get it to work.   I would use whatever free or super-cheap means was necessary, including patience, discipline & perseverance.  I figure if I ever make it to the point when, using cheaper Option #2, I'm taking photos with this camera & getting them developed on a fairly regular basis and producing some decent photos that I like,  I will have learned enough about the camera (and dealing with film) to allow myself the luxury of buying 127 film.

First, I took the camera apart and cleaned it. I didn't have the right sized screwdriver for 2 of the screws in the back.  I went to Ace Hardware and they gave me a pen-sized double-headed screwdriver that was the perfect size for my needs - for free.  Go Ace Hardware.

It's relatively easy to take the camera apart and put it back together again with the exception of the mirror.  It took me 2 hours to figure out how to get the mirror back in and the whole time I just knew it was something so obvious that I was going to kick myself when I figured it out.  So I kept at it until the AHA moment hit and then I felt really stupid for 15 minutes.


The camera was really clean on the inside with the exception of the lenses and mirror.  I left the old dust on the lenses to see what kind of effect it has on my finished photos.  It might be cool, it might not, but if I don't like it I can always clean the lenses later. 

Option #2.

Now for the film.  Option #2 involves spooling readily-available 35mm film onto an old 127 film spool with backing paper.  In a darkroom. Or if you don't have a darkroom you can do it in a changing bag.  I'm not renting darkroom space or painting my bathroom window black and buying special light bulbs so I bought a used changing bag.  I don't have a picture of it because it's huge, but it's really nice and it looks like this:

You put your film, camera and any other supplies you need for changing or spooling film into the bag & zip it up (mine has zippers and flaps with velcro to keep the light out).  Then you put your arms through the sleeves and do what you need to do with the film inside the bag.

The changing bag cost $35.  There are smaller, cheaper bags but this one is heavy duty.  I didn't want to be working inside a tiny space with the condensation building up, so I went big and I'm glad I did because with all the practice I've done inside that bag over the last couple of weeks, I can already tell it worth the investment. 

The last purchase I made (with the exception of a few rolls of cheap 35mm film to practice with) was an old 127 spool with backing paper.  It cost $3.50 and I was lucky to get it.  There were only 3 of them available on ebay with the backing paper attached.  Empty 127 spools are more readily available, but the backing paper is extremely helpful or in my case - absolutely necessary.   I only bought one but I wish I would've bought the other 2 because my backing paper is already looking raggedy from all the practice and now there are no used 127 spools with backing paper anywhere to be found.

I'm not going to go into detail about how you do the spooling because there are several  great tutorials out there written by people who actually know what they're doing.  Suffice it to say that there are a lot of steps, it's tricky because you can't see what your hands are doing inside the bag & it takes a lot of practice, patience, determination, perseverance, a rubber band, some scissors, tape, a binder clip and a pair of cotton gloves (cost for the gloves = $0 because I had a pair leftover from the fleur de sel caramel project fiasco of many years ago).

If you did everything correctly inside the bag, it should look like this when you're done:

35mm film spooled onto old 127 backing paper & spool

Then all you have to do is put the base with the spooled film on it into the camera box, lock it up and start winding till you see a #1 in the little red window on the back of the camera.  I got a little ahead of myself and wound right past the #1, but you can see the tail end of it in the red window:

red window

I have no idea how (or even if) the developed pictures will come out, but I'm taking this camera to Vegas this weekend to test it out.

To take a picture, you hold the camera down in front of you and look through the viewfinder to focus the image as the woman on the front of the manual is doing below:

brownie reflex

And this is what looking through the viewfinder of a 1940 Brownie Reflex is like


The mirror image is correct. I had to google that because I thought I put the mirror in all wrong.