Not to be confused with the Target Brownie 620 made in 1941, the Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 was made from 1946 until 1952. It has the Art Deco stripe design on the front plate that was common back in the era of skyscrapers.
Kodak created the Brownie box camera in 1900 as a way to offer photography to the masses at a time when taking photos was largely left to professionals. For $1 the average consumer could take their own snapshots using one of these simple devices. It came preloaded with film and gave you 8 shots. This could be comparable to the disposable cameras we all used in the 1990’s.
Kodak improved the design of their box camera over the years, and by 1932 they decided to create their own film to corner the market even further. Taking the popular 120 film, they changed the 1 to a 6 for the 6 shots the film originally would include, and they rolled the 120 film onto their slightly smaller 620 spool. They even stopped making cameras that took 120 film until they finally realized 120 film was more popular.
Although some 620 cameras can take 120 film if the spool will fit into the film holder, this camera does not. You will have to buy the 620 film from a supplier who hand rolls it like I did from Film Photography Project, or you can respool the film yourself. Doing this second option opens your film up to scratches and dust, but it is the cheaper option.
By the time the Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 was created in 1946, the price for taking your own pictures was $3.50. Like most of the box cameras, it has a meniscus lens, meaning it has one convex side and one concave side like a crescent moon. This lens doesn’t have the best quality, but it does its job and often gives that soft focus, vintage look that instagram tries to duplicate with filters.
The fixed focus keeps you limited to staying 8 feet or more from your subject, unless you have a Kodak portrait lens attachment.
The camera is made up of two parts: the sleeve made of cardboard and leatherette, and the inner works and faceplate made of metal and wood.
The simple rotary shutter is set at one speed of around 1/40th of a second, which matched the slower film speeds at the time it was made. The aperture is set by pulling a slider on the top of the metal faceplate. Pulling up gives you an aperture of f/22 for brighter subjects like snow, and keeping it pushed in gives you an opening of f/16 for ordinary shots.
There is an instant setting and a timed setting switch on the side of the camera above the shutter release lever. You pull it out for the timed setting. The timed setting really is just bulb because you have to hold down the shutter release to keep the shutter open for a timed shot.
The camera has two viewfinders, one on top for portrait style shots and one on the side for landscapes. These viewfinders are often found unusable on old box cameras because the old glue lets go and the mirrors inside end up loose and broken.
I got the opportunity to use one of these Kodak Brownie Target Six-20 cameras because my girlfriend Kelsey was given one by her grandmother. Hers had the common issue mentioned above. One of the mirrors was detached and everything was very dirty and dusty from storage and age.
I removed the front faceplate and easily glued the mirror back on with Gorilla glue after I cleaned everything up. You can see more on this on my YouTube video.
Kelsey’s grandmother sent her some pictures taken of herself and her family with this camera when she was a little girl in 1950’s Missouri.
I wanted to use the camera for the same type of photos that were taken of Grammie, so I had Kelsey pose around our yard the way her family had.
To take a picture with this camera and its very slow shutter, you have to hold it firmly against your body, and hold your breath before releasing the shutter. I didn’t want to take any chances because the sun was going in and out that day, and I have an unsteady hand. So I sat the box on a tripod. I also measured my distance from her using a tape measurer to make sure she would be in focus.
I previously wrote about the lot next door being cleared, and on the day I took these photos the giant trees had just been knocked down. Kelsey had the idea to take a shot of her standing amongst the giants. So I followed her out there with my tripod and took these shots through our fence.
Black and white film today is more sensitive to light than it was back then when they used the red film counter windows on their cameras, so sometimes you will have to tape over these windows to prevent light leaks. I didn’t take this measure in order to see if it was necessary. Only one of my shots had what appeared to be a light leak (picture above), but I can’t be sure if that was the cause.
In the end, I enjoyed using this camera. It was made more enjoyable by knowing the history of the camera and its past. Even though it is considered a “primitive” camera compared to today’s tech, you really have to give people from that era credit as good photographers considering what they had to work with. It is a good challenge for a photographer. Working with a set focus, set slow shutter speed, only two apertures, and no flash really makes it challenging to get good shots. Remember that back in the early 1950’s when this camera was used, they were taking pictures of their kids and around their homes. This isn’t easy with these limited specs. You had to know what you were doing if you didn’t want to waste film. I recommend you give it a try.
I will be posting more box camera reviews this year because I have joined a Facebook group called Project Box Camera. Go check it out. We will be offering a Zine at the end of the year with some of our favorite shots.
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