Flipping the lens of a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, 23 September 2023

Flipping the lens of a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, 23 September 2023

Of my little collection of cameras to mess with the lenses, the first one I chose to flip was the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash. I picked this one because it was in really bad shape. The lens was full of haze, the glass on front of the lens was dirty and the viewfinder was also dirty. There's also a chip in the Bakelite body, but I'm not too worried about that because when I've loaded a film I'm going to light proof it with some electrical tape, just like a Holga.

To begin with I thought I should clean the lens, because if the haze was impossible to clean off then I'd not have wasted time taking apart the viewfinder assembly first. Removing the back with the clip under the carry handle reveals the film assembly. At the bottom of the Bakelite cone is the lens with two screws on either side. Using a Philips head screwdriver I removed the cone revealing the lens plate underneath. The whole assembly, including the film transport plate, will come away, its just held on by the two screws. Be careful not to lose anything, especially the circular washer that sits under the lens and holds it firmly in place.

With the lens out I could see that it was completely hazy, almost like ground glass. Using a cotton bud dipped in alcohol I carefully wiped at the lens. The dirt just came off, and I wiped and dried both sides. With a microfibre cloth I cleaned the lens thoroughly. Holding it up the difference was astounding, the lens was completely clear.

After cleaning the plate it was time to reassemble the lens and transport mechanism, but first of all I straightened out the little tab that Kodak built into the plate to stop users using 120 film in their cameras and to force them to use 620 film. Once this tab was out of the way, when a 120 roll was inserted I could now close the camera. 

Reassembly was straightforward, simply a matter of mounting the plate and the lens in its space with the circular washer (now also cleaned) underneath. The only difference was that this time the lens was reversed in its mount.

Now it was time to clean the viewfinder. There are four screws holding the metal plate on the front of the camera. Undo these and the metal plate and the lenses and glass window will just fall out. One thing to remember is that the top screws are really long. Like me, you might need some tweezers to pull these out.

After a thorough clean with alcohol the glass was shining and the plastic clean. The viewfinder assembly was reassembled, which was a bit fiddly, and the screws tightened. The camera is now ready for use. The only mishap was that somewhere along the line I broke off another piece of Bakelite. Fortunately, however, this can still be covered with electrical tape to keep the camera light tight. 

As mentioned before, the camera was intended to be used with 620 film, but this is the same as 120 film although the spool is slightly thicker. I will need to use a 620 spool as the take-up spool, since the tab in the film winder is too small to use with a 120 spool. Also, the best focal distance for a flipped lens Hawkeye seems to be about 5—15 feet (about 1,6—5m) so I will have to choose my subjects carefully. I have a roll of Lomochrome Purple that I'm going to trim down the spool and use as my first experiment. I think this will have the latitude I need for a decent test and I want to use C41 processed film because the lab sends away monochrome film and there's no way I can guarantee to get the film spool back. Hopefully that will be a future post.

Addition, 12 October 2023: After several months the local 'Euro store' has some cheap square mirrors back in stock. After making a Vortoscope I had some mirror left over, so I wondered if I could replace the viewing mirror in the Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Disassembling the front plate was quite straightforward, especially as I had done it previously and I removed the mirror quite quickly. 

The dimensions of the mirror in the Brownie was 21x29mm so I marked out the dimensions on a scrap of mirror, cut a piece to size and refitted it into the camera. The difference was startling,  and the viewfinder now lives up to its name as 'brilliant'.

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