Kodak always seemed to have a firm handle on the concept of branding and how brand longevity increases the product awareness among consumers. It doesn’t really matter if it’s film or actually cameras, they named them, and kept that name through a variety of redesigns to add features, change the film format or maybe just the color. I have 3 Kodak folding pocket cameras.
I’m focusing on 3 specific models of fold-able Autographic type cameras, a medium and a large format roll film cameras.. A large format one, and two medium format cameras. Despite the film sizes and design esthetics of each of the three, they all have several things in common and look very similar at first glance. All three are folding cameras, use roll film, focus using a simple sliding scale that either extends or retracts the bellows and came with simple Kodak lenses and shutters that were both compact and sharp and able to be used for a variety of shooting styles.
They all have a front leg that allows the camera to be set on level surface in order to take a picture without the use of a tripod, although they all do have two of the standard 1/4″ tripod mount on the base, and on the focusing tray, so you wouldn’t be stuck in one aspect ratio when using a tripod.
Kodak Autographic 1A – 116
This is the largest pocket camera I have and is considered a large format camera (I think), shooting 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch images on #116 roll film. As is usually the case with these cameras it’s covered with the standard Black Leatherette on the case and extension plate. The 1A is a big one, it’s about 9 inches wide and 3 inches tall and 2 1/4 inches thick, but still when she’s all folded up in her case, it is super easy to tote around. None of these cameras are heavy by any means, and this behemoth only weighs about 2 lbs fully loaded.
The lens is a Kodak Rapid Rectilinear with Ball Bearing Shutter with speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/75, Bulb (B) and Timer (T). The aperture is another thing altogether and has one of the smallest I’ve seen on these types of cameras at an amazing f/128. It ranges from a respectable f/4 to a time consuming f/128, with a respectable 8 blades in the iris.
The shutter works by simply flipping the lever, pretty standard for these types of cameras. No need to cock it, it has only 5 settings anyway, but it just fires and resets. There is a cable release on the side of the shutter as well, which would be helpful for the bulb and timer settings.
The 1A is definitely the top of the line with the extra details from the embossed leather case to the engraved Kodak on the base stand lever. Also unique to the Autographic line is the hatch on the back of the camera which allows you to open it up and actually scratch a note into the image with the stylus attached to the hatch. Pretty handy feature as long as you do it in low light I guess. This one in particular is a 1922 model and has two tripod mounts and it’s 100 years old and in damn fine shape. Unfortunately it’s missing the plastic lens that allows you to see the film frame number so unless I tape over it, roll my own film, and just wing it, there’s no way to shoot with it.
Kodak No. 2 Autographic Folding Brownie
The No. 2 Autographic camera is actually a solid medium format camera that shoots 120 film, so at least in theory I can drop some film in it and go for it. The No. 2 is a lower end entry model with fewer bells and whistles as far design and aesthetics. Gone are the fancy engraved parts and smoother movements replaced with utilitarian stamped parts and a little rougher feel to operation. Despite this, it too is a solid camera that has lasted the last 80 plus years quite well.
The Kodak Kodex No. 0 lens is a bit slower than the big brothers in that it shoots at only 1/25, 1/50, bulb or timer. It does have a place to mount a cable release, but over all the mechanism is a bit more crude and doesn’t feature the Ball Bearing Shutter either. It operates the same way however, just flip the lever and it shoots and resets the shutter, with an aperture range from f/4 to f/64 and a similar 8 blade iris.
It has 3 stops on the focus bed for distance from subject at 100 feet, 25 feet, and 8 feet. The viewfinder on this one is almost worthless too, it’s a third the size of the one on the 1-A, and really hard to see through, part of that is age though, but still it would be tough to very accurate with it.
The best part of this guy is that I could easily load it up with film and play with it. It’s in pretty decent shape and the lens is clean. It has two tripod mounts on it as well, so shooting in landscape or portrait would be easy to accommodate. Like other Autographic cameras it has the trap door and stylus to make notations on the film and loads from the front using the main body of the camera to hold the film roll in place, and weighs just about the same as the 1-A, just about 2 lbs.
Kodak No. 2A Folding Rainbow Hawk-Eye Model B
While not an Autographic like the other 2, the Rainbow Hawk-Eye acts like one in almost every way. The thing that caught my eye with this one is that it’s brown. It sorta struck me as a military model, though it likely was not. They came in a wide array of colors brown, green, blue, red, purple and black. I’m sure this was a big deal in the 1930’s when they came out, now it just seems kinda funny. It reminds me of all the goofy colors of Bakelite radios and cameras and other things were available in when they started using Bakelite for lots of things; and yes, even cameras.
This Hawk-Eye cameras shot both 120 and 116 film for different versions, but the 2A Model B shoots #116 roll film so I’m out of luck unless I want to try and adapt 120 to it. This model also made a larger image at 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches. This one is in pretty good shape having been made in the 1930’s. The lens is clean, and all of the movements still move smoothly, but the bellows is super stiff and isn’t really up to the task of being used much, it will likely fail with a lot of opening and closing.
It has the same Kodak Kodex shutter as the Autographic 2, except it’s a model 1. It has the same settings for speed, 1/25, 1/50, bulb and timer and a very basic mechanism for a cable release. The aperture settings you get are f/8, f/16, f/32, and f/64. The f/8 is an arbitrary limit though, and if you removed the stop it would open al the way to f/4 or wider.
The view finder is a bit larger on the Hawk-Eye than the smaller Autographic and it’s quite a lot brighter, but still these things are pretty hard to actually compose very well through.
The thing I like about all of these cameras is how different they are compared to how similar they look. Kodak made quite a few of these in various sizes and with a decent variety of lenses too, so you could feasible find quite a few of the various models and they could all be just a little bit different. They changed some functional things between models such as film sizes and image sizes and some other purely esthetic things like colors of the Rainbow Hawk-Eye.
These cameras were all very inexpensive, in fact the Autographic No.1 I bought for less than $20, plus they just look nice. They’re well made and there are a lot of them out there to look for.