Kodak No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie


The Kodak No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie is a medium format folding camera like the Vigilant Six-20 (also made by Kodak) in an earlier post. Unlike the Vigilant Six-20, this Folding Brownie uses 120 format film instead of the obsolete 620 format. This saves the time and effort of re-rolling 120 film onto 620 reels and the inconvenience of waiting for the reel to be freed up until the film is developed.

During the turn of the last century, Kodak introduced a variety of roll film formats from which only the 120 survives as the standard roll-film format today. If you are interested, Kodak has a piece of valuable document online listing the corresponding film format of each of their cameras. This is very useful if you intend to buy one of these folding camera to use with modern emulsions which is of course, only available in 120.

CameraCollection_175__DSC6768The No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie was produced from 1915-1926 with minor changes during its production run. In other words, it predates the Vigilant Six-20 which was produced in mid 1930’s and its operations resemble more to a large-format view camera than a modern folding medium format. Two of the differences are the shutter being fired by a lever at the lens and bellow focusing is used instead of movements of lens elements. Moreover, loading film requires the removal of the whole camera back much like preparing a roll-film back on a large-format camera.

CameraCollection_171__DSC6782There are two different lenses that come with the No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie. One is a high quality rapid rectilinear which is a 4-elements/2-groups symmetrical design and widely used for large-format lenses at that time. Another one  is a simple 2-elements achromatic doublet. Both lenses should have a focal length of about 98mm and a maximum aperture of f/7.9 (exact figures on these will be highly appreciated, please kindly comment below). Mine has the later simpler lens in which the glass elements are located behind the shutter and the aperture diaphragms. The aperture values are also numbered with a descriptive scale (like mine) or  an obsolete system called the Uniform System in which only f/16 is the same as the f/16 in the system we use today. In other words:

“4, 3, 2, 1, unmarked position” or  “64, 32, 16, 8, unmarked position” is translated to modern f-values as “f32, f22, f16, f11, f8”

Shutter speeds are limited to 1/50 seconds and 1/25 seconds plus B and T for long exposures. In other words, if you want to minimize camera-shake even on a bright sunny day, you would need a tripod and also a cable-release (there is an insert right beside the shutter lever). Some cable-releases might interfere with the firing mechanism of the shutter because although the thread of the insert allows a modern cable-release, it was not originally designed to work with one. The cable-release (made by Pentax) I use for my other cameras, from 35mm to large format, is not usable and I had to search for another one from the junk-bin of the camera store. For exposures that last 1/15 seconds to 1/2 seconds, one can fire the shutter multiple times (e.g. two 1/25 seconds exposures for 1/15 seconds, four times for 1/8 seconds) because there is no double-exposure prevention mechanism. This, of course, is only useful for shooting scenes with no moving objects.

CameraCollection_173__DSC6772The viewfinder of the camera is mounted above the lens. It is a tiny (only about 1.5 cm x 1.5 cm) waist-level one which projects an relatively dim image from the glass element at the front to a piece of ground glass. There is no shade-coverage like an ordinary waist-level finder of a medium format SLR and thus one needs to use his/her hands to enhance the contrast of the image in the finder on a bright sunny day.

As mentioned before, this folding camera uses bellow-focusing rather than movements of lens elements as in more modern folders. However, unlike focusing with a piece of ground glass on a view camera, only scale focusing is available. The “default” position “FIXED” is useful for most situation while the other two positions would be for close objects and distant landscapes. Because the lens is relatively slow and many of the time, one would shoot with  the smallest possible aperture to ensure good image quality (the lens is very soft wide open), this rough focusing scale is sufficient enough for the camera’s intended uses.

CameraCollection_172__DSC6774Well, finally we come to the question: what does “autographic” mean? This is actually the earliest “data back” one can find. Today digital cameras record the date and time plus other information along with image file and during the film-era, a camera back that will imprint info. on the film (remember the date on the lower right corner of your old family photos?) is used. The autographic “system” predates both by simply writing (actually scratching) onto the back of a special type of film with a metal stylus. The Autographic Film No. A-120 is basically standard 120 format film with a “writable” carbon paper back.

CameraCollection_170__DSC6783CameraCollection_169__DSC6784Below is an ad. from Kodak for the autographic film and two sample photos taken with this No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie. The beach scene was shot with Ilford HP5+ exposed at ISO250. The distance scale was set at 8 ft with aperture closed down to f32. The other one was taken with Ilford FP4+ exposed at ISO100. Both rolls were developed with DD-X using standard developing times.

Photo from English Wikipedia and is released into Public Domain; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Autographic_Kodak_writing.jpg

Photo from English Wikipedia and is released into Public Domain; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Autographic_Kodak_writing.jpg

folding_brownie_2 folding_brownie_1_TS

Status: In Collection

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5 Responses to Kodak No.2 Autographic Folding Brownie

  1. Jim Grey says:

    Outstanding writeup of this camera. I’ve wanted an old Kodak folder that I can actually shoot and this one would be a great candidate. The lens looks reasonably sharp, too, at smaller apertures.

  2. Nice work with the No.2. Thanks for clarifying the construction of the Rapid Rectilinear. Somehow, I had not paid close enough attention to the diagrams to notice that there appear to be two cemented elements in the fore and aft groups. My No.2 Autographic has the Bausch and Lomb Rapid Rectilinear.
    Very nice site and blog. I look forward to following your adventures with the old cameras.

  3. Pingback: Agfa Billy I | MY CAMERA CABINET

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