Kodak had a long series of Brownie cameras. These were the cheap and cheerful range and varied greatly over time.
This article is about the Brownie Vecta which was made in the UK and presumably only available here. I was given one of these for a birthday present when I was was eleven or twelve years old when it was a strikingly modern looking camera. It was designed for Kodak by the British industrial designer Kenneth Grange and its ‘natural’ format is portrait as that is what Kenneth Grange assumed it would mostly be used for.
The Vecta was only in production for three years (from 1963 to 1966). It is basically a grey plastic cuboid with a central lens and a viewfinder in one corner. The shutter release is a white bar underneath the lens. It takes 127 film which is hard to find nowadays but is still available (see Ag-photographic for supplies).
The lens is a simple meniscus lens with no focussing. I have not been able to find out what the focal length of this lens is but it is significantly wide-angle for 127 film. It works by having a very small aperture – f14 – which gives a large depth of field. The big downside of this is that the camera has to have a slow shutter speed to compensate. Kodak colour film produced at the time that this cameras was current had a speed of ASA 64 so we probably looking at a shutter speed of around 1/30 second. My test film for this camera shows reasonable image quality at a print size of 4″ by 6″ (100mm by 150 mm) which is as large as they would have been printed in 1963. In fact, the surviving pictures that I have from August 1968 were printed at 21/2 by 4 inches at which resolution the quality is fine.
Kodak also produced a ‘supplementary’ lens that fitted over the fixed lens that allowed close-ups to be taken. I had one of these which had to be used with the printed instructions to get acceptable focussing distances. This did not work too well as distances became critical and the viewfinder produced parallax errors so I never had a real idea of what I was actually photographing. I gave up on using the close-up lens fairly quickly.
This camera was easy for a child to use – I certainly do not remember any problems in using it at age eleven or twelve. There are indentations in the cube to facilitate holding the camera steady – and with a shutter speed of 1/30(ish) a steady hand is essential. I really enjoyed this camera as a child and still found it nice to use. The position of the shutter release and the fact that it is a bar rather than a button takes a bit of getting used to but nothing untoward. It was probably easier for me at age eleven as I had not then become used to using more sophisticated cameras and a bottom shutter release was all that I knew.
Test pictures from this camera:
Baggholm Road, Lincoln
Busker, High Street, Lincoln
At this size they look OK but when enlarged (to beyond the size that was anticipated by the designers) the defects show up. When putting the first roll of film through a “new” old camera, it is usual for the film to attract dirt from the recesses of the camera. This shows up as black specs on the final print. These pictures have instead white specs and very pronounced grain which suggests a film or processing fault. I cannot tell which, but I am sure it is not the camera.
Busker, High Street, Lincoln – enlarged to show marks