- Tom Mills
Using a Brownie Flash Six-20
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Yes, the title says it all... sure, the results were less than impressive, but still a great experience using this virtually indestructible historical relic.
It really didn't take long to figure out how to use the camera; it has two "modes" of shooting, "I" (for instant, about 1/45 shutter speed), and "B" (for bulb???) where the shutter stays open as long as you press the shutter button. Similarly, there are only two focus settings, 5-10 feet, and beyond 10 feet. I read online that the aperture was pre-set at about f/13, so I knew I could only shoot in bright sunlight. All I needed was a roll of film and I'd be good to go!
Fortunately, Film Photography Project sells 620 film at a decent price, so I went ahead and purchased a roll of 100 ISO black and white film, fully expecting to get nothing from my $13 purchase. I figured the right place to test this piece of history would be at a historically significant place, so I made my way back to the Manassas National Battlefield Park on a bright sunny day with a fresh roll of film loaded into the Brownie. It took me a minute to figure out the markings on the paper backing the film; I took a quick first shot at home thinking I was on the first frame before realizing that I didn't advance the film properly. When I got to the park, I finally advanced the film to the proper "1" indicator and and the resulting shot was a cool double exposure, perfectly overlapping a sidewalk at the New York memorial on the left side of the image with the sidewalk in front of the house on the right side of the image.
I went through the nine shots on the roll pretty quickly, I guess it's easier to do when you really don't expect any results. The Brownie isn't exactly the most ergonomic camera to shoot with, I found using the viewfinder to shoot to be very awkward. Adding to the less than optimal shooting experience was the fact that the particular Brownie I used had lots of fungus built up in the viewfinder, making it virtually useless to compose an image well. I also found it very hard to hold the camera steady using the viewfinder. I'm sure I looked really awkward pressing a black metal box firmly against my face to reduce camera shake. I also couldn't get used to the purely mechanical shutter release. It's unlike any other cameras I've used, you have to apply a lot of pressure and the "click" of the shutter is not as definitive as my Nikon F2, which also has a mechanical shutter. The whole applying pressure before having the shutter release engage threw me off, causing almost all my images to be fuzzy with camera shake.
Light leak was also pretty bad with the camera; the "indicator" for the number of shots is on the bottom right half of the camera back. It's a red plastic lens that doesn't do much to stop light leak, especially in very bright conditions. This was very evident in the picture below, where you could clearly see the reflection of the dots on the paper backing of the film.
Results were slightly better when I held the camera to my chest; it blocked the indicator lens, which I think was the biggest source of light leak and stabilized the camera with the 1/45ish shutter speed on a very light and awkwardly shaped camera.
All in all, not the most impressive images, but I admit it was fun shooting with such an iconic piece of history. The camera itself is definitely simple, not many moving parts and just solid as can be. That said, I don't know that I'm ready to invest another $13 to purchase a roll of 620 film to shoot with, but I do have a spare 620 spool now, so maybe re-spooling cheaper, expired 120 film could be an option?