Frank Brownell’s new kind of camera for a new century.

Frank Brownell was George Eastman’s camera designer and manufacturer. By 1897 the pair already had their names assured in the history of photography with cameras such as the original Kodak Camera and the Pocket Kodak Camera which had done much to popularise photography as an amateur pursuit.

Why is the Folding Pocket Kodak a Landmark Camera?

1: The world’s first camera to use 105 film.
The first truly pocketable roll film camera.

From hand camera to pocket camera

The invention of paper backed celluloid roll film patented by Samuel Turner and first used in his Boston Bull’s Eye camera was an important moment in the spread of photography as an amateur pursuit. George Eastman was so impressed he first licensed the technology from the Boston Camera Manufacturing Company before buying the rival outright in 1895. The new medium enabled Brownell to shrink the size of Kodak cameras by eliminating the need for a plate holder. Box cameras or hefty hand-and-stand models with bellows were no longer the only options for the late nineteenth century photographer. The FPK arrived with a new smaller size of film roll (105) taking 12 images of 2 ¼” x 3 ¼” inches.

Ten dollars well spent

It may look primitive, but to handle an early $10 Folding Pocket Kodak is to understand its technological brilliance. It’s a snapshooter’s dream and would have been a sensation on its introduction. It is miraculously light, portable, quick to deploy with an everset shutter and easy to use. What’s not to like?

The body is comprised of light aluminium and wood and is covered in a thick brown seal grain leather. The struts are deployed by gripping the lens board and drawing it out, revealing the beautiful red leather bellows. There’s no folding bed here to support the lens board. The struts are all the support needed for this lightweight snapper. Early models have brass struts which was changed to nickel part way through production. There were other minor changes. The very first models had a recessed dome shape at the lens opening and four circular openings on the front panel. This was changed to flat lens opening and only two circular openings. A locking catch was also fitted.

Top of the Folding Pocket Kodak

How to use the Folding Pocket Kodak

You don’t have to worry about focusing the f/11 Meniscus Achromatic lens. Focus is fixed. You can forget about shutter speeds too. There’s only one. However, you do have the option of longer exposures with what we would today call a T mode. Depressing the lever on the right hand side of the lens board opens the shutter. You can only close the shutter by repeating the action. On the top right of the lens board is the standard shutter release.

Rear of the Folding Pocket Kodak

You do have some control over light. There are a choice of three apertures selected by drawing out or pushing in a tab placed on the left hand side of the lens board. It sounds primitive, but this basic set up served the simpler Kodak folding cameras well for several decades. There are two small brilliant finders that helps to frame your snapshots in landscape or portrait orientation.

Folded with original case

There is no tripod socket, but there is a small metal tripod stand that you can draw out from the bottom of the lens board to assist with stability for long exposures on a flat surface.

Loading 120 film in a 105 camera

Loading the roll film is familiar to anyone who today has used a medium format camera, but it may well have been a novelty to a buyer of the camera in 1897. Paper backed celluloid film with exposure numbers which could be viewed through a red window on the back of the camera were innovations first seen on the Boston Bull’s Eye camera of 1892.

Folded front

A small catch pulled to the right disengages the camera back from the body. This can be eased down and off. You will notice the camera name and serial number stamped into the aluminium interior of the back.

Serial number in the aluminium camera back

With the back removed, the beauty of the wooden and aluminium interior is revealed. The handy instruction “START THE PAPER UNDER THIS CROSS_PIECE.” is printed on both the film chamber and take up spool chamber.

Instructions for loading film on the rear of the camera

You may have noticed that 105 film size this camera uses seems to be the same as today’s standard 120. 120 spools did fit into this camera snugly, but photographer beware, the distance between spools appears to be slightly less, and you won’t find 105 numbering on 120 film. Replacing the film back is simply a matter of sliding it back on until you hear a satisfying click.

Underneath of the camera showing the release catch

Photographs taken with the Folding Pocket Kodak

I took this nineteenth century beauty for a walk at Greenabella Marsh, a wetland in the midst of industrial Teesside. My fears about the numbering sequence were realised, as most of the images were unusable, but I like the three below. Next time I will try a slower film and expose on odd numbers only. The film used was Rollei Superpan 200, developed in Bellini Hydrofen for 9 minutes.

Further Reading:

Red Bellows