In November and December 2010, I finally tried out a test roll in my new-to-me Kodak Brownie Starmatic. Overall, I think it creates unique (and very mid-century) photos, but it’s not necessarily my favorite.
One of the features of this camera that surprised me was its light meter. Not battery-powered, but a light meter nonetheless. The Starmatic also has a varied automatic shutter speed, based on the light meter reading. Not something I expected from a camera manufactured between 1959 and 1963.
The Starmatic also has a range-based focus, although it isn’t a rangefinder. After having used several vintage and toy cameras without any sort of focus preview, I’ve just about gotten the hang of it; each camera is a little different, though, and takes a little getting used to.
Edit: The Starmatic is fixed-focus. I must have been thinking of a different camera when I wrote the above paragraph.
Being a Brownie, the Brownie Starmatic uses Brownie film (127), still manufactured by Fotokemika (in Croatia) and Bluefire Laboratories (in Canada). For those of us used to 35mm film, winding film that doesn’t stop automatically at each exposure can be a bit tricky. It’s not usually an issue for me with my other cameras, as the 120 film I use in my Holga is paper-backed like 127 film, but the gears must be a little tricky in my particular Starmatic — I’d wind it to the next frame, set the camera down… and when I’d come back, it would have advanced just another notch or two. The above photo was the only “happy accident” to come of this, thankfully.
One thing I noticed when I got my negatives back was that the camera exposes very close to the edge of the film. I’m not sure if this is expected, or if it’s a change in film manufacturing in the last 60 years. In any case, it’s definitely a unique feature — I’m curious about how much cropping would happen if I were to get prints made from these negatives.
My Starmatic definitely goes in the Stylish And Usable category, but it also goes in the Expensive To Use category. One roll of 127 costs around $8, as I recall, and processing at my local camera shop is $9. Are the stylistic mid-century photos worth the price? I’m not quite sure yet.
Edited to add: My husband pointed out to me that the tone of my post is more critical than I meant it to sound. I really do love the pictures that came out of this camera! I love the automatic exposure, I love the range focus, and I think the indoor photos came out surprisingly well. It’s really just the cost of film and processing that puts me off of using this one all the time. But who knows? Once I try out a few more of my cameras, this one may be one I come back to on a regular basis, despite the price per exposure.