With a view to feeding my hybrid approach to photography (that is, old lenses on modern digital cameras), I recently picked up a rather curious optical artifact; an optica curiosus, if you will. The possible story goes thus:

The Surplus Shed had come into possession of an entire box marked to be returned to the old Brownie Hawkeye section of Kodak from decades ago. Upon opening the box, they were surprised to discover a load of  air-spaced doublet lenses that appeared to be unused. They surmised that these lenses were, perhaps, intended to be a replacement for the old single lens Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, but that this version of the once popular box camera was never made.

It’s a compelling story, yes? We’ll never know the details, but it turns out that this special Hawkeye lens is very small and can produce some interesting results. Here’s what it looks like:

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye - lens version 2 ??
Kodak Brownie Hawkeye – lens version 2 ??

Following my penchant for slightly off-beat imaging techniques, I’ve been freelensing with this little gem. That is, I’ve been popping my Olympus digital Pen camera into Aperture Priority mode and have been delicately maneuvering the Hawkeye lens in front of the sensor with my fingers in order to focus it. The great thing about this is that I can reverse the lens to distort the image, and also tilt the lens at an angle to shift the focal plane dramatically. Of course, without an aperture, it’s best to use it like this in low light.

Here are some photos produced by this special piece of glass:

Brownie Hawkeye - freelensing sunset 1
Brownie Hawkeye – freelensing sunset 1
Brownie Hawkeye - freelensing sunset 2
Brownie Hawkeye – freelensing sunset 2
Brownie Hawkeye - freelensing sunset 3
Brownie Hawkeye – freelensing sunset 3

I love the pictorial quality of these images. I reversed the lens for the second photo and also tilted the focal plane in order to distort the tree branches. I have a second Hawkeye lens that I’m considering adapting to a focussing mount and home-made aperture, but I really like the challenge of freelensing like this. Probably best not to point the exposed digital sensor at strong sun though !

Life through a Brownie Hawkeye lens
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4 thoughts on “Life through a Brownie Hawkeye lens

  • May 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    The lens will not fit a Brownie Hawkeye, since the outside diameter is too big, and the Hawkeye lens was spring fitted without a screw mount. Nor would Kodak have replaced a cheaper single meniscus lens with a more expensive doublet in such an inexpensive camera. The flange focal distance on the Hawkeye lens is 80mm. The Surplus Shed lens is listed as of 30mm focal length, but the flange distance is not noted. Just because it was the Hawkeye department does not mean it was for a Hawkeye camera. They may well have been working on additional projects.

    I have mounted a real Hawkeye lens for use on digital cameras. I found the sharper center region was large enough for a micro four thirds sensor, so there was little or no benefit from the peripheral soft focus of the reversed lens. However, mounted on an APS-C DSLR, peripheral soft focus and glow from highlights became interesting. Mounting for a full frame DSLR would be more interesting yet. The benefit is the ability to both compose and focus in the viewfinder or on the screen, and to post-process from a RAW capture. The give-up is that the soft periphery is most apparent on the 6 x 6 cm format of the Hawkeye. Focus from the Hawkeye is initially by guess and by golly, since lens reversal shortens the hyperfocal sweet spot. I don’t know the flange focal distances of medium format cameras, but if they are short enough, a Hawkeye lens might even be mounted for a Phase One back!

    • May 23, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Of course. It’s just a possible story, as noted 🙂 We’ll never know for sure. With a 30 mm focal length, I imagine it would be rather simple to adapt it to micro four thirds properly. I have a Hawkeye now, but I wouldn’t take out the lens to re-purpose it at this stage. It is a nice idea though.

      Thank you

  • August 22, 2015 at 6:17 am

    I don’t know about that lens, curious. Is it glass or plastic? Because the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye went through three distinct generations and the first two both used glass lenses, while the last one had an all-plastic lens and mount combined into one piece. If this was to be some sort of replacement, it almost certainly would have been for one of the first two generations if it’s glass. At least, that’s what I would surmise.

    • August 22, 2015 at 8:41 am

      It’s a glass air-spaced doublet lens, with a small thread on one end for attachment to what is presumably (if the story is to be believed) the Hawkeye front panel. It does look like a Hawkeye lens, but no serial numbers or other markings, so I guess we just have the mailing label to go on from the story! Do you have many Kodak classics?


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