How to flip a Brownie Hawkeye Flash lens

Brownie Hawkeye Flash
Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash

I’ve noticed a lot of search traffic hitting my site specifically looking for information on how to flip the lens of a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash (BHF). While there are probably multitudes of other resources on the interwebs, I figure I’ll just throw my two-cents out there.

For those who don’t know, the BHF is a black bakelite beauty with a top-down viewfinder, single element meniscus lens, shutter speed somewhere around 1/30 to 1/60 & a bulb setting, while it lacks a tripod mount, it has a nifty handle. In it’s heyday, the BHF was a very popular camera. Your grandparents most likely had one. Nowadays, you can find them cheaply at thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales, and eBay, or for a higher premium decorating shelves in antique stores & hipster boutiques.

I got mine for free on Craigslist thanks to a kind-hearted Samaritan who was donating several cameras to anyone who could justify receiving one. I simply wrote “I’ll use it.” It arrived in the mail a couple days later and I’ve been enthralled with it ever since.

Anywho, an unmodified BHF takes a relatively normal photograph, but something magical happens when you flip the lens. It’s like the soft focus of a vintage Diana multiplied to the Nth degree. The lens’ focal point shifts from infinity to about 3 feet in the center, while the edges just melt away into blurry goodness. The effect can be quite surreal.

Flipping the lens of a BHF is actually a simple procedure with a very low-risk of permanently #@$%-ing anything up and is easily reversible. That said, I assume no responsibility with these directions if you somehow manage to accidentally bork your favorite family heirloom.

Ready? Let’s get flipping.

What you’ll need:

– A Phillips head screwdriver (magnetic tipped will make your life easier).

– Windex & a cloth (if your BHF is dirty).

– About 5-10 minutes of time start to finish (dependent on your screwdriving skills).

Getting started:

small parts
Keep track of the small parts: Lens, screws, & spring-washer.

– Take the back off the BHF and set aside.

Look inside film-gate. See those two screws on each side of the lens? Unscrew those.

– Carefully lift the film-gate from the front of the camera to reveal the lens.

– If the lens has sixty-some-odd years worth of dirt, dust & grime, now would be a good time to give it a gentle cleaning with the a cloth and dab of Windex.

Now flip the lens, so that the convex side is facing the front of the camera (‘dish’ side up). Make sure you put the spring-washer back underneath the lens.

– Place the screws back in the film-gate holes, then carefully lower the film-gate back onto the lens assembly.

– Look down into the film-gate, is the lens visibly centered in the gate? If not, it’s probably on backwards; rotate the gate the other way.

– Screw everything back together.

– Voila!!! You now have a flipped lens Brownie Hawkeye Flash (fBHF).

– Load it up with some film* & go make some magic!!!

NYC Church, fBHF on Kodak Ektar 100.
Onondaga Lake Park meadow, fBHF on Kodak Ektar 100.
Trees, fBHF on Rollei Retro 400, developed in Diafine.

More of my fBHF images.

*I should probably note that the BHF was meant to take 620 film, which has a thinner metal spool than modern 120 film. The good news is that most 120 spools seem to fit on the supply-side; the bad news is that you definitely need to use a 620 spool on the up-take.

While Kodak discontinued 620 in 1995, there are still plenty of spools out there, you just have to look. The very places you’d find a BHF are usually the same you’ll find 620 spindles: thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales & eBay. Look inside other old cameras or through piles of photographic detritus; put a word in with your local Mom & Pop photo store (if they’re still in business); or put a note up on Craigslist or Freecycle.

3 Replies to “How to flip a Brownie Hawkeye Flash lens”

  1. matt haines

    Oh yeah, that’s cool! I’ve always stuck my nose up at BHFs when I see them in the store, because they’re so simplistic without any apparent magic. Now I see the magic! I had hoped to dig out a box camera of similar caliber from my collection of unsellable vintage crap-ameras, but unfortunately nothing fits the bill. I must have this look! So I might have to (shudder) invest in a BHF. Thanks for the info.

  2. Silas

    Hello friends.
    Initially sorry my english (google translator).
    Someone could tell me if this procedure is also possible in another model Kodak?
    More specifically a Kodak Brownie Six-20 – Model D.

    You can do the same in this model?
    I thank you.

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