or, Box Camera 101

For this demonstration I've selected a very common Kodak box camera. Box cameras will accept different sizes of roll film. This particular camera accepts 120. Options for loading or purchasing film sizes other than 120 are referenced at the bottom of this page. A variety of box camera features are discussed at the bottom of this page also.

Before you load your camera: Check out its options. Operate the levers and knobs...that is, if it has any. You don't want to waste exposures trying to figure out which lever does what.

Opening the back:

Click on any image for a larger view:

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Unlatch the obvious.

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Pull out the winder knob. [I believe I just heard a collective "Ooooohhhhh....."]

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Winder knob in.

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Winder knob out.


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Pull out the innards.

Note: The "innards" are generally referred to as the "cone".

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Place an empty spool into the take-up side of the film holder assembly - the hole is where the winder knob fits through.


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Note: The spool is placed into the chamber with the hole in the side.

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Remove the tape from the film roll.


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Completely remove the tape.


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Load the film into the side opposite the empty spool side, paper backing facing out.


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Pull the backing paper up and around the back.

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It goes outside of the rolling pin thingies.


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Ah ha.

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Insert the paper backing into the empty spool.


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Tighten the film onto the roll. I find it easiest to pop the empty spool back out of the chamber and turn it until the paper is tight. Be sure to keep the paper straight so the film will load evenly.

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The film is now completely loaded onto the camera innards. The arrow shown in this image is used to line up with markings inside other types of roll-film cameras. I've yet to see a box camera with start arrow line-up markings. Anyway, I usually simply align this arrow with the first roller thingy.


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Insert the innards back into the camera body. Be mindful of the winder knob.

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Push the winder knob back in. You may need to jiggle it a bit to get it to line up.


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Turn the winder'll begin to see arrows, etc.

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Turn the winder knob until the number "1" appears in the film counter window located in the back of the camera. Make your exposure, and crank the winder knob to the next number.

When your roll is finished (different camera types  have a different number of images per roll ; 6 - 8, usually?), wind past the end of the paper. There is NO rewind! (Hey! Folks have asked!) Anyway, when you're finished photographing on your roll, open the back. The finished roll will have been spooled onto what once was the empty spool.

Some things you ought to know:

1.) Some box cameras will take one image with one simple click of the shutter. Others will take one image when the shutter lever is pushed down and one image when the shutter lever is pulled back up.

2.) Turn the winder knob after each exposure. That is, unless you plan to take a multiple exposure shot. I can't think of any box cameras that have a double exposure prevention feature.

3.) After exposing your first roll of film, turn the winder knob until no more backing paper appears in the counter window. Open the camera in the darkroom, or an area with subdued light - the take-up spool may not have wound the film tightly. If the film is more than a bit loose, it may have some light leaks at the edges.

4.) Often, box camera lenses will be located on the inside of the shutter. This is why folks will sometimes state that their cameras are nice, "but the lens is missing".

5.) Some brands of box cameras come with a few options:

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This camera has a yellow filter built in.

(Evans Box Camera)


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Turn the "filter" knob and a yellow filter rotates in front of the inside of the lens.


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One of the tabs on this camera, when pulled, activates the shutter's "B" setting. The other tab changes the aperture size.


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On this Brownie Target Six-20 you can pull the tab located above the shutter to activate the "B" setting.

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Pull the tab on the top and the shutter aperture is changed.


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The Jem JR. camera has its "T" and "I" settings located on the top of the camera.


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The Agfa Cadet has a viewfinder that folds out.


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This camera features a back that simply pulls open. You still need to pull the winder knob away from the body to access the film assembly for loading.



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Another example of a camera whose back door pops open and the guts are then pulled out for loading.

(Jem Jr.)


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Same. Same.

(Agfa Cadet)


Some box cameras, such as this Agfa D-6 Shur-Shot, have wings inside. These wings fold into the image area to create a smaller, cropped, image on the film. This way, you can get twice as many images on each roll.

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Here, the wings are flipped outside of the image area, for a full size image.


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The viewfinder will have cropping lines inside to show the image area for a photo taken with wings flipped down. Say you were photographing Barbie, as depicted in the photo above; If your wings were retracted, you could use the entire viewfinder to frame your image. With the wings flipped into the image area, you'd need to center Barbie inside the inner black lines. You'll need to remember whether your wings are extended or retracted because there's no way of knowing wing position once the film has been loaded and the camera is closed. Keep in mind, everything in the groundglass will appear backwards.


On a winged camera, you'll find two film counter windows in the back. Use both holes when your wings are extended. Agfa describes their use as follows:

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Box camera roll-film options:

Some box cameras accept 120 size film. 120 film is readily available at any good camera store, or through mail order. Others accept 620. There are two ways to obtain 620 film. 620 is the same size as 120. Only the spools differ in width. You can purchase 620 film from Film For Classics or you may roll your own. The advantage of loading your own 620 film is that you'll have a huge variety of film types available. Using either a changing bag or a darkroom a 120 film spool can be unrolled, then re-rolled onto a 620 spool.

127 size film can be purchased through a variety of vendors including Film For Classics.

Click here for Doug Wilcox's page, "How can I Use my 620 Camera?"

Features continued because I can't leave well enough alone:

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This box is a Kewpie #2.


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Slide the clip back ...

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to remove the cone.


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The Kewpie also has a nifty disc of stops. Depending on the aperture needed, you turn the disc to select the correct opening.

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This Agfa Box has a neat old ad for Spivak Bros. Toys - Radios inside the rear door.

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