The other night I was looking at my Rollei A26 and the half dozen 126 cartridges I’ve managed to hoard. After that handful of film…nothing. Since the last manufacturer ceased production in 2007, it’s become extremely rare and when you do find it, very expensive.
Then I got thinking of The Impossible Project – IMHO a truly remarkable story. When Polaroid went away and stopped making film, millions of perfectly good instant cameras became useless. (You can see them all over eBay!) But this collection of people determined to resurrect Polaroid instant film, and they’ve actually done it!
So back to the 126 film cartridges. The Impossible Project really was impossible – they had to make not just film, but instant self-processing film. On the other hand, 126 film is basically just 35mm film in a special plastic case. It’s somewhat common practice now to respool 35mm film into 126 cartridges. I’ve done it myself.
To resurrect 126 film, you don’t have to re-invent anything, really. You can buy bulk spools of 35mm film (colour or black & white) and you can even get that film without the standard sproket-holes. Unperforated or whatever they call it.
Then all you really need is a plastic mould to make the cartridges and the spool. Oh and strips of backing paper. All that’s left is a machine to tape a strip of film to a strip of backing paper, punch the index holes in the film and paper every 30mm or so, then roll it up and put it in the cartridge.
Why isn’t anyone doing this?
I mean, I can accept that demand for 126 film is not as high as for Polaroids – but when a single roll of way-past-due expired film is going for over $25 plus shipping, I think there must still be a market for the stuff. My mind is boggling here, so I’ll repeat the key points: Making 126 film does not require making custom or unique emulsions. No chemistry required at all, just buy bulk film (35mm unperforated) from Kodak or Fuji. All you need to do is make the custom plastic pieces, and the paper backing strip. The only tricky bit is assembling the pieces and perforating the film in darkness.
I’ve been thinking this over and over. The hardest part is mating the film and paper, and getting the index holes in the right spot. I can almost envision a very simple machine (basically just a crank and some rollers) that would punch the holes. It’d be something small, like you could clamp it to a desk or counter. Not industrial-sized but enough for one person to run it for their own needs, or a small sideline business. If I had access to machine tools, and if I was more handy with machine tools, I’d almost want to try this myself.
Take another look at what The Impossible Project has accomplished… and I ask again, Why isn’t anyone doing this for 126 film?