Instamatic 500 by Kodak AG

Posted 2011.10.11 8.28 in Hobbies, Photography

After the Autopak 700, I thought I was finished collecting 126-format cameras. I thought I had found the best and therefore didn’t need any more. I thought wrong.

The Instamatic 500 was produced by Kodak AG (Germany) and was their top-of-the-line instamatic camera. Made in 1963, it features a solid metal body, quality German optics, and fully manual operation. It is smaller than the Minolta, having no built-in rangefinder. The Instamatic 500 uses guess-focusing, with a distance scale on the top of the lens and zone icons on the bottom. Interestingly, the lens has detents for the zones, so it ‘snaps’ into place for Portrait (4ft), Group (~8ft), and Landscape (~20ft).

The lens also has a Depth-of-Field scale printed on it, so it’s actually very handy on a bright sunny day – set your aperture to f/11 or f/16, set your shutter speed according to your film ISO, and set the focus on ‘Group’ and you’ll have good sharp focus from 4 feet to infinity. Great for street photography or casual snapshots.

The Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar lens has a 38mm focal length and the aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/22. It is mounted on a Compur shutter with speeds from 1/30 through 1/500, plus Bulb. The shutter has X-sync through its entire range, with flash available through both a hot-shoe and PC socket. Finally, the lens is retractable, when not in use. A small button on the base of the camera allows the lens to be pressed back into the body. The lens is spring-loaded and pressing that button again lets it slide back out into place. While the lens is stowed, the shutter-release is locked, preventing accidental snaps.

To top it all off, the camera is equipped with a Gossen selenium meter. This works without requiring any batteries at all, and after almost 50 years, it is still working correctly! The meter is visible through the viewfinder, indicating if the exposure is off or if it is correct, with +/- 1 EV indication.

The only flaw on my camera is that the faceplate has been lost. Normally there would be the indication ‘Kodak Instamatic 500’ on the face of the camera, above and left of the lens.

It is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect camera. It works without batteries. It’s fairly compact. It’s solid. It takes square photos! It has an exposure aid, though it’s still a manual camera. There’s still that pesky problem of the film being nearly impossible to find, but that can be worked around. The lack of focus-aid, such as a rangefinder, is a problem when you can’t estimate distances very well. But the inclusion of a DOF scale helps make up for that.

The Instamatic 500 is a definite keeper, and certainly has a place in my collection. The Minolta Autopak 700 has the rangefinder, and the Rollei A26 is smaller. The Instamatic 500 fits right in between – the size is right, the feel is right, fully manual and doesn’t need batteries. It’s a winner.

The following pictures were taken on an OEM Fuji colour negative film. 35mm respooled into a 126 cartridge. This has two quirks: the sprocket holes are visible along one edge of the images, and sometimes there are feeding problems, which can lead to occasional overlapping images.

Also a quick point on using 35mm in the 126 cartridges: I do have a precious cache of genuine 126 film, so why am I using 35mm instead? When I get a new camera, I don’t know how well it’s going to perform, and I would hate to waste a real cartridge only to find out the shutter wasn’t opening or something stupid like that. So before using a real 126 film on a new aquisition, I’ll test with a reloaded one. Also, the colour 126 cartridges are all very expired, so there is a trade-off. Good colours / predictable results with sprocket holes, or completely unpredictable results but no sprocket holes?

This was the last roll to be souped in my exhausted C-41 chemistry. Processing at room temperature has gone from 18 minutes up to 25 minutes, my blix is exhausted, and I suspect the stabilizer is going too. So I’ll let some colour films pile up a bit before I make up a new batch of chemicals to resume processing. Maybe I’ll do some B&W in the meantime.

5 Comments

  1. Very fascinating article and camera! I have always wanted to try putting 35mm film in a 126 cartridge, but shot my last roll of 126 in 1991, so I don’t have any old cartridges. I’ve found a few places that have a couple of old rolls of 126 still for sale and I might end up buying a couple rolls of that mainly for the cartridges. But, your 35mm shots look quite nice in a 126 camera!

  2. Stephanie says:

    You can still find old rolls of 126 on eBay, but shop around a bit. They vary wildly in price, and I wouldn’t pay more than $15 for one. Especially considering they are all hugely out of date now.

    Reloading the old 126 cartridge with 35mm is pretty easy inside a darkbag or darkroom. You just have to be careful when cracking open the 126 the first time. I try and twist flex them a bit first, that seems to weaken and sometimes pop the ‘weld’ that holds them together.

    Oh and of course, don’t damage the backing paper in the 126 roll! The backing paper is taped to the spool, and the film is taped at one end to the backing paper.

    What I’ve found to work best is place the spool with the backing paper down, film side up. Start rolling the backing paper onto the spool, then add the film, emulsion side up, with a bit of tape to hold the lead end in place. Start rolling it in with the backing paper.

    When you get to the end of the film, change direction and start rolling the backing paper/film sandwich up into a tight little roll of its own. When you get to the other end, you’ll have the spool, a length of backing paper, then the rolled up paper/film.

    Place that into the open cartridge, close it up, and maybe add some tape at either end to keep it closed.

    And of course, all that is done in the darkroom, or a darkbag. (The first time I did it, I did it in the light so I could work out how to do it and how to feel my way through it. )

    Cheers!

  3. Kenny Harrelson says:

    I have a couple other questions for you, since you seem to have tons of experience using 35mm in a 126 camera. I found an old 35mm film spool, cut a notch in the top so that it would correspond to the winder in my Kodak Instamatic X-15 camera, shimmied it at the bottom so that the 35mm spool would fit snuggly, and in the dark, I loaded some 35mm Tri-X in the camera. I only used about a half roll and rolled all the excess film up and placed it in the area in the left side of the camera and taped the leader to my homemade take-up spool. A then placed some quarter inch foam in the door and when I closed the door, it covered past the area where the lens shows through to expose the film about a quarter inch or so. This gave it a little pressure so that my film scrolled past flat, from edge to edge. I did this all in my darkroom. Now, I shot it yesterday and the film was covered in light leaks. I guess 126 cameras are not light leak proof, which is why one needs a cartridge, correct?

    My other question is, a couple times, the sprocket holes didn’t line up properly and the little metal tab that comes up and cocks the shutter was blocked and I had to rap my camera against my palm rather sharply to get it to clear a sprocket hole. Had to do this 4 or 5 times during the entire length of the film. Most times, it came right up through a sprocket hole and was fine. Do you have this problem when using 35mm film inside a real 126 cartridge?

    And one other question. Since my Kodak Instamatic X-15 has a winding lever that you only have to push once to get the film wound the proper amount, Would I even have to worry about using backing paper if I just taped over the window in the back of the 126 cartridge? Wouldn’t it wind whatever film was inside the cartridge the same amount, thinking it was 126 film? Thanks for any help you can lend with my long questions.

    Here’s a link to an image I shot yesterday with the setup I described above, light leaks and all. It looked like it was tracking all right, but a few of the frames did overlap somewhat. The two shots of a tv screen on the left are overlapped, Captain Kirk as an Indian and the Enterprise; while the third frame on the right was spaced the correct amount for a square image:

    http://www.ipernity.com/doc/haarfager/40166754

    1. Stephanie says:

      Hi Kenny,

      Re. the light leaks, you are correct. The 126 cartridge itself is ‘light tight’ except for the opening that aligns behind the camera lens. So the camera manufacturers did not have to worry about making the camera itself light-tight around the cartridge.

      Have you ever seen those 110 ‘keychain cameras’? It’s basically just a lens with a shutter and thumbwheel that clips onto a 110 cartridge. The 110 is essentially a miniature version of the 126. Putting ‘bare’ 35mm into a 126 camera would require you to basically tape up all the edges and around the door with opaque tape (electrical tape for example) to seal all the light leaks.

      The other issue there is the focal plane. The camera was designed for film that was resting on a backer and then with the plastic cartridge behind it. Loose 35mm film would not be held to the same plane, and with (guessing) 0.5mm or so to move forwards or backwards, could result in out of focus shots.

      Re. the sprocket holes, yes this is definitely an issue. Of the six photos I posted above, #6 shows some overlap. Proper 126 film has one index hole for every frame, and only along one edge of the film. Using 35mm film means you get the sprocket holes ‘in frame’ along one edge, and the indexing is problematic.

      Using backing paper can sort of help, a little bit, because the paper has index holes in it. And when you are lucky, the camera ‘ignores’ all the holes in the 35mm film, and only registers when a 35mm hole is aligned with the hole in backing paper.

      Sometimes that works against you too – sometimes the camera’s index pin misses a hole completely because the backing paper hole and 35mm sprocket hole don’t line up at all, and you skip a frame.

      The problem is different for different cameras too – some simply won’t work at all without the index holes, or won’t work right because the 35mm holes are so close together. It depends on the camera mechanism.

      Coincidentally, I have two Instamatic X-15s in my collection. I discovered that the index pin could be defeated and basically removed, then you just had to go by how far you wound the film. Sort of 1 1/3 cranks or something like that. Instead of putting ‘loose’ 35mm film into the camera, I used a broken 126 cartridge that didn’t have backing paper. I taped it up heavily with electrical tape, and marked on it ‘darkroom only’ to remind myself it’s not light-tight.

      One of these days I need to finish that test roll and process it to see if it worked… 😉

      1. Kenny Harrelson says:

        Thanks! That seems to have answered all my questions. Now, I just have to cruise over to eBay and find a good, cheap roll of expired 126 film.

Leave a Comment