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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.
I think one of the reasons I enjoy shooting the 126 format is because I like shooting squares. Rectangular shots are so ubiquitous that the square format on its own is something novel and different. I don’t know if I like it only for its difference, or if it’s truly aesthetically better to my eyes.
Either way, I’m still enjoying the 126 format, and to help enjoy it even more, I recently acquired another camera in this format. Unlike all my other 126 kits, this one allows full manual control of exposure, and even has a perfect focus aid – a coupled rangefinder.
The Minolta Autopak 700 looks more like Minolta’s Hi-Matic line than it does other 126 cameras. It’s larger and heavier than my other 126 cameras, being made entirely of metal and designed like a ‘real’ camera.
Unfortunately, the camera had some problems when I received it: the front element of the lens was loose and wobbly, the rangefinder was completely non-functional, and the mechanism to wind the film & cock the shutter siezed up after a single crank.
This past weekend loaded my 39 year old Rollei A26 with some 34 year old Kodak Verichrome Pan film, and went out for some driving around.
The film was actually more than 34 years old – it expired 34 years ago (June, 1977 to be exact) so it was probably made in 1975. The results weren’t fantastic, but they were pretty darn good considering it’s more than three decades past it’s best before date!
I took two indoors (non-flash) shots while I was visiting the Lomography store in Toronto, but the camera wasn’t quite up to the task – it’s slowest settings are 1/30th at f/3.5 and with the 34-year-old 125ASA film… the second image below was barely usable, the other image I took was almost all grain and no detail.
Another problem I discovered was with the Rollei A26, the light sensor is in a location where I tend to let my fingers rest, so a couple sunny outdoor images were completely blown out as the camera exposed for ‘darkness’ while it was about EV+15. Once I realized (from the sound of the shutter) what was happening, I made a point of holding the camera differently.
Here are a couple images from that very expired roll.
Processed for 7 minutes in T-Max 1:4 developer at 76 deg F which is likely too long, except my brew is probably nearly exhausted as well as expired (over a year since I mixed it).
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.
In Part 1 of my quest, I started to identify what I was looking for in a classic compact film camera: small, not-too-heavy, full-frame 35mm, classic (as in, not a point-and-shoot), but also convenient and easy to shoot (not 100% manual). Spelling that out, it does sound a bit like I’m looking for the impossible – or at least, that some of my requirements are at odds — not too manual but not too automatic? WTF?
Part 1 also looked at my first compact 35mm camera, the Rollei B35. A solid, well-built compact manual camera. But a little too heavy, a little too manual, and it didn’t have any built-in protection for the lens or viewfinder.
Before long, I came across another intriguing compact camera – coincidentally, another Rollei too. This time, it was the Rollei A26…
Not long ago, I ran some more film through my Rollei A26 camera. The A26 was IMHO one of the better cameras made for the 126 cartridge format film. A very compact, sturdy, well-designed camera, the A26 is a nifty little piece of kit.
The film I used this time was Kodak Verichrome Pan. It was ‘new in box’, sealed & unopened. It was marked with a ‘Process Before’ date in 1973 — in other words, this film was thirty-six years past its best-before date.
Nonetheless, a healthy combination of blind optomism and overconfidence led me to assume that not only would the film still be good, but that I would be able to process it successfully in my haphazard kitchen-sink darkroom.
The results were a resounding ‘not bad’. I had some problems with focusing, because I suck at guessing distances and sometimes forget to focus entirely. However, the A26 has a pretty-good depth of field, especially in bright sunlight.
Here are a few examples:
Technical info: Verichrome Pan ISO 125, automatic exposure. Developed in T-Max 1:4 for 9 1/2 minutes.