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.