126 Film  –  Vintage Camera Film Format

126 Film Format Specifications

Introduced: 1963
   
Type: cartridge film
   
Frame Size: 28 x 28 mm
   
Currently: defunct

126 Film Format Overview

126 Film is a cartridge film introduced in 1963 by Eastman Kodak as an easy loading alternative to standard 135 film. The format uses paper-backed 35mm film spooled into a plastic cassette which is then simply dropped into the back of any compatible camera. A small window is present on the rear of the cartridge through which the frame number (printed on the paper backing) is displayed. Because 126 uses a self-contained light-tight magazine, the film does not need to be rewound and is immediately ready for processing once removed from the camera.

Kodak’s release of the 126 film format under the Kodapak name strategically coincided with the introduction of its corresponding Instamatic camera line. Both were overnight successes with an astonishing 7.5 million Instamatics sold worldwide within the first two years. With this triumph, Kodak proved to the world that it was still able to compete with the Japanese and German manufacturers which were dominating the camera industry at the time. However, these companies were quick to join in on the action and begin producing their own 126 cameras like the Voigtländer Bessy AK and Yashica EZ-Matic Electronic.

Although wildly popular for nearly two decades, 126 film eventually declined due to technical limitations. Because the format was primarily marketed towards amateur photographers, the vast majority of 126 cameras like the Instamatic X-35 and Instamatic 304 were designed to be affordable and easy to use. In order to cut costs and remain competitive, manufacturers fitted simplified mechanics and lower quality lenses which naturally led to softer, blurrier images. There were several high end 126 models such as the fantastic German-made Instamatic 500 and Instamatic Reflex SLR, of course, but they did little to sway professionals and advanced amateurs who stood by standard 35mm film with its larger frame size and vast selection of excellent cameras. To make matters even worse for 126, mechanisms like Canon‘s “quick load” QL system (found on such cameras as the aptly named Canon FT QL and Canonet QL17 G-III) were developed to simplify the process of loading 35mm film and 110 format cameras were becoming an enticingly compact option for those who didn’t care too much about image quality in the first place. By 1981, Kodak had stopped making 126 cameras and eventually abandoned the format entirely by the end of 1999. However, other companies continued to make 126 film until Ferrania—the last holdout—finally ceased production in 2008.

In a sea of simple plastic cameras, there are a few interesting 126 models out there. From Kodak itself came the aforementioned Instamatic 500 and Instamatic Reflex, the latter of which shared a selection of interchangeable Schneider-Kreuznach lenses with the Retina Reflex series. Just a few years after the format debuted, Japan gave us the Minolta Autopak 700 and the GAF Anscomatic 726 (made by Petri): two of the only rangefinders to ever grace the format. My absolute favorite 126 camera, however, is the eccentric Rollei A26 with its “pump action” shutter cocking mechanism.

Interested in finding 126 film or cameras that use it?
Check eBay to see what’s available.
References:

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), 237, 347-350, 472.

“50th Anniversary of the Instamatic (1963),” George Eastman Museum, https://eastman.org/50th-anniversary-instamatic-1963

“Frequently Asked Questions,” Film Ferrania S.R.L., http://www.filmferrania.it/faq/

“126 film,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/126_film

“126 film,” Camera Wiki, http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/126_film

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