135 Film  –  Vintage Camera Film Format

135 Film Format Specifications

Introduced: 1934
Type: cartridge film
Typical Frame Sizes: 36 x 24 mm
  24 x 18 mm
Currently: in production

135 Film Format Overview

135 Film is a 35mm cartridge film standardized by Eastman Kodak in 1934. The film stock found inside 135 cartridges has been around for much longer, of course; Thomas Edison himself patented the perforated film in the late 19th century for use in his groundbreaking Kinetoscope motion picture device. Fortunately for us, Edison’s patent was invalidated in 1902 which allowed his design to be freely produced by anyone. After decades of experimentation, manufacturers slowly began designing proprietary 35mm film cartridges for their cameras. The original Leica I of 1925 came with reloadable brass canisters and Ansco debuted their Memo cartridge alongside their Memo camera just two years later. With that in mind, while this category is primarily for cameras that use Kodak’s 135 film cassette, it will also include those designed for other 35mm formats like Agfa’s Karat/Rapid cartridges and Univex #200 series film (with the obvious exception of 126 film).

Released in 1934 alongside the original Kodak Retina, Kodak’s 135 cartridge was specifically designed to function not only with its own 35mm camera, but also with the groundbreaking Leica II and Zeiss Ikon Contax. This compatibility combined with the fact that these cartridges came pre-loaded with film made the 135 format a surefire winner. However, while Kodak enjoyed some initial success with the Retina, it was actually the Argus A that convinced the American public to adopt 135 film. Faced with the choice between the Retina (a high end folding camera designed and built by Kodak’s subsidiary in Germany) and the Argus A (a relatively inexpensive, simple camera manufactured in Michigan), it’s no surprise that Americans overwhelmingly chose the latter. This winning streak was continued with the enormously popular Argus C3 which only strengthened America’s love affair with 135 film.

Over the following decades, 135 film became the global standard in small format photography for amateurs and professionals alike. There was quite an assortment of 135 film on offer: negative, slide, black and white, various color temperatures, a mix of lengths (most commonly 24 or 36 frames), and a wide range of film speeds were being produced by a number of companies all over the world. Real competition didn’t come along until 1963 when Kodak released 126 film but its emphasis on amateur photography (and amateur cameras) meant that it wasn’t a serious contender for long. In 1996, Kodak introduced the Advanced Photo System (commonly known as APS): a drop-in film cartridge that traded a slightly smaller frame size for convenience but it was soon overshadowed by digital photography. Amateurs soon began turning away from 135 film (and photographic film in general) as consumer grade digital cameras became better and cheaper. Soon, higher end models like digital SLRs began finding their way into the hands of professionals. Film sales collapsed seemingly overnight as the public embraced digital technology and while 135 film continued to be readily available, the market never recovered. There are, however, groups of dedicated purists who are attempting to bring analog photography back into mainstream culture.

In addition to the cameras already mentioned, notable 35mm models include the Nikon F (which convinced countless photojournalists to abandon rangefinders in favor of SLRs) and the amazingly compact Rollei 35, and the Yashica Electro 35 which was the first camera to feature full electronic automatic exposure. Unusual 35mm cameras include specialized panoramic shooters like the KMZ Horizon and the Hasselblad XPan, the hybrid TLR/rangefinder Bolsey Model C, the Yashica Dental Eye: a fixed lens SLR designed specifically for photographing teeth, the movie camera-inspired Durst Duca, and the tiny Concava Tessina spy camera.

Interested in finding 135 film or cameras that use it?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 152, 182, 364, 387, 417, 586, 714-715.

“135 film,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film

“135 film,” Camera Wiki, http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/135_film

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