This is a follow up to my original article on the Kodak Instamatic 500 and my passion for the (rather underloved) 126 Instamatic format. There are loads of great “square format” point and shoot cameras out there, if only we could get film for them. By loads, I mean millions, this was one of the most successful formats Kodak invented. I have to credit Mike Raso at the FPP for driving my passion, as he and I share this love and frustration.
If you’ve ever collected any cameras and tried to reload them you may well have found that the really iconic 60s cameras, like the Kodak Instamatic 100, 104, 304, 400 etc, will jam with even a cartridge reload of regular 35mm and original backing paper. Even when holding the shutter down while advancing to the next frame.
Regular 35mm still film has eight perforations per full frame (8 perf), whereas 126 film has one. 126 format cameras use this single perforation to not only locate the next frame, but also to cock the shutter, so this is the problem
I initially thought of using the 126 backing paper as a rough guide, and using a leather punch in a changing tent, but when I tried to punch the film outside the tent, I realised, it wasn’t at all accurate. Most importantly, the leather punch wouldn’t actually get through the film base!
I next compared 126 negatives to 35mm negatives and realised that the single perforation lines up with one of the 35mm perforations, it’s not quite as exact as original 126 film but probably only a fraction of a milimeter out as the image below demonstrates.
I have a background in TV and Film but had never used a 35mm motion picture splicer, however when I looked at these they have a punch and die to punch all 8 perfs. plus registration pins. In principle, I could remove 7 of the punches and hope the registration pins might work.
This rather assumes you’ve got some unperforated 35mm, which I do, for 828 use.
My next problem was to find a splicer. I looked on eBay, they normally go for £130 at least, I got lucky and got one for £35 including shipping. With the splicer delivered, I found the registration pin after the last perforation was a great match for 126 film so, in theory it might work. See figures 2-4 below
I’m not a great machinist or fine mechanical engineer, but I asked an ex-colleague who is – and from the Film and TV industry like me – did the modifications for me, including removing the cutting blade, which is essential for working in the changing tent!!
The theory is: align the film just before the registration pin, punch your perforation, then advance the film till the first perforation is over the registration pin and make the next. Repeat. See figure 5 and 6 below.
I normally do rolls of 12-15 frames and now no longer bother with any backing paper or reloads, I just load the excellent Fakmatic from Camerahack. Just remember that the perforations need to be at the top! You must also seal the 2 halves of the Fakmatic adapter with black tape in your changing tent. In addition, you should load the camera in the tent, already having taped over the clear frame count area of the camera door.
I’ve tested this in early 126 format cameras and it works, plus I’ve sent samples to Mike Raso at FPP and Claudio at Camerhack to test.
Perforating unperforated 35mm film is one problem solved but the next is a need for more unperforated film, ideally colour. My 50 feet of Kodak Portra 160 won’t last too long. Claudio is working on a film slitter, which would be great, I could then slit 120 down to 35 and perforate it.
What we really need is for Lomography to do one of their “legendary” Kickstarters for making 126 again.
It could happen…
Your turn: submit an article
EMULSIVE is all about promoting knowledge transfer across the film photography community. You can help by contributing your thoughts, work and ideas to inspire others reading these pages: check out the submission guide.
If you like what you're reading you can help this passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.