The Kodak Instamatic 500 was the “jewel in the crown’ of the Kodak Instamatic line. This my review of the camera and a shout out for the underloved 126 format.

I love film, have always shot it, it’s my age ☺ I had a brief excursion into digital but came back to film with even more passion.

I shoot nearly every format, from 8×10 all the way down to 35mm (I sold my 110 kit last year). I love Polaroid, Impossible Project, now Polaroid Originals and my trusty SX-70. I develop my own B&W and now develop my own C41, much encouraged by listening to the FPP Podcasts. My first camera, at age 10 was a Kodak Instamatic 25. It was this camera that started my photographic love.

Some years back I bought an Instamatic 500 for around £15, I think, after reading a recommendation on the web somewhere.

What you get

A high-quality camera, made in Germany, the clue!! A coupled Gossen light meter, and a collapsible Schneider 38mm f/2.8 lens with Compur shutter that shoots square format. Oh, it has a hot shoe, PC Sync, tripod socket and shutter that accepts a cable release.

I think you are probably understanding the attraction, especially as these can often be picked up on eBay for £5.

The Shutter has 500/1 sec – 1/30 sec speeds plus B and the focus is ‘manual’ zone focus down to 2.5’. There has to be a downside, and you’d be right: the coupled light meter, on my example, works well, but 126 cartridges had a sort of early “DX Coding” system using a notch on the cartridge and a little lever that moved depending on the notch position.

This is not really relevant if you reload the cartridges or even if you shoot very expired colour film and I use a light meter on “sunny 16”.

Ergonomics wise, it’s a lovely low profile, not too heavy (400g) street camera, with a nearly silent shutter. There’s a nice bright viewfinder, manual zone focus and manual aperture.

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Shooting 126 film

To use 126 film, you will either shoot an old expired cartridge, or reload one with modern film. I prefer to reload and reuse the backing paper, this means the camera works reasonably well, and you can really get the best from the lovely lens/shutter combination.

126 film originally had 1 perforation per frame rather than 35mm’s 8 perfs. per frame. In a lot of early cameras, this single hole not only told the camera where each frame was, it actually cocked the shutter, meaning that “reloads’ can be troublesome in the classic Kodak Instamatic 104s, etc.

My experience with the Instamatic 500 is that it works pretty much trouble free. I’m not going to detail, reloading 126 here, there is loads of good information on the web for that, so please Google away but it’s worth noting that Camerahack’s Fakmatic adaptor.

I reload the cartridges, usually with Kodak Gold 200, and I prefer the 12 shot cartridge – you get to see your results quicker. I develop the film myself, but you could always send it to your favourite lab. As it’s normal 35mm film.

The results

You will get perforations in the top of your shot if you use 35mm film. The bottom ones are masked out by the cartridge. I happen to like this, but you can always crop them out.

Final thoughts

The camera produces lovely images and is lovely to use. I think this represents very good value for money as a camera, I just wish Lomography would please make 126 again, there are loads of good cameras out there.

Another camera to consider is the Boots Pakmatic, yes Boots the Chemist (in the UK). It has a Rodenstock lens and an uncoupled meter, which you set the ASA on, as per any light meter. This camera is worth considering too, it was made by Braun, and is also known as the Braun Paxette 28BC.

~ Ian

Kodak Instamatic 500 technical specifications

Camera nameKodak Instamatic 500
Camera typeViewfinder
Format126 film cartridge making 28x28mm exposures
(reloadable with 35mm film)
ManufacturerKodak AG
Manufacture dates1963-1965
(1966 in the US)
ViewfinderOptical viewfinder with framelines and parallax correction markings
ShutterCompur leaf shutter
B, 1/30 sec - 1/500 sec
LensRetractable Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 38mm f/2.8 38mm (4-elements) with minimum aperture of f/22.
Close focus of 70cm
AccessoriesKodak Retina 32mm lens hoods
Kodak Retina 29.5mm filters
Threaded cable release
MeteringGossen selenium meter with match needle indicator in viewfinder
FlashHot shoe and X-sync PC connection
With lens collapsed:
120 x 55 x 65 (W x D x H)

With lens extended:
120 x 60 x 65 (W x D x H)

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About the author

Avatar - Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Love photography, music, science, cycling, radio, stop frame animation, food, oh and red wine.


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  1. Thanks for an inspiring review. After reading, I had to have one. I’ll be testing mine today after loading two “Triple Print” cartridges last night. Mechanically, the camera seems to work fine, including the meter but I’ll check the shutter speeds first with varied exposures.

    I’m a bit confused. Elsewhere on the internet, I have seen filter size is given as 32mm. I see you have filter size of 29.5 which I confirmed with one of mine, but a lens shade of 32mm. I’m don’t understand how filters and lens shades of two different sizes can fit the same lens.

    What am I missing?

  2. If anyone wants to buy ($10) an original parts list and repair manual for the Instamatic 500 send an email to me. USA only.

  3. I saw the Kodak Instamatic 500 and wondered if a Japanese camera maker could do better. The Minolta Autopak 700 was a bit better, since it featured a rangefinder and “35mm RF camera” styling. The “mash it down with all you got” exposure lock/shutter release made camera shake all but inevitable. Still, it worked just fine, with a top shutter speed of 1/250 sec. for moderate action.

    I came across the Minolta 24 Rapid version some years later, with an eye toward reloading the Rapid cassettes with regular 35mm film. That didn’t work out all that well, since the felt light seal deteriorated over time, and film advance from cassette to cassette stopped. Still, it was an interesting experiment which led me back to regular 35mm cassettes and the venerable Canon P.

  4. I’ve passed up so many of these. I shoot APS so I’m used to the grief of obsolete film and cameras but you’ve managed to feed your ancient beast with 35mm! Thanks for sharing this. There are many of these around but do you know if there were any more sophisticated versions? Possibly an SLR or something with more control over the settings?

    1. Robert,
      There was a Zeiss Ikon SLR, but it had aperture control via a selenium meter and battery, so not much better really, plus the cartridges loaded upside down, meaning I couldn’t get the Fakmatic to work at all, and it struggled with reloads.
      I’ve the Kodak Instamatic X90 which is a rangefinder, but again has aperture priority with a selenium cell and battery, I got lucky, mine is perfect. This has a wind up mechanism for advancing the film, which again can be tricky with reloads.
      Thanks for your comments