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.

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)

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.