In 1963 Kodak launched the 126 film cartridge system in response to consumer complaints about the difficulty of loading and winding 35mm film – specifically I suspect the vacationers who got home only to find that the film hadn’t taken up properly and their entire roll was unexposed! The 126 system used 35mm wide film with a paper backing loaded into a light tight cartridge incorporating both take up and delivery spools – the film being attached with leader tape to both spools already. At the end of the roll just remove the cartridge, there’s no need to rewind.
Noteworthy is the introduction of one of the first ever mechanical film speed sensing systems built into the plastic of the cartridge – notches let the camera’s meter know the speed of the loaded film with no user intervention. Though the film was a good size, and thus could have yielded quite high quality results, it’s square format meant that most prints were no bigger than 4″x4″, and many Instamatics were of modest quality with relatively poor lenses – so it never caught on with more serious users.
The 500 is a very solid, well made Instamatic, one of the top of the range at time of introduction. A two part steel frame lends a very robust air to it, and the surface covering materials are also of a high quality. A branded Gossen selenium meter sits to the side of the viewfinder, with a match needle visible in the middle bottom of the frame. The Schneider-Kreuznach lens holds the leaf shutter which operates from 1/30th to 1/500th plus bulb. As you may guess the entire camera came from Kodak’s manufacturing plant in Germany.
On the base plate is a button to release the lens, which retracts somewhat for storage and travel. This also reveals the lens mounted focus, aperture and shutter controls. There’s no rangefinder or other focusing aids, so it’s purely by approximation, but with an appropriately chosen aperture the lens is capable of good results.
Why it’s special
My very earliest memories all revolve around my Dad carrying an Instamatic 500 in it’s pleather pouch -s so much so that I was astounded at just how familiar this was when it arrived in the post. The 500 provided decent specifications in a very well made chassis, with full manual control, for the serious amateur wanting to take advantage of the convenience of 126 cartridges.
The Museum Sample
Purchased on eBay during December 2012 for $39, this is a very nicely preserved sample. It’s been used, but carefully, and is in lovely condition.
- Manufacturer : Kodak
- Year Introduced : 1963
- Year Discontinued : 1966
- Film format : 126 cartridge
- Serial Number : 98955