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Picture of Instamatic Retro
Want pure lomographic goodness with a pawn shop camera? Reload that funky Kodak Instamatic with 35mm film, and get the retro images you crave.

You could use a Holga or a Diana, but the almost pinhole camera Instamatic gives velvety cool photos.

Develop the film for US$1.49 at a local photo lab.

To reload you will need an Instamatic Kodapak cartridge. The best place to buy Instamatic film is The Frugal Photographer.

Special thanks to Mischa Koning of Kodak Classics, and David Francis of Instamatic Central for their excellent web sites.

This photo gear Instructable is about the mid-format 126 size still cameras. See my other Instructable Pocket Instamatic for the sub-miniature style still camera.
 
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Step 1: Cameras and Cartridges

Picture of Cameras and Cartridges
The fastest way to get an Instamatic to reload is to ask your family and friends. Chances are someone has an Instamatic in a closet or drawer.

The most common models are the Kodak Instamatic 100, 104, the green Instamatic Hawkeye models, and the last of the line, the X-15 and X-15F. They are also the easiest to find online and in junk stores and yard sales. The Instamatic 500 is probably the coolest and best Kodak 126 camera ever made. Beautiful classic style, great German optics.

Many cameras still have an old Instamatic 126 cartridge in it you can reload.

Frugal Photographer sells the excellent Solaris brand 126 film.

Hold the cartridge and twist the ends gently. When you hear cracking, stop, check your progress and keep working at it until it falls apart.

The cartridge is sealed at the seams on the ends, but once the middle weld points are cracked, the ends usually open easily.

Some 126 cartridges are harder to open. For these, I use a thin flat screwdriver to pry the film cartridge apart.

It helps to start in the middle. There are two weld or glue spots on the bottom edge. Pry these first.

Do not worry about crooked seam cracks. You can use black tape to seal the cartridge after reloading it.

You can always use plastic model glue to repair any broken pieces.

Glue a short length of black backing paper to the inside of the cartridge back. This covers the film number window. It also helps keep the film tightly in place and gives more even reflection off the pressure plate.

Step 2: Reload That Instamatic

Picture of Reload That Instamatic
Get a roll of regular 135 film. Usually 100 or 200 speed is best for Instamatic cameras.

Now you need a totally dark place to reload the old cartridge with fresh 135 film. Like a photo darkroom, or a closet or windowless room with a rolled towel over the door crack. Or use a film changing bag.

You can make your own film changing bag with heavy-duty black garbage bags. Just triple-bag on a table, dump in your stuff, and stick your arms in. Put a heavy coat on top to keep the bags closed.

Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling the film to keep fingerprints off.

Tape the loose end of the 135 film to the 126 spool.

Tape the Instamatic cartridge film window and ends gently closed with black tape.

Put a piece of black tape over the window in the camera back.

Place the film, taped cartridge, scissors and camera into the changing bag.

In the dark, slowly pull the film out of the 135 canister and cut it loose with blunt scissors.

Wrap the loose end of the film around your finger the way it naturally wants to curl.

Coil it up tightly, holding it by the edges as much as possible to avoid fingerprints.

Place the coiled film and the spool into the 126 plastic cartridge.

Now load the 126 cartridge into the camera in the dark and shut the camera back.

Step 3: Taking pictures

Picture of Taking pictures
Using reloaded cartridges is easy for most basic Kodak Instamatics like the 100 or 104.

1. Press and hold the shutter button down.
2. Push the film advance lever to the front and release it. Repeat.
3. Release the shutter button. Hear click.
4. Gently wind the Film Advance lever again for a short distance until it stops. Now release it.

You are ready to take a snapshot.

Remember, Instamatics are clear sky sunny-day cameras with tiny slow lenses.

You will get sharper photos if you prop the camera against a wall, tree, or car with a pocket tripod.

See the tips for each recommended Instamatic model at the end of this Instructable.

Step 4: Develop, Scan, Print

Picture of Develop, Scan, Print
After shooting a reloaded cartridge, unload the camera in a film changing bag or darkroom.

Remove the film from the cartridge and spool. Keep them for your next roll.

Coil the film and put it in a black plastic film container.

Most labs will give you old 135 containers free.

I ask for "Negatives Only" cause it is only $1.49 and I scan them with a low-cost home scanner.

You can also have the negatives individually printed at your local photo lab.

Relax, shoot from the hip, and have fun reloading Kodak Instamatics.

Step 5: Kodak Instamatic 100

Picture of Kodak Instamatic 100
The first US Instamatic, and still my favorite.

Manufactured: 1963-66
Lens: f/11, 43 mm
Optics: plastic, single element, meniscus
Focus: fixed, 4 feet to infinity
Shutter: 1/90 second or 1/40 second with flash deployed
Tripod Mount: none
Modern Film Speeds: 100, 200, 400 on a sunny f/16 day

Flash range: 4 feet to 7 feet with AG1B blue bulbs, 10 feet with AG1 clear bulbs
Batteries: two AAA only required for flash
Viewfinder: direct view

Tips:
  • Use Kodak 6A Portrait slip on lens for 2.5 to 4 feet range
  • Use Kodak 6A Cloud slip on yellow filter for black and white sky shots.
  • For shade extend flash without a bulb for slower exposure: use tripod or tree to steady.
  • When using reloaded film remember top edge will be cut off by sprockets
  • To shoot reloaded film, hold shutter down, wind twice, release shutter, wind partially.

Step 6: Kodak Instamatic 300

Picture of Kodak Instamatic 300
First automatic aperture Instamatic. Heavy construction.

Manufactured: 1963-1966
Lens: Kodar f/8, 41 mm
Optics: glass 3 element
Focus: fixed, 4 feet to infinity
Shutter: 1/90 second or 1/40 second with flash deployed
Tripod Mount: none
Modern Film Speeds: 100, 200 on a sunny f/16 day
Lightmeter: Selenium powered aperture (f-stop)
Speed Sensing: 64 ASA or 160 ASA
Flash range: 4 feet to 7 feet with AG1B blue bulbs, 10 feet with AG1 clear bulbs
Batteries: two AAA only required for flash
Viewfinder: direct view

Tips:
  • Use Kodisk 355 Portrait slip on lens for 2.5 to 3.5 feet range
  • Extend flash without a bulb to get lower 1/40 sec speed for shade shots. Must use tripod.
  • When using reloaded film remember top edge of picture will be missing due to sprockets.
  • To shoot reloaded film, hold shutter down, wind twice, release shutter, wind partially.
  • Selenium lightmeter will probably not work so aperture will be full open

Step 7: Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye R4

Picture of Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye R4
This green Instamatic was a premium or giveaway camera and was not available for sale in retail stores. Mostly plastic construction. Fun to use -- you will get lots of stares and questions.

Manufactured: 1965-1971
Lens: f/11, 43 mm
Optics: plastic, single element, positive meniscus
Focus: fixed, 4 feet to infinity
Shutter: 1/90 second normal or 1/40 second flash
Tripod Mount: none
Modern Film Speeds: 100, 200, 400 on a clear sunny f/16 day
Flash range: 4 feet to 7 feet
Image: 28x28mm nominal
Batteries: two AAA
Manual: 16 pages

Tips:
  • Insert used flash to get lower 1/40 sec speed for shade shots with tripod.
  • Camera takes two AAA batteries, but only needed for flash.
  • When using reloaded film remember top quarter of view will be cut off.
  • To shoot reloaded film, hold shutter down, wind twice, release shutter, wind partially.
  • No cube release, pull cube gently straight up to remove.

Step 8: Kodak Instamatic X-15F

Picture of Kodak Instamatic X-15F
This is a truly nice lightweight camera to use, and the last of the US Instamatics.

Manufactured: 1976-1988
Lens: f/11, 43 mm
Optics: plastic, single element, meniscus
Focus: fixed, 4 feet to infinity
Image: 28x28mm nominal
Shutter: 1/90 sec. normal, 1/45 sec. flash
Batteries: none required
Tripod Mount: standard 1/4 inch by 20 threads/inch
Modern Film Speeds: 100, 200, 400 on a clear sunny f/16 day
Flash range: 4 feet to 7 feet
Image: 28x28mm nominal

Tips:
  • To shoot reloaded film, wind, shoot a blank pressed against your leg, wind again.
  • Insert used flash to get lower shutter speed for shade shots with tripod.
  • Top image edge missing with reloaded film: use vertical parallax guides in bright line finder.
  • Top four flash bulbs are active, flip flash over to use remaining bulbs.

Step 9: Kodak Instamatic 104

Picture of Kodak Instamatic 104
The first flashcube Instamatic, and widely available. A good choice. Same construction as the 100 only with flashcube.

Manufactured: 1965-1968
Lens: f/11, 43 mm
Optics: plastic, single element, meniscus
Focus: fixed, 4 feet to infinity
Shutter: 1/90 second normal, or 1/40 second with flash
Tripod Mount: none
Modern Film Speeds: 100, 200, 400 on a sunny f/16 day
Flash range: 4 feet to 9 feet
Batteries: two AAA only required for flash
Viewfinder: direct view

Tips:
  • Use Kodak 6A Portrait slip on lens for 2.5 to 4 feet range
  • Use Kodak 6A Cloud slip on yellow filter for black and white sky shots.
  • Insert used flashcube to get lower 1/40 sec speed for shade shots with tripod.
  • When using reloaded film cover top 3mm of front viewfinder with masking tape.
  • To shoot reloaded film, hold shutter down, wind twice, release shutter, wind partially.

Step 10: Kodak Instamatic X-15

Picture of Kodak Instamatic X-15
This is a truly nice, lightweight camera to use, and the last of the US Instamatics.

Manufactured: 1970-1976
Lens: f/11, 43 mm
Optics: plastic, single element, meniscus
Focus: fixed, 4 feet to infinity
Image: 28x28mm nominal
Shutter: 1/90 sec. normal, 1/45 sec. flash
Batteries: none required
Tripod Mount: standard 1/4 inch by 20 threads/inch
Modern Film Speeds: 100, 200, 400 on a clear sunny f/16 day
Flash range: 4 feet to 7 feet with Magicube
Viewfinder: direct, bright line with used flash indicator

Tips:
  • To shoot reloaded film, wind, shoot a blank pressed against your leg, wind again.
  • Insert used flash to get lower shutter speed for shade shots with tripod.
  • Top image edge missing with reloaded film: use vertical parallax guides in bright line finder.

Step 11: Kodak Instamatic 500

Picture of Kodak Instamatic 500
The Mercedes-Benz of Instamatics. Heavy, solid construction. Retractable lens lets this fit in your pocket. Highly recommended.

Manufactured: 1963 - 1966
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar f/2.8 to f/22 38mm 4-element glass
Shutter: Compur leaf 1/30 sec. - 1/500 sec and bulb setting
Meter: Gossen selenium cell with centered needle setting
Flash: standard hot shoe and PC socket
Filters: 32 mm Retina filters and lens hoods
depth-of-field indicator
tripod socket: standard 1/4x20
cable release: standard thread
Batteries: none required
Viewfinder: direct view bright frame with parallax marks
Film Sensing: 32 ASA to 800 ASA

Tips:
  • When using reloaded film top edge of photo will be cut off by sprockets, use parallax marks.
  • To shoot reloaded film, hold shutter down, wind twice, release shutter, wind partially.
  • Ignore built in meter and set manually.

Step 12: Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye II

Picture of Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye II
The Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye II was not sold in retail stores. It was sold to companies for use as a premium in sales promotions. It is a lower-cost version of the Instamatic 44 without chrome trim and lacking the internal field stop.

The camera in the picture below has a CAMEROSITY code of YASY or 02/1970.

Another similar model is the Brazilian-made Instamatic 11.

Mfg. 1969 - 1975
Lens: fixed f/11 43mm plastic meniscus lens
Shutter: fixed 1/50 sec.
Film advance: manual knob
Flash: Flashcube, manual advance
Batteries: Two PX825
image: 28x28mm nominal

Tips:
  • Hold down shutter button to wind film.
  • For un-backed reloaded film, wind two complete turns between shots.
  • Flash cube must be manually advanced.
  • Replace PX825 batteries with modern 1.55 volt button cells shimmed with coins.

Step 13: Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye F

Picture of Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye F
The funky green Kodak Instamatic Hawkeye F was for promotion or premium use by other companies and was not sold in retail stores. It is a lower quality version of the Instamatic 100.

Sold: 1964 -1968
Lens: f/11, 43 mm
Optics: plastic, single element, positive meniscus
Focus: fixed, 4 feet to infinity
Shutter: 1/90 second normal or 1/40 second flash
Tripod Mount: none
Modern Film Speeds: 100, 200, 400 on a clear sunny f/16 day
Flash range: 4 feet to 7 feet with AG1B blue bulbs, 10 feet with AG1 clear bulbs
Image: 28x28mm nominal
Batteries: two AAA

Tips:
  • Pop up flash w/o bulb to get lower 1/40 sec speed for shade shots with tripod.
  • Camera takes two AAA batteries, but only needed for flash.
  • When using reloaded film remember top of view will be cut off.
  • For reloaded film w/o backing, hold shutter down, wind twice, release shutter, wind partially.

Step 14: Kodak Instamatic 44

Picture of Kodak Instamatic 44
The Kodak Instamatic 44 is a very simple camera. It was packaged for discount sales at US $9.95 - a shocking $57 in 2008 dollars. The manufacturing date code is usually hidden behind the removable metal field stop. The camera in the picture below has a CAMEROSITY code of YOOT or 06/69. Similar models are the Instamatic Hawkeye II and the Brazilian-made Instamatic 11.

Mfg. 1969 - 1973
Lens: fixed f/11 43mm plastic meniscus lens
Shutter: fixed 1/50 sec.
Film advance: manual knob
Flash: Flashcube, automatic advance during winding
Batteries: Two PX825
image: 28x28mm nominal

Tips:
  • Hold down shutter button to wind film.
  • For un-backed reloaded film, wind two complete turns between shots.
  • Flash cube must be manually advanced.
  • Replace PX825 batteries with modern 1.55 volt button cells shimmed with coins.

Step 15: Kodak Instamatic X-35

Picture of Kodak Instamatic X-35
Kodak Instamatic X-35

Manufactured: 1970 - 1976
Lens: f/8, 41mm
shutter: 1/90 sec. normal or 1/45 sec. flash
Focus: two zone: 2-6 feet and 6 feet-infinity
Meter: Cadmium-Sulfide
Exposure: auto aperture control
Flash: Magicube

Tips:
  • Automatically reverts to 6 feet-infinity focus after each shot
  • Substitute two G13 button cells for PX-30 battery. Shim with shiny pennies.
  • Red filter in viewfinder means flashbulb is used.
  • Red light in viewfinder means insufficient light.

Step 16: Kodak Instamatic X-45

Picture of Kodak Instamatic X-45
Kodak Instamatic X-45

Manufactured: 1970 - 1974
lens: Kodar f/8 41mm
shutter: 1/90 normal 1/45 flash
film advance: windup motor
Focus: two zone: 2-6 feet and 6 feet-infinity
Meter: Cadmium-Sulfide (CdS)
Exposure: auto Aperture control
Flash: Magicube no batteries required

Tips:
  • Automatically reverts to 6 feet-infinity focus after each shot
  • Uses PX-35 3 volt battery for aperture control. Replace with two button cells.

Step 17: Kodak Instamatic 414

Picture of Kodak Instamatic 414
Kodak Instamatic 414

Manufactured: 1968 - 1971
lens: Kodar f/8, 41mm
shutter: 1/90 normal or 1/45 flash
film advance: windup motor
Focus: two zone: 2-6 feet and 6 feet-infinity
Meter: Cadmium-Sulfide (CdS)
Exposure: auto Aperture control
Flash: Magicube no batteries required

Tips:
  • Automatically reverts to 6 feet-infinity focus after each shot
  • Uses PX-35 3 volt battery for aperture control. Replace with two button cells.

This is a very nice article - thanks for posting and including all of the low-tech solutions (like the no-frills changing bag!)

ndanielp4 years ago
When I take my film out of my 35mm canister I save the canister and then reload it in a darkroom and its good to go. when i go to the lab i let them know that the film inside has been shot in a different canister then reloaded back into the 35mm can
squarecat4 years ago
Just found this camera at a Goodwill store today. Original-sized battery installed and working (no flash currently). Now to get a cartridge or 2... (http://www.frugalphotographer.com/cat126.htm)
davidfoy5 years ago
After removing the exposed film from the plastic 126 cartridge in a darkroom or dark bag, it's probably a good idea to put it into a standard 35mm metal cassette, with the tongue hanging out, to take it to the photofinisher. That's the only way you can be really, truly sure that someone there won't open the plastic can in daylight, which is what they normally do. Also, as noted below, some systems in common use expect the film to arrive in a standard 35mm cassette, and handing them bare film invites problems. It might be worth sacrificing a roll of outdated 35mm. Just pull the sacrificial film out all the way and cut it off, then rewind the stub back into the cassette. You should be able to stuff a two-foot length into the cassette without popping the end caps off. Also, consider leaving some of the stub, taping your film to it, and rewinding -- you'll need to rig up a tool to turn the cassette hub. Be sure to insist you get your empty cassette back.
Really fun seeing all the old instamatics - thanks!
yeah, I don't quite follow how the film goes into the developer without being exposed when it's just in the canister like that. Normally film processing machines feed in the dark directly from the metal casing...it would be easy if you were processing your own film but otherwise..
Ravenxl75 years ago
what size button cell is a good replacement for the PX-35 3 volt battery?
Soupraok6 years ago
what do you tell the people at the developing lab? that the film is in the 135 can by its self?
SWEET INSTRUCTABLE!
iectyx3c (author)  iamthemargerineman6 years ago
Thanks! Let me know how it works out for you. You might also like the flickr and yahoo Instamatic groups I have recently joined.
skegger6 years ago
I have an instamatic but can't find any 126 film o_0
iectyx3c (author)  skegger6 years ago
A good source is The Frugal Photographer or this eBay search.
gmoon7 years ago
Nice ible! Love the "flash bars." Something you might enjoy: received this underwater instamatic housing as a birthday gift (9th or 10th.) Yes, a few years ago.... yes, it worked!
instacam.jpg
iectyx3c (author)  gmoon6 years ago
Cool Dive housing and cool instructables patch too!
gmoon iectyx3c6 years ago
Thanks...what happened to your reply below? (there wasn't anything at all controversial about it...) I like the railrd photo...that looks like old-school reticulation effects to me. Also--126 film is great stuff. I recall one of my profs in college extolling the virtues of Verichrome Pan -- it was a much better emulsion than Plus-X. And never available in 35mm...
iectyx3c (author)  gmoon6 years ago
You are right. It is a bug I have seen mentioned in the -ible forums. Oh well :) That railroad photo was pure luck. I was shooting ancient film from an Instamatic I bought at a junk store for $1. And that is what came out. No clue why, but I like it ! I just bought another Instamatic for $2 and it has an ancient roll of VP in it. Will shoot and post the images. I never liked Plus-x much either :)
Kiteman7 years ago
Woah, flashback! My first camera was an Instamatic, and the first ten or twelve years of my life were documented on my mother's Instamatic. Grand old cameras, great to see them getting a new lease of life like this - good ible.
iectyx3c (author)  Kiteman6 years ago
Some of the best Instamatics are the UK only models. Though in my opinion the all out best is the German made Instamatic 500.
static Kiteman7 years ago
I must be old. I remember when the Instamatic came out. My first camera was an inexpensive cheapo roll film camera, that didn't have a flash option. Mom's camera was a roll film camera from the late 40s or early-mid 50s. Most of the snapshots of my youth where B/W and or outdoors. Color film and flash bulbs where luxuries. Now I have a telephone that's way smaller than the Instamatic's and take "good enough" color snapshots and short color video to boot.
Kiteman static7 years ago
Yeh, photographs used to be precious things, that you took care of in an album and showed people only after they promised to be careful about fingerprints and crease. I've just worked out that I take an average of 15 photos a day. We spent a couple of hours on the beach yesterday, I took about sixty photos. I've just made an ible this afternoon (it'll be up this evening) and took 23 photos. On holiday, I'll take 150 a day, at a wedding I'll take 300-500. I'm drowning in photos...
ransom636 years ago
I'd like to try this 35mm into an instamatic, but I have a question. How do you keep the film flat enough on the film plane to make a decently focused image? Is there some way to keep the film tight so it's not slack & loose?
iectyx3c (author)  ransom636 years ago
The secret is the backing paper glued onto the film plane. This keeps the film flat, not slack, and your image in focus.
jeaper996 years ago
I found out quite by accident years ago, and old Brownie's can be had for about 5 bux at yard sales. Without coated lenses, they're no good for colour, but perfect for black and white. A Y2 filter will help some. Enjoy.
jeaper997 years ago
For those who may be interested, you can also backroll 120 film onto 620 rolls to use those older "point and shoots". Either in a black bag (or a dark closet in a dark room at night), unroll the 120 from it's spool, then starting from the end that came off last, re-roll it onto the 620 spool. The paper backing has numbers which will help you determine where you are on the roll as you are shooting.
Uncle bruce! very cool indeed