Introduction: Disassemble and Reload a 110 Film Cartridge

Pity the poor Pocket Instamatic photographer.  He/She has seen the film choices dwindle over the more Kodachrome, no more black and white, no more slide film, etc, etc, etc.

Well, some people can't be dragged into the 21st, so lets work around it!

>>>In this instructable, we'll disassemble a 110 film cartridge and reload it with any film you choose to load.

None of this information is particularly ground breaking.  The Luddites of the Subminiture community have been doing this for years.  The purpose of this Instructable is to pull all the info I've found into one spot for easy reference.

Step 1: What Is 110 Film?

Kodak had a hit with their 126 cartridge film introduced in 1963.  Its main "claim to fame" was the ease of loading.  It was just a drop in cartridge unlike all the fiddling that went with loading a regular 35mm camera of the time.  However, since 126 film used 35mm wide film, the cameras could not be be made smaller and more portable.  After all, if you have a camera you could take anywhere, you would use more film....Kodak film!

So the 110 cartridge film was born.  Cute and portable cameras that take advantage of the "new" film format soon filled the camera stores.  As soon as Dick Van Dyke got involved in advertising the new "Pocket Instamatics" thing really took off.

It is difficult to imagine in these digital days just how big the 110 phenomenon really was, but you might look at the camera section of your local thrift shop where these cameras are sold by the ton!

Step 2: Prepare for Reloading

OK, so you have inherited, bought, found or given a 110 film camera and want to use film you can't find in the depressingly slim 110 film marketplace.  Before you can reload, you will need some supplies: 

1.  At least 1, 110 film cartridge.  You can usually find a 1/2 used cartridge in the back of your new acquisition.  If not, you can still buy 110 film on any auction site.  The film may be outdated or obsolete, but that will not matter, you just want the parts.  Some cartridges are easier to get apart so look for the oldest Kodak cartridges you can find as they seem to come apart the easiest.

2.  Razor knife.

3.  16mm film or film you can slit down to 16mm.  Unperforated film work the best, single perf 16mm film is second best and double perf the least favorable (but still useful).  In this demonstration, I'll use 16mm Agfa Copex microfilm for my reloading.  For some more tips on using microfilm, look  here.

4.  Black electrical tape (or black gaffers tape).

For my video, I used a film cartridge that shot and wanted the film.  If this is your case, follow these steps:

a.  Shoot your 24th frame of 110 film and closely watch the back window

b.  Advance the film forward only until you see the first "X" on the backing paper

c.  Open up the camera and remove the film.  You will see the film in the cartridge, but don't worry, your images are safe.

d.  To remove the film, take a toothpick and hook the film/backing paper combo and pull out of the film supply chamber.

e.  Now transfer the film to a changing bag or darkroom.

f.  Grab the film and backing paper and completely pull the film and backing paper out of the take up chamber.

g.  The film will come out easily, but the backing paper is glued to the take up reel.  Just tug sharply to pull the backing paper off.

h.  Process the film yourself or put in a black 35mm container to send to your favorite photo finisher.

Q: Can you take out the 110 film and use it in another camera?

A: Yes and no.  The film will perform fine, however commercial 110 film is preprinted with edge information that will leave strange artifacts on your images.

Step 3: Opening the Top Seam

In this step, you will score and open the top if the cartridge.

1.  Locate the seam on the two bulbous supply and take-up chambers.  It is very difficult to see...even with my macro bellows on my camera it is difficult.

2.  Carefully take the razor knife and try to separate that seam.  I like to seat the blade into the seam and rotate the knife along the chambers.

3.  Cut through the seam on both the supply and take up chambers.

4.  Take a pick and ensure the seam is completely free.

Now move onto the next step:

Step 4: Opening the Side Seam

In this step, we'll cut down the sides of the cartridge.

1.  Ensure the top seam is cut through to the seam on the side.

2.  Score down the side with the razor knife.

3.  Once you are through, you should be able to bend the top and bottom pieces apart slightly.

4.  Repeat for the other side.

5.  Once both sides are separated, slowly bend the top and bottom pieces apart.  With luck you will hear a snap and the pieces of the cartridge will fall apart.  If you feel that the plastic of the cartridge is going to break before coming apart, move on to the next step.

Step 5: Opening the Bottom Seam

If you failed to break the cartridge apart in the last step, we'll get it apart here.

1.  Take your razor knife and score the seam along the bottom of the cartridge as best you can.  Since it is a butt joint, it is a little difficult.

2.  Once you have weakened the joint, try bending apart the top and bottom elements.  If you are lucky, it will snap apart.  If not, try again until it comes apart easily.

Step 6: Prepare Your 16mm Film

You can get your film to reload in a variety of ways.  Although the actual width of 110 film is 17mm, 16mm film works just fine.  You can easily find this stuff at internet auction sites or sold fresh as movie film or like I'm using here, microfilm.

1.  Slit to Fit.  You can construct or buy film slitters that will slit 35mm or 120 film into the required 16mm width.  So with this method, you have access to any film made in those formats.  A 36 exposure 35mm roll will give you enough film for 2, 110 cartridges where 1, 120 roll of film will yield enough film for 3, 110 cartridges.  If you slit the 120 at 15mm, you could get 4, 110 cartridges out of a 120 roll, however, you might have problems getting the film into steel reels for development, however if you use the plastic expanding reels, it may not be a problem.

2.  16mm Cine Film. These films come in 100 foot or longer rolls.  Theoretically, you could get 40, 110 cartridges out of one 100 foot roll of cine film.  The main problem is that the film comes with perforations on either one, or both sides of the film.  If the film is single perforated, you can use the perforated side positioned so the sensor does not engage the perforations.  You will have some artifacts from the perforations and maybe even preprinted footage numbers in the image area of the film that you can crop out or leave in for that "sprocket photo" look.  Double perf stock can be used as well, but you have to fire a few "dummy" photos in between to get discrete images (or maybe run everything together for the arthouse look).

3.  Microfilm.  By far my favorite to use as it has no sprocket holes, is cheap and is super fine grained (always a concern when working with submini photography).  On the down side, it is slow and can be very high in contrast unless developed carefully.

Once you have the film of your choice, you need to cut to length.  That is 76cm or 30 inches.  You have to do this in total darkness, so the best way is to have a dummy length of film (or paper strip) the correct length and match the length in the dark and cut your film.  Best to keep track of the emulsion side and base side to be able to load it correctly.

Step 7: Reload!

OK, time to put it all together.  I'd advise you to get a dummy strip of film and do it several times in the light so you can visualize the procedure when you have to do it with your hands in a changing bag or dark room.

1.  Reattach the backing paper.  This task you can do in the light.  Since we yanked the backing paper off the take up reel, now is time to reattach it.  Take a thin piece of tape and go all the way around the take up reel and tape to the backing paper on both the front and back.  Make sure the numbers are facing the back of the cartridge (don't ask).  Also, make sure that the reel is closest to the 24th exposure on the backing paper (again, don't ask).

2.  Take all the pieces of the cartridge and a few small tabs of tape to close the cartridge.  Arrange them so you can remember where they are when the lights are off.

3.  Turn off the lights or close your changing bag.

4.   Take thebacking paper with the reel attached in one hand and retreive the film you have cut in the other.  Put the film with the base side facing the backing paper and start to roll the film and backing paper starting at exposure 24 into a tight tube. Once you reach the end (past exposure 1) you should have the tight tube of film/backing paper in your right hand and the reel attached to the backing paper in the left.

4a.  Alternate method:  Take the reel with the backing paper in one hand and retreive the film you have cut in the other.  Put the film with the base side facing the backing paper and start to roll the film and backing paper onto the reel (starting at exposure 1).  Once the film and backing paper is completely rolled onto the take-up reel, your half way done.  Now you need to reroll the film and backing paper off the take-up reel and into a tight tight tube (it has to be small enough to fit into the supply chamber).   Do this until you are almost at the end of the film/backing paper combo. 

5.  Now carefully insert the rolled tube of film into the supply chamber and the take-up reel into the cartridge.  Feel to make sure is snug.

6.  Put on the cartridge cover and secure the cover with a few tabs of tape.

7.  Reload complete.

The alternate method in step 4a is particularly useful when using a changing bag as it minimizes the long lengths of film and backing paper to possibly get tangled.  The price you pay is the extra step of unrolling the reel and rolling the film/backingpaper into a tight tube in the dark.

This is the process with a lot of additional info.  Be advised that this Youtube video is over 20 minutes of me blathering on about reloading 110 film.  Use the slider liberally!

Step 8: Tips and Tricks

1.  The Notch.  Some 110 cameras pass the function test to determine if you can use unperforated reloads, but mysteriously fail when you put your reload in.  The reason for this behavior is that your camera has a sensor that tells the camera when film is inserted.  When film is sensed, the camera operates an interlock that tuns on the perforation seeking sensor system.  An easy way to defeat this feature is to cut a small notch out of the film cartridge so the cartridge does not activate the sensor.  If you have just one camera, this is not a problem as you can cut all your reloads the same.  However, the sensor may be at different spots for different cameras.  Once you excavate enough plastic to get the cartridge to work with all of your cameras, you could be weakening the structure of the cartridge enough to cause light leaks when the cartidge is flexed when loading or unloading.

2.  Film speed adjustments.  The film sensing feature of 110 film was rather crude compared to DX coding of 35mm cartridges.  The 110 cartridge was only coded for "low" and "high" speed film.  The problem with this system is that the ISO for low and high were not defined.  This allowed the camera manufacturers to decide that for themselves.  Most cameras interpret the low to be about 100 ISO and High at 400 ISO.  So how do you get the proper exposure when you reload with your own film?  Here are a few methods:

     a.  Lattitude.  Modern films have quite a bit of lattitude--that is ability to handle over and under exposure and still come up with a printable/scannable negative.  In fact some people purposely under expose and over develop film to get a specific "look."  If you are looking for the best lattitude, try Black and White negative film, but if color is your thing Mat Marrash reports that Kodak Porta 400 can be abused and still produce a great exposure.  So the bottom line here is pick a film that is close to 100 or 400 ISO and it should perform well in your reloads.

     b.  Exactitude. Stick to 100 or 400 ISO films.  This method is especially useful for films that have less lattitude like most slide film.

     c.  Compensation.  Some higher end 110 cameras (most notably the Minolta 110 Zoom series) have an ability to adjust the exposure for special photographic situations (like backlighting).  You can use these to adjust the effective ISO of your camera's exposure system.  The Minolta can over or under expose film by 2 stops.  So in theory, you can reload film with ISO's from 25-1600 ISO.

     d.  Deception.  As a quirk of camera construction, most 110 cameras have the light sensor seperate from the taking lens.  That means you can cover the light sensor with a translucent piece of plastic and trick the camera into a longer exposure.   Lets say that you reload with microfilm at 25 ISO in a 100 ISO cartridge.  The camera would naturally underexpose the film by 2 stops.  However, if you put a 2 stop neutral density filter over the camera sensor, the camera would be tricked into exposing the film at correct ISO of 25.

     e.  Film Deception.  If you want to shoot some crazily high ISO in your 110 camera, you can use the opposite trick from letter "d" above.  This time the filter will go over the taking lens.  Say you wanted to shoot some 3200 ISO film in a 400 ISO cartridge.  The camera naturally wants to expose your film at 400 ISO causing a 3 stop overexposure.  To compensate, just put a 3 stop neutral density filter over the taking lens to expose the film correctly.  

3.  The obligatory Altoids Tin.  It wouldn't be an instructable without an Altoids tin!  Because we disassembled the 110 cartridge, it has less structural stability than a factory sealed cartridge.  To keep the film from getting knocked around and possibly exposed to the light, I carry mine in an Altoids tin.  It is relatively crush proof and somewhat protects from dust and rain.  Two 110 cartridges fit in the standard Altoids box just fine. 72 exposures (2 in the can and 1 in the camera) is a good number for most reasonable outings.

Enjoy your 110 camera goodness!