As already seen some time ago about the 110 Pocket , despite the spirit of these film formats was to make life easier for the casual user at the expense, often, of a good quality, there are examples of fine dedicated equipment which deliver a lot more than simple “point and shoot”: there are 126 cameras of quality that certainly deserve some attention, given the low prices at which can be found today and the possibility of refill easily the cartridges. Not to mention that, sometimes, we listen to rumors of a return to production for this format. Then, we ant to go through a quick look at some of the finest 126 cameras.
Given the brandwe are talking about, it is not hard to imagine how we are in the presence of the most expensive camera for 126 format ever appeared on the market, produced from 1968 until the beginning of 1974. It is a rather compact reflex, with interchangeable lenses, built in few specimens even when considering the particular market niche in which it addressed. Built with care, at least equal to that of the older sister SL35 for 35mm and equipped, as imaginable, of high optical quality lenses produced by Carl Zeiss, who did start to develop a real system but, never completed it: three lenses where available at market launch and three only remained until today. They were the standard FL Tessar 40 / 2.8, a tele Pro-Tessar 80/4 and a wide Pro-Tessar 28 / 3.2 indeed quite rare.
The Rolleiflex SL26 is equipped with a reliable mechanical shutter by Compur with speeds from 1/2 sec to 1/500 sec and Bulb; control is only manual but there is a CdS light meter powered by a type 625 mercury battery and with needle indicator visible inside the viewfinder. The viewfinder sports a very accurate split image focus system. This camera must be used as a classic SLR, with charging lever located on the right in the upper casing, while the selection of shutter speed and aperture, as well as the focus, are performed using the rings placed on the lens barrel.There is a flash shoe with hot contact, but no specific automatism is provided. As in any 126 camera, film loading is error-proof and in this case it takes place by opening the rear door (which practically constitutes the entire back) and inserting the cartridge in the only possible position; counting poses is by window placed on the back, showing the protective paper of the film and its frame number.
Again from the German camera maker an easier to use but with respectable optical quality camera. The Rollei A26 is a small, compact automatic point and shoot with the classic slide opening and simultaneous advancement of the film and to reset the shutter; while opening the camera it comes out a retractable lens which is the real highlight of this model: a standard Carl Zeiss Sonnar 40 / 3,5.
The Rollei A26 is fully automatic, with exposure by a CdS meter which controls the central Prontor shutter with time-speed couples set from 1/250 sec f / 22 to 1/30 sec f / 3.5 and automatic detection of film speed (via the plastic tabs on the cartridge) from 50 to 400 ISO; the only manual function is the zone focusing, which is carried out by turning the ring placed on the outer of the barrel. Inside the viewfinder, as well as guides to the edges of the frame there are LED light to signal the lack of lighting.
To insert the film cartridge, the two sides of the camera must be separated with the appropriate key that unlocks the reset mechanism and allows the shutter and the camera’s exterior to separate from the inside.
The camera was marketed with a dedicated flash (Rollei C26) with side coupling, which is very similar to what happens with the Olympus XA series; grafting the flash acts on the program settings.
Minolta Autopak 700
This nice camera was introduced in 1965 and it takes forms, characteristics and quality elements from contemporary Hi-Matic 35mm compact cameras; it is a compact rangefinder with manual or programmed exposure using CdS cell meter. The fixed lens is a four elements Rokkor 38 / 2.8 directly derived from those fitted in Minolta cameras for 135 film. Specialty of the Minolta Autopak 700 camera in addition to the rangefinder, is the ability to use both manual, Shutter & Aperture priority or fully automatic mode, a rarity in 126 format; the selection of the shooting mode is made by using the dials selection of times and diaphragms placed on the lens barrel; the speed between 1/30 sec to 1/250 sec (divided in just four steps) over the bulb mode, the apertures from f / 2.8 to f / 22.
The viewfinder shows picture frames, range finder and a needle exposure indicator; rangefinder, despite the relatively low base is clearly visible in the viewfinder and it is absolutely accurate. The advancement of the film occurs by means of the charging lever (which simultaneously resets the shutter) on the back of the camera; The counter is the protective paper film visible through the back window. The Autopak 700 is entirely made of metal and demonstrates robustness and manageability that combined with the excellent quality of Rokkor lens (especially in black and white) make it a great equipment to always carry on. The dimensions are slightly higher than the Hi Matics.
Kodak Instamatic 500
Kodak, inventor of the 126 format, could not miss a proposal for a higher quality camera for the film format, and put in the production line of Instamatics, generally cheap plastic cameras with few charachteristics; one of the more comprehensive models is represented by this Instamatic 500, compact camera with full manual control of exposure. The 500 is constructed of solid metal with plastic inserts, very robust and compact, and is equipped with a great quality Schneider Kreuznach Xenar 38 / 2.8 partially retractable and a central Compur shutter with speeds from 1/30 sec to 1/500 sec plus pose B.
The lens is, as mentioned, retractable and is brought to the operating mode by pressing a button on the base of the camera; on the barrel there are the rings for selection of speed and aperture and the manual focus ring. The shutter button is placed on the upper plate (where is also the flash hot shoe) and is equipped with threaded socket for connection of the cable release. The framingis happens thru galilean viewfinder which contains the indication for correcting parallax and a needle which reads from a Gossen selenium cell, particularly oversized to increase its useful life; the fact that it is decoupled from the exposure system prevents, however, that the exhaustion of selenium cell affects the operation of the camera.
The cocking lever is placed on the back of the camera, but in unusual position making its operation very easy and quick; on the biottom of the camera there is also the threaded connection for the stand which, together with that for the cable release and the presence of the bulb makes this camera particularly suitable for long exposures. Among other characteristics, must be notedl the presence of Synchro flash out in addition to the hot shoe, unusual solution and typical of professional cameras.
Some final comment
In all of the models listed above there are functional features that go far beyond the classical canons to which the 126 film format was born and grew, and the same can be said for the quality of the lenses; all of these cameras did not have large market spread (the best-selling is probably the Rollei A26 with about 170,000 copies, five times those of the Rolleiflex SL26) which makes them particularly desirable if the format 126 came back into production in the near future . Remember, finally, that exist some other camera for 126 with equivalent quality, such as SLR Kodak Instamatic Camera and Contaflex 126 or rangefinder Minolta Autopak 800.