The introduction of the new format by Kodak is dated 1963 in the middle of a booming period for amateur photography; the idea was to provide a new product ready for use even by those who had never picked up a camera and not feel themselves prepared to use one of the other amateur formats such as 127. The 126 code was already used for a film format introduced at the beginning of the century and abandoned in the immediate post-war period; Therefore, the new format is generally known with the addition of the Instamatic diction.
The 126 Instamatic format looks like a plastic cartridge to be inserted inside a specially designed camera to accommodate the format: the cartridge can be easily inserted and removed in daylight and can be inserted in onlyone position; this is its strength and openness to the world of amateurs.
The film placed in the cartridge is substantially equal to 35mm, which differs only by the perforations (one per frame), and is protected by a thin backing paper with back impressed frame numbers to be showed in a window on the back of the camera (exactly how it will happen ten years later in 110 pocket cartridge); the produced image is square, size 28 x 28 mm although the portion which was then printed was 26.5 x 26.5 mm.
The cartridge was commercialized in two different formats, with 12 or 20 available shots, then brought to 24; though the quality is not very dissimilar to that achievable with 135 the format was precisely aimed to the world of snapshots, therefore, film production was almost exclusively in color.
Cameras and Films
The new format resulted in the birth of a new generation of cameras introduced by Kodak at first and then followed by all other leading manufacturers of the era: Kodak has only produced in the early years of spreading more than three million instamatic cameras, including the Instamatic reflex in the versions f/2.8 and f/1.9 dated 1968. Cameras generally have basic commands and very little chance of manual intervention as confirmation, once again, of their amateur vocation; films had very saturated colors and large exposure latitude to minimize the inevitable exposure errors resulting from the use of such equipment.
The other major producers of film, like Agfa, mated to the production of emulsions also dedicated cameras while there are 126 cameras made by major producers such as Minolta and Yashica, Zeiss-Ikon; the 126 Instamatic format remained in Kodak production until new millennium, when it was gradually abandoned by the other manufacturer except Ferrania (in Europe) that continued to produce it until around 2006.
Using the 126 Instamatic format today
Like what happens with other formats, the availability on the used market is very high, and a fair price is unlikely to exceed 5-10 € for a working and in good condition specimen. The cartridges are gradually disappearing unless we talk to dedicated sites that sell the residual stock of Ferrania Solaris or Blue Fire (USA/Canada). However, the specific film size allows to reload a cartridge directly with 135 film having, in this way, a variety of emulsions that never had been experienced throughout history: in this way, the solution becomes absolutely cheap and full of possibility.
Finally, it seems that recently AdoxTM is determined to produce a new batch of his film in black and white in the 126 format. That’s the preamble of a revival?