What's a good 126 camera?
I feel like trying out the 126 format, just to see what the photos look like. I gather there were some top quality cameras made & also some plastic cheapies. I don't mind a plastic lens for that instamatic look, but I do like to have some level of control over focus & exposure.
I'd appreciate if anyone can tell me some model names of the best quality cameras & also what are some decent plastic lens ones.
No direct experience, but Zeiss Contaflex 126 or Kodak Instamatic Reflex are two names that come to mind. In the latter case, it seems the camera of your dreams could be yours for as little as $9.99 :
I think the best of the 126 cameras is the Rolleiflex SL 26. It offers match-needle metering, three lenses (actually three front elements), a Synchro-Compur shutter with speeds from 1/2-500 plus B, a rapid-return mirror and a very nice image for focusing. The battery powers only the meter.
Rollei also made the A26, a viewfinder camera with a push-pull operation, zone focusing, automatic exposure and a nice Sonnar lens.
The Zeiss Ikon Contaflex 126 has true lens interchangeability. The metering system is battery-powered shutter priority. It lacks a rapid-return mirror.
I haven't played enough with the Kodak Retina offering, but I recall that I was not impressed with it.
The difficulty is in finding a camera that works. The first Rollei SL 26 I bought didn't work, and the second stopped working until I was able to free a jammed gear. Its mechanism is very complex to service -- even more than a regular SLR because the same amount of gears are jammed into a space that is roughly half that of a normal SLR.
The Rollei A26 is a simpler camera, and these often work without too much difficulty. Generally, the companion flash that was sold with the camera either doesn't work or is missing the AC adapter that is required to charge the battery for the flash.
I've yet to encounter a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex that works properly.
Of the two, I prefer the Rolleiflex SL 26. I find it easier to use, easier to focus and easier to meter. It's much more straightforward in its operation.
Both Rolleis and the Contaflex use the 625 mercury cell for the meter. You can easily substitute a hearing-aid battery with a rubber "O" ring in its place.
I might also suggest a 120 camera (or even 127). You could get an inexpensive twin-lens reflex or perhaps a folding camera or even a Holga or Diana or one of the myriad other 120 cameras that offer the square format.
In 35mm, there is the prewar Zeiss Ikon Tenax and Tenax II (great camera, but expensive) and the Robot. The postwar Tenax (with a Tessar lens) or Taxona also could be on your list, although either can be expensive as well (roughly $100 or more).
I agree with you about the square format. It's terrific.
I have reviews of both Rolleis on my site.
Last edited by elekm; 03-22-2008 at 07:34 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: Corrected the shutter-speed range for the SL 26
Can you still get 126 film, I thought it had gone the same way as 828 -same film format just repackaged in a 126 cassette.
You can still get 126 film, although it's not easy to find. I believe both are made by Ferrania. One is marketed under the Ferrania name, while the other is available as an Adox product.
Of course, finding a place to process it can be difficult.
Also, for other cameras, I believe the Kodak Instamatic 104 is a highly regarded camera.
I also meant to add that the lenses for the Contaflex 126 are of exceptionally high quality in construction. The normal lens is either a Zeiss Ikon Pantar (average quality) or a Carl Zeiss Tessar. The other lenses include a Distagon and Sonnar -- both Carl Zeiss lenses.
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The Kodak Instamatic 500 is very good, shown here at the Frugal Photographer site. The example I have was picked up for $5 at an auction and is in fine condition, with everything working. I have a Rollei A26 as well, but that is prone to problems and gives little in the way of control. Many of the cheaper Kodak Instamatics were made somewhere in the gap between good and interesting - in that no-man's-land of just plain boring. They are not plastic-y enough to have much personality and not good enough to be taken seriously.
One warning: while your local quick photo joint may be able to develop this film (same size as 35), they may not be able to print it for you. I've been told that the sprocket holes on 126 film are incompatible with the automatic printers at the local places around here (western 'burbs of Boston.) If you don't have access to color printing for 126, you may be stuck with mailing it out.
Many thanks for all the helpful replies. I now have a short list of cameras to look out for. One motivation to explore this format is that I am intrigued by these obscure niche formats that are just managing to hang on. I'm just starting to shoot 110 & also getting intrigued by Minox size film. Might as well do it now while the film is still more or less available. Also I'm aware that different film formats & sizes & cameras give different kinds of photographic looks and this is something that I want to see for myself. The bonus with 110 and 126 is that the cameras are pretty cheap if you're patient.
I don't think I'll have any problems with processing as I give all my film to Steve at the Lighthouse. He did some 110 for me the other day & I saw he had also processed some Minox C41. I have access to 2 colour darkrooms so I will probably just do proof sheets & then print any frames that look interesting.
One note on 126. There are somewhere some plans to make pinhole cameras with it, basically using a piece of matt board. There is a cruciform pattern that folds into an open box that fits between the two sides of film cartridge. You fashion a pinhold from whatever material, and use black electrical tape to connect it. And you carry a nickle to advance the film. I remember doing this back in perhaps the 6th grade. I am sure the instructions are on the internet somewhere...
Here is a quick google result
The Fugal Photographer site has details of a simple 126 cartridge pinhole - haven't tried it myself but it looks feasible (and cheap!). My own choice of 126 camera would be my trusty Instamatic 500 - great lens and a surprisingly accurate Gossen meter - it is also well engineered and feels "right" in the hand. If you can put up with zone focusing then it is a good buy. Film is still available although the Solaris 126 can have some quirky colour rendering (personally I like it but others don't). Good luck with your hunt
I also have an Instamatic 500. My favorite 126 camera is probably a Minolta Autopak 700. It looks like a 35mm RF camera and can be operated fully manually. If my memory is good, Dwayne's in Parsons, Kansas still processes 126 film. Somewhere I have an Instamatic 804 which used to belong to my sister-in-law's grandmother. It has RF focusing and manually adjustable shutter speeds and I think apertures. The think's heavier than an Argus C3 and all gunked up. I'm sure it would be a fun repair project for Ken Ruth. No 126 collection would be complete without an original Instamatic 100 which accepts AG-1 flashbulbs. That one came from my father's wife.