Around 10 million 126 film cameras were made by Kodak and other companies and it’s likely that family photos from 1965 to the mid-seventies were captured with Kodak 126 film. Cameras were inexpensive and the 126 film cartridge made shooting easy for everyone.
Kodak stopped making 126 Instamatic cameras in 1988, and stopped making 126 film in 1999, but some 126 film has been produced by other companies since.
The 126 film cartridge is a roll film magazine for 35mm-wide film with a paper backing.
It was launched in 1963 by Kodak for it’s range of instamatic cameras and in answer to consumer complaints about the complications involved with loading and unloading roll film cameras.
The Darkroom has been professionally developing 126 format film for over 40 years
Develop your 126 film
With the cartridge film, you don’t have to attach the film leader to a take-up spool. The cartridge simply drops into the camera. You close the back, wind, and shoot. The film is unperforated, except for one registration hole per image. A sensing pin in the camera falls into this hole when the film is fully advanced to the next frame, at which point the winding knob or lever is locked. Since the cartridge fits only one way, it cannot be loaded incorrectly. The film does not need to be rewound, and is very simple to load and unload. Originally available in 12 and 20 exposures, by the time regular production stopped it was only available in 24 exposure cartridges.
The film is pre-exposed with frame lines and numbers, a feature intended to make printing and viewing easier. The top edge of the cartridge above the film gate has a square notch in a specific position corresponding to the speed of the film in the cartridge, used by some higher-end cameras.
126 cameras have a window to show the back of the cartridge, which is printed with the film details, and has a small hole revealing the frame number printed on the backing paper. The cartridge has a captive take-up spool, but no supply spool, with the film simply coiled tightly in the supply end of the cartridge.
The number 126 comes from the dimensions of the negatives, 26.5mm square.
Today, there are still avid 126 shooters who snoop around on ebay or load their own 126 cartridges with 35mm film.