Not much to look at, but a huge success- the Kodak Instamatic 104

shoot-166This is an odd gear review. The only one where I have no images I have taken with the camera it’s about. I have taken images with the camera, but I no longer have them. There may be some prints in my mother’s attic, 1200 miles from where I am.

My first camera was a Diana, which I got by earning a number of points in either a magazine or candy sale, I forget which. My mother didn’t want to fool with roll film, as I don’t think they sold it at the JCPenney’s camera counter where she bought every camera she ever owned. It used the 126 film cartridge. This was basically a roll of 35mm film in a plastic cartridge that allowed it to be loaded easily. Kodak sold these cartridges by the boatload. The 104 was an improvement on the 100 model, allowing the use of the brand new flash cubes.

The cameras were cheap. They were stamped aluminum, and had more simulated features than real ones. The lens, a fixed plastic f11 43mm, had a simulated ribbed focus ring around it. Under the simple lever shutter release was a simulated selenium cell exposure meter. The only other things it would have needed to be complete would have been a simulated shutter speed and simulated f-stop dials. There was no tripod socket, and they were clad in genuine fake leather.

But even though these cameras are nothing special, they had the one thing Kodak wanted. They were profitable. There were somewhere between 50 and 60 million Instamatics made, and that produced a relentless hunger for Kodak’s cartridges. They may have sold these cameras at a break even, or a loss sometimes, but they were worth their weight in gold.

shoot-167I toyed with the idea of getting some 126 film off eBay and trying it a few times. I’ve looked around for the old cartridge I had with it many moons ago to see if I could hack it together with fresh film. But to tell the truth, I seem to recall the pictures this thing made to be uninspiring.

So why do I keep it? I’m not sure. I think this is the camera that took the first pictures of me ever, a snapshot while I was being wheeled in my mother’s arms out of the hospital as an infant. It recorded our family life when I was small. And it was the first camera I ever took a picture with. The first one that thought me the magic and joys of photography. I suppose I’ll keep it, even if it’s not much more than a paperweight. It gets the only exemption to the rule of my camera collection: use it or get rid of it. I suppose being first is worth something.

2 Comments

  1. Pretty sure my mom’s 104 was the first thing I ever took a picture with, too. I love your characterization of this el cheap-o brick as ‘more simulated than actual.’ It’s like an ersatz camera. 😛

    Side note: If you want a 126 cartridge for loading 35mm, I have one. I haven’t actually tried this, but I’ve read about it and it seems workable. Here’s a great post with a really useful video that covers the process from loading to shooting to unloading.

    • Andrew
      August 2, 2014
      Reply

      I might try that cartridge, when I have time in a bit. Trade you lunch for it one day?

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