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A Kodak Instamatic and Kodachrome 64

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A Kodak Instamatic and Kodachrome 64

14 Sep 2020 10:21PM   Views : 221 Unique : 128

Transparency film is very critical to exposure so how could I get on with it as a novice using a very simple camera in the 1970s? Surprisingly well as it turned out.

My first camera was a Kodak 126 Instamatic I was given as a present for Christmas 1975. It was bought from Beatties department store where I would continue to buy film for the next few years. The kit came with print film which my father had exchanged for transparency film. For colour photography he had almost exclusively shot transparencies and I'm glad I was brought up on them rather than colour prints (that's something for another time).

The images were square and gave a field of view just a bit wider than a 'standard' lens. Because of that any slight camera shake wouldn't be so noticeable and as most people had prints which were 3.5 inches square that's rather small to notice either. The film came in plastic cartridges that snapped into place. There was no pressure plate so the film wasn't guaranteed to be flat (another detriment to sharpness, though I can't say it was an issue for me). Print film, in those days, wasn't renowned for sharpness (unlike Kodachrome), and shown up by the 'high resolution' films produced a decade later.
The camera had a fixed shutter speed, I guess around 1/100. Given the speed of the film and the small lens it couldn't have been much more. Exposure was controlled by a dial around the lens that had a series of weather symbols. The ultimate result of the 'Sunny 16' rule. For flash exposures the dial had distance measurements that would have been worked out based on the power of the flashcube (a device that fitted into a slot on top of the camera an gave four flashes before it had to be discarded).

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The lens was fixed focus so relied on depth of field to give acceptable sharpness even at the widest aperture (cloudy dull setting). It was recommended not to photograph anything closer than 1.3 m.
The first outing was to a hunt meeting on the Boxing Day in the small town of Newport in Shropshire. Now, while I do not support fox hunting, we're talking about the mid 1970s and large crowds gathered. It's a record of times gone by so I'm glad I documented it. From a practical photographic point of view I was using a slow film on a dull December day. The results were ok! Today I wouldn't contemplate such settings despite having fast lenses, With noise free ISO 400 and 800 to use, at least.

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Inside an abandoned (lead?) mine in mid-Wales. Agfachrome CT18. June 1977


This small camera served me well enough for three or four years and within it's limits gave fair results. True, there were a handful of images that could have been lighter or darker (an issue that can still happen today!). Given the simplistic exposure control and the small latitude of transparency film it could have been a lot more hit and miss. Clearly Kodak thought otherwise. Print film with it's wider latitude and the ability to correct errors when printing would have been much kinder to the average user.

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The Elan Valley Dam. Agfachrome CT18. June 1977


The transparencies were returned from processing in the standard 50 x 50 mm frames as used for regular 35 mm film. The frames were made of cardboard which Kodak continued to use for their Kodachrome films until the late 1980s. More environmentally friendly than plastic mounts but more fragile. At that time I didn't have a projector, only a battery operated viewer. There was a slot where you placed the transparency. Pushing the transparency down onto a thin piece of springy copper completed an electrical circuit for illumination. Two magnifying lenses in the viewer's construction enlarged the image to something akin to a 6x4 print.

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A Fieseler Storch at the Halfpenny Green Air Show in south Staffordshire. August 1977


I managed to record a few moments of family history along the way. But it was all change, from studying to take exams to go to university, the emerging electronic sounds in the charts and a completely different political scene. My photographic journey had just begun.


All text and images Keith Rowley 2020

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