Restoring/Using a Kodak Instamatic 104

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by blah13, Jan 26, 2004.

  1. Newbie question!

    Among my husband's grandmother's belongings that were left to us was a
    Kodak Instamatic 104. I'd really like to find out if it works, and use
    it to take some pictures of us, simply because I'm fascinated with it
    and I think it'd be a neat tribute to Grammy. Finding the film and
    flash cubes wouldn't be hard, but how do I know if it even works? Is
    this something I should take to a camera store, and would they even
    know anything about it (the only camera stores I know of are places
    like Wolf Camera)? Are there ways I could find out on my own if it
    works (consider that I know almost nothing about the mechanics of
    vintage cameras besides the basic principles and what I can remember
    from when I was little)?

    And assuming I get it working, are there places that even develop 126
    film any more? I'm a novice that hasn't learned how to develop her own
    film yet.
  2. Melissa, Kodak must have made a couple hundred different types of Instamatics. From what I can tell, your camera has two shutter speeds 1/40 and 1/90 with a fixed aperture of f/11. I'm going to guess and say that there is no need to focus this camera.

    You can buy 126 film at J&C Photography ( I think Frugal Photographer ( has links for processing and printing 126 film, but I couldn't get their page to load. I've bought film from J&C without any problems.

    I think the easiest way to see if the shutter still works is to try to advance the film/cock the shutter and then look through the plastic window in the back and see if the shutter opens when you press the shutter release. HOWEVER, it's possible that you'll need film to cock the shutter. Each camera is different, so I can't say with certainty that it's one way or the other.

    I doubt most camera stores will even know what 126 film is, and I doubt even more that anyone will know how to operate the camera. Unless you find an old-time camera shop.
  3. My first camera was an Instamatic 104, given to me at age 10 or 11 when they first came out. It's a dead simple camera, there are no adjustments: you wind the lever (twice, i think) to advance the film and push the button to take a picture. It probably works, there's not much to go wrong in them; if you want to check it without film, after winding the lever I think you may have to look inside near the film opening for a little metal finger sticking out, and move that with your thumb to make the camera think it has film... then point it at a light and look through the lens as you click the shutter. If you see a little spot of light, then it's working.

    The only control you have besides winding and clicking is to put a flash cube on it.... this slows the shutter down a little bit for the flash bulb (I used to carry a dead flash cube to get the slower speed for low light outdoors).

    rick :)=
  4. To expand a little -- my parents had a 104 when I was learning to take pictures, and I remember it pretty well. Shutter speeds are correct, the the proviso that, AFAIK, the only selection was to install a flashcube, which would select the slower speed of about 1/40; otherwise you got a speed that I remember (from the manual, from 35 years ago) as being 1/100. The manual suggested installing a used cube to select the slower speed when shooting in overcast or deep shade when flash wasn't appropriate. The camera was fixed focus and should provide reasonable sharpness from about four feet to the horizon, and the aperture and shutter combination were for "sun over the shoulder" with ASA 80 to 125, color and black and white respectively. The modern Italian made 126 film is probably faster than that (likely 200 or 400), but overexposing color print film by one or even two stops doesn't do any real harm.

    Be prepared for a shock on the flashcubes, though; last time I looked at these (with the intent to extract the bulbs as pyrotechnic igniters) a box of three sold for about what that camera brought, new, in 1968.

    To test the shutter, you'll need to open the back, advance the film knob, and then push the small lever above the film gate toward the film advance while winding. This is done by a hole in the film when you wind, but can be done manually with a little care. You'll probably find the shutter works fine; these were very simple shutters (speed change, IIRC, was by changing the mainspring tension) and ran without lubrication, so probably won't have gummed up in the intervening decades. They made surprisingly good pictures, given what they were (a box camera for an odd 35 mm film format); the lens is quite acceptable for snapshots and as long as you hold the camera steady, you should be fine.

    Once you get film, you may be able to get it processed locally -- especially if you can find a lab with an old timer doing the back room work. The cartridges are easy to open in the darkroom, and the film fits on 35 mm equipment, but printing and film strip cutting will have to be done manually because of the square frame (35 mm is rectangular, 2:3 proportion, while 126 is 26 mm square, offset on the strip to clear the cocking holes along the top as loaded).
  5. I've gone to all the links I could find in a search on these forums but didn't come up with anything - do any of you know where I could find a manual for one online? It'd be nice to have some documentation.
  6. I found a link to an Instamatic 100 manual. It's the same exact camera as the 104, except it didn't take a flash cube:

    BTW, you can usually get some flash cubes on eBay pretty cheap. Here is a link for 9 boxes of them and the current bidding is at $5 with less than a day to go...
  7. Most instamatics are so simple that we forget that in this
    technology-driven age, their simplicity makes them alomost
    seem foreign to some people. My first camera was an
    instamatic 104, and I took some reasonably good shots with it --
    back then you could buy b&w film, slide film, as well as color
    print film.
    Better than taking photos with the instamatic, perhaps your
    grandma had lots of negatives or prints sitting around
    somewhere. Getting them scanned in and put on a CD for family
    and frinds may be more worthwhile.
  8. i totally agree with Mark.. pc
  9. The Instamatic 104's shutter slows down when a flash cube is in place; whether the flashcube is dead or alive. One can use a dead flas cube to slow the shutter; and get better exposures when in dim light. We rigged a larger weight to a dead cube; to cause the shutter to slow down a bunch. I have own two 104's!
  10. It would be even better if I could find some B&W film for it.

    I did test out the shutter last night with the tip of holding down the lever to simulate film being in the camera, and it works fine. This is a good sign, and I may take the next step of finding some film and flash cubes and having at it.

    Thanks so much for all the help, and if I can get some pictures out of this thing I will be sure to post them.
  11. It would be even better if I could find some B&W film for it.
    There are two tricks for getting B&W pictures out of the color film (made in Italy, as I recall) that's the only emulsion still available in 126 cartridges. One is to get the negatives scanned (any 35 mm film scanner should be able to handle it, with a small amount of cropping on the unperforated edge, which will be image top) and decolor the resulting file by any of several methods with subtly different results. This can produce very smooth images and excellent tone, but doesn't really look like B&W film.
    The other method is to develop the film in B&W chemistry, and then scan as if it were color negatives (so the scanner software compensates for the orange base of color film stock) -- you'll get a B&W image that can be easily converted, and because the image is made of silver grains instead of dye clouds, it will more closely resemble a B&W film image in that it will have genuine grain. This latter method is likely only an option if you process the film yourself, but that's not difficult and only costs $60 to $100 to set up with the necessary tanks, changing bag, chemicals, etc. -- and once you start, you'll probably find you aren't only processing the film from the Instamatic (that film fits on 35 mm processing reels, BTW). You kind of have to guess on the processing time and do some tests, but if you go into it knowing that, you can shoot some test rolls to get the development figured out before you try to develop important images.

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