Kodak Instamatic 56X

Instamatic 56X
Camera: £1
Lens: included
Film: n/a (av. price £15)
Developing: n/a (£5)
Total: £1 (£21)

This is the first camera I ever owned, the Kodak Instamatic 56X – here’s what I remember about it. It’s a 1970s fixed-focus, fixed-aperture, single-shutter-speed viewfinder-only camera that took 126 cartridge-based film. I would have been around 7-8 years old when I first got it.

Obsolete film format

The 126 cartridge film isn’t made anymore and pretty hard to get hold of so I don’t intend for now to try shooting any pictures, but I ordered an example camera for 99p to get the shots of the camera shown here. It brought back quite a few memories seeing one as well as hearing and feeling the solid clunks of the winding and shutter action.

Easy to get bad results

The Kodak Instamatic 56X was pretty basic and very easy to use, but getting good pictures out of it was a bit more tricky. I did not know about apertures and shutter speeds at the time, but I knew that you pretty much needed a decently-sunny day and you had to hold the camera pretty still. Sunny days came and went, but I was never particularly good at being still, even less so as a kid. The camera didn’t have a tripod thread but you could get it stable by holding it flat against a surface or wall.

the vital statistics

Type: Viewfinder camera
Viewfinder: Optical
Shutter: 1/50 sec single-speed
Lens: f/11 43mm, fixed-focus
Film: 126 cartridge type
Flash: Magicube
Full specs

Knowing what I do now, 1/50 sec is quite a slow shutter speed especially for such a light camera that is hard to hold still. On the plus side that allowed it to have the quite small aperture of f/11 which gave it a broad depth of field – just what you need in a camera with no focus control. It did have a top attachment for flash cubes aka Magicubes, which were compact flash bulbs for taking pictures in lower light. Unlike the battery-powered xenon flash bulbs attached to later (or more expensive) cameras, these were a single-use affair – the bulbs flash brightly and burn themselves out – typically this reaction takes longer than an electronic flash, so is another reason for the 1/50 sec shutter speed.

My favourite pics

I remember the film and development costs being quite high for me (especially the flash cubes) when it had to all come out of my pocket money, so I don’t think I shot a great number of films. These are the prints that I have kept from since then.

As can be seen in these images, the focus is okay in the middle-distance from over half a metre away, but isn’t that great in the far-distance. The camera was probably designed for fun, bright shots of people standing still and looking at the camera.

Even as a child though, I never took those sort of pictures. Not having people in the shots gave me a few problems dating the images, but the last three show an in-progress build of an extension to our home, which happened while I was 12, so I had this camera for at least 4 years, from the 70s into the 80s.

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