From the Archives, 1998: After 34 years, Instamatics retire from service

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First published in The Age on May 10, 1998

After 34 years, Instamatics retire from active service

Mrs Irene Walsh, 80, has photographic experience to rival professional photographers. She has been taking snaps of her 19 grandchildren for the past 20 years. But unlike those who need fancy equipment, she has achieved much of her photographic excellence with her Kodak Instamatic 126.

Irene Walsh with her Kodak Instamatic camera.Credit: Michael Rayner

Not for much longer. Kodak, which in the first 15 years of production sold more than 70 million of the cameras worldwide, will stop manufacturing 126-size film cartridges and disc film in Melbourne at the end of the year.

The Kodak Instamatic camera was the first cartridge camera. Launched in Australia in 1964, it was embraced by amateur photographers because of its ease of use, the average owner took eight rolls of film a year — double that of other camera users.

Kodak Instamatic cameras.

For a small camera that was simple in design camera experts and amateur shutterbugs agreed it took good quality pictures.

Mrs Walsh recalled the ease of using a Kodak Instamatic. “If you wanted to take an indoor one you had to take a flash bulb with you and that was a bit of a nuisance otherwise it was a beaut little camera. They were quite exciting when they first came in. They were wonderful, so easy to use, they took excellent photos,” she said.

“I took photos of all the children when they were growing up and I’m still doing it, mostly at their birthday parties. I take it everywhere.”

Easy drop-in loading of the cartridge films eliminated failed pictures through misloading and the square picture format meant it was simply a matter of point and shoot.

The previous format for snap-shooters was the 620 Brownie box camera.

Kodak stopped making the 126 Instamatic cameras in the mid-1980s. A spokesman for Kodak, Mr Keith Shipton, said there was little demand now for the 126 film, which made up less than 1 per cent of Kodak’s sales.

Mr Owen Maroney, owner of Studio 278 Fotographics and Imaging in Balwyn, said he sold only one roll of Instamatic 126 a month.

“Kodak used to have a policy that they would manufacture film until 50 years after the camera was made. The box brownie film was only discontinued in the last few years so it is quite a surprise that they have decided to discontinue the 126,” he said.

Kodak will continue to process the 126 film for another couple of years and is offering customers discounted trade-in deals for old 126 Instamatics.

Ms Olive Jarvis, 91, who was a member of a camera club 40 years ago, still uses her Instamatic.

“I have some very nice photos of the family taken with these early cameras, photos of weddings and babies and so forth. There is so much fancy stuff these days. They did a Jolly good job,” Ms Jarvis said.

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