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Old Film and Camera Formats

By Christian Roemer

I’m going to teach you a cool word today: obsolescence.

Obsolescence is a fancy word that refers to old and rarely-used media formats. It comes from the root word obsolete, which makes it way easier to remember. So, for example, you could say that Hi-8 video cameras fell into obsolescence. Better stuff came along to replace it.

Like Hi-8, a bunch of film and camera formats over the years have fallen into obsolescence. It’s not that they were bad, per se, it’s just that better technology made them a little pointless to continue using. Heck, digital cameras that aren’t in cell phones are basically obsolete these days. This article is dedicated to weird formats that have fallen into the obsolescence of time, rarely remembered but never forgotten.

  1. Polaroids - Polaroids are making a bit of a comeback, but that’s mostly driven by nostalgia. I was always fond of this format. You take a picture, the camera spits a blank photo out of the front, you shake it a little, and the picture appears. It’s magic!
  2. 116 & 616 - Invented way back in the late 1800s, this was one of the first types of films ever made. The rolls were much larger than what you would see today--about 4.5 x 2.5 inches. Even though this format isn’t in vogue anymore, it was a trailblazer!
  3. Instamatic Film - One of the first commercially available color film formats, instamatic was a weird mix between modern film rolls and polaroids. The pictures were square, measuring 26mm x 26 mm. If you see Instamatic pictures, they have that cool, vintage, sepia look.
  4. i-Zone Pocket Camera - Made by polaroid, these mini cameras were all the rage in the late 90s. These cameras used the same concept as a polaroid camera, but the pictures were tiny! They even came with adhesive on the back so that you could make instant picture-stickers.
  5. Disc Film - I can’t think of many things that even look more 80s than Disc Film. This short-lived, obscure format combined the newer technology of CDs but without the digital benefits or convenience. There basically wasn’t anything good about Disc Film.
  6. 828 Film - One of Kodak’s alternatives to 35mm film, this format was basically identical to 35mm. The difference is that the film was paper-backed and didn’t have perforations. Those two things allowed the film to be smaller, but spooling was a little bit more difficult.
  7. APS Film - If there’s a chance of user error, it’s probably best if that user error doesn’t result in losing all of your pictures. APS was designed to load and unload automatically. The goal was to prevent accidental exposure and whitewashing all of the photos you just lovingly captured. That made it awesome for a bit, but it turns out that you can use a camera to automatically roll film instead of depending on the cartridge. Much smarter.
  8. 127 Film - Also called Vest Pocket Film, this format was invented to accommodate the Vest Pocket Camera. Thinner and lighter than previous formats, this film reigned supreme from about 1915 to 1926.
  9. Floppy Disk Digital Camera - When I was in 8th grade, I remember interacting with my first digital camera. It was a big hulking thing, and its storage was a floppy disk. That’s right, you’d load in a 3.5” floppy, take three pictures, and the storage would be all full.
  10. J-SH04 - You’re probably looking at this collection of numbers and letters wondering what they mean. Well, that’s the name of the first cell phone with a camera built in. The camera resolution was barely a megapixel, and the screen was tiny. There wasn’t much storage in the camera, and you couldn’t really load the pictures onto a computer. The J-SH04 was probably the most pointless camera ever invented.

Do you know of any obscure or rare film and camera formats that I missed?

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