135compact.com       35mm cameras       126 Cartridge      Rollei A26 and flash C26

This is a camera for 126 film cartidges, a format introduced by the Kodak company in 1963 together with a series of simple point-and-shoot cameras built around this cartridge, called Instamatic. The cartrigde has just to be dopped into the camera and advanced to the first photo, no fiddeling with the film leader to get it engaged, no rewinding. The film inside the cartridge is 35mm wide, so it goes into the existing processing machines, but it does not have the 2 rows of sprockets. There is only one small hole per photo at the bottom of the film to trigger the advance. The photo format is a square 28x28mm format, usually reduced to 26.5x26.5 during processing. The film is protected by a backing paper, like old 120 roll film, which shows the film numbers, so no film counter is necessary. Production of 126 film stopped in the early 2000s.

There are now 3D printed cartridges to load 135 film. I bought one to try, so I had to get a 126 camera. As these cameras cost next to nothing because of the lack of film, I chose a top class model, a Rollei A26.

The Rollei A26 was the most compact of the better cameras for type 126 cartridges. Developped by Heinz Waaske, a famous camera designer, who alrady had created the Rollei 35, Rollei in Braunschweig
launched this project in 1969. The camera was only made from 1972 to 1976, mine comes from the Singapore factory. The camera has a push-pull mechanism for combined film advance and shutter cocking. Waaske wanted an easy to use camera, not much larger than the film cartridge. There was a matching attachable computer flash, the Rollei C26.

The closed camera is only 946333mm and all parts are protected.  Extending the camera uncovers the finder and the shutter button and the 3.5/40mm Sonnar lens moves out. Distance has to be set manually via the ring on the front of the lens barrel.

The camera has a CdS-program-controlled Prontor shutter, with a light indicator in the viewfinder. Film speed has automatic setting (50 and 400 ISO). At the launch of the camera in 1972, Kodak introduced its much smaller 110 film cartridge which created a hype immediately. So all sales of the 126 cameras suffered a lot, only
175.000 pieces of the A26 were made. Waaske then constructed a similar camera for pocket film, the Rollei A110 with similar outstanding features.

The camera's main features are:

Sonnar 3,5/40 lens (4 elements, 4 groups), F3.5 - F22 automatic, closest focus 1m
Electronic Prontor shutter: B, 1/30s - 1/250
Size:  94 x 63 x 33 mm, Weight : 280 g

Front, camera closed, all well protected.

Back view.

Camera open. Front. Lens moved out, shutter button and finder uncovered. To the right of the finder you can see the exposure meter window. Do not cover when holding the camera.

The lens moves out a bit. Distance setting via symbols on the ring of the lens.

Camera back.

If there's enough light, a green lamp is visible in the finder.
The small button to the left of the finder uncouples the push-pull advance in case that the camera jams.

On the side of the camera, the ring of the flash socket under the strap socket can be unscrewed with a coin to get access to the battery compartment. Takes one PX625 battery, replaceable by a V625. Do not leave the camera open unnecessary, it drains the battery.

Seen from above.

Seen from below. Push the button and extend further to open the back.

Housing apart.

Film compartment open and cartridge.

Camera back open, film compartment cartridge taken out. Note the "finger" sticking out of the film plane, it feels the one hole per frame for correct advance.

Anothe A26 camera with the dedicated C26 flash.

You have to unscrew the strap, the flash screws into the strap socket. There is a strap socket on the flash.

The flash setting is automatic as well. On/Off switch, ready conrtol lamp and loader cable socket on the flash. It has a rechargeable battery.

2 cameras and a 3D printed cartridge.

The camera is easy to use, just drop the cartridge into it, advance to the first photo and that's it. Everything is automatic, the camera deals well with all light situations. Picture quality is superb. As there are no slow speeds, there are limits in low light.

The only problem is film supply. Even the final last batches of film are 15 years old and barely usable. Cartridges don't freeze well, so be critical if someone offers film said to have been frozen. Film and backing paper may stick and jam.

The reloadable 3D cassettes may be a solution if you are willing to tinker with it. There are some snags: you will have the sprockets of 135 film in the upper part of the picture. So take it into account composing your picture, Film advance is tricky. You have to test your camera with a strip of film before loading unexposed film and find out, how far your camera advances with the spockets of 135 film. It will not be a full frame. The easiest way is to fire and advance with the lens shielded from light several times after each photo. You will not have any counter. Either you have a superb memory or you take notes. And then there is loading and processing.

Loading has to be done in absolute (!) darkness or in a sleeve. Some say that you can load a whole 24 exposure film. This might just go for a thin re-used old cartridge and you have to wind tightly, but there is a risk of jamming, at least in the 3D printed cartridges. Better you load half of a 36 exposure film. Not counting the leader a 36 exp. film is about 62 inches long, ~157 cm. So prepare a paper strip or a thread of 31 inches or 78 cm to measure in the dark. Cut the film leader. Cut your length. Fix one end to the spool with a piece of adhesive tape. Then roll it up from the other end, try to make your roll as small as possible. Put roll and spool into the cartrige and close the cartridge. Secure with tape if necessary. That's it. If you cut half a 36 exp. film, unroll and cut the rest and put it into a light tight film container, wrapping the film with aluminium foil secures it a second time. Do not forget to put a note on it. Do not cut too close to the mouth of the 135 canister, you might use this for processing.

After putting the cartridge into the camera, you have to advance at least 2 frames. Do not forget to cover the window on the back with black tape first to prevent light leaks. If all goes well, you will get about 20 - 24 exposures.

Back to the dark or the sleeve. If you process the film yourself, you can tranfer the film directly into the spool of your drum. Otherwise tape the film to the little strip hanging out of the original 135 film canister (that's why you should not cut too close) and wind the film back into the canister. You can now give it away for processing. Eventually ask your lab for used canisters as you need 2 per 36 exposure film.

If you have an old 126 cartridge and you want just to try once, you can "wiggle" it open. There are videos on the net how to. Do not forget to tape the window in the cartridge with black tape from both sides. A cracked open cartridge has to be secured very well. 3D printed ones are easier to use.

The old cameras are fun to use. There is a bit of tinkering to get it going, but it's nice to take a challenge.