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The absolute beginner’s guide to film photography: Uncommon film formats & types

A 126 format film cartridge loaded into the back of a Kodak Instamatic X-15 camera.

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

Just as digital photography has multiple sensor sizes, film photography has multiple film formats and sizes, some of which are easier to get than others (and some of which are impossible). We already took a close look at the most common film types and formats and in this article, we’ll look at less common and discontinued film formats.

APS (Advanced Photo System)

Status: Discontinued

A roll of Kodak APS film.

Photo: Aaronyeo

APS was developed in 1996 as a simpler and more flexible alternative to 35mm. This format is smaller than 35mm, producing a 24mm-wide negative. APS uses a sealed cassette that not only makes for easier loading but can be removed and reloaded mid-roll. APS film has the ability to capture data such as time and date, aspect ratio (multiple aspect ratio crops were available in APS cameras, including 16:9), and even captions, with the information recorded on the film either optically or magnetically.

APS today

APS film was discontinued in 2011, a victim of the consumer photography market’s move from film to digital photography (and later camera phones). Though there were interchangeable lens SLRs that used APS film (the Canon EOS IX and Nikon Pronea series are the best known), this format was less popular with hobbyists and pros because its smaller negative produced images inferior in quality to 35mm. However, the basic format lives on, as the negative size was the basis for today’s digital APS-C sensors.

110 film

Status: In production and available

A Kodak 110 format ‘pocket camera’ and a cartridge of 110 film.

Photo: Joost J. Bakker

110 is a cartridge-format film that produces a 13×17 mm negative. Developed by Kodak in the early 1970s for its Pocket Instamatic cameras, it was a follow-on to 126 format (see below) that enabled the production of small, thin cameras that could literally fit in a pocket. Picture quality from low-end 110 cameras could be pretty poor compared to 35mm, though Pentax and Minolta developed 110-format interchangeable lens SLRs that produced good images.

110 film today

Though major film manufacturers discontinued 110 size film some years ago, several emulsions are now back on the market. Lomography makes six different types of 110 film, including color print, color slide, and black-and-white. Not all labs can develop 110 size film, though it is possible to buy (or modify) adjustable reels for home developing.

126 film

Status: Discontinued

A 126 format camera next to a film cartridge.

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

Kodak introduced the 126 ‘Instamatic‘ format in 1963 as an easier-to-use alternative to 35mm and 120 roll film. Like 110 film, 126 film uses a cartridge that simply drops into the camera, making it nearly impossible to mis-load. The film itself is the same size as 35mm, but the perforation pattern is different and the image size is 28 x 28 mm square. 126 was superseded by smaller 110-film cameras and self-loading, auto-winding 35mm point-and-shoot cameras.

126 film today

126 film was discontinued over a decade ago, and while it’s possible to find expired film, processing it commercially could be tricky, depending on where you live. For home processing, the film can be developed on 35mm reels. 126 cartridges can be wound with 35mm film, but the latter’s sprocket pattern means the cameras may not wind properly.

Disc film

Status: Discontinued

Kodak disc film and a Kodak Disc 4000 camera.

Photo: D. Meyer

Disc film, introduced by Kodak in 1982, features a rotating daisy-wheel film disc in a nearly-flat plastic cartridge. By eliminating the roll, Kodak was able to develop a line of very thin automatic cameras that used the new format. Sales were strong at first, but lousy image quality from the tiny 10x8mm negatives and a new generation of auto-loading 35mm point-and-shoot automatics quickly sealed the Disc’s fate. Though other manufacturers made Disc cameras (and film), Kodak killed the cameras just six years after they were introduced, and disc film is considered one of the biggest flops in Kodak’s history.

Disc film today

Kodak was the first and only manufacturer of disc film; it was discontinued in 1999. If you’re really a glutton for punishment, it’s possible to make your own disc film using sheet film and an existing Kodak Disc cartridge.

Other uncommon film types?

Are there any other uncommon film types you can think of? Let us know in the comments below. And please feel free to share your favorite/least favorite memories shooting any of the above-mentioned formats!

About our beginner’s guide to film photography

Our Absolute beginner’s guide to film photography is an educational series of articles focused on demystifying the ins and outs of analog photography. Geared toward those discovering (or re-discovering) film, the series will cover everything from gear, to technique and more. View all of the articles in our guide here.