What Are the Different Types of Film Cameras?

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What Are the Different Types of Film Cameras?

With the growth in digital photography, many camera makers have shifted production to digital cameras, and the production of film cameras has all but ceased. Canon and Nikon now only have four film cameras in their ranges between them, compared to almost one hundred digital cameras.
This guide outlines various types of film camera that have been available since the introduction of photographic film in the late 1800s, classified by the film type they use.

120 or 220 Roll Film

Cameras using 120 or 200 roll film were for many years the most popular consumer format, but were displaced when 35mm cameras grew in popularity in the latter half of the 20th century. 120 film was introduced in 1901 by Kodak for use in their Brownie cameras. The film is on an open spool with a backing sheet and requires care when loading and unloading to prevent accidental exposure.
The 220 format followed in the 1960s and differs in length, with the same size of spool accommodating around double the film length (by excluding the backing sheet), offering twice as many exposures. 220 requires even more care when loading and unloading due to the lack of any backing sheet.
This film is often used with cameras utilising a frame size of 6x7cm, but other models can vary in this, so the film is quite flexible in application. Kodak, Ilford and Fuji are still manufacturing these films, but at the time of writing, Kodak's future seems uncertain. This type of film persisted in use with the evolution of twin-lens reflex and single-lens reflex cameras.
Twin-lens reflex cameras are fitted with two lenses, each of the same focal length. One of these takes the picture, with the other used in conjunction with the viewfinder, which incorporates a 45 degree mirror (the reflex mirror) and a focusing screen on the top of the camera. The two lenses are connected, such that the focus shown on the focusing screen corresponds to that exposed onto film. The first commercial camera to use this system appeared in the late 1800s, and they reached the mass market around the early 1930s. The taking lens is typically fitted with a leaf shutter, leading to a camera that is very quiet in operation and not prone to shake when the shutter operates. Typically, TLR cameras are fitted with a fixed focal length lenses, but a limited range were made with interchangeable bayonet-mount lenses
Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras use a reflex mirror in the path of a single taking lens, along with a prism to form a viewfinder, allowing the photographer to see exactly the subject that will be committed to film (when the photograph is taken), as opposed to twin-lens or viewfinder cameras, where the taken image will always vary slightly from the viewed image. The reflex mirror in early models was manually hinged up out of the path of the lens, but this was later automated, yielding far quicker operation. Early SLR cameras were designed with large or medium format film in mind, and many professional and semi-professional medium format SLR system cameras reached the market.

135, or 35mm Film Cassettes

135 is the designation for 35mm-wide film loaded in cassettes, specifically for still photography. By the 1960s it had overtaken 120 film as the most popular consumer format. 135 film allowed cameras and lenses to be made more compact, and the light-safe cassette format allowed cameras to be loaded and unloaded with film in daylight conditions.
35mm SLR cameras were marketed from around 1935 in limited numbers but didn't reach the mass market until the post-war years, with Nikon, Canon and Pentax pioneering their on-going development. It wasn't until the late 1940s that SLR cameras started to incorporate a pentaprism between the reflex mirror and eyepiece. The mirror reverses the image as seen through the lens, and cameras prior to this would have this reversed image in the viewfinder eyepiece. The pentaprism corrects this, so that the viewfinder shows the image as it will be taken.
Developments followed in through-the-lens metering, semi and full automatic exposure and autofocus. While the 35mm SLR has the advantage of reduced size over the medium formats, there's a limit on how small it can be as the frame size, the shutter box for the frame, pentaprism arrangement, and feed/take-up spools for the film dictate the practical limits. Of course, 35mm cameras aren't limited to the SLR type.
Compact 35mm cameras with separate viewfinders as opposed to reflex capability can be made much smaller than SLRs. Compact cameras have been available with fixed lenses or, in more limited numbers, with interchangeable lens systems. Although the mainstream products in this category have largely been simple cameras aimed at the amateur, many manufacturers have made high-quality compact cameras over the years.

Obsolete or Semi-obsolete Formats

A number of formats which were sold in the mainstream market have disappeared, are in decline, or have been discontinued, only to re-emerge in the 2000s. Cameras which used these formats are likely to be only useful as static displays, or as part of exhibitions or collections, since it will be virtually impossible to find either film stock, or developing and processing facilities to print it.

 

110, or Pocket Instamatic


This format was discontinued by mainstream producers such as Kodak and Fuji in 2009 but was re-introduced with limited production by Lomography in 2012.
 

126, or Instamatic


126 was a cartridge-type film format, introduced in 1963 by Kodak. It was primarily used in the amateur market, notably in Kodak's own Instamatic range. The cartridge incorporated both feed and take-up spools, and loading simplicity, merely inserting and removing the cartridge from the camera in any light conditions, was one of the main selling points.
With a frame size of 26mm square, the negatives were large enough to yield results equal to those from 35mm film, and a few manufacturers, including Kodak, made high-end cameras for the format. Kodak officially removed this format from the market in late 1999.
 

240, or APS


APS (Advanced Photo System) was introduced in 1996 in an attempt to update and replace the 35mm format. It used a smaller frame size and, as a result, was not taken seriously as a quality format even though a number of APS SLR cameras reached the market. In the amateur market it achieved some success but never came close to replacing 35mm. In the early 2000s, digital cameras began to reach the market, and APS sales dropped significantly. The production of APS cameras ceased in 2004, and film production was stopped in 2011 although some reports suggest that limited stocks of the film are still available in retail outlets.
 

Disc


Disc film and cameras were first marketed in 1982 by Kodak. The film takes the form of a flat disc in a plastic cartridge, with eleven frames of 8x11mm arranged around the perimeter.
Disc cameras were aimed at the amateur market, and the majority of cameras were basic units with neither scope for expansion nor accessories. The nature of the disc permitted the construction of very flat, thin cameras, in some cases barely larger than the film disc itself. It was largely unsuccessful, primarily because the small frame size led to a grainy print with poor definition, but also because of issues with processing.
This film was officially removed from the market in late 1999, the cameras having been discontinued some time before.
 

Specialist Formats


A number of specialised camera types using glass plates and sheet film have been used in varying degrees since the development of photography. Sheet film is often used in View Cameras, on which the lens is connected to the film plate via a flexible bellows, and on which the lens can be varied in its orientation relative to the film plate by tilting, raising, and lowering, which allows for control over perspective, focus, and depth of field.
 

How to Find Film Cameras on eBay

From the eBay homepage, select Buy, then Browse Categories. Select Cameras & Photography, and from the sub-list on the left hand side, select All Categories, and then Film Cameras from the pop-up category list.
This subcategory can be refined by format or film type, such as 35mm, 6x7, or APS, or by Type; Compact, SLR or Medium Format.

Conclusion

Although many types of film camera have disappeared from the mainstream market, a limited number of types are still in current use, and commercial developing and printing facilities are still in place. Medium format and 35mm cameras seem likely to continue to be in use for a number of years at least, but others are generally only suitable for purchase as display items or collector's pieces.

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