When I got into the photo business in the early 70s, 35mm and medium-format (120, 220, 620) were for professional photographers and serious amateurs. At the time, the dominant consumer cameras were Instamatics, which were instant-load cameras that took cartridge film. The first were 126; later came 110. Before the 1960’s, not every family had a camera; Instamatics’ ease of loading made photography much more mainstream. Family photography as we know it today came about in the late 1960’s. My dad had a Instamatic X45, which he loved.
126 film had negatives that were about the size of a 35mm negative, which was to say, negatives big enough to support good-sized enlargements. They were the first cameras to take flash cubes as opposed to flash bulbs, which made it possible to take four images in quick succession. Though the first 126 cameras were very simple, more complicated cameras came later, including the Kodak Retinas, which had interchangeable lenses.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Kodak was a marketing powerhouse, and one of the early adapters of personality-based marketing. 110 was a success from a marketing perspective, but because of the small size of the cameras, the film had to be quite narrow, which meant that the negatives were very small. Many people were frustrated by the marginal quality of images from 110—especially at sizes bigger than 4x6 or so.
35mm was originally for serious photographers, but the 35mm’s climb to dominance in the broader market was started by the Canon AE-1, and in particular, Canon’s Jimmy Connors advertising campaign. The camera was preprogrammed and fully automated. The pitch was something like, “the professionals use this, now you can too--professional quality images through automation.”
Kodak’s next innovation was disc film, in the early 1980s. The product launch was huge in advertising dollars, and there were attractions—especially the camera’s automation and its small size. However, the product had its liabilities--the image was too small to yield good prints. The film was color negative only, 15 exposure. It had to be loaded on a spindle and spun in chemistry to be developed.
APS stands for ‘Advanced Photo System’; it was a creation of a conglomerate of the major manufacturers of photo and photolab equipment (Kodak marketed it as ‘Advantix,’ Fuji Film as ‘Nexia,’ and Agfa as ‘Futura’). APS came out in the mid-1990’s, when photography was already anticipating the digital revolution; APS was marketed as a bridge to digital photography. In fact, the technology was not that different than that of standard analog photography. APS cameras were able to capture images of different aspect ratios--you could set your camera to ‘classic,’ ‘high-definition,’ or ‘panoramic.’ The film was a cartridge film, and it was possible to change film mid-roll.
From the 1990’s on, the emphasis in consumer photography came to be about producing better point-and-shoot cameras cheaper—and with more features for ease of use. Auto-load and auto-advance were both popular features. Eventually the trend culminated in single-use cameras, which made decent images available for very little more than the price of a roll of film.
The trend in late twentieth-century consumer photography was finding ways capture images more and more precisely at a lower and lower cost. By contrast, the return to film photography in the new millennium seems largely to be a “lo-fi revolution”—what is compelling about film to today’s photographers is largely the ways in which the image is captured imprecisely.