My dad had to be in a mighty good mood before he’d spend money on non-essentials. He must have been in a fabulous mood that summer day in 1977 when, on a quick trip to Kmart, he bought me this Imperial Magimatic X50 camera. It must have cost him a whole $10, an outlandish sum for an avowed tightwad!
I assume that the Imperial Camera Company manufactured X50s in its Chicago factory as they are all stamped “Made in USA.” This all-mechanical camera takes 126 film cartridges and pin-fired Magicube flash cubes. It’s made of plastic except for a few pot-metal parts, like the pin that catches the film sprocket during winding and the pin that fires those Magicubes. The lens is certainly plastic too. According to camera-wiki.org (here), the lens aperture is about f/5.6 and the shutter operates at about 1/100 second. This strikes a good compromise between outdoor and flash shots, allowing both to be well enough exposed and in focus across a reasonable depth of field.
My X50 came in a box with a 126 film cartridge and one Magicube, so I made photographs that very day. We spent it at my grandparents’ home on a small lake in southwestern Michigan. I made some photos of my grandmother that I’m very happy to have now. See a couple of them here.
I will always wish, however, that those photos weren’t so blurry. The X50’s shutter button is super stiff and hard to fire, leading to camera shake that obscured the details of my recorded childhood memories. This is Phil, a boy in our neighborhood, and my brother Rick in our driveway. More than forty years on I recall Phil’s blonde mop top and his unbounded energy and enthusiasm, but I can no longer call up the details of his face. I wish my photos of him were some help.
This is Betty, my family’s next-door neighbor for 35 years. She’s holding her own 126 camera, a Kodak Instamatic. It seemed like everybody had cameras that took 126 film in the 1970s and early 1980s. The vast majority of those cameras, like my X50 or Betty’s Instamatic, had no settings to fuss with.
It’s a little hard to tell through the camera shake, but the X50’s lens was reasonably sharp from edge to edge with little distortion. I see no vignetting.
The X50 wasn’t my first camera; a garage-sale Kodak Brownie was. After I got the X50 I never shot that Brownie again. I always struggled to load the 127 rollfilm into that Brownie. There was nothing to loading 126 film into the X50: insert the cartridge and close the door. And thanks to Magicubes I could easily take photos inside with the X50. The Brownie could take flash photos too using AG-1 flashbulbs, but they were too hot to handle after firing. They also required two AA batteries, which I had to buy myself; every penny counted when I was this age. Here’s a flash photo someone took of me at Christmas in 1977.
Magicubes lit scenes fairly evenly. Here are my grandparents at home in the summer of 1981.
Here’s our family dog Missy, posing patiently in 1981. The closer you were to your subject, the more likely the flash would reflect.
I made my last photos with the X50 in 1983. By this time I had learned to squeeze that shutter button with utmost care to eliminate shake. Here are my parents on my mom’s birthday that December. I’m eight and 12 years older now than they were then.
That shutter squeeze was so long and slow that it made the X50 no fun to use. By this time I had collected dozens of old cameras, so I tried a few of them trying to find something I liked better: a Kodak Duaflex II, an Argus A-Four, a Kodak Brownie Starmatic, and even a Kodak EK4 instant camera.
I suppose my dissatisfaction with the X50 led to a lifetime of trying old cameras. It is as if I was on a quest for the perfect camera. After more than 40 years I’ve figured out that no such camera exists. It’s great fun to keep trying anyway.
My Magimatic X50 is long gone and I don’t miss it. But I’m so happy I have all the photos I made as a kid. As blurry as they are, they anchor my childhood memories.