Introduced in 1963, Kodak’s Instamatic series used the Kodapak, a.k.a. 126, film cartridge for easy loading. Open the back, drop in the cartridge, close the back, wind to the first frame. No more film spools, no more warnings to load film in subdued light. You don’t even have to rewind the film, as it stays in the cartridge. This made Instamatics wildly popular. Kodak had sold approximately one jillion of them by 1970 when they introduced the Kodak Instamatic X-15.
This simple camera offers a 43mm fixed-focus lens, probably of a single element, masked to f/11 and mated to a leaf shutter at 1/90 sec., or 1/45 sec. when using flash. There’s nothing to set, you just point and shoot. You’d think such a camera wouldn’t cost much, but the X-15 cost $21, or about $165 today.
Some early Instamatics took AG-1 flashbulbs, but the majority used flashcubes. Both required battery power, though. The X-15 used Magicubes instead, which operated mechanically. A little tab on the camera under the Magicube pops up, creating friction that triggers a small bit of a fulminate explosive at the bulb’s base, which burns the zirconium foil inside the bulb. Flash! With the ISO 100-200 films available to Instamatics, the flash range was four to seven feet.
You’ll find two versions of the X-15, which differ only cosmetically. Kodak updated the logo in the lower right to use the company’s new stylized K logo, and added the word Kodak over Instamatic above the lens.
The X-15 went out of production in 1976. Kodak also offered other cameras on this basic body:
- Hawkeye Instamatic X, 1971-78 – Only cosmetically different from the X-15, this was a promotional item not for sale.
- Instamatic X-15F, 1976-88 – Uses battery-powered flip flashes rather than Magicubes. Kodak made this camera right up until the end of its production of Instamatics.
- Instamatic X-25, 1971-74 – Adds a spring-loaded winder to the X-15. Wind the knob until it stops, which charges the spring. Then every time you press the shutter button, the spring winds the film.
- Instamatic X-30, 1971-74 – Adds a CdS meter and an electronic shutter, 10 to 1/125 sec., to the X-15.
- Instamatic X-35, 1970-76 – Adds to the X-30 a three-element 41mm f/8 Kodar lens and two focus zones, 2-6 feet and 6 feet to infinity. It uses battery-powered flashcubes rather than Magicubes. The shutter reverts to 1/45 and 1/90 sec. as on the X-15; the CdS meter controls aperture instead.
- Instamatic X-45, 1970-74 – Adds a spring-loaded winder to the X-35.
If you like cheap and cheerful film-cartridge cameras like this, see also my review of the Kodak Instamatic 100 and Hawkeye Instamatic (here), of the Imperial Magimatic X-50 (here), the Keystone XR308 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
This Kodak Instamatic X-15 was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras by a friend. It had been her father’s. It came to me in like-new condition.
I’ve stayed away from Instamatics because 126 film has long been out of production. But now that I develop my own black-and-white film, I figured I might give this camera a go. I bought a 12-exposure cartridge of Verichrome Pan on eBay. It expired in March, 1979, and storage was unknown, so I dropped it into the X-15 and hoped for the best. I developed it in HC-110, Dilution B. 126 film is 35mm wide, so it fits right onto my standard developing reel.
The negatives were dense, suggesting that this film would have liked extra exposure to compensate for its age. But my Wolverine Super F2D digitizer had no trouble capturing images from the negatives. My flatbed scanner would have done better work, but I don’t have a scanner mask for 126 film. I’m sure someone somewhere makes one for my Canon 9000F scanner, but my Wolverine works well enough, and it’s fast and easy to use.
The X-15’s viewfinder is huge and bright, so much so that I said whoa! the first time I peered into it. I wish for viewfinders this good in more cameras! A dashed bright line marks the frame area.
I shot the whole cartridge within a short distance of my home, mostly on afternoon walks. The camera weighs next to nothing, even with film inside, and is small enough to slip into a coat pocket. I live near shopping and restaurants, and they’re easy subjects. Sadly, our new Denny’s didn’t make it.
There’s nothing to using the X-15: frame the photo, press the shutter button, and wind. The shutter button is smooth to help you avoid camera shake. The shutter fires with a hollow clack, just like every other Instamatic. The winding lever feels solid under use; stroke it twice to move to the next frame. The winder won’t let you wind too far.
The X-15 delivered better results in full sun than under full clouds. That is probably partially due to the long-expired film, but even with fresh film, Instamatics like lots of light.
Instamatics and their kin were generally meant to take family snapshots, and as such perform best in that medium distance range. When I photographed things far away, either they had to ride high in the frame, or I had to tilt the camera way up to center them, which would have given them a keystoned effect.
I liked the X-15. My only other experience with a 126 camera was the Imperial Magimatic X50 I had as a kid, which was terrible. That experience led me to prejudge all 126 cameras harshly. Yet the X-15 was pleasant to use, and all of the images came through with no vignetting and pretty good sharpness from corner to corner. I feel sure that if my childhood camera had been an X-15, I would have been bullish on Instamatics all along.
To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Instamatic X-15 gallery.
For camera collectors, it’s a shame that 126 film isn’t available anymore, because there are so many Instamatics to try. The Kodak Instamatic X-15 is worth trying if you’re brave enough to use expired film. Some labs still develop 126 film; I know Dwayne’s Photo does, and they’ve always done good work for me. I might someday even try spooling some 35mm film into the spent cartridge I now have, and give this camera another go.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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