Collecting Cameras

Remembering the Perma Matic 618

It would have been about 1970 when Mom bought the camera that she used to record our family for the next 20 years. It was a Perma Matic 618, a point-and-shoot camera that took 126 Instamatic film cartridges.

Mom told me the story once of how she came to buy it, but my memory is fuzzy. Maybe she bought it from a door-to-door salesman, or maybe she traded green stamps for it. But I remember clearly that Mom chose it for its built-in flash, which was a novel feature then. No more fussing with flashcubes — and, crucially, running out of them with photos still to make at a family event.

Photo credit: Etsy user JuniperHome

Never heard of the Perma Matic, you say? You’re not alone. There’s next to no information about the Perma Matic on the Internet. I found a mention that said its suggested retail price was $59, which is equivalent to about $450 today. That’s an awful lot of money for a 126 camera!

Everything else I know about the camera I know from inspection. It packs a 40mm f/5.6 Tosicor lens. As I’ve researched Tosicor lenses, they seem always to be fitted to cameras by Japanese maker Taron. The camera bottom is stamped “Made in Japan,” so I’m willing to bet this is a Taron camera.

A selenium light meter is next to the enormous flash. I’m not sure how the autoexposure worked — was the lens’s aperture fixed, meaning the camera adjusted the shutter speed? Could the camera stop down from f/5.6? What was the range of shutter speeds? There is no way to set focus, and autofocus hadn’t been invented yet, so this camera’s focus had to be fixed. I am guessing that the in-focus range was five feet to infinity, because a label on the back declared that the flash was good from five to 15 feet.

The shutter button is on the camera face, to the left of the lens. Push it down to activate the shutter. The winder is a lever nearly flush with the body, on the back at the bottom. Also on the back was a switch to turn on the flash, which emitted a shrill whistle while it charged. When the flash was ready the whistling stopped and a red light on the back glowed. I have no idea how the flash was powered — from photos I find on the Internet, I see no battery door anywhere on the body.

A black, zippered leather case with a strap came with the camera; “Perma Matic” was printed on the front in silver letters. Mom always kept hers in the case. Here she is holding it at Christmas in 1984. She was not pleased that I was photographing her. (Yes, people smoked in their homes then.)

This camera was enormous. It was larger in every dimension than a contemporary 35mm SLR body. This page is one of a very few on the Internet about this camera, and it shows the Perma Matic next to a Canon FX SLR from the 1960s.

This is the first camera I ever used to make a photograph. When I was about four, my family took a trip to New York State. When nobody was looking, deep curiosity about how this camera worked drove me to pick up the Perma Matic and make a few photographs of our hotel room. My mom caught me at it, and boy was I ever in trouble. Film was expensive, and I’d wasted a bunch of shots!

Some years ago Mom gave me an album of photographs from my first five years. The later photos in that album were all made on the Perma Matic. They were all in sharp focus and properly exposed, and the flash lit all of the scenes well and evenly. Here’s a scan of a print from my fourth birthday, which was in 1971. That’s my grandmother on the left; she was the same age in this photograph that I am now.

Mom still has boxes full of family photos made with the Perma Matic. I’ve not seen hardly any of them since she made them. Someday I ought to make her get them all out so I can see them!

I don’t remember now what led Mom to finally replace her Perma Matic. I had grown up and moved out by the time that happened. But I’m pretty sure she used it until she bought her Nikon Zoom Touch 400, a frankly awful camera that wasn’t available until 1990. Mom got her money’s worth out of the Perma Matic!

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Camera Reviews

Imperial Magimatic X50

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!

Image credit: Pacific Rim Camera,

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 (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.

By the way, if you like 126 cameras you might also like my reviews of two 110 cameras, the Rollei A110 (here) and the Minolta Autopak 470 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Film Photography

Review: Wolverine Super F2D – A good-enough tool for digitizing your film snapshot negatives

Most of us beyond a certain age photographed years of family moments and vacations using simple point-and-shoot film cameras. We stored the prints and negatives in albums or boxes.

But when was the last time you looked at them? We all shoot digital now. We look at our photos on screens and store them on phones, SD cards, and hard drives. Because you can’t share a physical photograph on Facebook, our photo albums get very little love or attention.

To bring those memories into the modern age means making digital images of them. You have two options: pay someone to do it for you or do it yourself. If you pay to have it done you’ll get the best possible quality, but the expense might make you wince. For less money you can buy a flatbed scanner that handles negatives and do it yourself. But it’s slow work and there are lots of settings to master. And few scanners take the old 126 and 110 snapshot film formats that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Wolverine Super F2D

What’s needed is a way to do the job fast with minimal fuss and at reasonable cost. Few options exist. That’s why I’d even consider a flimsy-looking toy-plastic device like the Wolverine Super F2D film-to-digital converter. It promises to deliver on all of those goals, quickly creating JPEGs from color and black-and-white 35mm, 110, and 126 negatives – and 2×2-mount slides in those formats, and Super 8 movie frames. At about $100, the price isn’t bad. I got mine for even less on sale.

But there’s a big tradeoff: you won’t get professional-quality work from the Wolverine Super F2D. And you will need to touch the images up in photo-editing software – but, to be fair, you would need to do that after using a flatbed scanner, too. But the Super F2D will give you images good enough to view on your screen and to share online. You could even make prints of them, but they will be too noisy for big enlargements.

But I’m not sure I care about those limitations for my old snapshots. I converted about 1,000 images in under six hours. Then I spent about 10 hours touching up every image in Photoshop Elements. And now I have digital images of all of my old negatives. That’s faster than I could have done it with my flatbed scanner, and hundreds of dollars less expensive than paying to have it done. And I’ve already shared some of my images on Facebook, and they look pretty good.

That’s the guts of the review. But more good information follows, including insight into using the Super F2D and examples of my scans. Here is a set of links to each of those sections so you can skip to what you care about.

Using the Wolverine Super F2D

I used some recent downtime to digitize every old 126, 110, and 35mm negative I have. (If you have negatives or slides from even older films, such as 127, 620, or 828, you’re out of luck.) I did it in my lap while lying on the couch; the Super F2D is small and entirely self-contained. I plugged it into the wall, but you can also plug it into any powered USB port. It has some internal memory, but it also has an SD-card slot. I put an SD card in and went to town.

The Super F2D isn’t a scanner, but rather a digital camera and a light table. It lights up your negatives and slides from below and photographs them from above. It is as inexpensively made as it looks: the plastic is thin and cheap, and the buttons and connectors feel flimsy.

IMG_0025 proc

Using the Super F2D is simple once you get the hang of it. You slide the negatives and slides through the sleeve in the middle of the unit. You line up each image on the screen until it looks right, and then capture and save the image. This video tells all.

Pushing negatives through was easy enough except when a negative was cut shorter than the sleeve. I usually used a second negative to push the first one through. There’s a separate sleeve for slides, which are a snug fit in the sleeve. A second slide is always necessary to push the first one through. To get out the last slide you scan, you have to remove the sleeve from the Super F2D and pull it open (it is hinged). The sleeve is hard to open.

The screen is good only for framing images, as it doesn’t accurately render color and the corners are a little washed out. The Super F2D does offer basic color and exposure correction tools, but given the screen’s limitations I decided just to do all of that in Photoshop.

The Super F2D offers no dust and scratch removal, so be sure to clean your negatives well. I used a soft cloth to wipe dust off my negatives. Dust creeps inside the Super F2D, too, and so I frequently cleaned it off the light table with the supplied brush. You’ll see most of these imperfections on the screen.

Image quality

The Wolverine Super F2D boasts 20-megapixel resolution. It’s overkill, because its puny image sensor returns noisy images. The noise is acceptable when you look at the images at smaller resolutions but shows up bigtime at maximum resolution. You probably don’t want to print big enlargements from these images.

Also, the Super F2D’s field of view leaves out a little bit around edges of your negatives. You can slide each negative left and right inside the Super F2D for best framing, but there’s nothing you can do about what the Super F2D cuts off at the top and bottom. The effect is minimal on 35mm negatives, noticeable on 110 negatives, and pronounced on 126 negatives.

You will need some sort of photo-editing software to touch up these images after you convert them. All of my images had a green caste that ranged from slight to substantial. My oldest negatives, from the mid-1970s, suffered worst. You will also want to fix the scratches and dust that escape your cleaning.

I have Photoshop Elements. Its Auto Color Correction and Auto Levels commands corrected almost all of my images’ color-fidelity ills, and its Spot Healing brush did a great job of quickly removing marks. I applied these corrections to all of the images I’m going to show you from the Super F2D. I’ve uploaded all of the images at full resolution; click them to see them at full size.

Images from 126 film

The Super F2D makes 4000-pixel-square images from 126 negatives. That resolution is beyond the sharpness that most 126 cameras could deliver, especially the junky one I had. But the Super F2D and a little subsequent Photoshoppery yielded usable images. Here’s me in front of the family Christmas tree in 1977.


The circa 1978 print of this image shows my whole head, but the Super F2D masks too much of the negative and cuts my head off.


Images from 110 film

Pity the poor 110 format for the so-so image quality inherent in such an itty-bitty negative. It did not help that most 110 cameras were inexpensively made with low-quality optics. Surprisingly, the Super F2D scans these negatives at a whopping 5120×3840 pixels. When viewed at maximum resolution, these images look like a mosaic. They’re still visibly noisy at smaller sizes.

I used a cheap 110 camera to record one of the best times of my life: a trip to Germany in 1984. I was happy enough with the images the Super F2D made from those negatives. The colors were good, even though the sharpness wasn’t. Here’s a streetcar in Krefeld.


And here’s a tiny Trabant automobile in East Berlin. Shadow detail is very poor and noise is high, but it is the same on my original prints.


Images from 35mm film

The Super F2D returned much better results from my 35mm negatives. I didn’t shoot much 35mm until the late 1980s, by which time advances in film technology produced negative films that simply scan better, at least in my experience. But I also had a better camera than ever before. It was a modest point-and-shoot 35mm camera, but it offered a better lens than any average 126 or 110 camera. The 5472×3648 images the Super F2D creates from these negatives are still too noisy for big enlargements.

Here’s my car parked outside the house I lived in after I graduated college in 1989. Detail and color are much improved and noise is somewhat reduced compared to my 126 and 110 images.


I lived around the corner from Terre Haute’s Coca-Cola bottler. A quick hit of Auto Color Correction in Photoshop Elements really brought out the red in the sign.


The Super F2D’s black-and-white mode seems to do better work than its color mode, at least for the few black-and-white negatives I have. They needed very little touchup to look good. Here’s a 1984 photo of the elementary school I attended.


Images from mounted slides

I never shot slide film in my youth. But I wanted to see how the Super F2D handled slides, so I bought some old Kodachromes on eBay. I didn’t buy any old Super 8 movies, though, so you’re on your own there. The Super F2D scans slides at the same resolutions as the corresponding 35mm, 110, and 126 negatives.

Here’s one of those slides. (You can see the rest in this post.) I think the Super F2D did its best work on these slides. They needed very little touchup in Photoshop and they are less noisy than any of my negative scans.


Comparing the Super F2D to flatbed and professional scanners

The Super F2D isn’t as capable as a flatbed negative scanner, and is absolutely, utterly blown away by the bigtime pro scanners that most film processors use.

I used my Epson V300 flatbed scanner to digitize this image of me taken with my Argus A-Four camera in about 1982.


The Super F2D also does a decent job, although it scans less of the negative than my Epson V300 and returns more saturated colors. It’s a matter of personal preference whether you like the V300 scan or the Super F2D conversion. Where the Super F2D falls down, though, is noise. It shows up at larger resolutions; click the images to compare them full sized.


I took the image below a couple years ago on Fujicolor 200 using my Pentax KM and its 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens. I really enjoy this shot for its color and its sensitive exposure. I’m pretty sure I had The Darkroom process and scan the film.


The Super F2D fell flat on its face rendering this negative. No amount of Photoshop trickery could save it. I deliberately chose it as a worst case, but none of the images the Super F2D converted from this roll of film could compare to the scans The Darkroom did with its big scanner.


The verdict

If you want to digitize any images you might use more than casually, or that you took with high-quality equipment, you won’t be happy with the Wolverine Super F2D. The resulting digital images are simply too noisy, and sometimes Photoshop won’t be able to restore accurate color and exposure. I’d never use it to digitize the more artistic images I shoot with my good film cameras today, as I can get cleaner scans from my flatbed scanner and outstanding scans from the companies that process my film.

Old snapshot negatives are the Super F2D’s sweet spot. It will always give you a usable image, and it will frequently give you a plenty good image. Given the Super F2D’s cost, speed, and flexibility, that’s more than a fair tradeoff. I’m glad I bought mine. And now I have plenty of memories that I can e-mail to my mom and post on Facebook.

Camera Reviews

Kodak Instamatic 104 and Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic

If the world’s casual photographers had a mantra, it would be, “Don’t make me think!” Kodak built a business on being happy to oblige. But by the early 1960s one pesky barrier still remained: loading film. Even the simplest camera required carefully threading roll film in dim light. What a hassle!

Kodak solved that problem in 1963 with its Instamatic cameras and their easy-loading Kodapak (126) film cartridges. Because the film was in a sealed plastic cartridge, it could be loaded in any light. Because of the cartridge’s shape, it was nigh onto impossible to load it wrong. Just drop the cartridge into the camera and close the door! The Instamatic set the world on fire, and for at least the next 15 years 126 film ruled the amateur photographic world.

The first Instamatic was the Instamatic 50, which included a shoe for a flash attachment that took peanut-sized AG-1 bulbs. The 50 was quickly followed by the Instamatic 100, which included a pop-up flash for AG-1s. At about the same time, Kodak released the Hawkeye Instamatic, which as far as I can tell is functionally and mechanically identical to the 50.

Kodak Hawkeye Instamatic

All of the early Instamatics  left the user with a flash problem: hot, spent AG-1 flashbulbs. So in 1965 Kodak issued the 104, the first camera to use flashcubes, which were four AG-1s in a plastic housing. All early Instamatics used two AAA batteries to power the flash. Here’s a 104 that found its way into my collection.

Kodak Instamatic 104

Kodak made a range of Instamatics with this basic body through about 1971. This commercial, which was made for the TV show Bewitched, shows the Instamatic 124 in action. The 124 was among the last Instamatics to use this body. Just watch how easy it is to load the film. Notice especially how loud the shutter is when it fires. The shutter linkage in these was crude and stiff.

Most of the early Instamatics used a plastic 43mm f/11 lens and a two-speed shutter that fired at 1/40 sec when a flash was attached and 1/90 sec. otherwise. The rest used a glass, three-element 41mm f/8 Kodar lens, and some of those coupled the shutter to a selenium light meter.

Kodak Instamatic 104

Some of these early Instamatics even came with a spring-loaded automatic film winder. You wound a knob atop the camera to tighten the spring, and then as you pressed the shutter button, the spring advanced the film.

But most people bought the basic Instamatics. They weren’t that inexpensive, really: the 104 cost $15.95 new, which is about $120 in 2014 dollars. And they weren’t great cameras. The stiff shutters made the cameras prone to shake, and the plastic lenses returned results sharp enough only for a snapshot-sized print. But that was good enough for most people, and Kodak sold more than 50 million of them by 1970.

The last 126 film was manufactured in 2007, so I’m not going to use these two Instamatics anytime soon. But I shot scads of 126 cartridges when I was a boy with an Imperial Magimatic X-50 camera. I have a box full of blurry square photos from that perfectly dreadful camera. That’s enough for me.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Camera Reviews

Argus Instant Load 270

Argus Instant Load 270

Sometimes I troll eBay’s vintage cameras category looking for bargains. I sort by Ending Soonest and see what’s available. My rule of thumb is that if a camera is interesting to me and my bid, if successful, would deliver it to me for under $20 shipped, I’ll give it a whirl.

That’s how I came to own this Argus Instant Load 270. I’d never heard of this camera before, so I tried to research it in the few minutes I had before the auction ended. Google yielded no details of substance, but I could see that it had a 40mm f/2.8 lens and some sort of autoexposure system governed by a CdS light meter. In other words, it looked to be right up my alley. Nobody had bid on this lonely little guy, which had a minimum bid of 99 cents, as the final seconds ticked away. I couldn’t resist. 99 cents! I love a bargain. That shipping added $9 to the cost didn’t faze me in the slightest as I was already dreaming about shooting with this camera.

Argus Instant Load 270

It wasn’t until the camera arrived that I figured out that “Instant Load” was Argus’s way of saying “this camera takes 126 film.” Silly me; I assumed this camera took good old 35mm film. Whoops! As bad luck would have it, Kodak discontinued 126 film in 1999. I know there are some hardy souls who load 35mm film into spent 126 cartridges, but I am not that hardy.

Argus Instant Load 270

But that’s all right; it’s still an interesting camera. Apparently, Argus sold an entire line of 126 cameras under the Instant Load banner. The 270 appears to be one of the nicest of the series. Normally this is where I tell you all of the camera’s fine details, such as what kind of shutter it has and whether the automatic exposure system is shutter priority or aperture priority. Unfortunately, the only information extensive Googling revealed is that this camera may have been produced in 1966 and 1967. That’s it!

Argus Instant Load 270

I can tell just by looking that this camera was made in Japan; it says so on the bottom. I can also tell that the camera gives the photographer no help in focusing beyond marking portrait, group, and landscape on the focus barrel. I can further tell that the camera takes a banned mercury-based PX-13 button battery. I removed the one my camera contained, cleaned the corroded contacts, and then dropped in a Wein cell PX-13 equivalent I had lying around. The light meter wouldn’t budge. But otherwise the camera seems to function fine. The winder winds, the shutter fires, the apertures all seem to set properly. The camera is also pretty heavy. I’d say it weighs a full pound.

With that, this post probably just became the most informative page about the Argus Instant Load 270 on the entire Internet. If you own one and know some things I don’t, please share with me in the comments!

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.