It lives! The Dead Film format that won’t die

Mar 17, 2024

David Prochnow

Our resident “how-to” project editor, David Prochnow, lives on the Gulf Coast of the United States in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He brings his expertise at making our photography projects accessible to everyone, from a lengthy stint acting as the Contributing How-To Editor with Popular Science magazine. While you don’t have to actually build each of his projects, reading about these adventures will contribute to your continued overall appreciation of do-it-yourself photography. A collection of David’s best Popular Science projects can be found in the book, “The Big Book of Hacks,” Edited by Doug Cantor.

It lives! The Dead Film format that won’t die

Mar 17, 2024

David Prochnow

Our resident “how-to” project editor, David Prochnow, lives on the Gulf Coast of the United States in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He brings his expertise at making our photography projects accessible to everyone, from a lengthy stint acting as the Contributing How-To Editor with Popular Science magazine. While you don’t have to actually build each of his projects, reading about these adventures will contribute to your continued overall appreciation of do-it-yourself photography. A collection of David’s best Popular Science projects can be found in the book, “The Big Book of Hacks,” Edited by Doug Cantor.

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Like tiny jewels strung together, a developed roll of 110 film is beautiful

Relive the 1970s all over again, shoot 110 Format Film forever!

No matter how you measure it, 110 format film negatives are tiny. While that might sound like a “negative” attribute, it’s actually one of the many positive qualities that make this format so endearing.

In fact, there are three extremely compelling reasons to adopt the 110 format as your preferred film stock. First, and foremost, it’s the itty-bitty negative size. Like an exquisite diamond embedded in a gold band, 110 negatives invoke awe in the beholder. How can so much visual imagery be encased inside such a miniaturized set of dimensions? This conundrum is settled by the second reason for embracing the 110 format–quirky cameras with unbelievable high-performance specs.

Forget a Leica M6 or a Hasselblad 500C/M, the following three 110 cameras are as much earth-shattering in their innovation as they are extraordinary in their photographic prowess.

Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

The first member of this exclusive 110 film club is the incredible Minolta 110 Zoom SLR (circa 1976). This “Swiss Army Knife” camera, as shown in Figure 1, is an automatic, aperture-priority…everything is done for you, photographic marvel. Just set the aperture via a wild, sci-fi-like plastic perforated knob on the camera’s front and you’re ready to start taking pix. And taking your pix is facilitated through a 25 – 50 mm f/4.5 macro zoom lens that you focus via a through-the-lens reflex system.

The Minolta 110 Zoom SLR is packed with surprising specs
Figure 1. Like tiny jewels strung together, a developed roll of 110 film is beautiful

Rounding out the camera’s feature set is a lockable shutter release button with a threaded cable release socket, exposure over/under compensation, an electronic flash hot shoe, and a cavernous drop-open back for loading a 110 film cartridge (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Not your typical SLR design, this Minolta 110 Zoom SLR is as outlandish as the 110 format
Figure 2. Not your typical SLR design, this Minolta 110 Zoom SLR is as outlandish as the 110 format

But, wait, there’s more. The tripod socket is located on the side of the camera’s body. This unusual placement enables making rock-solid portrait photographs a snap. Finally, and this one is a real doozy, the winder mechanism is a film advance lever that is located on the underside of the camera. Get it? You’ll have no obstruction issues when advancing the film while this Minolta is sitting pretty on a tripod.

Look for a used Minolta 110 Zoom SLR in “excellent” condition for $80 – $100.

Pentax Auto 110

If you loved that nod to innovation, then you’ll flip for this second 110 film camera entry. This one is the real star, almost a legend, in the short-lived heyday of the 110 format–the Pentax Auto 110 (circa 1979) and it’s steroid-infused followup, the Pentax Auto 110 Super (circa 1982). If Michael Jordan (NBA superstar champion) could be a camera, he would be a Pentax Auto 110 (see Figure 3).

Pentax Auto 110 - A potent SLR system that fits in the palm of your hand
Figure 3. A potent SLR system that fits in the palm of your hand

Don’t let its diminutive size fool you, this camera easily competes above its stature shoulder-to-shoulder with the legendary 6′-6″ basketball guard. Unlike the Minolta 110 Zoom SLR, however, the Pentax Auto 110 is not a solitary snapper, this is a complete, professional-grade interchangeable lens system (see Figure 4).

An impressive array of lenses supports the Pentax Auto 110
An impressive array of lenses supports the Pentax Auto 110

Once again, featuring through-the-lens (TTL) “auto-everything,” the Pentax gets from point A to point B in one of the craziest rides in the camera world. Every lens is an optic-only f/2.8 lens–in other words, each lens is a sophisticated focusing glass that lacks both an aperture diaphragm and a shutter release system. Yes, that’s right, each lens is only perfectly clear glass. The actual aperture and shutter release exposure are “created” inside the camera at the time of pressing the shutter release button. A fancy movable combination mechanism forms the proper aperture at the same time as firing the shutter. It’s the aperture AND the shutter release at the same time, all at once; but, it’s much easier to just call it magic.

As a system camera, the Pentax Auto 110 is supported by a wealth of high-quality glass interchangeable lenses from an 18mm wide angle lens to a 50mm telephoto lens. There’s also a monstrous 20 – 40mm zoom lens, as shown in Figure 5. An electric winder (that doubles as a nice camera grip)(shown in Figure 6), a couple of electronic flashes, a case, a strap, and even a tripod extender (for elevating the camera above a tripod head) round out this 110 camera’s system.

Seeing potential in the 110 format, Pentax succeeded the Pentax Auto 110 with the Pentax Auto 110 Super in 1982 (see Figure 7). Just like a “million-dollar man,” the Super was faster, stronger, and better. An improved focusing screen, a new electronic self timer, and a new, more modern, single stroke film advance/shutter cocking system (the original Pentax Auto 110 used a double-stroke film advance) made the Pentax Auto 110 Super, well, super.

Only slightly bigger, the Pentax Auto 110 Super (foreground) is a vast improvement over the Pentax Auto 110
Only slightly bigger, the Pentax Auto 110 Super (foreground) is a vast improvement over the Pentax Auto 110

These two cameras in “excellent” condition show up on the used market infrequently, but when they are available, expect them to be priced at $60 – $100 for the Pentax Auto 110 and slightly higher for the Pentax Auto 110 Super at $160 – $200.

Both of these Pentax cameras have one bad behavior, however. Each camera automatically recognizes the film speed of the 110 cartridge, but the only two speeds that can be set by the camera are ASA 100 and ASA 400 (this same problem plagues the Minolta 110 Zoom SLR, too). While that was OK in 1970, today’s films can include ISO 200 emulsions. How can these new films be used in a Pentax 110? Just snip the film speed flange indicator on the side of the cartridge in half, as demonstrated in Figure 8. This minor surgical operation will set an ASA 400 speed. For example, Lomography Tiger film is rated at ISO 200. By snipping the Tiger cartridge flange in half, the Pentax camera’s exposure is set for ASA 400. Conversely, by not modifying the film speed flange, the camera would be set for ASA 100. It’s your choice.

Figure 8. Make a snip to force the Pentax Auto 110 into ASA 400 exposure mode.
Figure 8. Make a snip to force the Pentax Auto 110 into ASA 400 exposure mode.

Lomography Diana Baby 110

Now, the third, and final, 110 camera entry gets an “A” for adorable. The Lomography Diana Baby 110 (circa 2012) was the springboard for the gradual release of new 110 film emulsions (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Hey, honey, I shrunk the camera; this Diana Baby 110 is a clever reduction of the medium format Diana F+ camera
Figure 9. Hey, honey, I shrunk the camera; this Diana Baby 110 is a clever reduction of the medium format Diana F+ camera

Resembling a miniaturized Diana F+ 120 format camera, the Diana Baby 110 is equipped with plastic lens interchangeability. Both a 24mm lens and a wide angle 12mm lens are sold with the camera. Yes, that’s right, this 110 format camera is still sold by Lomography for $34.90 (SKU: hp620). You can purchase one here.

One aspect of using the Diana Baby 110 that could catch you off guard, is that you must remove the camera’s back and replace it with an open-air film shooting back when you’re ready to start taking photographs (see Figure 10). Incredibly, this action leaves the 110 film cartridge exposed and visible during use. So, be prepared to hear, “Hey, lady, your camera back fell off.” And remember to say, “thank you.”

Figure 10. Swap the Diana Baby 110 backs for installing a film cartridge
Figure 10. Swap the Diana Baby 110 backs for installing a film cartridge

This focus on dangling a film cartridge off the back of a camera, introduces the final compelling reason for becoming a 110 film slinger. The 110 film cartridge, itself, is an ideal method for loading/unloading film. No more fumbling with a curled film leader or dropping a spool of paper backing, just open the camera’s hatch and plop in the cartridge. Bingo, you’re ready to shoot. It’s almost as easy as digital photography, except you get a tiny strip of diamonds as a reward.

When it rains, it pours; Lomography has released a new 110 format camera, the Lomomatic 110 (circa 2024!). From a sleek all-metal version with an electronic flash ($159), like the one shown in Figure 11, and a plastic model with an electronic flash ($119) to a plastic camera sans flash ($99), each Lomomatic is equipped with a glass meniscus lens, automatic exposure, zone focus, and a thrilling spy-camera-like push-pull film advance mechanism. Greetings, double-O 7.

Figure 11. Put the Lomomatic into an pocket for perfect photography portability. Photograph courtesy of Lomography

Sporting a thick stick of gum design aesthetic, each Lomomatic is svelte enough to carry everywhere you take your smartphone. So carry both and make tiny jewels for subsequent social exchange.

Final notes

At any give time, Lomography stocks/sells six different 110 emulsions. Typically, packaged in 24 exposure cartridges (yay; thank you, Lomography) with sensitivity ranging from a fixed ISO 100 to a variable ISO 100-400, these films help keep the 110 dream alive beyond 1970.

After exposing 110 film, The Darkroom can develop and print your masterpieces (see Figure 12). Learn about prices and options at: thedarkroom.com

And the results are in; 110 format is alive and well. This shot is from an expired, 2012, 110 film cartridge
And the results are in; 110 format is alive and well. This shot is from an expired, 2012, 110 film cartridge

Enjoy.

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David Prochnow

David Prochnow

Our resident “how-to” project editor, David Prochnow, lives on the Gulf Coast of the United States in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He brings his expertise at making our photography projects accessible to everyone, from a lengthy stint acting as the Contributing How-To Editor with Popular Science magazine. While you don’t have to actually build each of his projects, reading about these adventures will contribute to your continued overall appreciation of do-it-yourself photography. A collection of David’s best Popular Science projects can be found in the book, “The Big Book of Hacks,” Edited by Doug Cantor.

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