When beginning a big photo scanning project, you’ll soon discover there are no standard picture sizes. In the past 15 or 20 years, 4x6 and 3x5 inch prints were the norm. Open that photofinishing envelope from the corner one-hour lab, and that’s what you’d find. But older pictures can pose all kinds of challenges.
If you think square pictures were invented by Instagram, you’re off by nearly 40 years. The drop-in 126 cartridge, invented in 1963 by Eastman Kodak and popularized the low-end photography market, was the choice of the Greatest Generation to capture the 1960s. Millions of “Instamatic” cameras were sold, with cartridges in 12-, 20- and 24-exposure lengths available. While the film was essentially 35mm format width, it was an unperforated square 28x28mm frame, with just one registration hole. (By comparison, 35mm film is 36x24mm in dimension.)
As a result, 126 prints were square, and creative photofinishers made the most of this with range of print offerings. Some offered 4x4 inch prints, with a white, scalloped border. Others provided a 4x4-inch image, accompanied by a smaller wallet-size print on one sheet.
The 110 format was the next cartridge format in 1972, which offered the easy loading of the 126 format with greater pocketability. In fact, 110 camera made by Kodak were sometimes called “Pocket Instamatics.” Each frame was a comparatively minuscule 13x17mm, however, so image quality suffered when enlarged. Slide films were made in 110 format, and the film is still available. Typically, prints were 3.5x5 inches.
Later, in the 1980s, Kodak’s disc format was introduced with a yet even smaller negative of 11x8mm. Print quality was often disappointing, due to the small negative and to photofinishers using basic enlarger lenses. Like 110, prints were usually 3.5x5 inches.
In the mid-1990s, a consortium of manufacturers led by Kodak and Fujifilm developed the Advanced Photo System (APS), the last film format. Despite having a picture frame about half the size of 35mm, APS photos were generally well-exposed and sharp. This was due to advanced film emulsions and camera technology. APS users could choose between three different print sizes from each 24mm-wide frame: “C” for Classic, 4x6 print, “H” for High Definition, 4x7 print, and “P” for Panoramic, 4x11 print. The different print sizes were achieved by cropping the 24mm-wide frame at different aspect ratios.
With all of these formats, 35mm remains the undisputed king of film formats since its start with still-picture cameras beginning in 1934. While some emulsions have been discontinued, including the long-lamented Kodachrome, 35mm is still available for SLRs, compact cameras and single-use cameras.
What size photos are in your collection?