The Kodak Pocket Instamatic 20 was one of the first in Kodak’s line of tiny cameras aimed at the consumer who’s hands were too clumsy to load 35mm film and to small to use 126. This little guy was introduced to the world by Dick Van Dyke himself in a commercial where our bumbling hero loses the camera in his own front pocket. It’s that small. I guess.
The Pocket Instamatic 20 features fixed-focus, plastic, 25mm lens, with an aperture of f9.5. The shutter speed is a fixed 1/100 (1/40 if you have a flash cube on top). It takes 110 film cartridges. It had only two controls: the shutter and the film advance.
The Perfect Road Tripping Camera
With these cameras, simplicity and portability are the name of the game. That’s precicely why I chose to take this camera with me on a road trip through Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota last summer.
I originally intended to take a Fisher-Price Kodak 110 (that’s not a joke) with me on that trip, but when it came to the morning of our departure, I was still waiting one the package to arrive from Ebay. Since I had already purchased film, I did a panic search of Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist along our first day’s route and located a lady selling her mom’s old Pocket Instamatic in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The small negative, combined with Lomography Color Tiger 200, created some images that truly captured the feeling of a kitschy American road trip. The resulting prints had a very satisfying level of grain that really stands out in the landscape photos.
Of course, the camera did have it’s downsides. The flipside of the large amount of grain is that faces tend to be very soft. Combined the grain with the fixed focus, and this camera is far from ideal for portraits.
Another issue I had with the images captured on the Kodak was consistent light leaks, but at this point, I can’t be sure whether that was the camera or mishandling the film cartridges.
While I didn’t try any flash photography as I didn’t have any Magicubes, I did find out that even seemingly fully lit interiors come out almost completely black. I would recommend keeping the Pocket Instamatic 20 outdoors.
The Perfect Camera. Sometimes.
The camera is a joy to shoot. The experience of using this camera is like a breath of fresh air after using more involved cameras, and it’s ice-cream-sandwich-like size and appearance make it perfect to slide into your pocket before you head out of the house in the morning. For a while, I kept this camera in my glove compartment for ease of access on any day.
In my naivity, I didn’t consider the implications that exposing a loaded camera to the temperature changings of a car interior in Iowa from August to February could ruin most of my images. While I still salvaged some images from that roll, it’s pretty clear that the Kodak Pocket Instamatic 20 isn’t the ideal glove compartment camera for those of you in places of extreme heat, cold, or humidity.
While there are plenty of better 110 cameras that provide better images than the Kodak Pocket Instamatic 20 (like the Pentax Auto 110), the original still has its place for what it is, and makes a great camera for someone who has never shot film to learn and make mistakes with. It will never be my first choice for shooting 110, I’ll keep my Kodak for when the situation calls for soft images with a certain level of kitsch.
Check me out on Instagram @nathan_maughan