The Instamatic Railroad

This might be the most avant-garde attempt at a photographic discipline that I’ve ever tried.  EVER.

I’m using a Russian panoramic camera and 25-year-old expired film.  And a whole lot of prayer.

And it all comes down to a little discovery I made regarding my photographic projects.

Recently, I acquired a Krasnogorsk ФT-2 panoramic camera, a camera I’ve nicknamed “Raskolnikov.”  This little camera has the ability to take some really swank panoramic shots, and it’s opened up my ability to capture some breathtaking ultra-wide imagery.

Now the ФT-2 requires the use of special proprietary film cartridges – the film must be loaded in one cartridge, spooled through the camera, and inserted into a special take-up spool.  If I lose any of these spools, then I can’t use this camera.  But it occurred to me… unlike most 35mm cameras, where the film is advanced by a system of gears that integrate with the film’s sprockets, the ФT-2 advances the film by having it wind into a spindle in the pickup spool.

Which means… theoretically, mind you … I can use any type of film I want in the camera, so long as it measures 35mm from top to bottom.  Sprocket holes are optional…

And that means… again, theoretically… I could pack this camera with some repackaged Kodak Instamatic film.

And most of you are thinking, “Instamatic film again?!?  Cheese on rice, Chuck, why do you keep torturing yourself with this Instamatic film?  It hasn’t worked in the past, you’ve wasted time and money, and you’ve really only had one semi-successful shot with this film.”

Yep, I’m going back to get “that shot.”  I’m going back in the Nile to take on the crocodile once again.  Damn it, I’m going to find a way to create something special and spectacular with that Instamatic film if it’s the last thing I ever do with film.

Experiment with Krasnogorsk ФT-2 “Raskolnikov” camera

PARAMETERS: To shoot a roll of Kodak 126 Instamatic film and capture several images in a panoramic sequence.

SOFTWARE: One roll of Kodak Instamatic 126 film, expiry 1990.

Kodak Instamatic film


To make sure that I get all the exposures I can from the Instamatic film, I created a mixture of 35mm film (about 12 shots in a normal camera) and taped it to the Instamatic film as a “leader.”  The ФT-2 should expose the leader film first, and then I should get at least two or three good panoramic shots on the Instamatic film.

The ФT-2’s film frame indicator is powered by a gear that works with the film’s sprocket holes.  To shoot normally with this camera, Once the needle stops spinning upon each wind, then I know I’ve reached the Instamatic “lug” holes.  Then the magic can begin.

Sunday morning and it’s freezing cold out.  I just wanted something simple to photograph, something with some detail and interest.  Oh look, there’s some boxcars.  Some –

Pull over, Chuck.  Boxcars with spraypainted graffiti?  Just parked there?  It’s almost as if they’re saying, “Choo Choo, Chuck, photograph me, photograph me…”

Okay, okay, out of the car I go.  And back into the car I go.  Cheese on rice, it’s cold enough to freeze my ing fingers off!

Okay.  Get up to the spot.  Don’t even pull out the tripod.  Just take the pictures.

The film counter on the Krasnogorsk ФT-2 must rotate three times plus one.  If I was on Shot #3, the needle must pass the #3 three times and advance to #4.

The film advanced.  The dial stopped tabulating.  Guess what that means, folks… we’re now shooting on the Instamatic film.

Okay.  Shoot, advance.  Shoot, advance.  Shoot, advance.

And once the counter started rotating… I knew that the Instamatic film was in the pickup cartridge.  Time to drop the film off at McGreevy Pro Lab.

And when the pictures came back… I got these shots.

Boxcars in Instagram 3
Boxcars in Instamatic 3. Krasnogosrk FT-2 camera, Kodak Gold 200 instamatic film (expiry 1990). Photo by Chuck Miller.

Okay.  That’s the full width of the exposure, which fills up 3 1/2 Instamatic frames.

Boxcars in Instagram 1
Boxcars in Instamatic 1. Krasnogosrk FT-2 camera, Kodak Gold 200 instamatic film (expiry 1990). Photo by Chuck Miller.

Now this is what happens when I am lucky enough to squeeze the subject into three full shots.  Yeah, I cropped off the edges, and look what came out.

Okay.  Now to get critical.  Yes, I can do this.  But what was achieved?  Well, I know that I can use Instamatic film if I want to try something unique.


Although the film exposes right to the edge of the lower sprocket “lug” hole, it doesn’t expose all the way to the top of the frame.  That little black area at the top of the film wasn’t put there by little elves in a hollow tree.

So I can’t completely expose to the top of the film.  That’s something I must take into account.

Again… still trying to find something that will work with this Instamatic film.

I may not have found it with the Krasnogorsk…

But I sorta get the feeling that I might be on the right track.  Maybe.