A found film: 116 format

Chris Bennett

Well-Known Member
A couple of weeks ago, I was handed a carrier bag with a "Why don't you see if these old cameras work?"

Inside was a Voigtlander Vito C and a 1a Pocket Kodak camera. I looked them over and quickly found the Vito would not wind or fire. I already have a Vito B in a similar condition, so rather dismayed, I turned to the Kodak. I found that it fired but the front lens element was missing. I was interested in this one though, so I set about to discover a few things about the model.

The No. 1A Pocket Kodak is a folder, introduced in 1926 and uses 116 film. This is bigger than 120 and gives the user a 6.5×11 cm negative (2½×4¼"). The camera in question was an "Autographic" version, which allows the photographer to use a steel stylus to write details of each exposure onto the space between frames (the original EXIF data recording system!). You can see the stylus stored beside the shutter in the image below. (Apologies for the dreadful photos, done in less than ideal circumstances and in a hurry).


No. 1A Pocket Kodak camera

Looking the camera over, it soon became clear that there was still a film inside, so I finished winding it through and extracted it from the back. I'd never seen or handled 116 film, so this was quite interesting to me. The empty spool I found in the back had a wooden spindle and I learned that 116 was introduced in 1899 and continued in manufacture until 1884. The roll was a Kodak 116-8 NC film, and a little more research revealed that the NC (Non Curl) version was replaced in 1934. So, given the first production date of the camera, it's likely that the film was last seen and handled by a human over 90 years ago. Exciting!


Kodak 116-8 NC film backing paper and wooden spool

I developed the film in a 1:100 solution of Rodinal for an hour. Getting the roll onto a Paterson spiral was difficult! I found 2 videos on YouTube describing how to improvise a wider spiral made up from two normal ones. Briefly, you have to stack one side of the spiral into the other by placing the half with the smaller diameter centre spindle into the larger diameter one from the back. You then slide another spiral half into this assembly in the normal way and insert the central column spindle from the tank into the assembly. The length of the smaller diameter half sets the depth that the other side can be inserted and this depth happens to be the correct space for 116 film to fit into the loading gate. One of the videos was a tale of despair by someone who had seen the first video and bought the gear to develop his film, only to find that the ones he had bought the wrong spirals. The AP type cause a problem with their loading gate flanges that are wider that the little triangles on the Paterson type . I have found that the presence of the flanges really helps when you use them normally to load a roll of 120 film but in this instance, it prevents the halves of the spiral from being stacked.

I then spent what felt like an eternity fighting the curl on the end of the film to try to get it into the spiral. And this was 'Non Curl' film! I took a pair of scissors and snipped the corners off the end of the film, a trick I sometimes use with badly curled film, as the corners often curl diagonally and sometimes, this is enough to give me a little advantage.
Despite this trick, I completely failed to load the film onto the spiral!

Thinking about what to do (and being terrified at the idea that I might have to do the development in open trays) I realised that the guy in the second video was only half correct. If the rear (depth setting) spiral half is an AP one, then yes, you can't get the configuration you need. However, if you use a Paterson one for that, then there's nothing stopping the other two halves from being the AP ones, and those wide flanges might be exactly what's needed to cope with the wider film and the troublesome curl.


Developing tank spirals stacked for loading 116 film

Well, that idea really paid off, because the film went straight onto the spiral at the first attempt.
So, after development, I hung the roll up to dry, which took almost 12 hours. In this house, with modern film, it's usually about two and a half. Looking at the developed negatives, it appeared that there were only five of the eight that had anything on them and three of those had no discernible shapes on them.

Now I came to the realisation that I don't have a mask for scanning 116 film!
I ended up doing two passes on each negative in a 120 mask and then stitching the two halves together with software. The first one I scanned was with the best looking negative. It showed a farm scene, with three figures - two men unloading a cart of hay with a young boy dressed in shorts off the the right and a grazing horse in the left hand foreground.

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Wonderful stuff! Getting an image from that ancient roll of film is fantastic. A latent image patiently waiting to be set free, a glimpse of a long forgotten moment in the past. Thanks for sharing, Chris.
I was curious about the lens and had a look on the Early Photography website. I think I may have found a similar model to this one, with it’s curious aperture designations of 1,2,3 and 4 rather than the more standard variety. It looks like it had a simple meniscus lens that will be hiding behind the shutter, something they seemed to often do with those simple lens/shutter arrangements then, with the convex surface facing the film (as far as I know, this orientation gives better image quality with a meniscus). You may have seen that 116 cameras can be adapted to take 120 film, there’s a firm in Italy that supplies a kit of adaptors for the purpose, although the film gate needs slight modification to accommodate the narrower format. I have one of these kits with the intention of adapting an old Ensign Carbine I have (when I get round to it). With s bit of tlc it could well still be a viable camera. Apologies in advance if I’ve been ‘teaching Grandma to suck eggs’ with any of this. Anyway, I hope you have some more luck with this old beauty.

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Thanks for your thoughts, Ralph.
No need to worry, as this is an egg I have never sucked!
I've developed found film before now, but never this old. The knowledge that I was seeing a scene captured so long ago and, so far hidden was amazing. It was, literally, a spine tingling moment as I clicked my cursor on the just scanned file.

As I have done previously with films like this, I made sure the donor of the camera got copies. He has said that there is a chance some or all of the people in this image are related to him. The camera was his fathers.