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This Instax Adapter by Ian Bakke Could Breathe New Life Into Kodamatic

This Instax Adapter by Ian Bakke Could Breathe New Life Into Kodamatic

“I feel that it’s important to try and resurrect older cameras,” says Swedish photographer Ian Bakke. A lawsuit some decades ago meant that Kodamatic cameras haven’t had usable film for some time now. After being cooped up indoors during last year’s lockdown, and with access to a 3D printer, Ian Bakke might have come up with a solution.

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I thoroughly enjoy peering into the minds of creators of DIY projects like these. Understanding their thought process and how they tackle the challenges they face is inspirational. It’s fascinating to see how they start with an idea and turn it into what ends up being quite in demand by fellow photographers. Such ideas also tend to highlight a lot of older cameras. Models relegated to dusty corners of antique shops and camera collectable stores end up being sourced globally and are given new leases on life.

For a few years in the 60s, Kodak manufactured instant film for Polaroid, who is still considered a leader in this segment. After Polaroid launched the SX-70 in 1972, Kodak decided to launch their own line of instant cameras, the Kodamatic, in 1976. Polaroid wasn’t too pleased with this move and filed a lawsuit against Kodak shortly after. Soon after the ruling against them in 1985, Kodak was forced to cease production of these cameras and had a sizeable financial payout to deal with by 1990. I picked up an EK6 some years ago, and I’m pretty pleased to know that I can use this chunky camera with Ian’s invention someday.

The Phoblographer: Hi, Ian! Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.

Ian Bakke: My name is Ian; I’m from Southern Sweden. My interest in photography pretty much started from a very young age. I always wanted to be behind the camera and not in front of it. My mother had a digital camera, a Kodak; it was one of the early digital consumer cameras. My godmother, who became like a grandmother to me, took pictures the traditional way, with film that is. She had a Pentax; I can’t remember what model, but it was a consumer camera, albeit a quite advanced one. My first own camera was a Minolta AF-Tele, a very simple camera. My real interest in photography didn’t really start until around the time when Polaroid announced the ending of film production in 2008. I got my hands on a Spectra camera which turned out to not work properly. A couple years passed, and in 2010 I got to use the first Impossible Project instant film, which, to be honest, wasn’t very good at all. That’s how it all started; I acquired camera after camera, typical of people interested in tech and photography, I guess.

The Phoblographer: What camera gear do you use for your photography hobby?

Ian Bakke: Photography is, for me, a way to see life and the things that surround us all. Photography is a very powerful medium. Just in the last two hundred years, we have developed technologies for capturing light as images frozen in time. This is part of why I like Polaroid and also positive slide film so much; the final image you see is light reflected off your subject, collected by the lens, and captured by the light-sensitive film. And it all just happens in an instant, click, you have just made it seem like time is standing still. Of course, most of my pictures are now taken with my phone, and I’m not against it; for the most part, I’m for it.

Edwin Land, the inventor of instant photography, had in 1944 a vision of a camera the would be as small as a wallet and where you could press a button and have the picture immediately. He, of course, talked about what would eventually become the Polaroid SX-70, but I like to think of it as him imagining the small cameras we all carry with us everywhere we go.

Photography is merely a hobby for me, and I have never really thought of it as something I would work with. I’m more keen on the technological standpoint than the artistic values in photography, which is to say that both are important. The gear doesn’t really matter that much; it’s how you use it. But I think most people like to have new gear/stuff, and it’s easier to spend money than to learn how to do something. For me, photography is a way to relax and do something I enjoy, whether it’s walking, hiking, or just staying at home.

As I mentioned, my most used camera is the one on my iPhone, but if you aren’t counting that one, it will be my trusty SX-70, built-in 1975. I got it refurbished from Polaroid a couple of years ago after being fed up with another SX-70. I used to have the SLR 680 as well, a great camera that takes good pictures but is terrible when it comes to portability. And with the lack of camera cases available, it felt like I was going to break it in half every time I carried it. The SX-70 is quite a bit smaller, and cases are quite common. 

The Phoblographer: Is there a name for the back you’ve designed?

Ian Bakke: I haven’t been able to come up with a good name for the adapter yet, I don’t really want to use other brands’/companies’ names when referring to it, so I’m open to ideas and suggestions for a name.

The Phoblographer: There are a lot of popular Instax cameras already available. What made you make an adapter for the Kodamatic series cameras?

Ian Bakke: While it’s true that there are a lot of Instax cameras out there, I feel that it’s important to try and resurrect older cameras as well that are just sitting in someone’s attic just waiting to be used again.

The Phoblographer: What inspired this idea? Was it a desire to breathe some life back to a discontinued line of cameras?

Ian Bakke: The Instax adapter for Kodak instant cameras came about in October 2021 after I had dug up a Kodak EK2 from my camera pile. The idea of an adapter for these cameras is not new; I have had the idea for years. But haven’t had access to technology to make it.

Last year in September 2020, when we were all staying at home, at least I was, I got a 3D printer. It is one of the best, if not the best, things that I have purchased. You come up with an idea, sketch it up on the computer, and print it. If you break something in the home, you design the part (or look for it on Thingiverse) and print it.

The inspiration came many years ago when we had a VHS-C camcorder where you could insert the small VHS cassette into the full-size adapter and play it in a normal VCR. Then about 10 years ago, I got one of these Kodak instant cameras for very cheap. At the time, I did manage to fit Polaroid 600 film in it if you took a frame out of the cassette and placed it in the camera in a specific way and then held it upside down when ejecting. It was a mess and a terrible solution. When Instax Square was launched a few years ago, the idea came back. Now there was a film that would be large enough to warrant making some kind of adapter. I didn’t have a 3D printer at the time, so I put the camera away and forgot about it until September this year. 

The Phoblographer: I believe I have a Kodamatic model at home. Which of the Kodamatic cameras is your favourite to adapt with your Instax back?

Ian Bakke: I have now amassed a sizable collection of cameras. It’s like a curse, isn’t it? You just can’t stop collecting. My favorite camera to use with the adapter is the Kodamatic 950. The Kodamatic 930 is also good but lacks a built-in flash. 

The single largest issue I’m facing as of this moment is that a lot of Kodak instant cameras, the EK100 being one of them, have a flawed drive mechanism. As the plastic gears age, they turn brittle, and teeth are stripped off the gears you use them, rendering them unusable. I’m working on sourcing new gears, but I have a really hard time finding a supplier.

The Phoblographer: Tell us a bit about the design process. How many iterations did you go through until the final design? What hurdles did you encounter during the initial designs?

Ian Bakke: It’s a bit surprising how few different designs I went through to find a good solution. I dug out the camera on a Friday and had a working solution by Sunday. It then took a long time to adjust the design to make it work better, plus adding a hinge for the back cover of the adapter. 

The biggest hurdle along the way was the pick arm, it is a metal arm that pokes each picture out of the Instax cartridge, and it has to be in just the right place and have just the correct shape to pick out one picture, and only one. Either it would push out two or none at all. I also had to take into account that not all cameras operate in the same way, so I had to adjust for that too.

The Phoblographer: Is it compatible with all Kodamatic models?

Ian Bakke: The adapter is for all Kodak Instant Cameras. I have verified that it works with all of them, thanks to buying a lot of different ones. Though I have found that the best cameras are either the first made, the EK2 (the Handle, Pleaser, EK20), the EK4 (the Crank) or the last ones made, the Kodamatic 930 and 950. This is because the first ones didn’t have a motor and are hand-cranked. The last ones made use a different type of gear that doesn’t deteriorate with time.

The idea I had from the beginning was to have an adapter where you don’t need to do any modifications to the camera or film. This meant that the whole Instax Square cartridge needed to fit inside the adapter, and it would need to eject all frames without getting stuck. I’m now at the stage where the adapter is working perfectly and is very easy to use. You simply insert a new pack of Instax Square film into the adapter and insert the adapter into the camera. If you’re using a Kodamatic camera (film type HS-144-10), the only other adjustment is to slide the lighten/darken control all the way to darken. If you’re using another Kodak instant camera (film type PR-144-10), you need to place a two-stop neutral density filter over the lens.

The Phoblographer: Is it ready for production now? Is this something for which you’d release the 3D blueprints for, or are you planning on manufacturing it entirely yourself?

Ian Bakke: The adapter isn’t ready for mass production. All of the ones made so far are 3D-printed. This works really good for low volume but doesn’t scale up. It takes too much time to print at a large scale and then add finishing work to that. At this moment, I’m holding on to the files for 3D printing. I might release them later with a finished guide for making one yourself. 

The Phoblographer: Has there been a sizeable demand for it? Are many redditors excited about purchasing one from you?

Ian Bakke: The response has been really positive, and so far, I have sold a few of them. I do plan to continue to make them at a smaller scale while I’m working on taking it further.

The Phoblographer: Any plans to make similar backs for other vintage instant cameras?

Ian Bakke: At the moment, I have no plans to make other adapters, but I will work on other 3D-printed accessories. Once you have a 3D printer, you will wonder how you’ve lived without it all this time. It’s a fantastic machine for prototyping and small-scale production.

All images by Ian Bakke (unless specified otherwise). Used with permission. Please visit his Reddit page and Youtube channel to see the latest updates on his Instax Kodamatic adapter project

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