6.29.2016

Comically Candid: The Cardinal Cinex 127 Camera

Ten Dollars.  Some might say I paid too much. I can't say I'd argue that, but for a bit of photographic fun, I'd say the price was about right.

I've happened upon some excellent deals in the sub $20 range for vintage cameras: the small and capable Yashica Electro 35MC, the handy Kodak Retinettes, the amazing Konica Auto S2, the classic Kodak Autographic 1A, and the fun Bell and Howell Electric Eye are just some of the great camera bargains that I have already featured, and there are still more to come.

But the camera featured here lacks the aperture priority of the Yashica, the range of settings of the Retinettes, the great glass lens of the Auto S2, the huge negative size of the Autographic, and the neat meter of the Electric Eye.   But I knew all this going in. 

This is about as bare-boned a camera as there is. Behold, the Cinex 127.
You too can have a "real" camera if you save up enough comics! 

Spotted in a nearby antique mall, the Cinex came in its torn original box and with its original instruction manual for the princely sum of $10.  I passed on it the first time I spotted it, only to elect to give it a shot on my next visit when I spotted that it was still there. 

The Cinex is about as spartan as they come.  This little 127 format mound sports a porthole for a viewfinder, a sweeping single speed bi-directional shutter release, a fixed focus plastic lens, and a pair of red porthole windows on the back for advancing film.  The simple shutter and release, as well the film winding knob seem to be the only moving parts on the basic
Cinex camera.  


The Cinex was a product of the Cardinal Camera Company, and was, according the packaging, an American made camera.  It often came branded simply as a "Cardinal" camera, a "Buckeye," or a "Photo Champ."  The literature accompanying the camera optimistically promises high quality photos with ease, and then has photos that look like something taken with a camera of somewhat greater capability than the little Cinex. 

Cameras of this build were not quite "retail" worthy models, but were typically more geared towards a younger audience looking to break into the world of photography for a little an initial outlay as possible.  As such, it was often offered as a "prize" camera, something for which you could save up your Bazooka comics in order to send off and receive a real camera, as can be seen below.

For those heeding the advice of 4 out of the 5 dentists recommending sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum, there were other outlets through which you could acquire cameras like the Cinex.  One such example was the Johnson Smith novelty catalog, which features a little camera that looks remarkably similar to the Cinex for the princely sum of $2.25.  

Growing up and reading comic ads like this, while having a formative interest in photography, I may well have scanned over an ad that featured a camera like the Cinex, though by the time I came along, the "kiddie cameras" were increasingly more tailored to my age group.  I specifically recall my first "camera" being a 126 format Yogi Bear camera that was picked up at a Five and Dime store.  It didn't take good photos, and I soon moved on to other interests, only resuming interest in photography in the early 1980's with a Kodak Disc 3000 camera, another poor choice.  It's amazing that I maintained an interest in photography at all given my track record of choices! 

Still, the Cinex was of interest to me now for both its nostalgic qualities, as well as to see if I could get any decent photos out of a roll of film run through its lonely chambers.  I snapped it up, cut down a 120 roll of Fomapan 200, and set about on the streets of Washington during lunch hours in the Spring to see how this tiny camera would do for some candid photography as well as some landscapes.  

The Cinex looks pretty small even compared to a small box camera-like model like the Bell and Howell Electric Eye 127.

Little can really be said about the operation of the Cinex.  The viewfinder is nothing more than a porthole that is simply a guide towards getting what you want in a photo.  The lens will actually pick up more than what you see in the finder, as the little manual even tells you in such a way as to make this discrepancy sound like it is a planned feature of beneficial value. 

Reading through the instructions, the susceptible would think they just got the most amazing camera.  My favorite part is "Use the Viewfinder to its full limits when taking your picture.  Your camera actually 'sees' more than you do."

Using the shutter release that flips back and forth between positions takes a little getting used to, but even in street environments, you can hear an audible click and feel the shutter doing its thing to secure the photo.  Winding the film forward is something of an adventure as it feels as if there is a slack to the film that results in resistance at first that releases suddenly to send the film advancing forward more rapidly than expected.  

The clips that secure the back of the camera to the front are extremely flimsy, so I wasted no time in securing the back of the camera with a full complement of electrical tape, to ensure that the camera back did not flop off in use, as well as to safeguard against light leaks.

The rear of the Cinex.  The camera is designed to use the 6.5x4 sets of numbers twice to take 3x4 shots on 127 film stock.  The metal clips did not like to stay secured on this example, and were reinforced with electrical tape when shooting.

In the street, the Cinex slipped easily into my jacket pocket, and was a very discreet shooter that I could readily lift to my eye for some quick snaps in the early spring sunlight.  I was hardly sure what to expect from this ordinary little guy, only to discover when I got the results that it delivered images with a rather disappointing contrast.  Only the centers of the frame showed anything resembling sharpness.  Meanwhile, most of the images showed a good degree of stress on the negatives in the form of lines going along with the flow of the film from supply spool to take up spool.  This last aspect was perhaps the most tiring element of the resulting images, the best of which are seen below.   

Straight out of the gate, it is noticeable how grainy and somewhat indistinct the images taken with the Cinex are.  Only the center of the image shows much in the way of sharpness, with edges muting and getting increasingly distorted.

The contrast in sharpness between the center and edges is highly evident in this image.  

No, I was not tipsy when I shot this image. The film in the Cinex began to drag through at an odd angle partway through the roll.  The result was images as if they are listing to the side.  That is my story and I am sticking to it. 

On some of these cold day images, I admit that I actually like the tonality of the images taken with the Cinex.  If I can get better mastery of centering the subject in the less than perfect viewfinder, I might be able to get some "artsy" images. 

I have found Fomapan 200 to be an interesting film that tends to render differently in different cameras.  Sort of fortunately, the dramatic sky effect seems to be evident regardless, as seen here.  Note the increasing bits of "distress" in this image...

...that only gets more pronounced as the roll wears on.  

A quick shot taken on an early Spring walk near the National Mall certainly shows a less than razor sharp result, but one that works reasonably well for portraying a retro look.

Unusual wood grain pattern overlays this image of the Washington Monument.  

The straying lines are getting slightly less intense than they were at their peak on this shot of Union Station.  Were it not for the lines that remain, this would be a pretty decent shot.

A moment in time outside of Union Station. 

While I'm not elated at all the images, I have to say there are a number that I really do like.  This would be one of them, even with the distress lines across it.  

Now I can get used to this.  A shot of the White House that certainly portrays as it if was taken quite some time ago.  

Another image that seems to harken back to an earlier time.  It is readily apparent to me that when the Cinex sees another roll, it will be spent taking classic scenes to get a vintage look. 

I was not expecting much at all from this camera, so it certainly did not disappoint me, and in many shots, I was surprisingly pleased. However, I could not help but wonder how many young budding photographers this camera DID disappoint in the 1950's, and who may have been dissuaded in exploring photography for some time after using a rudimentary camera like the Cinex.  In that regard, I'm not sure if I should respect the Cinex given that it was likely the first camera of many a young shooter, or if I should malign it for potentially turning off others to the hobby after using it.

Given the on-again off-again interest in making interesting photo results with some of the most basic cameras like the Holga, and that I found some fondness for some of the images this odd little camera took, I can't say that the Cinex would be a universal turn-off though. The repeating shutter release does allow for some creative options to "dial in" one's exposure shot-by-shot if held steady, and I'm sure that if I were to really give this camera a second try knowing its limited strengths, and exploiting its weakness, I could likely get some creative results that would be nearly impossible in the likes of the litany of the other value priced pickups that I listed at the top of this page.  

For now though, it was a fun exercise, but I'm in no great hurry to repeat it.