APS: The Amateur Photo System
The Amateur Photo System, or APS, was a 1990s conspiracy to get consumers to buy new cameras, pay more for less film, and just as importantly, to strong-arm every photo lab into having to buy new processing equipment, often costing $500,000 per setup, just to stay in business.
Camera stores don't make money selling cameras. Most of the money made by camera stores comes from selling processing, film, frames, straps and batteries. Local camera stores had to pay dearly for APS processing equipment, or face extinction.
APS was also was a plan to put smaller local labs out of business, so the big regional labs, which used processing equipment made by the companies which sponsored APS, would get more business.
APS film is smaller than 35mm film, so pictures are less clear. It cost more to buy each roll of film, costs more to have them developed, and there were fewer places to have it developed.
APS died an immediate death because it was created out of greed, not for any real need.
APS gave crummier results, cost more to buy the film, and there were fewer places to get it developed. Who cared? No one did, so it died on the vine.
As an amateur format, only C-41 color print film was ever available in the USA. There was no transparency or real B&W film, although Kodak sold its C-41 process B&W film in APS. Amazon UK did offer Fuji 100ix APS slide film, but God only knows how you got it processed and mounted.
In the late 1990s, I told everyone APS was a scam.
When asked, it was a simple choice. Did you want to pay more for worse pictures that you couldn't get developed unless you went someplace out of your way? Of course not. The smarter people never touched APS.
Today, APS has been dead for years, although you still can buy fresh film and have it developed to digital in some places.
Pro labs can't develop APS. It requires expensive and specialized equipment to process. The film cannot be developed properly in a dip-and-dunk system because it doesn't come out of the little canister.
Price Club (Costco) is, as usual, the best place to have it developed. For all of $4.95, Costco will develop and print a 25-exposure roll. Check a box and Costco will scan all the images to CD, and you're good to go for digital. In less time than it takes me to eat lunch, Costco has my APS film developed, all my prints made and an archival CD of all my digital images ready to go.
Print Sizes top
One of the doofier aspects of APS is in-camera crop marking.
APS film frames are too short. When you shoot the full frame (APS-H, or HDTV), you get a very wide print.
Move a switch on the camera, and you can crop off the sides for a normal shaped print (APS-C, or Classic). Of course you're also using a smaller piece of the already smaller film.
Move the switch the other way, and you can get "panoramic," or the tops and bottoms cropped off (APS-P).
You're always exposing the full frame, and your CD scans include the full frame, but if you go to a lab which has real APS equipment, will read codes on the film to tell it to crop and print as your camera was set.
My Costco index prints (one good feature of APS) show the full frame, with yellow crop guides showing where the camera's crop was set.
Every lab will handle print sizes differently. Good luck!
Date and Time Imprints
APS cameras usually offer date and time imprinting. They don't actually burn this into the film; they record this as data on the magnetic stripes.
Processing equipment reads this data, and may or may not burn it into your prints.
The coolest thing is that Costco didn't imprint my prints with the dates even when I set the camera to IMPRINT, but that Costco did print the date (but not time) on the back of every print. I wish 35mm film did this!
Many cameras have the ability to code shots so that some APS processing equipment will put stupid borders or other things on your prints, like "Happy Birthday!"
Wow. Good luck.
The film lives in its canister forever. You never see your negatives; when it returns from the lab, you've got them spooled up in the same cassette.
This is good for many people, since the negs won't get dirty or go flying around.
It's bad if you want to scan or print at home.
Its bad if you want to file them in pages. You now have to figure out how to archive those little cassettes!
Olympus made an ES-10 scanner that worked perfectly, pulling the film out from the canisters all by itself.
These are the actual image sizes on the negative, W x H. Labs only print about 92% of these dimensions.
30.2 x 16.7mm: The full frame; APS-H, 16:9. This is a perfect fit for HDTV monitors.
25.1 x 16.7mm: APS-C, Classic. The sides are ignored.
30.2 x 10.1mm: APS-P, Panoramic. The top and bottom are ignored.
What's interesting, and more fuel for your BS detector, is that Canon refers to their 1.6x cameras as having "APS-C" sized sensors, but Canon's 1.6x sensors are only 22.2 x 14.8 mm, smaller than APS-C. What a whacky world this is when Canon aspires to APS-C!
No Free 37th Frame
35mm film dates not from the 1900s, but from back in 1892!
35mm still cameras vary so much from one another that film manufacturers have always needed to include a few free frames so that every camera will give at least as many frames as advertised.
Cheapskates like me always milk 37 frames from a 36-exposure roll, and sometimes 38, 39, and on rare occasions with compact cameras, 40 frames.
Film manufacturers hate that. They finally stuck it to us in APS, where exact electronic film control ensures that we will never, ever get a frame for free.
15 exposure rolls give only 15 frames.
25 exposure rolls give only 25 frames.
40 exposure rolls give only 40 frames, and that's it.
Even 40 exposure rolls of APS have much less film than any 36 exposure roll of 35mm film.
The Amateur Photo System, or APS, was an attempt to replace the failed Disc film format of the 1980s, which was created to replace the failed 110 film format of the 1970s, which was created to replace the pretty good 126 Instamatic format of the 1960s.
126 Instamatic died out in the 1970s because 35mm cameras, like the Canon Sure-Shot, let everyone get great results on regular 35mm film. No one needed Instamatic cameras anymore. When Kodak saw sagging sales of instamatics in the 1970s, instead of developing advanced automatic 35mm cameras to compete with Canon and Konica, Kodak created the crummier 110 format instead, which died a fast death because of the tiny chips of film used.
As 110 died in the 1980s, again instead of developing advanced cameras to compete with 35mm, Kodak invented Disc film, which was also awful because each picture was taken on a tiny piece of film that had to be enlarged greatly, so disc cameras also died fast.
In each case (110, Disc, APS), the "new" format gave poorer results, but film makers put a lot of advertising dollars behind it claiming that magic new film somehow made small chips perform as well as larger pieces of film.
Kodak could get away with this through the 1960s, but as Japanese cameras became accepted, no one needed crappy snapshot-only cameras when Canon, Minolta and everyone else made wonderful, totally automatic 35mm "point and shoot" cameras with full focus and exposure automation.
Trade Names top
APS was also called IX240, Advanced Photo System, Advantix, Nexia, Nuvis, Pronea and Vectis by people trying to sell it.
Design Flaws top
The data is recorded on a magnetic layer on the film. My Pronea S manual warns that you must keep the film away from strong magnetic fields, otherwise the data will be erased. Whoops!
Most APS cameras have broken because of the complex mechanics required to load the film.
It requires a lot of complexity, in cheap cameras designed for amateurs.
Kodak's 126 Instamatic, the first format I ever shot when I was 5 years old, is simple and tough. APS is complex and delicate.
APS cameras are collected by the same sort people with weird senses of humor who collect AMC Gremlins.
Something becomes collectible when it was popular everywhere, but then everyone threw them away so they are no longer easy to find. 1950's sci-fi novels aren't valuable because everyone has attic full of them, but if in 15 years you have the only APS camera left, it could be worth millions at Sotheby's.
Don't buy an APS camera for photography, but do get one just for laughs.
An APS camera on your desk ought to serve as a reminder that your BS detector can never be set too high. The big photo companies threw a lot of marketing dollars at APS to make you and I think it was an intelligent "advance" from 35mm film, and many otherwise intelligent people fell for it.
If you weren't around in the 1990s, go leaf through any photo magazine of that era at your local library.
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