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APS film

APS is really a system in itself

An APS film cassette (on the right) is smaller than a 35mm cartridge.
An APS film cassette (on the right) is smaller than a 35mm cartridge.

APS (which stands for Advanced Photo System) was introduced in April 1996 to simplify picture-taking for weekend snapshooters and people who had not yet ventured into photography. Intended as a new foolproof photography system, it introduced a new film size (requiring new camera designs to use it) and a new means of photofinishing.

APS is no longer promoted by manufacturers, having been overshadowed by the advent of digital photography. It is unlikely that you will find a new APS camera today, or a photo lab that processes its film.


The principle features of APS that distinguish it from other systems are:

1. Smaller film size.
2. Smaller, lighter cameras.
3. A drop-in film cartridge for automatic loading. The photographer never needs to touch the film.
4. Mid-roll film change on some models of APS camera.
5. An indexed print with thumbnail images of each picture on the roll, numbered to match a number on the film cartridge.
6. A magnetic coating on the film that permits picture-taking data to be recorded.
7. A film status indicator on the film cartridge that tells whether the film has been exposed or processed.
8. Automatic reject that prevents loading exposed or processed film.
9. Choice of three print sizes when taking pictures.
10. Negatives are returned enclosed in the original film cartridge.
11. Automatic film advance and rewind.
12. More exposures per roll of film than 35 mm.
13. Thinner film.
14. New film base material, stronger than the base material of 35 mm films.
15. Improved abrasion (scratch) resistance via protective coatings on the film.
16. No film leader.
17. A locking light-tight door on the film cartridge that opens automatically inside the camera.
18. A film cartridge on which notes can be written with most common pens and pencils.

A big feature of APS is the indexed print with thumbnails of each picture. Labs can also provide one with your 35 mm film.
A big feature of APS is the indexed print with thumbnails of each picture. Labs can also provide one with your 35 mm film.

Approximate dimensions of a 4
Approximate dimensions of a 4" X 6" Classic print.


APS film comes in a cassette or cartridge similar to a 35 mm film cassette, but smaller in size.

Comparable APS images are about 58% the size of the image area of 35 mm film. 35 mm film is 35 mm wide, and its image size is 24 mm by 36 mm with a diagonal measurement of 43.3 mm, whereas APS film is 24 mm wide and its comparable image size is only 16.7 mm by 30.2 mm with a diagonal measurement of 34.5 mm.

APS film is also thinner than 35 mm film. The film base material (PolyEthylene Naphthalate, or PEN) is stronger than cellulose acetate film base material used for 35 mm films.


The smaller film of APS permits smaller, less-bulky cameras, which film manufacturers say consumers want. Smaller cameras means greater convenience (many fit neatly into a shirt pocket), and that translates into people taking more pictures. One of the advantages of larger-sized film is sharper blow-ups. Most casual photographers (whom APS targets) don’t usually order a lot of enlargements, so film size for many consumers does need to not be large enough to provide big, sharp images.

The APS cartridge ensures no-error loading. Drop the cartridge into the camera, and it automatically becomes correctly positioned while it “communicates” with the camera, telling it how many exposures there are (15, 25 or 40) and what the film speed is. Close the camera back and the film automatically loads itself. The number of exposures will be shown on the camera’s LCD panel. Both film advance and film rewind are automatic. You cannot open the camera’s film door until the film is completely rewound into the film cassette.

Once the film is developed, it is not cut into strips and sleeved like 35 mm film, but is instead returned enclosed in its original cartridge. APS users don’t need to store film per se; they must find an effective way to organize and store cartridges that contain the film. The system helps in this regard by providing an index print - a regular size print that contains tiny, digitized thumbnail images of each frame on the roll of film. A number on the film cartridge is matched to an identical number on the index print. A storage case for negative cartridges is available.

The cartridge contains a Film Status Indicator (FSI) that advances from one symbol to another to indicate whether the film inside is an unexposed roll (full circle), has been partially exposed (half-circle), fully-exposed and ready to be processed (X), or has been processed (rectangle).

Some APS cameras permit “mid-roll change,” a feature that lets you remove a film cartridge before it is completely exposed, then re-insert it and start taking pictures at the first unexposed frame. Users can exchange rolls as often as they like. This handy feature allows photographers to shoot the same scene using two or more different types of film, without having to waste any exposures.


Smaller camera size means smaller optics to provide similar angles of view. A normal lens for an APS camera is 40 mm as compared with a 50 mm lens for the normal lens of a 35 mm camera.

You will note that the 35 mm lens size is 125% greater (50 mm versus 40 mm). This percentage applies to other APS/35 mm lens comparisons. Simply multiply the size of the APS lens by 1.25 to arrive at the equivalent focal length for a 35 mm lens having the same angle of view.


APS photographers can take pictures in three different sizes from each exposure on the same roll of film. Note that photo processing cost will vary based on the sizes. The three sizes are:

(1) CLASSIC (C) - yielding 3.5" by 5" (88.9 mm by 127 mm) or 4" by 6" (102 mm by 152 mm) prints

(2) GROUP or HIGH DEFINITION (H) - 3.5" by 6" (88.9 mm by 152 mm) or 4" by 7" (102 mm by 178 mm) prints

(3) PANORAMIC (P) - 3.5" by 8.5" (88.9 mm by 216 mm) or 4" by 11.5" (102 mm by 292.7 mm) prints.

The same sizes (and many others) can also be special-ordered for 35 mm or any film format by simply cropping the frame, however print format selection is a neat feature that can be done in a trouble-free manner with APS film.

Approximate dimensions of a 4
Approximate dimensions of a 4" X 7" Group print.

Approximate dimensions of a 4
Approximate dimensions of a 4" X 11.5" Panorama print.


Perhaps the most-innovative feature of APS is its encoding on the film itself of picture-taking and processing data. IX (Information Exchange) technology allows photofinishing equipment to read instructions on the film and therefore make processing and printing adjustments to provide the best results from different lighting and exposure conditions, and also allows such features as mid-roll change.

The thin layer of magnetic particles coating the surface of the film records information such as the picture size selected by the photographer and, with some cameras, the light source (e.g. strong backlighting or artificial light). APS processing equipment uses this information to make frame-by-frame corrections to optimize every image. Although the magnetic coating is on the entire film surface, cameras and photofinishing equipment read and write data in very narrow tracks outside the image area, near the edge of the film. You can’t see the tracks, but the information is magnetically stored there and, therefore, you should not place your film cartridge near a strong magnet to keep from damaging the data.


Not long after its introduction, APS was proven to be a viable alternative to other film photography systems. New camera models with interchangeable lenses and broader film choices became available daily, with more and more features being added to rival those of 35 mm systems.

Although APS definitely caught on, especially with the amateur just starting out, it did not supplant 35 mm photography. Manufacturers probably never intended it to. Its market was clearly the "point-and-shoot" photographer. Some single lens reflex (SLR) APS cameras were made, but professional photographers stayed with 35 mm systems, mainly due to the larger negative, which provided greater image size and higher resolution. Serious photographers who wished to advance their skills did not choose an APS system.

Today's beginner photographer typically chooses a "point-and-shoot" digital camera.

The Minolta Vectis Weathermatic Zoom, designed for APS film, has underwater autofocus and zoom capability.
The Minolta Vectis Weathermatic Zoom, designed for APS film, has underwater autofocus and zoom capability.