Category Archives: Polaroid Land Camera

Polaroid Land Camera 250

One of my favorite cameras is also the first instant film camera I purchased in October 2013. The Polaroid Land Camera 250, manufactured from 1967 – 1969, is a high-end model with a Zeiss Ikon rangefinder focus. The focus is projected in a single viewfinder window unlike other models made during the time. The camera itself has an all metal body, a tripod mount, and contains a 3-element glass lens (114mm f/8.8).

Polaroid Land Camera 250
During the three year production, Polaroid made some slight changes to the model 250. Early version have a much larger viewfinder/focus window. Many collectors and photographers prefer this version because of the viewfinder. Another noticeable difference in the early version is the classic Polaroid logo. It features the name Polaroid on the front cover with the original crossing polarizer lens logo on the top. In later versions, the viewfinder/focus window was reduced in size, though it was functionally identical. The polarizer logo was removed and the name Polaroid was moved on the cover and the camera model was added. From this point forward, this was the standard location for the name and model. I currently own the later version of the 250. Last year I purchased a box of mystery cameras from an auction house in San Diego, California. One of the cameras in the box was an early version of the 250. I cleaned it up, lubricated the moving parts, and converted the batteries. It wasn’t difficult to find a buyer.

Since 2014, I’ve collected seven other Polaroid Land Cameras that use the 100-Serial Type Pack Film. Each camera has been cleaned and had the batteries converted to standard AA’s or AAA’s depending on the model. I’ve even purchased a few duplicates and given them away to friends. In November 2013, Rich Legg and I were messing around with our instant cameras at his studio in Draper, Utah. Rich wired an old flash cable so we could connect our Land Camera’s to Pocket Wizards. This allowed us to use our instant cameras with his giant octobox and studio strobes. It was cool to mix a 45-year old camera with modern wireless triggers and studio lighting.

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Polaroid SX-70 Camera & Impossible Film

I admit, this is a camera purchase I put off for a long time, but I’m happy I now own one. Why the hesitation? First, the expense. The original SX-70 has a cult following among instant photographers and has maintained its value. Finding one that functions correctly and looks good comes with a high price tag. You can buy an SX-70 from Impossible or Photojojo  that has been refurbished, but it comes with a steep price tag, usually $300 – $450 (US). When they refurbish the SX-70, they replace the leather, clean, replace parts (motor and flash electronics), and test each camera. One critical component replaced are the rollers. The rollers are essential to any model of Land Camera. The rollers spread the reagent and developing components as the film is ejected from the camera. If the rollers aren’t clean and don’t press firmly on the film, the photo will not develop correctly, or at all. When Polaroid originally manufactured these cameras, the rollers were coated with a Teflon substance. A material that would grip the film coming out of the camera, but would facilitate the rolling movement necessary to spread the chemicals evenly. Over time, this coating on the rollers can break down. If the rollers aren’t cleaned frequently, white pieces of the reagent can remain on the rollers and eventually wear down the coating, or create a rust-colored residue. If you buy any Polaroid Land Camera, make sure it’s been tested with film. I purchased mine on eBay and since I couldn’t test the camera myself, I made sure the buyer had with a fresh pack of Impossible film. If you’re shopping online for a Polaroid camera, you’ll find a large price difference between cameras that have been tested, and those that are sold “as is.” Be cautious buying from sellers that state, “I have no way to test this camera.”

My second hesitation with purchasing this camera were the doubts I have about the reliability of Impossible film. If you check online forums and reviews, there’s no consensus among photographers regarding Impossible’s film. It’s expensive, and based on my own experience with their 600-Series film, it’s not as reliable as the original produced by Polaroid. That’s not to say that in the future it won’t be. And that’s not to say that the results aren’t artistic or enjoyable. There’s a reason why the company is called The Impossible Project. Reverse engineering and recreating Polaroid’s original formula with new chemicals is a massive undertaking. The original SX-70 film contained thirteen layers of chemistry, a thin plastic sheet on top (Mylar), with a black backing. The chemicals had to be self-contained within a pouch on each frame (the larger white film border at the bottom of each photo). If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the documentary Time Zero: The Last year of Polaroid Film. This film explains the final years and months of Polaroid’s warehoused inventory of SX-70 and 600-Series films, the hoarding that started to take place by photographers, and the confidence placed in the hands of Impossible to re-create two of the world’s most notable film formats.

Short History of the Polaroid SX-70 Camera

After Polaroid’s wartime production of bomb sights and goggles, the idea of instant photography was patented by Edwin H. Land in 1943. The story is told that Land’s daughter asked why she couldn’t see a photo taken after it was taken, thus creating the idea for instant photography. The name SX-70 actually means “Special Experiment” used within Polaroid that replaced the name project “Aladdin” in the 1960’s. Seventy was the next numerical number used by the company as it conducted such experiments. The shape and size of the camera was directed by Land himself as he wanted it to be small and no bigger than a paperback book. The design was created by Polaroid’s top engineer, Dick Wareham in 1965. The SX-70 camera and film was introduced to the public in 1972. According to The Land List, three variations of the original SX-70 exist. The first production models from 1972 – 1977 had a plain ground glass focusing screen. This is the model that I own. Later models have a split-image rangefinder circle and much later models have a split-image rangefinder circle and focus scale. The camera attracted serious photographers because it was the first instant SLR camera (Single-Lens Reflex), viewing and focusing was done directly through the lens. As the popularity of the camera grew, so did the technology. One of Polaroid’s bold engineers, Phil Baker, complained that the camera was too difficult to focus. Land threatened to fire him, but agreed to a redesign of the camera. By 1978, Polaroid released the first auto-focus instant camera with the use of sonar. This technology was used to “ping” subjects in front of the camera and the returning signal would allow the camera to focus automatically. While the sonar module added extra size to the camera, it was very accurate and remained part of Polaroid’s camera designs into the 1980’s. Along with auto-focus, other features were added over the years like a tripod socket, fill-flash using Flashbars, along with black and white colored camera bodies.

These are my initial test shots with the SX-70 and Impossible SX-70 Color Film. The camera is fun to use. It is slightly difficult to focus, but at f/8 – f/22, it’s a little forgiving. I actually enjoy the rangefinder focus on the older Land Camera models that use 100-Series film. The camera is unique and attracts attention while using it, making it a fun conversation piece. Between the design, the SLR functions, I can see why it has such a popular history and cult following. I’m still hung up on the focus difficulty. Land claimed that people didn’t understand SLR’s and placed blame on the agency marketing the camera. In 1975 Polaroid had television ads that showed consumers how to focus with the camera. The results with the Impossible color film are about what I expected, but are also what was expected for instant images coming from this camera with original Polaroid film at the time. There’s not a lot of color saturation, in fact the colors seem a bit muted. However, I think it’s subjective and some photographers may desire this look. The documentation that comes with Impossible’s film instructs you to keep the photo out of direct light after it’s been ejected from the camera. I did this while I was out shooting, placing each freshly taken image into my camera bag, only to find out later that some of the white reagent had leaked from one or more photos on to the other images. Not a big deal, but I see this as one of the minor imperfections that Impossible has to overcome. Another being the area of the photo that has dissolved away or appears as an undeveloped patch. This can be seen at the bottom of my photos. Again, this can be subjective to the photographer and many Polaroid fanatics like this look. I see it as a defect in the film itself, but that’s just my own opinion. In the future I will be posting some images and reviews of the Impossible B&W Film for 600, B&W Film for 600 Hard Color Frames, B&W Film for SX-70 and B&W Film for SX-70 Black Frame.

Polaroid OneStep & Impossible B&W Film

Sometimes you just want to take photos of your cameras. This is the current hipster camera, a classic rainbow Polaroid OneStep with Impossible SX-70 black and white film (black frame edition). I rescued this Land Camera from a local thrift store for $2.00. With the current price of Impossible Project film, that brings the cost of ownership to  $3.38 per image for the first pack of film. Insane, right? There are many reasons to enjoy the 100-Series film from FujiFilm, $2.50 per image, and it’s far more predictable to use than Impossible.

How To Scan Polaroid Negatives

Lately I’ve really enjoyed scanning the Fujifilm FP-3000B instant film negatives from my various Polaroid Land Cameras. Depending on the subject, the gritty and dated look really adds a nice look and feel to my images. One of my favorite images is of the abandoned farmhouse in Bancroft, Idaho. You can read one of the earlier posts on the Polaroid Big Swinger used to create the photo.

Scanning the film (positive) image is really simple. With a good quality flatbed scanner, and some minor contrast adjustments in Adobe Photoshop, the image looks good. Peeling away the film from the negative moments after the shot is taken is really where the creative experience begins. After removing the film from the negative, what remains is the emulsion and paper. A unique look can be achieved by wiping away the emulsion with a finger, fingernail, paper towel or a tissue. Applying more pressure to the emulsion on the edges of the negative will remove portions of the photo. Leaving blobs of emulsion in some spots will dry and create hard crusty edges. After it’s decided how much or little of the emulsion and paper to leave on the negative, it’s important to let the negative sit and dry in a dust-free environment. Or if the super gritty look is desired, let the negative collect some dust and debris. For the farmhouse image, I let the negative sit in the trunk of the car until I arrived home. Most of the image had dried, some of the paper portions remained stuck to the negative, and it likely collected some dust from the ride home. I let the negative sit for 24 hours, ensuring it was dry, and then scanned it. In Adobe Photoshop, I rotated the image horizontally, inverted the image, and then adjusted levels and contrast. After the photo looked the way I wanted, I cropped and sharpened. Back in 2011, Michael Raso, from the Film Photography Project created this YouTube video about scanning negatives. There really is no wrong or right way to do this. No two negatives will ever look the same.

Click on the images below. First, look at the scanned film. Then compare it to the scanned negative. It’s almost an entirely different photo. No Photoshop crazy-gimmicky-plug-in required to create the intense analog look.