Poolside Polaroids


Yep… Polaroids. A fun mindless endeavor that might just provide enough challenge to shake up your creative thinking. Think of it like doodling on a napkin… no pressure… nobody cares…

But creatively speaking, shooting Polaroids is a real challenge. If you're a digital snapper, you're in for a rude awaking. And, if you like to "spray and pray" taking full advantage of your kjillion megapixel X9000, 30 frame per second, face recognizing, image stabilizing, espresso making super DSLR, you're going to need to remortgage your house or think twice about sinking another $50K in chrome fittings for your Honda Civic's undercarriage. (does anyone really do that?) Clicking the shutter on a vintage Polaroid camera is going to cost you anywhere from a $1.00 - $2.00.. maybe more. But, hey… it's fun and maybe the $1.00 penalty will make you stop and think.

But thinking is what good photography is all about. And given the fixed quality of a Polaroid print, you can think more about the picture than about pixels and white balance and all those other pixel peeping habits digital has added to the photography mix.

I haven't shot Polaroid in about 20 years. My last Polaroid camera was the top-o'-the-line Polaroid SLR 680. It was sort of the pro version on the infamous SX-70. When I got the bug to give it whirl this time around, I had no idea of where to begin. So… why not start at the beginning?

The big thing is film… or to be more precise… getting film. Surprisingly, it's not as hard as you'd think. While everyone's been talking about The-Impossible-Project and their endeavor to produce new instant Polaroid type films, a simpler path is offered via Fuji Film. Fuji has a small line of instant cameras and not only makes the film for their own cameras, but also supports the "Pack" style film for Polaroids.

After little research, the folding "Pack" style camera caught my eye. It's got a cool (albeit clumsy) look to it and Polaroid made the style right on through 2003. I ultimately was able to get a lot of help from the website Instant Options. Not only is there a wealth of information, but the site's owner does lots of interesting conversions of Polaroid cameras (including converting the power source over to standard (read: easy to get) AAA batteries. Instant Options comes HIGHLY recommended.

Though it's safe to say, the heyday of the folding pack cameras ran through the 70's. The pack style continued with non-folding models, but they were pretty bulky. And while Polaroid created built-in obsolescence with things like the Swinger and Big Shot etc. etc., the real resurgence came with the SX-70 and a film type that just shot out of the front and automatically began to develop in the light. No timer… no peeling oFf the sticky back.

If you think you might want to give this type of shooting a try, find yourself a folding pack camera. Stick to the metal body models… 250, 350 or 450.

The 250 is one of the higher-end models of the 100-400 series line of folding Packfilm Land Cameras, similar to the 100, 350, 360 and 450 models; it lacks the electronic development timer of the later (higher-numbered) models, but early models of the 250 have a larger viewfinder window than the later Zeiss-Ikon rangefinder models - both models of eyepiece are functionally identical but the earlier model has a larger window at the rear. Partway through the 250's life cycle the viewfinder was changed to match the same type that would be used on the 350 and 450 models, effectively meaning there were 2 versions of the 250 produced.

The main advantages these models have over the majority of the other, 'consumer' models in the series are:

  • Zeiss Ikon-designed rangefinder, with projected frame lines and parallax compensation.
  • Tripod mount on all-metal body
  • 3 element glass lens (114mm f8.8)

The 250 was produced from 1967 until 1969 (when it was replaced by the 350), retailing on release for $160.

I've shot with the Polaroid 664 Black and white film, but honestly I prefer the Fuji. I haven't used the Fuji 100 yet… but I have shot the 3000. It's high-speed… and kind of grainy, but at this stage of the game, my first goal is to get the look I want from the black and white.

I've got a long way to go in wrestling this beast to the ground. It's difficult to take it all in to a point where you can get your mind focused strictly on the creative and composition stylings you want. Obviously, that is going to involve letting go off a lot of your individual creative demands you have probably developed from using other cameras. I'm sure the process is similar to someone who paints with oils deciding to switch to black and white charcoal sketches.

So… I'm going to play.  Who knows, if I get a hang of this thing, I may commit to a specialized "project." These samples are literally day one… I'm sure I've got a lot to learn.

JT