HowTo: Replacing the NiCad Battery in a #365 Flash

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One of the best classic automatic packfilm cameras out there is the Model 360, and one reason for its popularity is that it's the only classic Polaroid pack camera to come equipped with an electronic flash. Unfortunately, after all these years, the rechargeable NiCad batteries in these flashes are usually 'dead' and unable to hold a sufficient charge to operate the flash.

Also, unfortunately, Polaroid corp didn't exactly make it easy for the owner to replace this built-in battery pack themselves. So, herewith are some tips for the hobbyist who would like to try such a replacement themselves.

One other thing: keep in mind that there is a possibility that dead NiCad cells aren't the only problem with your flash, so you may still end up with a dead flash after all of this work.

IMPORTANT NOTE AND DISCLAIMER: While the pages on this site already carry a liability disclaimer, I would like to further emphasize that the information on this page is provided AS-IS with no warranty expressed or implied. The author of this page is not liable for any damage (of any kind) that may be caused directly or indirectly from information carried here.
WARNING! Dissassembly of any electronic flash may carry a risk of electrical shock. Keep in mind that the trigger voltage of the flash tube may be several thousand volts, and that the flash capacitor, while carrying a potential of 'only' several hundred volts, can discharge at a great enough current to give you a pretty nasty shock if you aren't careful. Only persons with experience in electronic or electrical repair and aware of the safety issues involved should consider attempting this project.

By the way, one additional annoying problem with disassembling this flash in particular is that doing so will probably result in permanent cosmetic alteration to the flash. In other words, it probably won't look as good as it did before you started. If your only interest is to have a functional electronic flash, this might not matter to you.

Preliminaries -- What You Need

OK, before you begin, you'll need the following stuff:

The key component (aside from the flash itself) is of course the pair of NiCad cells. However, you may wish to wait until you have the flash apart before you go shopping for new cells, because apparently not all #365 flashes were made with the same battery configuration-- some use "Sub-C" size cells, whereas others are "2/3 C" size. [The former are both slightly narrower in diameter and shorter than ordinary "C"-size flashlight cells, whereas the latter are the same diameter as C's, but only two-thirds the height.] I suspect that there's enough room inside the #365 flash for either configuration, though, if you happen to already have one or the other size around.

Where can you get these sizes of NiCad cells? You probably won't find them at your local discount store, but you should be able to find them at one or more of the following:

If you have a choice between cells of different capacity (mAh ratings) in the same phisical size, the lowest capacity ones will probably be just right (considering when this camera was made, I don't think any of the more advanced NiCad cell designs were around yet), but the higher-capacity cells will probably work too-- though I'm not sure you'll get all the benefit of their higher capacity.

From looking through various catalogs, "2/3 C" NiCd cells appear to have a capacity of about 1000 mAh, while Sub C's are about 1200-1300 mAh. Thinking this over again, one thing that crosses my mind is that high-capacity 'AA' NiCd cells are available in capacities of at least 850 mAh, and since they're capable of considerably higher charge rates than standard 'AA' NiCads, they'd probably have no trouble absorbing the level of current provided by the charger. They'd also be easier to find than the 2/3 C's and Sub C's, and should fit in the flash's battery compartment. They'd still not last as long as the cells intended for the flash, but that shouldn't be a bad trade-off. I'd be somewhat concerned about the charger possibly overcharging the AA cells, but other than that I can't see offhand why this substitution wouldn't work. (any thoughts?) Of course, if you do try this, it's all still at your own risk...

By the way, do not substitue NiMh (Nickel-Metal-Hydride) or other types of rechargable cells for the NiCad (Nickel-Cadmium) ones, though-- I don't know about this particular case, but a lot of chargers designed for NiCads just plain don't work well (or at all) with NiMh cells.

Step 1: Disassemble the Flash

You've probably already taken a good look at the flash by now, and so you've also probably noticed that there's only one visible screwhead anywhere on the flash. If you already tried removing that screw, you probably noticed that doing so didn't seem to accomplish much in terms of getting the %$@#%*! flash to open.

Well, you're right. There are two other screws that need to be removed. Unfortunately, they're hiding behind that big instructional label on the back of the flash.

You have two choices. You can either remove the entire label (which will almost certainly get bent and creased in the process so that it will never lie flat in its original position ever again-- assuming it comes off in one piece), or you can cut two sections out near the bottom of the label just large enough to gain access to the original screws (which will leave you with two big holes in the label). Take your pick-- either one will probably ruin the label, but unless someone has a better idea, I guess that's just the price of having a functional flash again.

Now, you've exposed the two screws and removed them. ...But the flash still won't come open! Sorry-- you're not done yet. Direct your attention to the front of the flash. Pull on the front bezel until it pops off. This will take a certain amount of force. Try wiggling the now-loosened top cover while pulling on one side of the front bezel. If you can't loosen it that way, you may have to pry the bezel off with a screwdriver or putty knife (and possibly causing even more cosmetic damage to the flash). Don't get too wild, though, because once you've removed the bezel, the white plastic panels in the louver ('focused flash') assembly will be exposed-- these may easily loosen and fall out of the flash. If that happens, reassemble the louver panels before continuing.

Now, you'll have access to two more hidden screws. Remove them, and finally-- you can remove the top panel of the flash. Whew! Obviously, the Polaroid Corporation didn't want their customers monkeying around with the inside of this electronic flash, that's for sure!

Step 2: Replace the Battery Pack

Now that you've got the flash open, you should be able to easily spot the battery pack (on the left) consisting of two 2/3 C-size NiCad cells connected together. You'll note that, at least in the case of my flash, they're also wrapped in plastic shrink wrap. The large metal can visible in the foreground is the flash capacitor. Do not touch the terminals of the capacitor, as this may carry in excess of 300 volts. Other parts inside the flash may also carry high voltage as well, so you'd do well not to touch anything except the battery pack.

Most anyone who should be attempting this operation should already know what to do at this point, but just as a review:

  1. Clip the leads from the old battery pack so you can remove it. Note that there are two leads connected to the negative terminal, at least on my flash.
  2. Connect the two new NiCad cells in series by soldering a wire from the (+) terminal on one to the (-) terminal on the other. You may want to wrap the two cells in tape first. If the outside jackets on your two cells are not already insulated, you must wrap them individually (or very tightly together) so that their jackets do not short out against each other.
  3. Solder the original leads from the flash to the new battery pack, taking care to observe correct polarity.

Step 3: Reassembly/Finish

Ok, assuming you got the new battery back installed properly, reassemble the flash-- which is a lot easier than taking it apart-- and you're ready to go! I wouldn't bother trying to replace the back decal until you've tested the flash to make sure it works, though.

Two things:

One: Unfortunately, there is a definite possibility that the flash still won't work even after you've replaced the Ni-Cd cells. If the flash makes the usual high-pitched whine when you switch it on (thus indicating that the batteries are charged and good), but the ready light never comes on, the problem may be the flash capacitor is 'leaky' or partially shorted. This is a common ailment in old electrolytic capacitors. If the capacitor isn't too bad, then the flash may still be able to fire (at a somewhat diminished level) even if the ready light never comes on. I would not attempt a capacitor replacement unless you know exactly what you are doing. Improper replacement of a flash capacitor may cause electrical shock, explosion, or any number of Bad Things.

Two: Say, here's a thought: How about replacing the original two-cell Ni-Cd battery pack with a pair of regular alkaline AA's or C's..? A plastic battery holder could be mounted to the top cover of the flash using double-sided foam tape. This would be particularly useful in situations where the original battery charger is missing or damaged. Naturally, if you replace the original Ni-Cd batteries with regular primary (i.e. alkaline) cells, make sure you never try to attach the flash to the charger!

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Last updated 02/04/2002

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