The Land List -- Frequently Asked Questions

An Index of Questions and Answers about Polaroid Cameras

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Welcome to the main FAQ page for The Land List!

While I welcome the questions and comments that visitors (like you!) send me, I'd like to encourage you to read over this page to see if I've already answered your question here. If not, feel free to ask!


or, go directly to these other Land List FAQ pages:

1: General Questions

1.1: I just bought an old Polaroid camera at a garage sale. Can I still get film for it?

You can still get film in the two pack-film formats (the 'rectangular' and 'square' pack formats), plus the SX-70, 600, Spectra/Image, Captiva/Vision and other later integral print formats.

If you're not sure, you can easily determine on this site what film your camera uses and whether or not that film is still available. Just go to the Camera List main page, and find your camera in the alphabetical index. Click on the link, and you'll be at the specific camera information listing for your camera. On the camera listings pages, there is a small rectangular icon located just to the left of each camera name. That icon indicates the film format used by that camera. Clicking on the film icon takes you directly to the Film List section for that film format. This will tell you what film(s) are/were made in that format, and which ones (if any) are still being produced.

Actually, before 1992, the only 'amateur' Polaroid camera models that you could not get film for were the 80 series (Highlander) models, the J33, the Model 20 'Swinger' (plus the similar M15 and 415) and the Polavision movie camera. Now with the 40-series rollfilms gone, the list of 'filmless' Polaroid cameras is longer, but many people are still surprised when they find out that their old Model 100 automatic pack camera not only still has film available for it, but it's even available in a far wider variety than ever!

1.2: What kind of battery does my Polaroid camera need? Does it need a battery at all?

Please see the Battery FAQ page.

1.3: I found an old Polaroid camera in the attic! Is it a valuable collector's item? How much is it worth?

[NOTE: I'm including this question in this FAQ list simply because I get asked this sort of thing very often. On the one hand, I really don't want to turn this into some sort of 'price guide' thing, but on the other hand, it's a valid question that deserves an answer.]

Sorry to say, but chances are, it's probably not worth more than a few dollars. ...And that'd be assuming you could find anyone who wanted it in the first place. This is true of most mass-market Polaroid cameras regardless of format. Even those big old rollfilm Polaroid cameras (such as the 95-series or 150 or 800 or...) with their beautiful genuine leather cases and neatly packaged accessories just aren't worth much of anything in the "collectible" market right now.

This doesn't mean, however, that there aren't any old Polaroid cameras that are worth some money. The thing is, though, that those particular cameras aren't considered valuable due to 'collectibility', but due to their current intrinsic value as usable photographic tools. Here's a short list of Polaroid cameras that actually have some reasonable sort of market value in the USA:

The prices given above are vague approximations based on general observation, and are given in US dollars. These figures are not to be taken as 'official' appraisals or the like. Your mileage may (and will) vary.

Of the remaining mass-market models not listed above, just about any of them (aside from international models) should be obtainable in the USA for about ten dollars or less, though you will certainly see much higher price tags on occasion. Sometimes this is due to business overhead-- i.e. you're probably going to pay more for a used folding pack Polaroid at a camera store than at a garage sale. After all, the camera store owner not only has rent and salaries to pay for, but also may offer a gurantee and/or other value-added services to your used camera purchase-- depending on your situation, this may be well worth the extra cost. A lot of times, though, this is due to general ignorance about the market-- I don't know how many times I've seen people try to get $50 or more for, say, a Polaroid Swinger 20 (perhaps the most plentiful camera in the world, and worth, according to McKeown's Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, "$5 per truckload, delivered").

As for prices outside North America, a few Polaroid cameras enjoy a bit more demand and slightly higher values compared with the USA. In particular, early rollfilm models (especially the original Model 95) and high-end automatic packfilm cameras (such as the Automatic 100 or 250 or the like) are worth a bit more in some areas (or are at least easier to find buyers for).

To summarize, you're probably not going to get wealthy selling the old Polaroid camera that's sitting in your attic, at least right now. But that doesn't mean you can't have some fun with it anyway. :-)

1.3a: But I don't think you answered my question! I want to know exactly what my Polaroid Model 150 (or Swinger, or 80A, etc.) is worth! I even have the flash and the original leather case with it!

[Ed. Note: I realize this FAQ entry sounds redundant, but since about one-third to one-half of the visitors who email me about this site continue to ask me how much their camera is worth, I figure I need to elaborate further. --MK]

Again, this site is not intended to be an official "price guide" of any sort. I realize that while I did not itemize every single Polaroid camera in the previous FAQ entry, I'd like to repeat that basically any camera not specifically listed is quite possible to buy in the USA for about 10 bucks or less from an individual seller (you may pay more, but the possibility is there). I do apologize if that sounds a bit 'cold', but that's the way the market is at this time and place. However, so as not to appear that I'm ducking the issue or being overly terse, I would like to elaborate by offering the following notes:

Just as a bit of an experiment, I generated some statistics by performing some quick searches on completed auctions on eBay of specific commonly found Polaroid camera models. Following is a summary of some of these results:

At any rate, have fun with your camera! ...And if there's film available for it, I'd like to invite you to take some pictures with it too. After all, that's what it was designed for in the first place. :-)

1.4: OK, so my Polaroid camera collection isn't worth much. Which ones are the easiest (or most difficult) to find? Are any of them really rare?

In my opinion, there aren't any Polaroid cameras that are truly "rare" with the exception of the 185 packfilm camera. However, some are definitely less common than others. Mind you, this doesn't currently make them really worth more in terms of selling price, since the number of people who want the things still seems to be less than the number of cameras out there, but for those score-keepers among us who want a rough idea of what's easy/difficult to find, here's a rough guide for Polaroid camera hunters in the USA:

Anything else is what I'd consider to be roughly in the "average" range in terms of difficulty (unless I'm forgetting something that ought to be in one of the other categories, of course...).

Also, please note that "less common" doesn't necessarily mean "low production." For instance-- I don't consider, say, the Model 110A to be at all uncommon or difficult to find, but at least one source indicates that there were fewer of them made than the Model 700 (which I consider to be less common than average). How could this be the case? First of all, the demand for the 110A is far greater than that for the 700. A given dealer that happens to have both a 110A and a 700 in his shop is certainly going to give the 110A precedence in terms of shelf space, since in his mind, the 700 is likely to be considered "unsellable." Second-- and related to the first reason-- is what I sometimes call the "dumpster effect" or "landfill factor" (no pun intended). The dealer stuck with a 700 (or 95B or 800 or...) may well decide he can't sell the thing at all, and toss it in the trash. The family doing their spring cleaning finds an old Polaroid camera-- nobody wants it, so out in the garbage it goes. [I'd suspect that a significant percentage of low-end amateur Polaroid cameras made before the mid-70's are buried in landfills around the world, actually.] On the other hand, a 110A has at least some value, and the original owner was more likely an experienced photographer, so it's less likely that the camera was discarded once it became obsolete or the owner became disinterested in it.

1.5: Where can I find old Polaroid cameras in general?

...Wherever they happen to be, I guess. General amateur-level models can be found at yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and the like. Your local full-service camera store may have some around. Many professional Polaroid camera models are still in high demand, so many camera stores will try to make them available. Want to try mail-order? Pick up a copy of Shutterbug magazine and peruse the ads-- you'll find a few old Polaroids hidden here and there. Many large (and small) used camera dealers have web presenses too. [I don't want to get into recommending particular dealers, but examples of large dealers I've had good experience with include Cameta Camera (, KEH Camera Brokers (, and Midwest Photo Exchange (] There's also the eBay auction service ( Happy hunting! More about folding packfilm cameras can be found in the Pack Camera Questions section of the FAQ.

1.6: Why are they called "Land" cameras anyway? Did people think they were supposed to be underwater cameras or something?

Many people don't realize it, but Land cameras were named after the inventor of the instant photography process used in them. Surprisingly, a lot of people have never heard of Edwin Land despite the great number-- and variety-- of his inventions and the extent of the research that he made possible (primarily in the fields of light and optics, but he's worked in other areas as well). Edwin Land is second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents granted, and yet comparatively little has been written about him. Those of you wanting to know more about Land the inventor may be interested in a new biographical book that (unlike the few other books written about him) is currently in print and available at your favorite bookstore. [McElheny, Victor. Insisting on the Impossible -- The Life of Edwin Land. Perseus Books, 1998. ISBN 0-7382-0009-3 ] At some point, I'd like to add a page to this site covering a brief outline about Dr. Edwin Land and the history of Polaroid Corp.

1.7: What are these "image transfers," "emulsion transfers," and "print manipulations" that I sometimes hear about people doing with Polaroid film? How can I do them?

Polaroid transfers and print manipulations are really a bit beyond the scope of this web site at this point. However, there are already some fine resources on the web for these topics, so I'll 'cop-out' by providing some links instead-- see the links page for these and other Polaroid-related sites.

Image Transfers:
This is a technique performed with color Polaroid peel-apart pack films (and I suppose 4x5 films) only. The basic idea is to replace the Polaroid print paper (the "receiving sheet") with something else. A really easy way to try this out is to take a picture in the usual way, but after you pull the yellow tab (to start picture development), immediately peel away the print and (quickly!) lay the 'negative' side against a sheet of plain paper (ordinary watercolor art paper is good). Firmly (and continuously) roll a wooden dowel or a brayer or something similar over the negative to squeeze the two surfaces together. After the development time, peel away the negative, and you should see a rather pastel-looking color image on the paper! The texture and color rendition of the image will depend on a number of factors including the type of paper used and any preperation done to it beforehand. Anyway, it's easy and fun to do, and it seems to be a particularly good way to use outdated color film that has become deficient for normal use. Remember-- this is for color films only.

Emulsion Transfers:
This is also for peel-apart films only (color or B&W), but in this case, the picture is processed normally, and then the emulsion itself is 'melted' off the print and transferred to another surface. This is a bit more complicated, so I'm not going to cover the technique here.

Image Manipulations:
This is a technique for SX-70 Time-Zero film. The basic idea is very simple-- take a picture, and while it is developing, take your fingernail or a stick or a screwdriver-- anything!-- and rub against the print. Depending on the bluntness of the tool and the pressure used, you can alter the image in a variety of ways. This doesn't work well with 600, Spectra, or the other integral print films-- just SX-70.

1.8: I'd like to take more instant photos, but I'm really on a budget. I sometimes buy outdated conventional film to save money, but how well does Polaroid film 'keep' after the expiration date?

First of all, I suppose I should note that expired film is not guaranteed in any way by Polaroid Corp, and should always be considered an "AS-IS" "where-is" purchase. In addition, there are so many variables involved in whether or not you'll get acceptable results with outdated film that there's no assurance that you'll have good luck even if you follow these guidelines. Your mileage may vary. Of course, if the project you have in mind requires any level of quality or consistency, then you should really be using fresh film and not taking chances with the outdated stuff in the first place.

Having said that, I will mention that I'm really a cheapskate at heart, and in fact probably most of the Polaroid film I've ever bought has been close-dated or out-dated stuff from the bargain bins at stores or camera swaps. One nice thing about outdated Polaroid film is that if it's bad, you'll know as soon as you try to use it, and not days or weeks later when you've finally gotten the film processed.

Many of you who might be asking this question are probably aware that conventional film can last a long time after the expiration date if stored properly. [I've heard of instances of frozen B&W film still being perfectly good even 10 or 20 years out of date...]

However, in the case of Polaroid film, the processing chemicals are part of the product itself, and thus should not be frozen. The refrigerator is ususally a safe place to store Polaroid film, but do not freeze it.

If stored with any care at all, just about any Polaroid film should still be perfectly workable up to about a year out of date. After a year or so, things start to deteriorate depending on the type of film and how well it has been stored (including the time it spent sitting on the retail store shelf or warehouse).

The current Polaroid films with the best longevity are probably the classic B&W peel-apart films, such as Type 667 or Type 57. You will find, however, that as this film ages, you'll need to increase the development time drastically (up to about two minutes) in order to get an acceptable level of contrast. If the film is too old, though, the developer will fail to spread across the entire negative/print, and you'll see this manifest as "missing" areas in the image.

Peel-apart color films (such as Type 669 or Type 59) will show the same basic failure modes as the B&W film, but since color Polaroid film is a lot fussier about development time, the problem you'll probably most likely first notice is a color shift in your prints (usually towards red).

Integral films (such as SX-70, 600, or Spectra) are a bit different from the above. As the film ages, the first thing you'll notice is that the prints don't develop evenly. This gives the prints a sort of blotchy appearance with uneven color saturation. If the film is really bad, parts of the image will fail to develop at all, resulting in solid brown areas in the print. [That brown 'stuff' is actually the bare film negative.] Once it gets to about this point, though, the battery built into the film pack may be too weak to power the camera, thus making the film useless anyway. Integral film can last a few years out of date if properly stored, but pay careful attention to the level of color 'blotchiness' as you use it.

Probably the least "outdate-friendly" Polaroid film (in my experience anyway) is Polachrome instant slide film. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like this stuff gets ugly to work with pretty fast no matter how you store it. I've had Polachrome that worked when further out of date, but I'd generally avoid Polachrome that's outdated by more than one year. As with integral film, Polachrome suffers from color 'blotchiness' as it goes out of date, but there's more to it than that. Frankly, I think Polachrome's rating of 40 ASA is a bit optimistic as it is, but if you're using outdated Polachrome (even if only slightly out of date), you may want to try metering it at 25 ASA instead (or even lower if it's more than a year out of date, and/or try increasing the development time a bit). Another failure point with Polachrome is that eventually it gets to the point where the negative (that black coating on the film) doesn't entirely strip away from the positive during the development process. If this happens, you can manually strip away the remaining negative material by soaking the film in warm water and (very!) gently rubbing it off-- but do this immediately after processing the film! I haven't played much with Polachrome's B&W cousins (i.e. Polapan and Polagraph), but they seem to be only slightly better in this respect.

1.9: Can I determine the exact date of manufacture or any other information about my camera from the serial number?

Check out the
Serial Number Info FAQ page for what little information I have about serial number patterns at this point.

1.10: I just found an old Polaroid camera, but it's really grimy looking. How can I clean it up so that it looks better?

1.10: Miscellaneous General Questions:

1.10.1: Are you a dealer? Do you have any Polaroid cameras/parts/accessories for sale?

Sorry-- I'm just a collector of this stuff, and I don't really keep items in 'stock' for sale. Perhaps someday... but I tend to doubt it'd be anytime soon. [I think almost everyone fantasizes at turning their hobbies into a source of income, though... :-) ] If you're looking for parts/service/supplies related to current Polaroid equipment, please see your local authorized Polaroid dealer.

On the other hand, I do welcome email from what few other people there are out there that actually collect old Polaroid cameras, and do sometimes entertain trades along these lines. [I don't really maintain a formal 'want list', though.]

1.10.2: You sometimes refer to "International" Polaroid camera models. What are those?

For much of their history, Polaroid has had separate camera lines for their home (North American) market as opposed to the rest of the world. Sometimes these are actually the same cameras sold under different names (i.e. Spectra vs. Image cameras), and sometimes they're different cameras altogether. Note that some North American camera models were also sold elsewhere, while the converse is not true.

1.10.3: What about those "Special Markets" camera models you talk about? What does that mean?

"Special Markets" is what Polaroid evidently calls its line of cameras designed for non-retail sales-- namely, business premiums, giveaways, sweepstakes, and the like. [i.e. "Send in 10 proof-of-purchase seals from Fluffy brand chipped glass and get a free Polaroid camera!"] While not intended for general retail sale, apparently some models were used for Polaroid direct end-user offers. [For instance, I have an old Polaroid flyer describing a trade-in offer in which owners of 80-series and J33 cameras could receive a Model 335 automatic pack camera outfit at a greatly reduced cost plus their old camera in exchange.] Also, I've seen some indication that Special Markets cameras were occasionally sold as retail at stores that normally wouldn't be stocking photographic equipment, such as jewelry stores or gas stations.

This sort of "alternate market" product line isn't/wasn't unique to Polaroid Corp.-- Kodak has also maintained a similar distinction in their lines, for instance.

2: Rollfilm Camera Questions

2.1: Conversion-related Questions:

2.1.1: I'm looking for an old Pathfinder camera to have converted to pack film. I know where I can get an original Model 110 in good shape-- should I buy it?

Probably not, if you're planning to have it converted. Most companies that offer conversion services for Pathfinder cameras-- including Four Designs (probably the most well-known such company)-- will only do conversions of 110A/110B/120 cameras, not the original Model 110. The problem with the original 110 has to do with the physical location of the rangefinder on that camera. Most conversion procedures involve cutting off part of the camera body on the side where the back latch is located. Unfortunately, in the case of the original 110, the rangefinder would be in the way, and so would be destroyed by the operation. The 110A/110B/120 rangefinder is located on the opposite side of the camera, so this isn't an issue with those cameras.

2.1.2: Is there a way I can convert a 110-series camera to packfilm by myself? I'm pretty handy with tools and mechanical things.

Well, I've got some good news, and I've got some bad news.
The good news is that it is indeed possible, and can be done at very little cost in terms of parts if expense if a primary concern (most notably by 'scavenging' a film back by cutting it of a cheap yard-sale plastic pack film camera).

The bad news, however, is that it's more difficult than you might think, and if you screw up at the wrong point, you could turn your Pathfinder body into a hunk of useless junk. In addition, it appears to be very difficult to make some of the requesite modifications to the Pathfinder's body using only common household tools-- access to a metalworking shop would probably be needed in most people's cases (my attempt shows that even with a heavy-duty cutting disc, a Dremel tool appears to be insufficient for this purpose).

If you'd still be interested, though (and if the email I receive on this is any indication, you're certainly not alone!), I've put together some do-it-yourself instructions and tips-- take a look at the Converting a Polaroid Rollfilm Camera how-to page! Do keep in mind though that this project is primarily aimed at the skilled photo hobbyist who isn't afraid of the risks involved.

Incidently, if your only objection to a professional conversion is the monetary cost, perhaps it'll make you feel a little better to know that a good professional conversion will probably look better than a homebrewed one, and may give you a higher resale value should you ever decide to sell the camera later. Plus, most conversion companies include a basic CLA (clean-lube-adjust) on the shutter as part of the conversion service, and that's certainly worth a few dollars in and of itself.

2.1.3: OK, so it's not all that easy to put a pack film back on my Pathfinder. How about I remove the lens/shutter assembly and attach it to the front of a cheap folding pack camera? That sounds like that'd be easier, wouldn't it?

Well, that might sound easier, but the reality is that you're really trading one problem for another, less straightforward, one.
One company, Graphic Center (see the
links page), even offers this sort of conversion service. I haven't seen an example of their work in person, but I now have a similarly converted camera that was "home-brewed" by someone else. While I'll admit that the converted camera works out better than I expected, you should keep in mind that there are some "hidden" pitfalls to this type of project. Such as? Well, for one thing, the focal length of the Pathfinder lens is not the same as the one originally built into the automatic pack cameras (127mm versus 114mm). Since the scissors struts on those cameras are rivited in place and not adjustable, you may have a problem getting inifinty focus reset for the new lens (though careful mounting of the Pathfinder lens at the very front of the original shutter/lens housing just about compensates for this difference all by itself). Second, even after you resolve that issue, the rangefinder is still going to be inaccurate since the focus 'curve' of the new lens will differ from the original factory one. Even Graphic Center admits this sort of rangefinder inaccuracy in the advertising for their cameras converted in this manner, so I imagine that recalibrating the rangefinder is impractical and out of the question. In the case of my converted camera, the rangefinder was "recalibrated" by simply bending the coupling arm on the focus rail slightly. The result is that rangefinder accuracy is improved, but still doesn't quite "track" the focus curve of the lens properly. The basic issue here is that the advantage of having a faster lens on your camera is partially lost if you can't focus it accurately at those wider apertures. In any case, if anyone out there has attempted this sort of conversion themselves I'd appreciate it if you would drop me a note about your experience. Overall, though, my feeling is that this would be considerably easier than converting a Pathfinder back, but will probably result in a less satisfactory photographic instrument by comparison.

2.2: I made a battery pack for my Wink-Light, but whenever I attach it to my camera, the bulb comes on and stays lit until I detatch the Wink-Light!

One of the battery contacts in the Wink-Light also serves as a hidden switch that shorts the capacitor to the light bulb. This rather clever little safety feature means that the capacitor will automatically be discharged when you remove the battery so as to prevent the possibility of electrical shock. The downside to this is that if you attach/insert a battery that is not the same physical dimensions of the battery intended for the Wink-Light, you have to defeat this safety feature in some way-- otherwise, the battery terminals will also be connected directly to the light bulb if the Wink-Light is attached to a camera (thus activating the 'power' switch hidden in the accessory shoe). By the way, if this happens to you, disconnect the Wink-Light immediately-- otherwise the bulb will burn out in a matter of seconds!

2.3: Film-related Questions

2.3.1: Is there some other kind of film I can use in my old Polaroid rollfilm camera?

Sorta. It's a big question that needs a separate web page, though. Please see the Film Alternatives for Polaroid Rollfilm Cameras page.

2.3.2: I know it's not being made anymore, but I really really really want to get some 40-series film to use in my old Polaroid rollfilm camera. Where can I buy some?

I realize I sorta covered this topic on the page where I describe a few alternate techniques for taking pictures with rollfilm cameras (referenced above), but I still get asked this from time to time.

The answer is that there really isn't any sort of even vaguely regular source for this sort of thing, and what little that might still turn up should be approached very cautiously, since this film, even if stored under ideal conditions, is getting near the end of its useful life. Keep in mind that the last of this stuff is now at least 8 years out of date. [Some of you may be aware that conventional B&W film can still be quite usable a very long time after manufacture if stored properly, but Polaroid film has an added complication in that the processing chemicals are part of the product, and are much more perishable than the sensitized material itself.] By the way, as a reminder-- do not store Polaroid film in your freezer. Freezing may cause the development chemicals to crystalize and become useless. Keep your film in the refrigerator instead.

As an extension of this question, I've also been asked by several people what possibility might exist for Polaroid to resume production of 40-series rollfilms, to which I reply, "not likely."

...Though I do sometimes wonder aloud if any of the equipment was still around and-- if the component materials could still be made-- perhaps a single production run of Type 47 or 42 could be done and the film sold via special order. [If the price per unit and minimum run were right, I'd even consider doing the distribution myself... :-) ]

2.4: I just bought an old Polaroid rollfilm camera and it came with some old film, but no instruction manual. I'd like to try the old film anyway, but how do I work the camera?

Some general tips can be found on the Using Polaroid Rollfilm Cameras page. This page is rather incomplete right now, but should help.

2.5: How do I set the shutter speed and aperture on this thing? All I see is a little window that has a number in it that I can change using a wheel on the side of the shutter, but that number is obviously not the shutter speed.

You're right-- it's not. Polaroid rollfilm cameras (except the Pathfinders and the J-series electric-eye models) have a single combined shutter/aperture control which is calibrated in either EV numbers or "Light Value" numbers (a Polaroid-specific system that predates the standard EV unit system). The Miscellaneous Data page has a set of tables to convert these numbers into their corresponding shutter speeds and apertures.

2.6: I just bought an old Polaroid rollfilm camera, but I found these two metal round things rattling around inside the camera back! Are these important? Where do they go? Is my camera broken?

Not to worry. At one time, the 'negative' roll for Polaroid 40-series film was packaged on a "coreless" spool. Rather than wind the film on a separate plastic spool, Polaroid instead crimped the film trailer into a pair of metal caps, which then served as a spool. I don't know when Polaroid switched from (and back again to) a conventional plastic spool design, but it's rather common to encounter old Polaroid rollfilm cameras with a pair of old metal endcaps inside that were left from the last roll of film used in the camera.

In any case, if you find a camera with a pair of metal spool caps rattling loosely inside, you may as well remove them, since they can scratch up the paint inside the camera as they rattle around.

3: Packfilm Camera Questions

3.1: Choosing / Purchasing a Polaroid Packfilm Camera

3.1.1: I want a Polaroid pack-film camera! What are some good used models to look for? Where might I find a used pack camera? Are there any such cameras still being made that I can buy new?

I could write a lot on this topic, but here are some quickie answers:

Used models:
The best of the automatic folding pack camera line would include the
Model 100, 240, 250, 350, 360 and 450. Any of these are definitely well worth using, and are pretty similar both in appearance and performance. Here's a bit of a 'scorecard' to help select one if you have a choice, though:

After these 6 models, the next-most worthwhile of the automatic folding pack cameras would include the 230, 340 and 440. These cameras have the same lens and all the features of the Automatic 100, but have a plastic body and shutter housing (and no tripod socket). The 230 is especially common among this group. Cameras I'd particularly stay away from (if you're looking for a camera to buy) are the low-end 104 and 210.

Price-wise, it's not too hard to find these sorts of cameras in the USA for $10 or less, regardless of whether it's a high-end model (like the 250) or a low-end model (like the 210). Check your local flea-markets, thrift-stores, and/or garage sales, and you'll probably turn up a nice one without too much trouble. If you're in more of a rush, ask at a local camera shop that deals in used equipment-- they might not have one on display (these cameras don't generally sell that well and don't bring much money anyway), but perhaps they've got one collecting dust somewheres that they'd like to find a new home for. Expect to pay more if you go through a store, but even if you end up spending $25 or more, you're certainly still getting a bargain when you consider the usefulness of these cameras as photographic instruments. Also, you may want to try the eBay ( auction service. [NOTE: Outside the USA, these sorts of cameras are apparently less common and more expensive.]

One catch with any of the 'classic' folding automatic pack cameras, though, is their oddball battery requirements. See the Battery Info page for some more information.

As an alternative, you could consider a 'new style' folding automatic camera such as The Reporter, EE100, or the ProPack. These are powered by ordinary 'AA' cells, so do not present any problems as far as power is concerned. However, none of these cameras have a rangefinder (focus is by scale only), nor are the 'Close-up' or 'Portrait' kits usable with them. Also, the quality of their plastic lenses is inferior to that of the glass lenses of the older models. ...And, with the exception of the ProPack, all of them have flash systems designed for Flashcubes only. Personally, I greatly prefer the 'classic' folding pack cameras over the 'new-style' ones. However, in some instances, a ProPack with the ProFlash may prove to be a very handy and easy-to-use package for many purposes.

Polaroid no longer manufactures or offers new automatic pack cameras; The last such model (the ProPack) was discontinued in 2003.

3.1.2: I've found a used 'classic' pack camera! How can I check it to make sure it works properly?

First, unfold the camera by pulling the front out until it 'clicks' into place. Do the bellows have good, straight accordion-like creases, or do the bellows look 'mushy' and sag-- as if it has lost its form? If it looks 'mushy', open the back of the camera (while it's still unfolded) and check the inside of the bellows. There's a black cloth liner on the inside of the bellows-- if it has separated from the vinyl outer layer, then I'd reject the camera right there, because it'll probably be difficult to repair, and if you don't fix it, the liner will likely stray into the light path, causing odd shadows in parts of the image. If the cloth liner has not separated from the outer layer, try re-folding the camera carefully, and open it again a few times. Someone might have just been careless in collapsing the camera last time before it was stored away, and the bellows didn't fold properly. If that's the case, then you can likely solve the problem just by collapsing the camera so that the bellows fold neatly, and leave it in its folded state for a few days so that it can regain its proper shape.

While on the topic of the bellows, check the corners for wear. Don't despair if you think you see some small cracks or holes-- the aforementioned cloth liner inside the bellows should keep everything light-tight if the damage isn't bad. If you want to make certain, take the camera into a dark place (such as a closet) and run a flashlight along the creases while looking for points of light on the inside of the camera. [Alternatively, place a lamp inside the camera and check the outside of the bellows for light leaks.] Overall, though, my experience has been that the bellows on these cameras present far fewer problems than the bellows on most old folding cameras.

Are the metal struts bent or otherwise defective? You may be able to straigten out bent parts, but replacing struts or sliders may turn into a very difficult job, since most of these parts are riveted in place.

If the camera has a 'scene selector' switch and a thumbwheel film speed selector, run both controls through all their combinations (note that there's a heavy spring action behind the film speed control-- that's not a defect). In particular, make sure the ASA numbers appear in the center of the 'window' and that the aperture stops appear centered in the lens.

Next, check to see if the battery is good and the shutter is functional. Aim the camera at yourself. Cock the shutter (push down on the lever marked '3'), then put your finger (or some other object) over the photocell (the little round window to the right of the lens). Now press the shutter release button (marked with the number '2') and hold it down for about two seconds. If the battery is good, you will hear a single 'click' sound when you press the button, and a second, similar-sounding 'click' when you release the button. If you hear a single 'tungg!' sound when you press the button and no sound when you let go, then the battery is dead or the shutter isn't working (but 99% of the time it's the battery or its associated wiring). If you hear two separate clicks but the second one occurs before you let go of the shutter button, then make sure you're covering the photocell completely and try again (also, if the camera has a scene selector, set it to the 'outdoor' position). You should be able to get the the shutter to stay open for at least a few seconds. If the shutter won't stay open that long, then the battery is probably weak.

While you're looking at the lens, take a look and check for scratches on the top surface and that it's free of fungus or other deposits on the inside. Small 'cleaning' scratches probably won't cause very noticable degredation in image quality, but fungus and haze certainly may.

Check the viewfinder/rangefinder. Is the viewfinder clear? Are the framelines visible, and do they shift as you focus the camera? If you have the standard Polaroid finder, move your eye to the 'Focus' window and check that the double images are there and that you can line them up by focusing the camera. If you have the Zeiss finder, is the rangefinder patch clearly visible? Can you bring it into alignment by focusing the camera? In either case, try focusing on something about 3.5 to 4 feet (1 meter) away. The bellows should be at about their maximum extension when the rangefinder says it's in focus. Now try focusing at something 100 feet or more away (infinity)-- you should be at the other extreme end of the focus travel when the rangefinder images are superimposed.

Now open the back of the camera. If there's an empty film pack still inside, remove it. Check the development rollers-- if they're dirty and/or covered with developer goo, you can clean them up with some rubbing alcohol and a lint-free cloth. However, if they're seriously corroded or rusted, you may have some difficulty getting them back in shape. I will say I've run into some pretty ugly developer messes that cleaned up very well with just a few minutes of effort. Check the rear element of the lens too-- it probably won't have any scratches, but make a quick check for fungus and haze.

Close the back of the camera, and open the battery compartment (it's the smaller panel on the back of the camera, except on the 360). You may very well find some damage from battery leakage there, so be careful. Cleaning up after a leaky battery mess isn't necessarily difficult, but if the leakage is serious, you may find that you'll have to replace the wiring and/or the battery snaps.
[Extra hint: if the "shutter test" above indicated that the battery was dead, and (a) this camera has the electronic development timer, and (b) both batteries are installed, try swapping around the two batteries and then repeat the shutter test. In these situations, sometimes only one of the batteries is really 'dead', and the original timer battery still has enough charge to operate the shutter. Make sure you orient the batteries correctly if you swap them around-- don't connect them backwards!]

NOTE: You can use a similar procedure to check out the rigid plastic pack cameras and the 'new style' folding cameras, except that of course there's no rangefinder, and in most cases there are no framelines in the viewfinder (and the framelines in the ones that do don't shift when you turn the focus ring).

That should pretty much cover it! Oh, if you've never used one of these things before, check and see if there's a manual with the camera. You'll be a lot happier if there is. Trust me. Speaking of which--

3.2: I've got an old Polaroid pack camera, but I don't have the instruction manual. How do I use this thing anyway?

If you've never seen anyone use Polaroid 'peel-apart' pack film, you'll almost certainly be rather lost without a manual. The technique for developing the film isn't complicated, but you'll probably have quite some difficulty figuring it out on your own without some basic instructions.

Y'know, I'd love to put up a scanned copy of the Model 100 manual here, but since that'd be a serious copyright infringement, I don't think it's likely. However, since a lot of people do seem to run into this problem, I've thrown together a quick set of instructions that should help you get started-- please see the Using Polaroid Pack Cameras page. It's not really a substitute for a real manual, but I hope you find it useful. [NOTE: This page is more graphic-intensive than most of the pages on this site, so please be patient if you have a slow 'net link.]

In addition, I've noticed that Polaroid now has some user guides available on their web site in PDF format. Most of these are for current/recent camera models, but there are two which might be helpful to pack camera owners. One of these is the manual for the ProPack camera (the last of the folding automatic pack cameras); you might want to take a look at this if you have a 'new style' folding pack camera or one of the rigid plastic pack cameras. The other potentially useful manual is the "Instant Pack Film Guide". This contains some additional tips regarding tab pulling and development, but doesn't provide so much help in the way of camera usage. You can find both of these manuals on Polaroid's User Guides - Professional and Technical Cameras page.

3.3: What film types work best with old folding pack cameras? My instruction manual mentions Type 107 and 108, but I can't seem to find those.

Rectangular-format Polaroid pack cameras (which include all folding models and most of the rigid plastic models) can use 100-series and 660/670-series pack films. However, the 100-series film line has all but disappeared at this point, having been long-since supplanted/replaced by members of the 660-series 'professional' film line. ...This isn't really a bad thing, however, as the 660-series films are potentially higher in quality and are similar in price.

The current 660-series films most equivalent to the old (B&W) Type 107 and (color) Type 108 films are, respectively, Type 667 and Type 669. These two films are very good all-around choices for general-purpose photography with old Polaroid pack cameras. These two are also about the easiest to find Polaroid pack films these days-- you should be able to find at least Type 667 and 669 in stock at any full-service camera store [NOTE: "Wal-Mart" and "K-Mart" do not qualify as "full-service camera stores" :-) I have noticed, however, that some Ritz Camera locations (as found in many shopping malls) do carry these two films.]

If you're rediscovering Polaroid pack film after having only used it in the 1960's and 70's, you'll notice that Type 667 isn't exactly the same as the old Type 107. For one thing, 667 is coaterless, which means you don't have to deal with those sticky (and smelly) coater swabs. On the other hand, like all the coaterless B&W films, Type 667 requires a longer development time (30 seconds versus 15 seconds for Type 107). Also, Type 667 prints have a slightly siffer, grey plastic-like base, whereas Type 107 prints are fiber-based and look more like traditional photographic paper. [By the way, these comments about Type 667 also apply to its former brandmate, Type 107C.] Also, whereas the old Type 107 and 108 films came 8 exposures to a pack, most of the current Polaroid pack films are now packaged as 10 exposures to a pack.

Of course, these three aren't the only film types you can use in your camera. If you enjoy doing B&W darkroom work, you might want to try Type 665 -- in addition to a positive print, this film also produces a reusable negative for making further prints/enlargements with traditional photographic processes. [NOTE: You will need sodium sulfite (available at camera stores that stock a better-than-average variety of darkroom chemistry) to 'clear' the negatives produced by this film. ...However, if you really get in a pinch, it is possible to do this with plain water, but doesn't work very well.] Keep in mind that Type 665 has a speed of only 75 (80) ASA, so set your camera to either '75' or 'COLOR' rather than the usual 'B&W' setting. If you're looking for a better color film than Type 669, try the new Type 690 film. [This film, however, is slightly faster than Type 669, so try setting the L/D control on your camera one small mark towards Darken when using 690 film.]

Oh, one other thing: Most of the film types which used to be labeled as having a film speed of 75 now say 80 instead. I'm not sure whether or not the actual speed rating of the film changed, or if Polaroid just chose the new number as being a better geometric 'fit' between the standard speeds of 50 and 100 and left the film as-is. [ASA 80 is 1/3 stop slower than ASA 100. Likewise, 64 is 1/3 stop faster than 50. Despite being exactly between 50 and 100 on a linear scale, ASA 75 is not exactly between ASA 50 and 100-- ASA film speeds are on a geometric scale.] In any case, it really doesn't matter from a practical standpoint-- you can use film rated as 80 with your camera's normal setting of 75 and vice-versa.

If you have a 'square'-format pack camera (in the USA, this pretty much means only those models with the word "Square" or "Zip" in their names), you might be interested to know that Polaroid recently (Fall 2003) revitalized their line of 80-series films, so now you should have an easier time obtaining film for your camera (as well as have some additional choices not available previously).

3.4: Are there any particularly useful accessories I should try to find for my classic pack camera?

Here's a quick outline of accessories you may encounter along with some general opinions. Note that your particular intended use of the camera will certainly affect which accessories would have interest to you. Your opinions may vary as well.

3.5: My camera needs a new battery; where can I get one?

Check the battery page for a few alternatives, but if you need an original 531 or 532 battery, there are a few sources. For one thing, Polaroid Customer Service offers them directly for about $7 apiece. Also, it appears that Radio Shack has resumed listing the 531 as a special order item. The No. 531 cross-references to a PX-19, and is available as Radio Shack Cat. #960-0378 (price: $8.99). Unfortunately, I can't find an exact replacement for the No. 532 in the Radio Shack catalog or web site. In addition, a visitor to this site has suggested as a source for both of these battery types. I see that they also have a number of other hard-to-find battery types of interest to vintage camera owners. [Note: I have no personal experience with as a customer, so this should not be taken as an endorsement of their products and/or services.]

3.6: About how long do those batteries last anyway?

Fortunately, these batteries last quite a long time. In a 'classic' folding pack camera, the only thing the battery powers is the shutter electromagnet and its associated timing/metering circuit. So, unless you make a lot of long (i.e. over 1 second) exposures or go through dozens of packs of film a month, you'll probably find that the battery will last for years. In fact, with only light to moderate camera use, the battery will probably last about as long as its shelf-life. [Note: The two 'AA' cells used in the 'new-style' folding pack cameras and in the non-folding models also provide power for the Flashcube socket, so the batteries in those cameras will run down more quickly if you use a lot of Flashcubes.]

3.7: But I don't want a Polaroid pack camera with automatic exposure! Weren't there any with manual exposure settings instead?

Those would include the Model 180, Model 195, and Model 190 cameras. However, as mentioned in the 'general' section of the FAQ, these are considerably more expensive these days than the more common mass-market automatic cameras. In addition, there's the recently-discontinued 600SE and even a few cameras that were made by other companies (most notably the Konica Instant Press). You might also consider a converted 110A/B Pathfinder (as mentioned in the rollfilm section of the FAQ). However, do keep in mind that any of these choices will probably run you at least a couple of hundred dollars (the converted Pathfinders being about the least expensive of the group).

However, there are at least two other alternatives that might be somewhat lower in cost. One would be to modify the shutter timing circuit of an automatic pack camera to provide a selection of pre-set fixed shutter speeds (I've experimented with this a bit and know how it can be done, but now I need to hack up something to time the shutter so I can calibrate it properly). If convenience isn't a particular factor, another possibility would be to purchase an old 4x5 press camera (i.e. a Speed Graphic) and a suitable Polaroid back. However, the value of old press cameras appears to have increased significantly in the past few years, so this might not currently represent a great savings for the person primarily interested in Polaroid photography. The other thing is that the Polaroid #405 film holder (which uses ordinary 100/660-series pack films) requires a 4x5 camera with a Graflok-style back. The more common (and generally less-expensive) earlier press cameras with simple spring backs will only work with 50-series 4x5 Polaroid sheet film (in a #500, #545, or #545i holder). Of course, with the press camera, you'd have the advantage of also being able to use it with conventional 4x5 sheet film as the camera was intended. Oh, and if you don't mind spending (typically) significantly more money, you could even get an old 4x5 Graflex, and thus be able to have a single-lens-reflex capable of using the entire image area of Polaroid peel-apart films. :-)

3.8: Flashbulb-related Questions:

3.8.1: Where can I find M3 flashbulbs? Do they ever go 'bad' from old age? Can I use M3B flashbulbs or something else instead if I can't find any?

You can try your local full-service camera store for flashbulbs, but keep in mind that M3's (like most flashbulbs) don't seem to be currently in production. However, that doesn't mean they're impossible to find-- old family-run drugstores and grocery stores sometimes still have these things on their shelves, and don't forget the local flea markets/garage sales/thrift stores-- that otherwise uninteresting $1 plastic Brownie Hawkeye sitting on the table there might have a few boxes of flashbulbs with it! Flashbulbs don't go 'bad' from old age, so don't worry about when the bulbs might have been made. On the other hand, I would avoid bulbs that look like they're banged-up or scratched-- if the coating is damaged, these bulbs can shatter when fired! [All Polaroid flashguns for individual bulbs have a built-in flash shield to help protect you and your subject from possible injury if this should happen, though.] As for substitute bulbs, the instruction manual recommends against using M3B's (blue-coated M3's) in the #268 flashgun (since the #268's flash shield already acts as a blue color-correcting filter), but in reality, you may as well use 'em if that's what's available. You might have to set the L/D control a mark or so towards Lighten, however. M5 and M5B bulbs (but not the more common larger base #5 and #5B) should also work well too (with M5B's bearing a similar note to M3B's). M2 and M2B bulbs will fit in the #268 flashgun just fine, but these produce significantly less light than M3 or M5 bulbs, so if you must use them, try only using them for close-distance shots, or perhaps try setting the L/D control all the way towards Lighten.

3.8.2: What about Flashcubes and Hi-Power Flashcubes?

Pretty much the same comments regarding the availability of M3 flashbulbs also applies to Flashcubes. In particular, Hi-Power Flashcubes are sometimes a bit tricky to find, since not a lot of other cameras were designed for them. If your flash/camera is supposed to use Hi-Power cubes only ("Focused Flash" models), you can probably use regular Flashcubes but you may have to set the L/D control (on the flash, if possible) towards Lighten. This will also limit your usable flash range, by the way. [You may also have to trim the little 'ears' on the base of the cubes slightly to get them to fit, as this was an "unsupported configuration," as it were.] On the other hand, you can almost certainly use Hi-Power Flashcubes in pack cameras designed for regular Flashcubes, and you can use this as a way to extend the maximum flash distance on these cameras. [No modification should be necessary to get the Hi-Power cubes to fit]

3.8.3: What about Magicubes?

The only Polaroid camera designed for Magicubes is the Big Shot. You cannot substitute Magicubes for Flashcubes or vice-versa, as they operate on entirely different principles, and won't fit anyway.

3.8.4: I'm confused-- how can you tell the difference between these types of flashcubes?

If you happen across some loose flashcubes without their box, it's certainly possible that you could get confused if you haven't seen them before. An illustration follows, but here's a quick rundown:

regular Flashcubes: These have visible wire contacts on the base, and the base is usually either blue or yellow in color, but may be black or other colors. These will usually be labeled with the word "Flashcube" on the top. These were made by many different manufacturers.
Hi-Power Flashcubes: These look like regular Flashcubes, but all the ones I've seen have a red-colored base and are labeled as "Hi-Power" on the top. It appears that the vast majority of these were made by General Electric and Sylvania.
Magicubes: These are slightly larger than regular Flashcubes and have no visible electrical contacts anywhere on the cube's surface. The base is usually/always black in color, and the top usually/always is marked with a large "X". Most of these seem to have been made by either Sylvania or GE. Incidently, the reason there are no electrical contacts is that Magicubes are ignited by a mechanical (piezo-mechanical?) process-- a retractable pin inside the camera's flash socket physically strikes another pin in the base of the flashbulb, which in turn causes the flash to go off. This system requires no batteries for operation, hence the "magic" part of the name.

[Picture]: Here's a picture illustrating various types of Flashcubes and flashbulbs. [JPEG, 54k]

3.8.5: What about AG-1 bulbs?

Given that about the only Polaroid cameras that still have a film supply and use only these size flashbulbs are the Big Swinger (3000) and the Zip, this question is almost academic at this point. But just for completeness sake, I'll mention that while you can't easily substitute other flashbulb types for AG-1's, they are close kin to the individual flashbulbs used in Flashcubes. So, if you're really desperate, you could take apart a Flashcube, remove the 4 individual bulbs inside, and carefully bend the wires to make proper connection in the camera's flashgun. ...But it still wouldn't work very well, because the physical dimensions still won't be quite right, and most Flashcubes have blue-coated bulbs and won't produce quite as much light as a real AG-1.

3.8.6: Wait-- just how many times can I use these 'flashbulb' things before they burn out?

I guess it's easy to forget just how ubiquitous electronic flashes are these days, and how there is an increasing number of photographers out there who have never used a flashbulb or Flashcube or even a flash 'array' (such as a Flashbar or FlipFlash). Flashbulbs may look a lot like ordinary incandecent light bulbs, but the filament is designed with very different goals and so is very different in chemical makeup. Flashbulbs are single-use affairs-- once you ignite it, the filament is vaporized and destroyed. These things can really pack an enormous light intensity for their size and power requirements (not to mention consistent over a very wide range of ignition voltages), but the trade-off is that they work only once, and that's it. No wonder electronic flashes became so popular once the price and size factors came down...

3.8.7: Most of my flashbulbs / Flashcubes have a blue dot on each bulb, but I just found one that has a bright pink dot instead. Does that mean anything?

Yes indeed. The dot is actually a chemical indicator painted inside the bulb. Normally, this dot should appear blue in color, but turns pink when exposed to oxygen. Therefore, a pink dot indicates that the bulb is cracked or damaged. Never try to use a bulb with a pink dot! It will not only perform poorly, but will have an increased likelihood of shattering when ignited. Sylvania was an early pioneer of these indicators, but eventually most other flashbulb manufacturers started adding this feature to their products as well. This is the origin of the well-known "Blue Dots For Sure Shots" slogan that appears on practically every old Sylvania flashbulb advertisement or box.

3.9: I just bought an old folding pack camera, and I'm sure I'm using it correctly, but my pictures are consistently a bit dark. If I set the L/D control a mark or two towards Lighten then my prints turn out just fine, though. I've checked the battery, and it's good. What's wrong?

I'm not sure what the true root cause is, but I've known of several folding pack cameras with this symptom. Perhaps a precision capacitor in the timing circuit has a tendency to get out of spec. [I'll have to investigate it at some point; I'll put together a 'HowTo' page for repairing it if/when I do.] In any case, you can (usually) just find the setting of the L/D control where your prints turn out correctly exposed, and leave it there (you may want to mark the new 'normal' postion on the dial). Also, if you really want to get adventurous and are electromechanically inclined, there are two trimpots in the shutter timing circuit you can play with, but take care that you can restore things back to their original state if you tinker around with these. [I haven't played with adjusting these, but I do wonder how they may affect the response curve of the metering system.] By the way, the 100-series and 200-series cameras seem to be the most suseptible to this problem; I don't know if this is simply because they've been around longer, or if there was a design/component change in the later cameras.

3.10: I have a Model 180 / 190 / 195 professional pack camera, and I'd like to get one of the old Close-Up or Portrait kits that were available for it. I'm having trouble finding the correct kit, however-- all I can find are the ones for the Automatic pack cameras. Is there a way I can adapt one of these for my camera instead?

Yes, as a matter of fact, you can. The two most important components to the Close-Up and Portrait kits are (a) the close-up lens itself, and (b) the parallax/distance-compensating 'goggles' for the camera's rangefinder/viewfinder. The 180, 190, and 195 all share similar range/viewfinder components with several of the regular Automatic models, so all you need is a Close-Up/Portrait kit designed for any Polaroid camera having the same finder type as yours. The close-up lenses used in these kits are of commonly available diopter strengths. The lenses are +1 for the Portrait Kits, and +3 for the Close-Up Kits. Any screw-in filter of the proper strength (and that will fit your camera) can be substituted for the one in the Kit. Details can be found on the HowTo: 180/195 Close-Up Kit Substitutes page.

3.11: Are there any wide angle or telephoto lenses available for 'classic' folding pack cameras?

Yes and no. Polaroid never offered such an accessory, but there were a few third-party supplementary tele/wide lens sets sold under various importer names such as Kalimar/Kaligar or GoldCrest. While I may not have actual experience with whatever specific lens set you might run into, I must point out that these types of supplementary lens attachments in general -- and especially inexpensive 'generic'-branded ones like these -- are usually (a) poor in quality, (b) provide only a modest tele/wide effect and (c) are relatively inconvenient to use. In particular, such telephoto lens attachments are often of questionable value, since the modest magnification of the image may be more than offset by the reduction in resolution caused by poor quality supplementary lenses. The wide-angle lens attachments may be a bit more useful, since there are occasions when even the limited reduction of such a supplementary lens could mean the difference between getting the picture you want and not getting it. Even so, you would probably be better off changing your position or re-composing the picture if possible.
NOTE: On the other hand, I would like to point out that not all supplementary lens attachments for all cameras are necessarily bad. Some supplementary lenses, when designed specifically for a particular lens and (usually) produced by the same company that made the original lens itself, can be of high quality indeed. Examples include the Zeiss Mutars made for certain specific Zeiss cameras, and even Polaroid's own telephoto attachment for the folding SX-70 cameras.

3.12: Someone told me that some of the old folding pack cameras have Zeiss lenses. Is this true?

This is a common misconception and is false. While Zeiss never supplied lenses for a Polaroid camera, they did produce the view/rangefinder assembly found on a few models (i.e. the 250, 350, 360, 450 and 180), and this is probably how the confusion came about. [Personally, I tend to feel that getting Zeiss to supply the view/rangefinder for certain high-end models was really as much of a marketing point than anything else, but...]

4. SX-70 Camera Questions

4.1: How do I unfold this thing anyway??

[NOTE: I have been informed that I am holding the camera in the 'wrong' hand in the instructions/illustration below. Well, they're right. I'm left-handed, you see. :-) Therefore, those of you in the 'right' may wish to reverse the handed-ness of these instructions. ...But it doesn't matter anyway; you'll still be able to open the camera just fine.]

First, hold the folded SX-70 camera in your right hand so that the bulge (which becomes the top panel of the viewfinder) is on the top and pointing away from you. Using the thumb and index finger of your left hand, grip the viewfinder top panel near the end closest to the center of the camera, and lift upward. [See the two hinge pins on the sides of the viewfinder top panel? Put your thumb and index finger on or near those two pins.] While holding the bottom of the camera firmly in your right hand, continue lifting upward with your left hand until you hear the side strut click into place.

Many people, when first encountering a folding SX-70, try to pull up on the front of the viewfinder panel near the Flashbar slot-- this not only won't work, but you could damage the camera if you put too much pressure on that side of the panel.
To fold the camera again, push on the side strut in the direction of the arrow (there's an arc-shaped notch cut in the strut to indicate where to put your finger) until it releases, and just press down on the top of the camera until it snaps shut.
Easy once you've actually done it, eh?

[Picture]: Better yet, view this illustration demonstrating how to unfold an SX-70.

4.2: How do I hold a folding SX-70 for taking a picture?

There are a couple of different ways to hold the SX-70. Here's what I call the "hamburger" grip: Hold the camera with both hands so that your thumbs are at the bottom of the camera, and your fingers wrap around the 'arch' at the top of the camera. Think of holding it like a hamburger, and you'll have the basic idea. The middle finger of your right hand should fall fairly naturally on the focus wheel. Make sure your fingers do not rest on the bellows of the camera-- pressure on the bellows could cause the mirror to get stuck in the middle of its travel.
I generally use a slight variant of this grip in which the thumb of the right hand rests on the back of the shutter housing (again, take care that you don't press in on the bellows!), with the index and middle fingers on the focus wheel and shutter button respectively. The remaining two fingers rest somewhere on the bottom of the camera.

4.3: I'm looking for a folding SX-70! When I find one, how can I evaluate/test it before I buy?

First, check for obvious physical damage:

Folding SX-70 cameras often show signs of physical mishandling, usually caused by misguided attempts at unfolding the camera. This is especially true at thrift stores and other such venues, where shoppers (or store staff) unfamiliar with SX-70 cameras may inadvertently damage the camera in some attempt to determine just what that funny-looking leather-covered rectangular thing is. Another (but seemingly less common) problem is damage caused by dropping the camera while in its unfolded state.

If you first encounter the camera in its folded state, there are three tell-tale signs of mishandling damage that you should look for before you try to unfold the camera. Some of these are minor, but others can indicate more serious issues:

Now, unfold the camera. [Use the instructions from
FAQ question 4.1 if you don't know how to unfold it.] The camera should latch positively and securely when unfolded all the way. If the camera refuses to stay "locked" in its unfolded position, re-fold it and give it another try or two. If it shows improvement after a couple of retries, then it might just be that the camera hasn't been unfolded for a long time and is "stiff." However, if it doesn't improve, then check to see if the metal strut on the side of the camera is bent or broken, or if there has been damage to the camera body and/or hinges.

If you noticed signs of "droopy front syndrome" during your original preliminary inspection of the camera, then check the front again while unfolding the camera. If the droop doesn't get any worse when you unfold the camera, then the camera is probably still okay to use (though you probably won't be able to fix the problem either). However, if the film door falls open when you unfold the camera and won't stay closed when you try to close it again, then you should probably reject the camera. What probably happened is that someone unfamiliar with the camera tried pulling the camera apart at the front to open it and in doing so broke the latch arm on the film door. :-/ This is very difficult to repair unless you happen to be able to recover the end of the latch that broke off so you can epoxy it back together, and even then it could be iffy. [It appears that Polaroid made some minor modifications to the design of the latch with the Alpha and Sonar models which may or may not have helped prevent this problem.]

If the camera unfolds easily, but resists being folded again or won't stay folded, don't force it! Unfold the camera again and look through the viewfinder before investigating further. If the finder is completely dark (no image visible), the camera's "flip" mirror may be stuck in its upward position. [NOTE: The optics for the reflex viewing system in the SX-70 creates an "arial" image rather than a reflected one. One consequence of this is that the finder has a narrower angle of view than most reflex camera viewfinders, so make sure you are looking directly through the viewfinder eyepiece.] A 'dark' finder can also be caused by the shutter being closed, which may or may not accompany the mirror problem. In either case, if there is no image visible in the viewfinder, then this probably indicates that the camera jammed (probably due to a weak battery in the film pack) the last time it was used, and the owner put the camera away without trying to fix it. If this is the case, you should try to fix the jam before attempting to fold the camera again. Otherwise, you risk breaking the camera's mirror mechanism-- assuming it isn't already broken. [See FAQ question 4.5]

If the camera doesn't want to close all the way, but the finder appears normal, then the mirror isn't the problem. Try folding the camera again slowly and see if you can determine what is causing the camera to 'bind'. If the metal strut on the side of the camera has bent or fallen out of its normal track, it may "drag" against part of the camera body. Also keep an eye out for cracks/splits in the camera body, especially near the hinges. Remember that the main body parts of of all SX-70 cameras are made of plastic-- even on the chrome-plated SX-70 models. [Cracks near the hinges tend to suggest that the camera was dropped while unfolded.] If the camera easily closes almost all the way but then gets stuck, check the following-- there's a crecent-shaped plastic shim on one side of the film door hinge; sometimes this shim pops out of its normal place and rotates. [Another (but less likely) possibility is that the camera had been left in its unfolded position for a very extended period of time-- I have a Sonar SX-70 that spent most of its life attached to a microscope adapter, and now (after removing the adapter) it just doesn't want to stay folded even though there's no apparent physical damage.]

Functional check:

With the camera unfolded, look through the viewfinder and try adjusting the focus, making sure you can focus the camera properly at objects at various distances away. [If this is a Sonar camera, put it in manual focus mode by pushing the little tab just above the focus wheel.] The camera should focus smoothly as you rotate the wheel without binding or sticking. If the focus 'binds' slightly at one or two particular points on the wheel, that's probably okay, and slight binding at certain points is in fact quite normal due to the mechanism's design. However, if the focus is stiff or has a constant rough, grinding feel, then something is wrong.

For the rest of these tests you will need a SX-70 or 600 film pack with a good battery. Use an old, empty, film pack so you don't waste film during this quick check-- the only important criteria is that the pack's built-in battery must still be good. It would be a nice idea to insert an old SX-70/600 cover sheet (or an unwanted SX-70 or 600 photo) into the film pack first so that you can verify the action of the eject motor/gear train/ development roller mechanism, but that's rarely a problem with these cameras anyway. Also: remember that if you use a 600 film pack for this test, you will probably have to cut off the little tabs on the bottom of the pack first to get it to fit in the camera. If you don't have a film pack with you and you're at a thrift store, chances are good that there's an old OneStep or Pronto! or some other Polaroid camera somewhere nearby that uses SX-70 or 600 film, so look for empty film packs inside those too.

Okay, assuming you have a film pack available, push the film door relase latch, insert the film pack, and close the film door. Within one second or so of closing the film door, you should hear the whirrrrring of the eject motor (and see the cover sheet/film eject if the pack isn't empty). If nothing happens, then the battery in the film pack is probably dead, so find another one if possible.

Next, if this is a Sonar model SX-70, check the autofocus mechanism. [Make sure the camera is not in manual focus mode; folding the camera will automatically reset the selector to AF mode.] Look through the finder and lightly touch the shutter button as you aim the camera at various things. You should hear a quick *wrrp!* sound when you lightly press of the button as the lens focuses, and another *wrrp!* as the lens focus returns to infinity when you release your finger from the button. If the you can tell the lens motor is working, but the camera always focuses to the same distance no matter where you aim the camera, then there's something wrong with the Sonar module. [Don't forget that Sonar AF does not respond through glass, so don't try to test infinity focus by pointing the camera at a window.] Sonar SX-70 cameras also have a low-light warning indicator not present in the 'regular' models-- a red light to the right of the viewfinder will appear when the light is low as a suggestion to use a flash if possible.

Finally, check to see if the mirror and shutter mechanisms (and the shutter timing circuit) are operational. Now, while I generally suggest covering the CdS metering cell when testing the shutter/battery on folding pack cameras, I don't recommend doing this when making quick check-tests on SX-70 cameras. Why? The main reason is that unlike the pack cameras, there is no way to 'abort' a long exposure on a folding SX-70 camera (other than removing the film pack and re-installing it). If you cover the meter cell completely and push the shutter button on an SX-70 camera, you might be sitting there waiting for up to a minute, not knowing if the shutter is still 'timing' normally, or if the battery is dying, or the camera is broken, or what. The other issue is that while an intentional long exposure on an automatic pack camera provides a useful battery test, that's not an important issue on an SX-70 camera since you get a new battery with every film pack anyway. So, for SX-70 cameras, if you're indoors, try aiming the camera at an overhead light or towards a window just to help ensure that the resulting exposure will be under 1 second. Don't use a Flashbar (or electronic flash attachment) for this initial test. Just push the button and watch and listen. You may not be able to detect all of these things happening (the shutter is very quiet in these cameras and may not be audiable), but here is the sequence of events that should occur: (1) The shutter closes. (2) The mirror flips upward (making a solid *fwup!* sound). (3) The shutter opens for the length of time determined by the autoexposure system. (4) The shutter closes. (5) The film eject motor starts (with a long *wrrrrrrrrrr* sound). (6) The mirror flips back down and the shutter opens again, restoring the image in the viewfinder (*ting!*).

4.4: Can I get an instruction manual for my SX-70?

As of mid-2000, it appears that Polaroid has started offering some user guides available on their web site in PDF format. Most of these are for current/recent camera models, but they do have two abbreviated 'quick reference guides' which you might find useful. They aren't as detailed as the original manuals for these cameras, would certainly be better than nothing. One of these is for folding SX-70 cameras, and the other one is for Pronto!, OneStep, and other non-folding SX-70 cameras. You can find both of these manuals on Polaroid's User Guides - Handheld Cameras page.

4.5: My folding SX-70 jammed while taking a picture! Can I fix it?

Usually this happens when the battery in the film pack gets weak, and thus causes one of the motors in the camera to get stuck in the middle of its cycle. If this is the case, you can usually fix it by merely removing the film pack and replacing it with a fresh one (or an empty (used) pack that still has a good battery). The cycle should complete where it left off and return the camera to its 'normal' state. In some instances, you may have to remove and insert the 'good' film pack a few times before the camera fully resets itself.
Whatever you do, do not attempt to close the camera if it's stuck like this. Specifically, if the moving mirror is not in its fully downward (normal) position, you run a definite risk of breaking the mirror or the mechanism that controls it.

4.6: Where can I get an electronic flash for my folding SX-70 camera?

There were many third-party flashes made for these cameras in addition to the one Polaroid offered (*), but I'll admit that they're not always easy to find these days, and often expensive. If you're having problems finding one, here are a few alternate suggestions: (a) Get an electronic flash designed for the non-folding plastic SX-70 cameras (these clip-on flashes are inexpensive and easier to find), and make a bracket to attach it to your folding SX-70 as well as an extension cable to connect it to the Flashbar socket. (b) Make your own adapter to trigger a conventional electronic flash from the Flashbar socket (detailed instructions on how to do this can be found at Georg Holderied's The Hacker's Guide to the SX-70).

(*) NOTE! While almost all third-party SX-70-compatible electronic flash units will work with any folding SX-70 camera, the Polaroid Polatronic #2350 flash will ONLY work with SX-70 Sonar cameras (and Pronto! Sonar cameras), and NOT the original SX-70 or SX-70 Alpha cameras. If anyone knows of a way to adapt the #2350 flash for use with non-Sonar cameras, let me know.

4.7: Can I convert my SX-70 camera to use 600 film?

Here's another question that's answered in detail on Georg Holderied's Hacker's Guide to the SX-70 page, so I won't cover the whole thing here.

The simplest (and most easily reversable) way to alter the SX-70 exposure system is via an entirely optical approach-- if you set the lighten/darken control all the way towards 'darken' and remove the little round 'window' from in front of the CdS cell (the round bezel pops out fairly easily, but be careful as it wouldn't be too difficult to break it), this will give you just about the two stops of exposure difference that you'll need to use 600 film. This solution is admittedly a bit of a kludge, however.

A more elaborate/permanent solution would of course be an electronic modification. Unfortunately, there are no built-in adjustments (i.e. trimpots) available on the SX-70's timing circuit, but you will find a solution on Georg's site (found with some trial-and-error). Note that this modification requires some basic electronic expertise as well as soldering skills.

Oh, one thing-- while 600 film cartridges are the same physical size as SX-70 cartridges, there are four little tabs on the bottom of the 600 cartridge that are designed to prevent you from accidently inserting it in an SX-70 camera. You can cut the tabs off with a hobby knife, but Georg's site offers another solution as well. Also, on some SX-70 cameras, you can insert a 600 cartridge fairly easily just by inserting it at a steep angle.

4.8: The stationary mirror on my folding SX-70 broke! Is this easy to fix?


6: Miscellaneous Format Questions

6.1: I'm looking for a 4x5 Polaroid film back. I heard somewhere that the #500 film holder won't work with current Polaroid 4x5 film-- is that correct?

The #500 was the original Polaroid 4x5 film holder, and was subsequently replaced by the #545 (and later, the #545i). The design of Polaroid 4x5 sheet film was changed slightly with the newer holders, however, and this results in a minor compatibility issue with the #500 holder. Here's the deal: 4x5 Polaroid sheet film is packaged in opaque 'envelopes'. One side of the envelope contains the positive paper for the print, and it doubles as a 'dark slide' for the negative. When you load a sheet, a metal finger in the holder grabs the negative so that it stays in the holder when you pull the envelope (now serving as a dark slide) out to allow the negative to be exposed (with the lever remaining in the "Load" position). A simple stop mechanism is supposed to prevent you from pulling the envelope all the way out of the holder-- only enough to allow the negative to be exposed. When using the original #500 holder with modern 4x5 Polaroid film, however, the auto stop mechanism won't engage, and you'll be able to pull the entire envelope out of the holder (and lots of luck getting the envelope back in the holder correctly so that the negative will once again be inside).

However, this doesn't mean you can't still use the #500 holder-- you just have to be careful not to pull the envelope out too far when exposing the film. You can measure the proper distance to pull the envelope by remembering that the idea is to pull it out enough to expose the negative (the length of the opening in the holder) and no further. A used envelope can be marked to use as a template to help you remember the correct distance to pull the envelope (dark slide). [Tip for 4x5 users on a budget: Old #500 holders are often considerably less expensive than the newer models. If you don't mind having to take the little extra care when using it, a #500 can still serve nicely. I have one, and it works just fine.]

6.2: I just bought a used 4x5 Polaroid film back for my 4x5 camera, but it didn't have its original instruction sheet. How do I use this thing anyway?

Here, in a nutshell, is a quick set of instructions that should work with any of the single-sheet Polaroid film holders:

NOTE: Just as with a Polaroid pack camera, you should occasionaly check the development rollers on your 4x5 film holder and clean them if necessary. There is a sliding latch on the film holder that exposes the rollers for inspection/cleaning.

6.3: I have a bunch of my family's old home movies that were taken on Polavision Phototapes. How can I have these transferred to video tape?

[As an aside, I'm surprised how many times I've been asked this sort of question-- perhaps there are more Polavision owners out there than I thought... :-) ]

Your options here depend in part on whether or not you still have (or have access to) a functioning Polavision Player.

If you have a working Polavision Player and don't require absolutely top-notch quality, you're almost home free-- all you need is a video camera or camcorder (if you don't own a video camera and can't borrow one from somebody, you might check your local public library). In fact, it's actually easier to transfer Polavision to videotape this way than it is to transfer conventional home movies yourself, because the Polavision Player already has a rear-projection screen. Plus, the Player is already optically aligned for that screen. All you have to do is set the video camera on a tripod and aimed so that it is exactly "square" with the Player screen (the camera lens axis goes through the exact center of the Player screen and is exactly perpendicular to the plane of the screen). Keep in mind that the Player screen is tilted slightly upwards. If your video camera / camcorder offers a choice of 'shutter speeds', you may wish to choose one around 1/15 second. Doing so may cause the motion of fast-moving objects to seem slightly "jumpy," but will greatly reduce the potential flicker in the resulting video. Also, be sure that the room is as dark as possible when you do this in order to reduce reflections/glare on the screen and maximize contrast.

If you don't have a working Polavision Player things are going to get more complicated. [if all you need is a new bulb, it should still be possible to get one; I'll see if I can look up a source] The good news is that the film format used in Polavision Phototapes is identical to conventional Super 8 movie film, so it should be perfectly compatible with Super 8 projectors and the telecine equipment used by film transfer services. The bad news is that you'll have to get the film onto standard Super 8 film reels, and that means you'll have to get the film out of the Phototape cassettes first. Once you remove the film from the cassette, you probably won't be able to put it back in, so this is pretty much going to be irreversible. If you have your film professionally transferred, the transfer service may offer to handle the film removal/splicing for you; they might not be familiar with Polavision specifically, but they'll probably understand the basic concept of what you need and how to do it correctly. [If you're looking for a film transfer service, ask at your local full-service camera dealer. They may offer such services or be able to refer you to a reputable company.] If you're planning to do the transfer yourself (i.e. using a Super 8 projector and rear-projection screen plus a video camera), keep in mind that you want to use a pretty small projected image if possible in order to maximize the brightness of the image for aiming your video camera. I haven't had much experience with Polavision film, but I must say that Polachrome (which is based on the basic Polavision technology) is considerably 'denser' than conventional transparency film, and so doesn't transmit as much light (in other words, appears darker). This, by the way, is one of the reasons why Polaroid decided to go with the small-screen self-contained 'box' projector for Polavision in the first place.

NOTE: If you are in the film transfer business and have handled Polavision film transfers in the past, let me know, and I'll maintain it on a list for those who request. Some of the above information has been recently verified/provided by one such person, so now I at least have one contact for these types of services.

One extra caevat: Do not be surprised if your old Polavision movies appear to have random translucent 'blotches' that look like water spots. I don't know the cause, but, unfortunately, this appears to be a very common deterioration symptom of Polavision film. Unlike some water-spotting defects, these marks cannot simply be cleaned off the film. If someone knows more about this problem (and/or a possible solution), let me know. By the way, I have not seen this 'spotting' problem with any of my Polachrome slides, so I don't know if this "failure mode" is exclusive to Polavision, or if it's simply that my Polachrome slides aren't yet old enough to exhibit the symptom. [Some of these were taken over 15 years ago, however, and were not stored with any special care.]

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Last updated 9/10/2004 by Marty Kuhn

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