This is a complete guide for getting started with the Polaroid Land Camera. It goes over cheaply acquiring the camera and film, upgrading the battery, basic functionality, timing exposures, photo tips, and using a flash.
It may take a little while to get the hang of it, but you will quickly learn it is a ton of fun. There is a sense of anticipation as the photo develops that you just don't get from digital photography.
Step 1: Find a Camera
You can still find them at thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, antique stores, and online (think Ebay).
Your best bet is to find one at a garage or estate sale. Although antique cameras sometimes tend to fetch a little bit of money, most people think you can't buy Polaroid film anymore and will offload these cameras on the cheap.
The current market for Land Cameras is good because no one wants to buy them and everyone wants to be rid of them. This makes your job of acquiring one all the easier.
I got this whole camera kit for $5, and with the warning, "You know, you can't get film for those anymore."
Step 2: Get film
For instance, Fujifilm makes 4.25" x 3.25" instant film ("pack film") for Polaroid Land Cameras and have announced that they currently have no plans to stop manufacturing it.
This means that not only is instant film available, but it is also much more affordable than the remaining Polaroid Film (and don't even get me started on the prices of the Impossible Project).
While most respectable camera stores should carry it, you can also buy it online from B&H Photo and Video or Calumet.
Film stock available for pack film Polaroid cameras include:
FP-100B (black and white)
FP-3000C (black and white)
Note that the product numbers correlate directly to ISO film speed.
Step 3: The camera and its accessories
Along with the camera I got:
- the #322 Polaroid Camera Case
- an instruction manual
- a Cold-Clip
- the #128 development timergg
- the #268 flashbulb unit
- (x5) M3 flashbulbs
- obsolete print ordering cards
I will go more into detail about all of these accessories later (except the ordering cards).
Step 4: The battery
Instead, I highly recommend converting the camera to work on AAA batteries (see the next 5 steps).
To find out what type of battery your land camera needs, check out the Land List.
Keep in mind that every A-series battery is 1.5V and this voltage adds up when you put batteries in series (such as in a battery holder). So, if you need a 4.5V battery, that will be three AAA batteries and a 3V battery would translate to two AAA batteries.
Step 5: Battery upgrade
- 4 - AAA battery holder (3V cameras require a 2 - AAA holder)
- Few inches of wire
- Soldering setup
- Wire strippers
- Phillips screwdriver
- Electrical tape
Step 6: The new battery pack
That said, we are going to bypass one of the battery slots by soldering a wire to the spring on one side to the plate on the other. This will create a 4-battery holder that only takes three batteries (and thus be the necessary 4.5V).
Step 7: Out with the old
Finally, break away any plastic tabs that were supporting the old battery holder.
Be careful not to cut the battery connector wires.
Step 8: In with the new
Repeat this process with the white wire and the red wire.
When you are done, insulate each solder joint separately with electrical tape.
Step 9: Power
Step 10: Remove the cover
First lift the top up over the viewfinder and rotate it forwards to expose the front of the camera.
Next, to detach it completely, press up on the silver tab keeping the cover connected to the bottom of the camera.
Step 11: Inspect and clean the rollers
First, open the back door of the camera all the way. There should be a switch on the bottom right-hand side to release the door.
You should then see the rollers right next to the door where the film is pulled out of. The rollers can be released for inspection by pulling the red metal tab located on their side.
Make certain that they are not badly scratched or dented. If they are, they will need to be replaced as this will cause the photo to come out corrupted and/or the film to jam and leak into the camera.
If they are merely dirty, this is a bit easier to deal with. They will simply need to be cleaned with a soft damp rag. Do not use any solvents or cleaning products when doing this.
When you are certain the rollers are smooth and clean, then you are ready to move on.
Step 12: Load the film
Simply drop the pack in such that the notched side is facing up and the black tab is sticking over the side of the camera. The pack should be lying flatly in place.
Before you close the case, make certain that the white tabs are not stuck under the film pack.
Make sure the black tab is coming out of the small slot on the side and then close the case by pressing firmly on the top and bottom.
Pull on the black tab until it is entirely out of the camera. This should advance the white tab labeled "1" through the small slot. This indicates that the film was loaded right and the first picture is ready to go.
Step 13: Film speed settings
If you are working with 3000 speed film, you will want to set this to 3000.
If you are working with 100 speed film, you will want to set it to 75. This will let in a little too much light for the film speed, but can be compensated for by adjusting the aperture to be darker.
Step 14: Lighting selector
It is important to set the Lighting Selector correctly.
Unless you are using 3000 speed film outdoors or with a flash, you will always want the 75,150, and 300 Speed column to "Bright Sun, Dull Day and Also Flash" (this will also set the 3000 speed column to "Indoors without flash").
Step 15: Adjust the exposure settings
I recommend setting the aperture to neutral until you know how your pictures are coming out.
Step 16: Extend the bellows
While pressing up on this button, pull the camera front outwards until it locks in place.
Step 17: Timing the film
If you have a timer, set it according to the development time specified on the film box.
For instance, at 86 degrees, FP-100C has a 75 second development time, at 68 degrees it drops to 120, and at 50 degrees, it recommends 270.
It is generally recommended that you don't shoot below 60 degrees using color film, or if you do, use a Cold-Clip (more on that later).
Also to note is that black and white film (FP-100B and FP-3000B) have considerably shorter development time than color film.
Lastly, if you are shooting below 60 degrees you will want to move the aperture dial slightly towards lighten and if shooting over 80 degrees, you might want to consider moving it a notch towards darken.
Step 18: Focus on the subject
As a general rule, if your subject is between 3-1/2 to 5 feet set it to the portrait. If the subject is between 5 and 10 feet, set it to the group setting. If it is greater than 10 feet, set it to landscape.
Step 19: Arm the shutter
Step 20: Take a picture
Step 21: Expose the film
This should then expose the picture tab from the long camera slot.
Hold the camera horizontally with your left hand and pull the film tab firmly and at a moderate speed with your right hand. Pulling it should take no more than a second or two. Make certain that you pull the film straight out of the camera. If you pull it at an angle, you risk damaging the picture and getting gunk on the rollers (which can damage additional pictures). Additionally, if you pull it too fast, you will get white specks all over your image. Next time, pull it slower.
Once the picture has passed through the rollers and is outside of the camera, development has started. Immediately start the timer if you have one. If you don't, start counting in your head or aloud.
When the development time is up, peel apart the development sheet from the image sheet. Be careful not to get any of the developer chemicals on your hand. If you happen to, wash your hands off with water.
Throw away the development sheet and let the film dry off for a few minutes before you handle it. As general practice, it is good to avoid touching the picture's surface even when dry.
Step 22: The Cold-Clip for color film (optional)
If the temperature drops below 60 degrees and you are using color film, you will want to use the Cold Clip.
The Cold Clip is basically a metal clip that you keep in a inner pocket to keep it warm.
When you are developing a color picture in a cold location (or you have been in a cold location for a while and have recently moved to a warmer spot), you will want to use the cold clip to warm up the photograph as it develops.
Basically, pull the photo out of the camera as you normally would then, within 10 seconds, fold it inside of the cold clip with the tab sticking out the top. Then, simply, place it back in your pocket and wait about 60-90 seconds. Actual development time depends on how hot you are. I'll leave this up to you to decide.
*Note: The Cold-Clip should never be used with black and white film.
Step 23: Compress the bellows
Simultaneously push the front panel of the camera back towards the body of the camera until it is locked into place.
Step 24: Common photo errors and solutions
Black image - This means no light got to the film. The typical cause for this is that the shutter did not open. Perhaps the camera batteries have died. Try replacing them and see if that helps. If this does not help, check to make sure the battery pack connection to the camera has not come loose. If still no luck, set the film speed to 75 and the environment type to indoors. Trigger the shutter and listen for it click. If it does not click, then the shutter is broken and needs to be repaired.
White specks - You have pulled the picture out of the camera too fast. Slow down.
Too dark - The aperture needs to be rotated towards lighten.
Too light - The aperture needs to be rotated towards darken.
Undeveloped U-Shape - This is caused by pulling the film too slowly, dirt on the rollers, or the white tab being folded over the film pack. Next time pull the film faster and make sure the white tabs are not pushed into the camera (but don't open the film compartment!). If it persists, clean the rollers when the pack of film is used up.
Muddy print - You did not let the film develop long enough.
Undeveloped edge - The film was pulled out of the camera at an angle and the developer was not spread evenly. Next time pull the film straight out of the camera.
Edges very dark - This is caused when shooting in bright sunlight and using 3000 speed film with the lighting selector set to "Indoors without flash." Simply change this to "Outdoors or flash."
Step 25: Flash photography
Unlike later Polaroid cameras, it was not at all designed to be used with electronic flashes. However, with a little bit of an ingenuity, you can get it to work with manual electronic flashes.
Step 26: Flash bulbs
Other flash bulbs should also fit into the #268 flash unit, such as M5 and M2 bulbs. Keep in mind that they produce different amounts amount of light than M3 bulbs and you should adjust the aperture to compensate.
All of that said, no one manufactures flash bulbs anymore, but you can buy them online or find them at garage / estate sales. Unlike Polaroid film, you don't need to worry about flash bulbs expiring. However, you do want to check old flash bulbs for dents or scratches because surface damage will make it more likely to break when you use it.
Keep in mind that flash bulbs are one-time use only because the filament burns out after the first exposure. So, every time you want to take a flash picture, you will need a new bulb.
Needing a new obsolete bulb for every picture is what makes electronic flashes so appealing, but they have their own set of problems (which will be addressed a little later).
Step 27: Replace the flash battery
To replace the battery, remove the two screws from the bottom and take off the lid.
Pull out the old battery, stick in the new one, and close it back up.
Step 28: Using a flash bulb
Attach the flash bulb unit to the camera by hooking it to the top of the camera and pressing the button in to extend the the gripping edge. When pressed down atop the camera, release the button and the gripping edge will hold it in place.
Plug in the PC adapter to the front panel of the camera.
Fold down the protective cover and insert an M3 bulb into the socket. Fold the protective cover back up.
Set the lighting selector appropriately for flash photography based on your film speed (this is the yellow selector boxes on the top of the front panel of the camera).
Once everything is set, take a picture as you normally would.
When you are done, press the red button on the flash to release the bulb from the socket. Check to make sure that the bulb hasn't broken, then open the protective cover, and then throw the bulb away (if it is broken, obviously be more careful).
Unplug the PC cord when you are done using the flash. If it is left plugged in, all subsequent pictures will come out over-exposed.
Step 29: Electronic flashes
However, electronic flashes do not have delay. This means that as soon as you press the photo button, the flash goes off, and then, 0.26 seconds later the shutter opens. By the time the shutter has opened, the flash has already began to decay (or left town entirely).
This is particularly a problem if you are using the specialty PC adapter designed to work with the camera's flash unit. The PC adapter for Land Cameras have a special plastic tab which push a cover inside of the camera out of the way to expose a special photo meter. This is used by the camera for metering the intensity of the flash, and adjusting the exposure of your picture. If you use this option and flash goes off right away, the shutter will remain open too long because it is waiting for the flash of light that has already occurred. Obviously, this will over-expose the picture.
The two ways to get around this is to:
1) Not use the special PC adapter that activates the light meter and just use the electronic flash as-is. This might work with some flashes, but is not a perfect solution, as the lighting from the flash may be unevenly distributed throughout the picture.
2) Modify the flash to have a slight delay to account for the delay in the shutter. You can then use the specialized PC adapter. In my opinion, this is the best solution.
Step 30: Electronic flash m-sync hack
A full guide to doing this can be found in this Instructable.
Step 31: Electronic flash mount
You can build an electronic flash mount as specified in this Instructable.
Step 32: Using the electronic flash
Make sure that the cable from the flash is connected to the mounting base by the 3/32" cable, and plug the special Polaroid adapter cable into the camera.
Turn on the electronic flash and take a picture as you normally would.
When you are done, don't forget to unplug the flash from the camera, or this will keep the light meter and/or flash active and ruin further pictures.
Step 33: One step beyond!
It is now up to you to go out into the world and use it!
So... go forth into the world and start taking pictures. Keep track of what you are doing. Learn from both your accomplishments and mistakes. Most importantly, have fun!