Introduction: Modify Your Polaroid Spectra Camera to Use Non-Polaroid Film

Lets face it...Polaroid has mostly abandoned its commitment to analog instant photography.  I understand the hard business facts behind this move, but as someone who bought the camera, I feel a little cheated.  They have stopped making all integral film and the price of the last stocks of fresh film is skyrocketing in price.  For example, Spectra film use to be $1 an exposure but is now $2 and exposure in most markets and will only increase as the supply dwindles.   

A project to restart production  called, "the Impossible Project" (the "p" on impossible is backward for some hip and trendy reason) is restarting production of integral and other Polaroid films, however the cost is still in the $2 to $3 per exposure range.

What is the cheapskate hipster to do?  Well here is one idea.

In this Instructable, we will convert a Polaroid Spectra to operate with regular sheet film. 


This modification will pretty much destroy your cameras ability to shoot regular Polaroid Spectra or Impossible Project Image film, so there is no turning back!  Also, your camera will no longer be an instant camera!  You will have to develop and print (or scan) the images yourself.

Step 1: Spectra Camera Overview

After Spectra stopped trying to take over the Earth, its peoples and resources with giant mechanical assault robots in the 70's, it switched to making upscale instant photo cameras in the early 1980's in collaboration with Polaroid Inc.   

Spectra cameras had higher quality lenses and better overall fit and finish than other Polaroid cameras.  The original Spectra came with quite a few photographic controls.  Sadly, Polaroid winnowed those down with each successive Spectra camera model.  The only real tick up in quality was the Spectra Pro...designed (and priced) for professionals.

Its always been expensive to shoot Polaroid film, but now that Polaroid has stopped production and future production will be a boutique film item its time for this camera to modify this camera to use cheaper film.

Step 2: Stuff You Will Need

My idea for this instructable came from the realization that the cut film holders I have for 3.25" X 4.25" film fit nearly perfectly into the mouth of a Spectra camera.  I filed the idea away until the price of Spectra film started climbing and it was clear Polaroid was getting out of the Spectra film business.  These film holders are familiar to Graflex camera owners and fairly common on eBay and dusty camera shops.

1.  A Polaroid Spectra Camera.

2.  3.25" X 4.25" film holder(s).

3.  4 X AA battery box with power switch.

4. WIre glue (conductive glue) or make your own:

5.  Epoxy..the wonder adhesive from the 1950's!

6.  Various lengths of wire.

7.  3.25" X 4.25" film.  Freestyle has precut Efke  in 100 and 50 ASA.

8.  Neutral density gel filter (about 3 stop).

9.  Black felt.

10.  Nerve enough to hack this camera!

Step 3: Powering Your Spectra

Polaroid had the ingenious idea of building a battery pack into each film pack so you never had to worry about the batteries suddenly dying.  To replace the six volts of power that feeds the camera, I bought a nifty 4 X AA holder with a nice switch on the box for about $2.

1.  Remove the door that has the rollers.  This is easily done by bending the tabs on the left and right side.  This will make it a little easier to get at the insides of the camera.

2.  Next attach wire to the metal battery contacts inside the film chamber.  A pair of needle nose pliers are great for twisting the wire onto the posts.

3.  The camera has way too much plastic to properly solder the wires on the contacts, so I used wire glue...a conductive glue which works fine for the low voltages we are working with here.

4.  Wire glue is not that strong, so I reinforced the bond by flowing epoxy over the connection.  Make sure the electrical connection is there before doing the epoxy!

5.  Once both battery contacts have a wire attached, feed the wires out of the camera.

6.  Solder your battery pack wires to the wires from the battery contacts.  Pay attention to the polarity!  I finished these connections with some heat shrink tubing, but electrical tape would work fine.

7.  I used double sided tape to stick the battery pack to the top of the camera.  It may look awkward, but it does not interfere with the cameras operation or the tripod socket there.

Step 4: Modifying the Exposure System

The Spectra camera was designed with one film speed in mind...that is 640 ASA.  Although the technology was originated with 600 Series film, the actual film speed is 640.  This is way too fast for the 100 ASA Efke I got from Freestyle Camera.   Sooo you have to fool the camera into increasing its exposure.  The camera has a lighten/darken slider, but this only varies the exposure by one stop.  To get the exposure in the ballpark, I simply glued a neutral density filter over the light sensor.

1.  Cut the appropriate neutral density filter out in a shape that covers the light sensor.  I used one that would attenuate 2.7 stops (about 115 ASA).

2.  Glue filter over the light sensor on the camera.  I used white caisein glue so it would be easily removable if I chose to use another ASA film.

Step 5: Modifying the Film Ejection Mechanism

The camera has a hook that pulls the film  from the pack and through the rollers to develop the picture.  This is no longer needed and will only screw up the film holder we substitute for the film pack.

1.  Grab the film ejection hook cut it out with some wire cutters.

Incidently a common problem with the Spectra is that the hook bends and can't catch the film anymore.  Sometimes you can bend the hook to function again.  However if that is not an option anymore, this method of hacking the camera is an ideal way to "recycle."

Step 6: Light Proofing the Camera

The new film holders are about 2mm or 3mm less wide  than the Spectra film pack.  I used this difference to glue some light proofing felt on the right hand side of the camera (as looking at the lens).  You can use felt on the other side, but only for a few cm's as there is a switch the film holder must engage for proper camera operation. 

1.  Use the side of a real film pack as a template and cut black felt in the shape of the side of the film pack chanber.

2.  Use glue to glue your felt into the right side of the film pack chamber. 

3.  Glue a small patch of felt on the left side of the chamber, but don't interfere with the sensor switches on the left side.

Step 7: Preparing the Film Holder

The film holders are a little too long for the camera.  To make a light baffle, I used a width of a piece of electrical tape.

1.  Wrap about the final 3/4" of the film holder with black electrical tape.  Reverse a piece on the underside where the tape encounters the dark slide of the film holder.  Otherwise the tape will stick to the dark slide...don't ask me how I know!

Step 8: Operation

To take photos with your newly hacked Spectra.

1.  Load cut film holders with film.

2.  Expand the camera by activating the slider switch on the left side.

3.  Open the film pack chamber by depressing the lever on the right side of the camera.

4.  Press metal tab at the film door closure until it clicks to fool the camera into believing that the film chamber door is closed.

5.  Insert the film holder into the film chamber ensuring the film holder is fully to the left to engage the camera's sensors.

6.  Turn on your battery pack and ignore the noise the camera makes (it is trying to eject the dark slide for the film pack).

7.  Pull out the top dark slide.

8.  Compose your exposure and press the shutter release half way to engage the autofocus.

9.  Once you are satisfied with your composition, press the shutter release fully to expose your picture.

10.  Ignore the grinding, ejecting noise (nothing will happen because you took out the ejection hook).

11.  Reinsert dark slide.

12.  Turn off the battery pack.

13.  Pull out film holder and reverse the film holder.

14. Turn on battery pack.

15.  Repeat.

It sounds more laborious that it is.  Once you have it down, it will take only a few seconds to get ready for a shot.  Here is a video of the standard operation:

Step 9: Test Photos

Polaroid cameras don't have to have the sharpest, or even well corrected lenses since the "negative" size is the print don't expect tack sharp negatives!  Even with this low expectation, I think the negatives came out rather well. 

I was convinced that this whole adventure would not work, so I just tossed the negatives into a tank with some 35mm film on steel reels.  The damage to the negatives was caused by the reels scraping against the sheet film.  Now that I know it works, I'll use my cut film tank!

Well, there ya go.  Have fun with your modified Spectra!

Step 10: Update

 I've been using my modified Spectra for a few weeks now and I thought I would update the instructable with a few issues I've encountered:

1.  Springs.  The camera has two metal springs that ensure the film pack is pressed against the film plane.  With all the putting in and taking out of the cut film holders, one popped out.  Upon closer examination, it appears that the springs have a small hook that could impede the cut film holder.  To solve the problem, I took out the other spring and bent it in the opposite direction so the hook is facing down and reinstalled the springs.  Once I was satisfied with the position, I epoxied the springs in place so they could not come out again.

2.  Light leaks.  Although using the camera indoors seemed OK, the small light leaks ballooned when I was taking photos in bright sunshine.  To help this, I added some extra electrical tape to the sheet film holders.  I added the tape right up the the edge of the image produced by the camera.  That is about 1.5 inches.  Remember to add a backing to the tape so the darkslide can move freely.

I'll keep on updating this instructable as it seems like there is a lot of interest now that the Impossible Project film has hit the streets and at least for now has some issues...