Fuji Instant Prints From a Speed Graphic Camera

Hacking a faulty Fuji Instax Wide camera to make a battery-powered "Polaroid" styled processing unit for instant pictures made with a classic press camera from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Step 1: Introduction

This instructable presents a basic overview of the main steps I took to produce “instant” prints from a 70-years-old Speed Graphic camera, using single sheets of currently available Fuji Instax “wide” film.

My hardware was based on an upcycled, broken, and therefore hackable Fuji 100 Instax Wide camera.

My general approach as shown here could be modified to suit your own equipment.

Step 2: Skills & Experience Required

You should be comfortable modifying simple mechanical and electronic components and circuitry.

You will need to be familiar with the basics of analogue film photography, and have a working knowledge of large format "press" and/or "view" cameras.

Chris at 120Studio publishes a helpful guide to "one-shot" working with Graflex Press cameras.

Step 3: Instax Donor Camera

I took apart a broken Fuji Instax 100 wide camera for this project, but there are various other models from which to choose.

The front and rear plastic casings came apart by unscrewing a few small cross-head screws. After making some modifications, the parts I kept fitted back together again just as easily.

Step 4: ! Safety Warning !

Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t mess with the capacitor and the flash/strobe system when you take your Instax camera apart. That system can pose a risk of electric shock. If in doubt, seek qualified help.

Step 5: Annotated Pictures

The captions in each of the 5 pictures in this step, studied with the written text notes below, should illustrate the key elements of this project.

ISO 800
Fuji Instax film is highly sensitive. Individual sheets removed from their original packaging, then very carefully slid out of their plastic, spring-loaded multi-shot cartridges must be handled in TOTAL darkness to prevent unwanted fogging (accidental exposure to light). You will need access to a darkroom or a changing bag, or some other suitable arrangement, and some means of storing your unexposed, loose sheets of Instax film.

Motor drive
The pressure rollers which spread the processing chemicals over the film sheet are driven by a DC motor through a gearbox. I simplified everything by removing the unwanted lens assembly, then disconnecting/removing all of the surplus circuit boards and wiring (see safety warning above).

Without the Instax camera’s automatically-sequenced logic circuits, it is necessary to trigger the processing rollers' power feed manually, so the DC motor drive needs a simple push-switch wired in series from the batteries. I hacked one from a broken VCR. It is a push-to-make, momentary, normally-open type. Check that the polarity (+ and - volts) at the two electrical terminals on the rear of the motor housing will make the pressure rollers turn the correct way to eject a sheet of film from the slot in the top of the camera casing (I used some thin card to test them before I soldered the switch into circuit).

Darkslides

The Speed Graphic’s 5 x 4 inch sheet film darkslides are too big to hold Fuji Instax film without it moving or falling inside the bellows when making an exposure. I cut small strips of card and plastic to act as guides and holders. This was the most precise part of the hack, because the relatively fragile chemical pod must not be damaged or punctured while loading or unloading the dark slide.

Orientation

The light-sensitive surface of Instax film is the one with the full chemical pod on it. That surface must face the taking camera’s lens when it is in the darkslide ready to expose it.

When aligning a sheet of exposed but undeveloped film in the “processing” unit (which is what remains of the hacked Instax camera), the full chemical pod must be at the top near the rollers AND be face up (toward/under your fingers) in order to ensure an evenly developed result.

You will need to gently encourage the leading edge of the sheet of film towards the moving rollers, lined up straight, until they grab it and pull it through (look at the added card guides in the picture of the inside back of the hacked 100). Then it will move smoothly forwards and exit them, which you will feel happening (listen carefully to the changing sounds which the motor and gears make). So, if you suffer from sweaty hands (for example when they're inside a warm changing bag), use thin cotton "laboratory" gloves or similar to avoid spoiling your pictures.

Be patient

Depending on ambient temperature, the image on an Instax film appears slowly over time, perhaps 60 to 90 seconds before anything is recogniseable. The picture continues to intensify for several minutes, sometimes taking a few hours to give the very darkest black (where/if any of that tonal value exists in a picture).

Step 6: Black & White (Fuji Instax Monochrome "wide")

The black and white Instax film gives, in my opinion, a subjectively pleasing range of tonal values. It produces prints big enough to be scanned or photographed as digital files for editing to your personal taste and preferences.

Here I have used a phone camera to copy an Instax monochrome print, then employed Google Snapseed as a photo-editing app to post-produce the image ready for uploading to Instagram.

Step 7: Comments

If you wish to leave a constructive comment -- one which would help me to improve this instructable -- I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.

Meanwhile, why not try something similar on whatever gear you might have? You could add your findings to an instructable of your own. Fuji Instax "Mini" film, while smaller in size, works in much the same way as the bigger "wide" format.

Good luck & have fun.

Peter

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    2 Discussions

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    Uncle Kudzu

    4 months ago

    What a super-cool upgrade to an iconic old camera! My hat is off to you, sir, for your skill and ingenuity :)

    Thanks for sharing!
    1 reply