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...



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    35 Discussions


    4 years ago on Step 8

    great ide & something I'm going to do! My only addition info to offer to new users of the 4x5 film holders is... After pulling the dark slide out and taking the picture, turn the darkslide around to the black side and slide it in. The silver side indicates Unexposed film while the black side I dicates Exposed film.


    Hello, i have one problem with my Polaroid spectra system and you are my last hope. First off all i would like to thank you for helping. Recently, i bought Spetra AF in working order from ebay, and i bought 4 packs of expired original Polaroid film. I did battery conversion like you did beacuse battery on film was dead. I used 4AA batterys but after i take second picture battery get very very low, so i need your help. What should i do that battery at least take 1 pack?

    thank you,


    4 years ago

    Hey Dan just heard you at Photokina on the FPP! I was wondering if you have a new source for the film you used here as Efke isn't available on freestyle anymore. Out of luck? Thanks

    1 reply

    Sadly, I didn't take this camera to Photokina. I had planned to take my Fotochome camera complete with peanut bulbs, but time ran out too fast...

    Yeah, your right. I've been working through my cached supply of film and didn't notice. I guess you could take 4x5 or 5X7 film and cut it down, but that could lead to some hefty price tags 8-(

    I'd go with x-ray film. One 11X14 sheet will get you a dozen shots and can be cut by safelight. The stock is a little finicky, but once you have it down, it is reliable and consistent.

    You probably won't get the finest results, but with this hack, that is not what I'm after. Cheers!


    5 years ago on Step 8

    You should get lots of pictures of genuine smiles with this camera..

    Because it looks like a horrified robot dog chewing a pencil!

    Fantastic! :-)

    Thanks for letting us see that optics should never go to waste.:-)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Hello everybody,

    I need your help!!!

    I am just after buying a polaroid spectra from eBay (it is still in the post) and I, quite naively, thought that I could use the new Polaroid 300 instant film range with it and proceeded in purchasing it.
    I realise this may seem stupid but I am 20 and am not nor have I ever or will I ever be a photograper- you see it is a Christmas present for my boyfriend!

    Is there any way at all that it would be compatible?



    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction


    Maybe. The problem is finding a film holder that will fit easily into the film compartment. For the Spectra, a 3x4 film holder fits nicely. There is no standard film holder that will fit nicely into the cameras that take 600 film. The next smaller standard film holder is 2x3. That is small and will not take advantage of the film area of the 600 film.

    You can make a film holder that will fit if you like (by cutting down a 3X4), but these would limit the amount of shot you can take. I'd say it is not worth it for the poor optics you will find in these types of cameras.

    Other than the problem with the film holders, a conversion would be routine.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Now polaroid has a digital self printing camera called the polaroid pogo instant digital camera


    8 years ago on Introduction

    and here's why...
    some people, really like Polaroid not for usefulness, but of how iconic it was, to me, it's up there with the Box Brownie, and it was the equivalent of a camera phone, not in features or functionality, but in what it did, and how it set photography free, making it mass market and bringing it to everyone.

    4 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction


    I respect your viewpoint, but do not share it. Cameras take photographs. If I have to modify a 100 year old antique Box Brownie to use modern film formats (and probably destroying its value on Antiques Road show), I will!

    This is a little different as Image film is available from the good folks at the Impossible Project. However, the film is currently too expensive for me to use as freely as I like. I also have some issues with the quality of the film, however that is slowly getting better as the Impossible folks improve their formulas. This modification allows me to use the camera with inexpensive sheet film.

    If you want to keep your Polaroids in a non-working state on display behind glass as a symbol of photographic freedom...more power to ya! I'll keep putting Dremel to camera to make the camera work and produce images as a symbol of photographic freedom. Two methods, same goal!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    well, think a lot of people may start wanting to use the Polaroid range again, and i know there is a new instant camera, but it's just an instamax that has been re-branded, what i would like to see, is an instructable on how to convert an sx-70 to run on the new 300 film,


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    The camera your refer to is the Instax by Fuji Film. Polaroid has a branded an Instax Mini as a Polaroid camera. More power to both!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    yeah, but it's not really Polaroid is it? it's the owners of the brand name polaroid, it's just not the same.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting Hack of the Spectra for use with with the 4x5 film holders. And nice instructable.

    May i ask - What was the issue you were having in the Darkroom that scratched your film? Those are some pretty nasty scratches!

    Are you dip processesing your film or using a can of some kind?

    I like the write on idea - be nice to have flod up door to do so added on to a dedicated film holder for this hack.

    I was looking at a old Kodak folder with the write widow and pen in the back yesterday is why it comes to mind - camera was in real bad shape as the people that had it up for sale didn't know about how to work it - (open and close it) and bent the slide for the lense carrier on the rail.
    - might pick it up and use it for a mod if they come down on the price enough.

    and since i saw it and you mentioned writing on the lower section of film with your Hack - this came to mind. Now to get it to all come together! lol

    Unless you have another easier way to write on it with out expossing the lower half of film?

    thoughts on this?

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction


         I used 3.25 X 4.25 film holders, not 4 x 5.  4 X 5 film holders are too big to be used in this way. 

         The scratches came from spiral reels that were holding 35mm film.  The normal inversions during this type of developing scraped the film.  I have since used my cut film tank.

         The Kodak cameras you are referring to are called "Autographic" cameras.  They had a light tight carbon paper that you wrote on.  This would allow light to hit the film.  They have not made this film for several decades.  Cool idea, but historical surveys of old negetives reveal it was not used very often.

         WHen I suggested writing on the film, it would be with a sharpie.  The film would make a nice presentation when contact printed on to 5X7 photo paper.  Nice since you don't need an enlarger for that type of print.  You would get a black boarder with white writing.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanx for the reply Nano_Burger.

    You're kinda loosing me on the film holder with the size you mention.

    The image size opening for the 545i [which i have] for instant film and cut film is 3.25 x 4.25. This fits a standard 4x5 camera - [which i also have]

    Link to the 545i holder for instant and cut film:

    The cut film holder you show - looks to be a standard two sheet holder for 4x5 cameras. or Double cut film holder  as it is refered to.

    Link to one here

    Are you talking about a non-standard 3x4 holder - quarter plate size holder - which takes the non-standard quater plate size film 3.25 x 4.25?

    sorry if i'm missing something...



    9 years ago on Introduction

     I'd wait with this mod; the Dutch Polaroid factory has recently started producing again:

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, the Impossible Project is starting to produce film.  Right now, they have SX-70 film and will add 600 series film soon.  Spectra film is slated for production later in the year.  Right now I'd say that they have two major problems.

    1.  Poor photo quality.  The current batch of SX-70 film is of abysmal print quality compared to fresh Polaroid film.  Perhaps this is an unfair comparison considering the limited resources that IP has access to.  However, some artists have embraced the limitation of this film and have become vocal advocates.  To each his or her own.  I won't be using IP film until it at least comes close to the Polaroid film it is trying to replace.

    2.  High price.  As I have said before, shooting Polaroid film has never been an inexpensive pursuit.  However, by my calculation IP film is at about $4 per exposure (this includes shipping).  I would hope that with standardized production costs will decrease and this will be passed on to the consumer.  I'm not so sure though.  Once we are sensitized to paying that much, I don't see IP from giving up that funding stream.

    I have an unmodified Spectra just waiting for good quality and reasonably priced IP Image (Spectra) film if it ever comes.  Until then, it is pretty much a paper weight.  I personally don't like cameras sitting around on their butts and not earning their keep.  I'm giving IP a year to wow me.... if not then out comes the dremel!