The Polaroid Land Camera was named after its inventor, Edwin Land. It introduced the world to the idea of instant photography and, in some regard, paved the way for the modern era of instant digital gratification.
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
This Instructable deals largely with 100 series Land Cameras. This includes all cameras with a model number between 100 and 455. Countless quantities of these cameras were manufactured and sold between 1963 and 1976.
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
While it is true that Polaroid stopped making film for their camera, it is also true that other companies historically have made instant film, and have continued to do so. While no company continues to manufacture it, as of today (1/30/2018), you can still buy film online.
The last company to manufacture film for Polaroid Land Cameras was Fujifilm who discontinued 4.25" x 3.25" instant film ("pack film") in 2017. While there is demand and interest in seeing pack film continue, there has yet to be anyone willing to take on the challenge. The technology for making this type of film would have to be invented from scratch, and this is both costly and tim consuming.
Nevertheless, for the time being, you can still purchase unexpired FP-100C pack film from various vendors (while supplies last!). This is a color film. All black and white pack film was unfortunately discontinued a couple of years ago.
Note that the product number correlates directly to ISO film speed.
Also, please note that some of the links on this page may contain affiliate links. This does not change the price of the item for sale.
Step 3: The Camera and Its Accessories
The camera I found was a Polaroid 250 Land Camera. This is one of the higher-end models and boasts a Zeiss-Ikon rangefinder, all-metal body, and 3-element glass lens. It was manufactured between 1967 and 1969.
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
The battery used by this land camera is the #531 4.5V alkaline battery. This battery is expensive and kind of a pain to get a hold of.
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
Step 6: Out With the Old
Remove the old battery if it is still in there. Then, remove the battery holder by unscrewing it.
Finally, break away any plastic tabs that were supporting the old battery holder.
Be careful not to cut the battery connector wires.
Step 7: In With the New
The battery holder pictured here is a modified 4 x AAA battery holder, which was not quite right. The linked 3 X AAA battery holder is better. However, to make it work, a red wire must be soldered to the metal bump on the top of the battery holder, and a black wire to the flat tab on the bottom.
Once these wires are soldered, trim away the ground (black) connector from the camera, leaving as much wire intact as possible. Strip a little of this wire's jacket away to expose the conductive core. Solder the black wire from the camera together with the black wire from the battery holder.
Repeat this process with the white wire and the red wire.
When you are done, insulate each solder joint separately with electrical tape.
Step 8: Power
Install the new AAA batteries and close up the battery compartment. These batteries should last a long time. You will take hundreds of pictures before you need to worry about replacing them.
Step 9: Remove the Cover
Removing the camera cover is simple.
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 10: Inspect and Clean the Rollers
Before you load the film for the first time, you want to inspect the rollers on the inside of the camera that are used to disperse the developer.
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 11: Load the Film
Loading the film is easy.
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 12: Film Speed Settings
Setting film speed is accomplished by adjusting the round knob below the lens on the front of the camera.
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 13: Lighting Selector
The lighting selector specifies to the camera what type of film is being used and how large the aperture should be.
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 14: Adjust the Exposure Settings
The camera's aperture can be adjusted by turning the ring around the lens. If you want to darken the film, move the dot towards "Darken." It goes to follow that you would move the dot towards "Lighten" if you want to lighten the film.
I recommend setting the aperture to neutral until you know how your pictures are coming out.
Step 15: Extend the Bellows
To extend the bellow, press upwards on the focusing button that is labeled with a "1" and an arrow pointing upwards.
While pressing up on this button, pull the camera front outwards until it locks in place.
Step 16: Timing the Film
Timing the film is critical when working with pack film. The development time for each particular film is specified on a chart on the packaging. This chart will give the proper development time based on ambient temperature of your environment.
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 17: Focus on the Subject
Look through the viewfinder and push/pull the focusing bar back and forth until your subject is in focus.
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 18: Arm the Shutter
Push down on the shutter lever until it locks in a "down" position. The shutter is now armed and ready to take a picture.
Step 19: Take a Picture
To take a picture, press down on the big red button labeled "2". This will release the shutter.
Step 20: Expose the Film
To start exposing the film, first pull firmly on the white numbered tab until it is completely out of the camera.
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 21: The Cold-Clip for Color Film (optional)
As the temperature goes down, the developer chemicals slow down and development time increases (especially in color film).
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 22: Compress the Bellows
Press down on the bar labeled "Press to close".
Simultaneously push the front panel of the camera back towards the body of the camera until it is locked into place.
Step 23: Common Photo Errors and Solutions
White image - This probably means that you are shooting with 3000 speed film at too slow of a film speed. Try setting it to 3000 speed and see if this corrects the problem.
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 24: Flash Photography
The Land Camera is an m-sync camera and was designed to be used with M3 flash bulbs. It even has a state of the art (for 1967) electronic light meter for sensing the flash and timing the shutter for optimal exposure.
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 25: Flash Bulbs
The flash unit for this camera uses M3 flash bulbs and it is recommended that you use the clear tinted M3 bulbs and not the blue tinted M3B bulbs, as the #268 flash unit already has a blue plastic shield and this will under-expose the film. However, you can compensate for this by setting the aperture towards lighten.
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 26: Replace the Flash Battery
The #268 flash unit uses a single AA 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 27: Using a Flash Bulb
Make certain your flash unit has the plastic cover still intact. This is important because flash bulbs (especially old flash bulbs) have a tendency to burst and you wouldn't want to send glass flying everywhere. If the cover is broken, consider covering the bulb with a clear sheet of plexiglass. Do not use the flashbulb if there is not a solid cover.
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 28: Electronic Flashes
Electronic flashes don't particularly work well (or at all) with Polaroid Land Cameras. The reason for this is that the camera has a 0.26 second (26 millisecond) delay between the flash being triggered and the shutter opening. This delay accounts for the time it takes for an m-series flash bulb to illuminate. This is called m-sync.
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 29: Electronic Flash M-sync Hack
If you are going to want to properly use an electronic flash with a Land Camera, you will not to hack the flash to be compatible with m-sync.
A full guide to doing this can be found in this Instructable.
Step 30: Electronic Flash Mount
Land Cameras do not have any sort of native electronic flash mount.
You can build an electronic flash mount as specified in this Instructable.
Step 31: Using the Electronic Flash
To use the electronic flash, mount it to the camera as you would the flash bulb unit.
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 32: One Step Beyond!
I have taken you as far as I can and you should by now be able to competently operate the camera.
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!