Monday, May 28, 2012
Pack film notes
I busted my Fuji Instax 210 and reignited my interest in Polaroid Land cameras. I spent a lot of time figuring out pack film cameras before shifting entirely to the Instax Wide film in the Instax 210 camera. I made this blog as I sort out what is needed to give my pack film cameras another go.
If you’re interested in pack film instant photography, by all means, go for it. I hope you may learn from the notes herein.
Using these cameras is not for those looking for an easy solution, nor for those who want complete control over the exposure. They are satisfying to bring them back to life and also fun to shoot.
A little backstory. In December 2010, I found a Land Camera 320 in a thrift store (see that ambitious blog) that became part of the twisting road that has me shooting mostly film photographs these days.
I was blown away to learn one could recover the negatives from peel apart pack film. Eventually I found Michael Raso and the Film Photography Podcast, as well as the wonderful work of Bob Merco.
Pack film cameras make great looking photos! They are really fun to use, though be warned, using one tends to draw a lot of attention. Read on to learn more about film choices and battery conversion options.
Instant photography is alive and well, thanks to Fujifilm, The Impossible Project, the durability of old Polaroid cameras, and availability of new cameras from Fuji. Agnes Martin once mentioned the importance for her to “keep it above the line”. That applies here; it’s a good idea to be positive when blogging. Some of the obstacles of getting going with pack film cameras are easy to deal with. Some are not. Here we go.
Check the battery compartment for corrosion. If there is, you may wish to look for another Land Camera. It didn’t stop me. You may have to trim the wires further back when you do your battery conversion. Oh, wait. . .
If your battery compartment is not corroded and it takes a 3V 532 battery, the simplest solution is to buy another battery. I know of one source: the Film Photography Project stocks a limited supply for use in a number of models.
• 532 3V battery $12.99 plus shipping. (5.28.12).
• 531 4.5V battery $12.99 plus shipping. (5.28.12).
You may be able to find these elsewhere, but I seriously doubt it. If FPP runs out of stock or you want a cheaper more sustainable choice, it is best to convert to a modern battery. What batteries will you use? Your choice comes down to the model camera you have and what battery holder you can find. The cleanest conversion (for 3V) is to use a CR123 battery. Some camera models have a 4.5V battery requirement. Small, LED flashlights are a good source for 3-AAA battery holders, though you may have to rewire it to get the 4.5V. Other cameras have a 6V requirement.
You can hack together a battery conversion without a soldering iron, but it adds a level of uncertainty. I used a two-AA holder from Radio Shack and twisted the wires together. I could have removed more plastic inside the battery compartment. Most batteries come in 1.5V cells, so you can use any size really, but AA and AAAs are the most sensible. Anyway, I couldn’t get the back to close all the way which left some light leaks on the right hand edge:
A less destructive conversion is to use cr123 batteries. Below are links to some battery holders.
• Two AAA’s for 3V.
• Three AAA’s for 4.5V.
• Two AA’s for 3V.
I really wish there were more choice for cr123s, but so far I have only found this one.
• One CR123 for 3V
Here is a two-cr123 for 6V conversion (thanks John). He also did a sleek two-AAA conversion on a 320 here.
For my Land Camera 210, I did an unusual battery conversion. I broke apart a two cell camera battery, a 2CR5. This provided two 3v cells to work with including a metal tab at the terminals. This cell locked into place with no modification to the plastic. Then I cut off the original terminals off and soldered it together. Actually, here in this photo, it was taped together to test the shutter. I didn’t document my 210 conversion in 2011 very well.
Another quick option was uncovered just now: a pair of double AAs wired together, here for $8, as a special order. Maybe worth a try?
Clean the rollers first! I stupidly rushed in with my first pack of film and had a bunch of decades old gunk. This easy step should come before your first attempted photographs.
Getting film is the only thing easy about restoring pack film cameras. Fuji’s current offerings are iso100 color film and iso3000 black and white film.
• Fuji FP100C online for about $7.25 per pack of 10. (5.28.12)
• Fuji FP3000C online for about $8.90 per pack of 10. (5.28.12)
For loading pack film, please see my 8.1.11 blog.
Fuji film packs are made of plastic. Land Cameras have a spring/tab that presses directly into the film in order to position it for exposure. Unfortunately, the pressure can be enough to ruin the first several exposures. It was for me anyway. If you have this problem, there will be damage to the film surface in the shape of the paper pull-tabs between exposures, like this:
It can also make it hard to get the exposed photograph out, leading to ripping off the pull-tabs. This seemed like a disaster for me at first, but it really isn’t that big of deal. But an ounce of preparation. . .
Find an empty older Polaroid pack film cartridge and keep it! They are made of metal and you can replace the back half of the Fuji’s plastic cartridge. This is quite easy to do, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to always do this. But it may not be enough to prevent over-pressure in the first half of the pack. You can also modify the spring/pressure mechanism inside the camera to reduce the compressive force. Good luck.
If you have done all of these things, there is still a chance that your pictures will turn out dark. This has to do with either not holding the shutter long enough, or worse, something to do with dying capacitors, discussed here and here.
In the end, I will probably try the 2cr5 in my Land Camera 320 and some FP100C, replacing the plastic portion with a metal vintage Polaroid empty pack. But, frankly, I really really love shooting a Fuji Instax 210 and will pick up a replacement one from Uniquephoto very soon.
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