Evaluating and Using your old Polaroid camera
If you don't own a Polaroid camera yet and would like to get one, read my opinion on choosing and purchasing a Polaroid camera.
Check out the How to guide and the Demonstration videos.
Evaluating your camera
So you discovered a vintage Polaroid in your grandpa's attic. Or you purchased one at a garage sale or Ebay for a give-away price. What now?
- If you want to know what it's worth, check out the value page.
- If you want to know whether it's usable, a good starting point would be to determine whether it is uses integral film. The only currently produced instant film available for Polaroid cameras are film for SX-70 and 600 cameras, and cameras that use 8x10 film. Limited batches of 100 series pack film are being produced as of 2020, but the future of this film is not certain.
- If you own a roll film camera, since roll film is no longer made, it will only be useful sitting on a shelf unless you convert it to use another type of film. The most popular conversion was to 100 series pack film, but since that is no longer produced, the only viable options are to convert it to use 120 roll film, or Instax Wide film. Both conversions are feasible and well documented.
- If you own a pack film camera, you can still use this camera if you find expired pack film, which usually costs around $70/pack. One Instant is producing limited runs of its 100 series film, but at $15/shot, and using earlier chemistry, it's for a very limited market. These cameras can also be converted to use a different film format. I have successfully converted a model 450 to use photographic paper negatives, and have converted a model 100 to use Instax wide film. The paper negative convertion requires removing the roller assembly and building film holders with dark slides, though you can shoot paper negatives one at a time without any modifications. The Instax wide conversion requires modifying an Instax wide camera (removing the lens/electronics) and cutting off the back/side of a Polaroid and mounting the Instax back onto the Polaroid. It is a fairly involved process, but works fine. Check the videos page for more information.
- If you own an SX-70 camera, Polaroid (formerly Polaroid Originals/Impossible project) makes both b&w and colour film which is getting better as they work on it, but with long development times and poor colouring, you won't be getting pictures like you may expect. You may have trouble finding flashbars for this camera, since they are no longer made though. Since the battery is in the film pack, you don't have to worry about that.
- If you own a 600 series camera, Polaroid is producing both b&w and colour film which will work in this type of camera. These cameras generally have a flash built in, and the battery is in the film pack.
- If you own a Spectra camera, Polaroid recently discontinued producing film for this camera because of jamming issues. There are no plans for resurrecting this film.
- If you own a Captiva or other 500 series film camera, film was discontinued and you can no longer use this camera.
- If you have a camera with a bellows, extend the bellows, open the back, remove any old film packs (assuming they're empty!), and look toward the lens while the camera is pointed towards a light source. Try to determine whether there are any light leaks in the bellows. If there is, the camera will leak light and pictures will appear fogged or have light streaks on them.
- If you want to determine whether your pack camera works, make sure the battery is good, and try cocking the shutter, putting your finger over the electric eye (beside the lens), and pressing and holding down the shutter release. If you hear 2 distinct clicks around 2 - 10 seconds apart, the shutter works fine. You will need to purchase film and try it out to see whether the exposure system works properly.
- If your battery is completely dead, refer to the chart, or find your camera on the left, to see what kind of battery you need. If you need a No. 531 battery, look for a PX19 4.5 volt battery. If you need a No. 532 battery, then look for a PX24 battery. They ususally sell for $10 or so. If you want to try making your own No. 532 (3.0 volt) battery, look at how I made a No. 532 replacement battery.
- If you want to use the camera indoors, you will need an artificial light source. Check out the chart to see what kind of flash bulbs/cubes your camera uses. If your camera uses a flash blub, you'll probably need the No. 238 flash bulb holder. If it uses a high power flash cube, you'll need the focused flash unit. You'll also need to find a source for your flash bulbs/cubes. They are no longer manufactured, so you'll need to look in places like garage sales, swap meets, or ebay.
Using your Polaroid pack camera
This is a guide for using a 100 series pack film camera for information purposes only since no pack film for these cameras is available.
Check out the How to guide for reference manuals.
Assuming you own a pack film camera, with a working battery, fresh film, a flash unit, and flash bulbs/cubes/bar if necessary, you're ready to try out your camera! Go through the following checklist:
- Install the battery in the battery compartment. If the old battery has corroded the contacts, you may need to clean them.
- Open the back of the camera and insert the film. Close the back and pull the big black tab all the way out.
- Set the camera to use the type of film you are using. On lower end cameras, there are only two settings accessible by a switch on top: colour and black and white. On higher end cameras, there are 4 settings accessible by a dial on the bottom: 75, 150, 300, and 3000. Use 75 for colour film, or 3000 for black and white film.
- If your camera has a bellows, extend the bellows and cock the shutter by pressing it down until it clicks and stays down.
- On higher end cameras, choose your aperture setting. When using colour film, you have a choice between outdoors only (larger depth of field) or indoors with flash/outdoors (smaller depth of field). With black and white film, you have a choice between indoors without flash (small depth of field), or indoors with flash/outdoors (large depth of field).
- If you are taking a picture with a flash, mount the flash unit on the camera, plug the flash cable into the receptical on the lens body, and insert an unused(!) flash bulb or cube into the flash unit.
- Look through the rangefinder or image sizer and focus by either lining up the two images or pointing the to number of feet you are away from the subject. Focusing is accomplished by moving the scissor type levers back and forth or in the case of plastic bodied cameras, turning the lens to the correct focus range.
- Hold the camera steady and slowly press the shutter release to take the picture.
- Pull the white tab out, then the larger yellow tab and time the development of the picture, then peel it apart. Check out How to use the film for more details and pictures.