The Polaroid Big Shot, On Its 40th Anniversary

$19.95 MSRP In 1971, The Polaroid Big Shot

$19.95 MSRP In 1971, The Polaroid Big Shot

March, 1971. The folks at Polaroid introduce The Big Shot to the market. In breaking with generally staid, conservative product introductions and marketing (the Ali McGraw Swinger commercials notwithstanding), this one caught everybody off guard. A Polaroid camera that only did one thing, and did that very well- head and shoulder portraits. I am obsessed with this magnificent camera.

The Big Shot Is A Portrait Making Machine- Page One Of 1971 Ad

The Big Shot Is A Portrait Making Machine- Page One Of 1971 Ad

The Polaroid Big Shot only took one type of film that was the more expensive, and by then proven, Polacolor 108. Today, of course, it can take either the Fuji FP-100C, or the FP-100B black and white film, the slower speed materials. Not the 3000 speed B&W. Unlike most Land Cameras of the era, it takes NO batteries. Your shutter is mechanical. The only control is the usual lighten/darken wheel, and even then, you only really have two stops lighten, normal, and two stops darken. There is a rangefinder for focusing, but NO adjustment buttons for it. Instead, you walk closer and away from your subject, in a curious little dance, known as “The Big Shot Shuffle”. OK, no batteries. You have an optimum focus range of about 38 inches. Then how, do you ask, does the flash work on this crazy thing? Which looks more like a toy periscope, than a camera? Magic. More precisely, Magicubes.

K-Mart (Focal Brand) Magicubes

K-Mart (Focal Brand) Magicubes

I have seen them also referred to as “X Cubes”. You can easily find them on Etsy, eBay, through The Impossible Project, and the brand new Film Photography Podcast Store (http://filmphotographystore.com/). They work when you hit the shutter, and are set off by a little plastic pin in the mount itself. Yes, four shots to a cube. A nice little safety feature is that when you finish the cube, the shutter mechanism will stop firing.

The lens is a fixed focal length of 220mm, and a “slow” f/29. It is of the plastic meniscus variety, and apparently uses the sweet spot of the lens. The flash is nicely diffused with a built-in diffuser screen. The T-Bar, designed to grab on to when pulling film out of the camera, almost always broke. When receiving it in the mail on Friday, it was in tact, but the plastic is so dry and brittle. If yours is also in tact, I would not at all recommend using it to pull. Just hold the camera body, and you’ll be all set.

The Notorious Big Shot T-Bar, In Tact

The Notorious Big Shot T-Bar, In Tact

You also have a built-in 60 second development timer. As today’s Fuji color instant films are self terminating, not necessary, but still fun as a novelty. What does this goofy, but amazing camera, look like coming out of the case?

The Case Is Very, Very Nice

The Case Is Very, Very Nice

And the instructions, written with the classic Polaroid tongue planted partly in cheek style, are very well written. So, how good do the results look? Photographs are so subjective. But to the author’s eye, these shots are iconic, distinctive, and look unlike the results from any other Land Camera. the flash, the flash diffuser, and that crazy long focal length all do something together, You can recognize a shot taken with this camera as instantly as the film develops….

Curious George Mugs For The Polaroid Big Shot

Curious George Mugs For The Polaroid Big Shot

Ok, a stuffed Curious George is a great test subject. But how does the camera do with the dreaded red-eye? At slightly less than 4 feet away? Surprisingly well. As stated in the manual, it seems to impact portraits of children more than adults. However, as flash is always needed, you’ll always be firing Magicubes. But indoors with some adequate ambient light, the results are excellent-

Your Humble Author, As Seen By The Big Shot

Your Humble Author, As Seen By The Big Shot

Bottom line- if you like portraiture, and love Polaroid, this is THE camera for you. Yes, you can get a great little portrait and close up kit for your folding Land Camera. I plan on reviewing those, and other accessories, at a later date. They are great accessories. But why Polaroid only made The Big Shot for 2 years really baffles me- one of the most amazing cameras I have ever used. and, it is not really that big. And very light. The camera simply excels at what it specializes in. In a later blog article, I will cover how to swap out the spreader bars of the early models, with the much more reliable stainless steel rollers. This modification worked out incredibly well.

Are you, like me, a Polaroid portrait fan? The Polaroid Portrait Land Camera, better known as The Big Shot, is a must have. Photograph like Warhol did, 40 years ago.

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43 thoughts on “The Polaroid Big Shot, On Its 40th Anniversary

  1. So that’s what’s different with it, I was wondering why it was a long box. The shots look like kind you get from school pictures

    • Disagree with you regarding the asthetic. They are, to this eye, much more interesting, layered images, than, say, the typical school picture. Google Warhol’s Polaroids for example. The lens, the flash, and the diffuser, all do something to give them a very different look.

      -A

  2. I’m not saying its exactly like school photos, just the head to shoulder part you said reminded me of that. Less generic and more fun with variations.

  3. I had a big shot and it was one of my most treasured cameras. It was just amazing but sometimes made the most horrible images I’ve ever seen. But boy when they were good, they were good.

    • Gordon- thanks for stopping by the blog. I think this is going to be a lot of fun here. Swapping out the Big Shot spreaders with the stainless steel roller assembly from the Square Shooter 2 was likely my key to success. Have not had a bad portrait yet. Also, the lens is so slow that the Magicube is a necessity. I have read that some have successfully used 3000 B&W film by setting the L/D wheen all the way to darken, and masking the diffuser with ND gel. Have yet to try it, though. I could use the FP100B, but am not really happy with that film at all, especially its lack of contrast.

      A

  4. Hi, my mother has this camera and a few of the Magiccubes. She has asked to locate film for the camera. Does anyone know where you can find “working” film for the Big Shot? Thanks, Michael Alewine (michael.alewine@uncp.edu).

  5. As I wrote on Flickr: I just love the portraits of the Big Shot. I made myself a promise some time ago to photograph everyone that comes into my house. I mostly forget, but sometimes I do remember :)

    It’s a fun and goofy looking camera, but just perfect for the portraits. I happen to have a little stash of magicubes, but I hope I can find them again when I run out of them.

  6. Pingback: Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible

  7. Hey Arthur-
    Do you happen to know when they switched from using spreader bars to rollers in the Big Shot, or vice versa? I’ve got two, and one has rollers and one has bars, but they are otherwise identical, and I’m curious if there is a way to date them.

    • C-

      I believe it went from rollers to spreaders- hard to say, as the Big Shot had a very limited run. No doubt it was a cost savings effort, as the Colorpack 2 used spreaders as well, causing a lot of challenges with pulling the film sandwich out straight and evenly.

      A

  8. When the Big Shot was introduced in 1971 in Atlanta I believe it was Good Day Atlanta is where it was introduced. There was a contest run looking for a female child to be Little Miss Polaroid Big Shot. My daughter Wendy Rene Jackson was about a year and an half at the time and won that contest. She was on that morning show and had her photo made with teh Big Shot on air. We were paid $1000.00 which I felt was a lot of money at the time. We also got a Big Shot. Her mom and I divorced a little later on and I do not know what happened to the Big Shot.

    • Trust me, you don’t get into Polaroid for making serious money off the gear. They made tons of this stuff, as it was truly mass marketed. I got into it because my father captured my childhood on a Model 230 Land Camera, which I have today. I also started listening to the Film Photography Podcast, which really got me into film. The Big Shot is a blast of a camera to use. If you really want to get an idea, you can run some searches on eBay. But the “value’ is relatively low to a collector- under $100 US.

  9. Will the camera fire without a magicube connected? Or would it be possible to black out the diffuser with some tape?
    I’m wondering if the 3000 BW works all the way on darken and ND over the diffuser, how about no flash and you play with that lighten/darken wheel a bit?

    • I looked at these. I am guessing you have a very tight pack- the yellow streak, i am guessing, is caused by the white pulling strip. Try pulling slower, and saying Pol-A-Roid, to time the pull. I converted the spreader bar to a set of rollers. You can try that, also. It is a much smoother system than the spreader.

  10. Also my flash broke (fires the bulb like once every ten times I pull the shutter) so I’m going to try shooting no-cube with the rest of the pack. If you’re interested I’ll let you know how it goes.

  11. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Fuji packs are a little bit thicker than the old Polaroid packs (since Fuji uses plastic and Polaroid used a very thin metal). It’s not as much of an issue on all the Big Shots, because the tolerances were a little weaker, but the Auto (bellows) packfilm cameras can get jammed very easily. If your pack is fitting too tight into the Big Shot, find an original Polaroid pack and just swap out the plastic Fuji pack top (the piece with the white paper and foam guide thing) for the metal Polaroid top. As long as you do it before pulling out the darkslide paper (and not in direct sunlight) it won’t damage any of your film, but will make the pack slide in and out easily. Just a tip!

  12. Have so enjoyed this blog and your info. Going through the questions and your answers, I was able to get answers to a lot of my questions. I have a Big Shot from the 1970′s, but I have no idea whether it would still work. I have no instructions, don’t know whether everything is there. I LOVED this camera and was able to get some photos otherwise could never have had. So glad I have this to come back to when I get a chance to work with it. Thanks

  13. my friend moved in his new house i have this camera here. he was going to throw it away, i took it out of the garbage! where can i sell it to help him, he needs a new artificial leg?

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