Roller Derby

One of the systemic quirks of Polaroid photography is your rollers, or spreaders. The classic roll film, and Automatic Land Cameras, used a set of stainless steel rollers to break the chemical pod which releases the reagent that is spread between the negative, and positive sheet. This chemical can build up onto your rollers or spreader, creating spots or flecks, muted colors, and occasional jam ups when pulling a print tab out of the camera.

Polaroid 230, With Door Open, And Roller Assembly Swung Out For Inspection And Cleaning

Polaroid 230, With Door Open, And Roller Assembly Swung Out For Inspection And Cleaning

In the Automatic Land Cameras, you simply lift up the red latch on the upper left hand corner of the back door. Swing out the rollers. These were beautifully made out of stainless steel, and really rugged and durable. You can wipe them clean with a damp cloth. I have also used on occasion a paper towel sprayed with Windex-type all-purpose cleaner. I rub them down with one hand, and move the rollers around with the other, making sure to get everything. When shooting color film, I have seen on occasion a paper like residue accumulation that will build up on one side of the rollers. Get that stuff too.

Clean Rollers

Clean Rollers

On occasion, I have also had to take a can of compressed air to blow out debris off the bottom of the back door that will build up. Check that area as well. Snap the roller assembly back in, load up a fresh pack, and get out there and shoot. Really, this is a simple process. I have seen everything from YouTube videos, to pages and pages of text on it. This is really not that difficult. Photographers, I have found, have a natural tendency to overengineer everything. Myself included. Doing this after each pack of film will ensure great performance for years.

Colorpack 2, Removable Spreader Assembly

Colorpack 2, Removable Spreader Assembly

When Polaroid introduced the Colorpack 2, and other rigid body pack cameras in the late 1960’s, many of them went to a less efficient spreader system, using a bracket mounted to a removable assembly which easily snaps out. I really dislike this system. Modern day Fuji packs just do not run through them well, and shots, and packs, can be wasted. Sure, it is easy to clean, but it just does not work as well as the rollers. Cameras such as the Square Shooter 2, using the now defunct 80 (square) format, have a removable roller bracket, which can be interchanged with this set up. When I get my Big Shot, I plan on doing this, and last night, I ordered a Square Shooter 2 off of Etsy for $4 to “cannibalize” its roller assembly. If using a camera with the spreaders, you can pull them out as one piece with the convenient tabs located on both sides. That way, you can soak it in water, and wipe it dry.

Clean Spreader Assembly- Spreader And Removable Bracket

Clean Spreader Assembly- Spreader And Removable Bracket

I own a Hasselblad 500cm. It is an amazing 6×6 square medium format camera. I have shot many rolls of 120, but yet to shoot any Polaroid with it. The kit came with a Hasselblad Polaroid 100 film back. Thankfully, it uses rollers, which are smartly packed onto a removable bracket.

The Hasselblad 100 Polaroid Film Back

The Hasselblad 100 Polaroid Film Back

When I got this, it appeared that the original owner had not cleaned the rollers in a while. there was lots of goop on them. They are so easy to pop out, and clean. With a little elbow grease (not really, a bit of H2O), they now look like brand new-

Hasselblad Polaroid Back, With Removable Roller Assembly

Hasselblad Polaroid Back, With Removable Roller Assembly

These really came out clean, and looking like new. Cannot wait to load this up with a pack of instant this Spring, if this brutal Winter we have had in New England ever does decide to end. Should be a lot of fun-

Hasselroid? Polablad? Nice, Clean Rollers

Hasselroid? Polablad? Nice, Clean Rollers

To sum up, clean these suckers. It’s simple. Religiously, after every pack of film you shoot. You won’t be sorry, and your Polaroids will love you for it.


8 thoughts on “Roller Derby

  1. The other cool thing about removable rollers is you can save ripped white tab shots. I find it easier to do with a removable roller than using the one attached to the back of my 100 Automatic though I suspect I could use it in a pinch. Just open the back, pull the ripped tab to release the shot, pull the shot out.

    Then keep the two halves of the peel apart film together (they won’t be stuck yet since there is no chemical spread yet) and pull them through the rollers yourself from the tab which would normally be stuck out by pulling the white tab. Try to put the tab in the middle and pull the film through straight and with the same speed you normally would. Doing this well will save your shot for the most part though some of the top or bottom edge may not be covered by developer and thus will remain white. This is better than nothing!

    Then close the back to save the rest of the pack, trying to make sure the next tab isn’t stuck.

  2. Harry- I have been extremely lucky, with no stuck white tabs yet, with rollers. The spreaders are another story, as I got 4 useable shots out of 10 with a pack of FP-100B. Just as well, as I am not crazy at all about that film. No contrast, and milky looking exposure.


  3. We have a two-year-old, and I find that the ubiquitous diaper wipes are excellent for cleaning the rollers (and the spreaders on the Big Shot–thanks for the comment).
    I found the back for the 500C/M does exactly what it was intended to–let you proof the shot you’re going to take on non-instant film. The image only takes up part of the Polaroid/Fujifilm sheet, which makes sense, so it isn’t as satisfying as shooting 4×5 instant film in a Crown Graphic or view camera. Just think about it before you stick a whole pack in there.

    • David- that is a great tip! Should be great for cleaning rollers/spreaders. And thanks for stopping by my blog.

      Totally understood RE: the Hasselblad and the Polaroid image differential. Of course, you are dealing with different focal plane sizes, accounting for the difference in size. However, getting that nice shallow depth of field wide open, say, indoors with 3000 speed film, should be rather interesting. And. the 80mm Zeiss is incredible glass. Having manual exposure control of any kind, coming from the Automatic Land Camera world, intrigues the tinkerer in me. And, I can always scan just the 6×6 image, and adjust in PS. Outdoors with the Hasselblad, this summer I plan on shooting Ektar 100, making the Fuji FP-100C ideal for proofing those shots. -A

  4. Are both rollers supposed to spin freely or is one tighter than the other? I just bought a nice Polaroid back for my RB67 and when I cleaned it I noticed that the one roller spins but it is tight and the inside roller spins very easily. Is this normal or do I need to do more cleaning?….Jim

    • Jim-

      Yes- one will have more friction than the other. I have had great success with lanolin based baby wipes- they do a fantastic job for me in cleaning the roller assembly. But yes, it was designed that way, so that one roller is tighter than the other- perfectly normal.


      • Thanks Arthur,
        I hope all it needs is a good cleaning because my first two tries with it we not that successful. I bought an FP-100c and FP-3000B. I had the same problem with both.
        I only had about 2 of the color photos work and about 5 of the B/W. The rest came out all white with very little developer. The paper seemed too dry when I peeled it off but the image did show up on the B/W negative but nothing on the paper. The film has a good date 2012 so I don’t think it’s defective and the pictures were not overexposed because I kept the exact same settings for one that came out perfect and then the next one came out white……Do you have any ideas about what’s going on?…Jim

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