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 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.
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.
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?
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….
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-
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.