– 2012 In Review

Blog readers- thank you most kindly for a great 2012, and looking forward to an even more successful 2013. Here is the 2012 Annual Report for

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 31,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 7 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Electronic Flash With A Polaroid Pack Camera

I’ve always wanted one of the later Colorpack cameras, from maybe the 300 or the 400 series. Also, I’ve really wanted one with the parallax corrected, one windowed Zeiss-Ikon rangefinder. The idea of using one window to frame and compose, and focus, has always intrigued. Yes, this would likely entail additional investments in portrait kits (the standard pack camera close up and portrait kits use a different “goggle” configuration). And, if getting into a 400 series body, a new flash system to learn.

I bought this 450 through, a winning auction bid.

The Polaroid Model 450 Automatic Land Camera

The Polaroid Model 450 Automatic Land Camera

This is the first model outside of the 100-200 series I’ve used. Turns out that most of the 100-200 series cameras are prone to a leaky capacitor, which can result in “dark print syndrome”. While producing a beautiful image, they can indeed, without a little experimentation with the Lighten/Darken adjustment, underexpose. While I’ve only made a few images with this 450, it seems to meter and expose spot on. The 450 is a tank, maybe one of the most refined of the original Colorpacks, short of the 180-195 series.

It worked out, even with shipping and handling, to be a fraction of the cost of what they are selling on eBay. It arrived in beautiful condition, and complete with the proprietary Model 490 Focused Flash, and a fresh supply of General Electric Hi-Power Magicubes- the only ones that are compatible. Of course, there is a finite amount of these cubes out there, as they haven’t been manufactured in years. The flash has integrated louvers that open and close based on your rangefinder focusing. So, for proper flash exposure, sharp focusing is indeed key. The shutter is set to a fixed speed by the camera once you plug the flash in.

Polaroid 490 Focused Flash is compatable with Land Cameras 420 through 450.

Polaroid 490 Focused Flash is compatable with Land Cameras 420 through 450.

There are viable, modern, electronic alternatives. A great one is offered by The Film Photography Project in their online store. Known as FPP #490 Electronic Flash Holder w/ Electronic Flash, it utilizes a modified 490 bracket housing, retrofitted with a 50M Ultiblitz electronic strobe, complete with a PC cord. And, it works like a charm. One caveat- this flash likes good batteries. After getting dark, underexposed images with economy bulk batteries, I noticed that the ready lamp was not even illuminating, An install of fresh Duracell alkalines solved the problem.

How do they compare? The FPP electronic flash, at comparable distance (4 feet in this Curious George test) yields a somewhat “cooler” exposure, and seems to do a better job at opening up the shadows, as seen here-

Curious George, with Polaroid 490 Focused Flash

Curious George, with Polaroid 490 Focused Flash

Always very curious- here, with FPP#490 Electronic Flash

Always very curious- here, with FPP#490 Electronic Flash. Improvement in shadow detail is noticeable.

Both nice exposures at 4 feet. The Polaroid 490 lets you lighten/darken right on the unit, as the built-in camera settings become overridden after attaching it, because of the louver system. I have yet to experiment with L/D settings on the 450 itself while using the FPP Electronic Flash. There are several electronic flash solutions available for Polaroid pack cameras. This truly is a nice one. But experiment, and always use good batteries.

Christmas In Polacolor

About 2 years ago, I attempted a little shot of a Christmas Tree ornament that my son made, with an early sheet of Impossible Project’s PX100 Silver Shade B&W instant film. Grainy, blotchy, and requiring all kinds of tricks just to take a shot, it was, nonetheless, an instant print. And brought these decades old cameras whirring back to life, with their integral puls battery packs. Necessary to activate a 12,000 RPM electric motor for 7 revolutions. Without any Polaroid SX-70 experience, I was not accustomed to the organic quirks and personality of the camera format. Yes, by nature, these are supposed to be imperfect photos- this is, after all, SX-70 photography. But still, I had a very hard time accepting the quality of the emulsion. For film rated at ASA/ISO 100? Useable at best. I took with my first SX-70, the Sonar, but used manual focus, due to the closeness to the subject.

Always smiling...

Always smiling…

What a difference two years makes. I had heard great things about Impossible’s new PX70 Color Protection film. Having never tried color SX-70 photography, the timing looked good. To say this film is beautiful is an understatement. I’ve since added another Sonar, and an Alpha 1. More quirks and technical challenges. but nothing a good CLA could not take care of. This film just pops indoors. As mentioned in an earlier blog entry, a blue filter over the lens and electric eye may not hurt, as the film will look somewhat yellow/greenish at indoor color temperatures. A couple of things help here- as I’ve done, swap out some of your traditional tungsten light bulbs to the newer color daylight CFL. This film is daylight balanced. Also, you can always add a blue filter in Photoshop during your post. One of the shots from the first pack, with the Alpha 1-

More reason to smile. PX70 Color Protection

More reason to smile. PX70 Color Protection

The gingerbread man is beaming. So am I. Merry Christmas, 2012.

Cold Weather Impossible

These PX70 Color Protection images were shot in 39 degree late December New England weather, at lunchtime outside the office park. The camera used was the autofocus SX-70 Sonar. A couple of oversights here. One, I put the lighten/darken wheel a third into lighten, not realizing that really a partial stop of exposure compensation is represented by one of the little notches on the wheel. So this was a little too much. The original Sx-70 film carried a recommendation by Polaroid of only one notch into lighten under colder conditions.

Secondly, the initial development, given weather conditions, probably could have benefitted from use of the cold clip. I put them into my shirt pocket. But regardless, it is clear that the emulsion develops much differently in the outdoors than it does indoors, where it looks much more like classic SX-70 Polaroid. Still happy with the cool looking results. The color shifts that resulted still boggle.

Fire hydrant. It really is this red.

Fire hydrant. It really is this red.

This winter flower is more of a purplish tone.

This winter plant is actually more of a purplish tone.

Dual drainpipes. A blue filter still struggled to cool the exposure.

Dual drainpipes. A blue filter still struggled to cool the exposure.

Spoke Too Soon- The SX-70, And Impossible Project PX70 Color Protection Film- First Pack

Spoke too soon? Yes- on a couple of fronts. First off, my SX-70 Alpha 1 project turned out to be much more than I bargained for. On a couple of counts. Cosmetically, my hopes not to reskin the body with new leather were dashed when part of the 35 + year-old material started peeling off. This was caused by one of the aluminum plates under the top rear piece of leather lifting in the corner. So, the daunting task of peeling off the old stuff began. This was sped up dramatically with use of a hair dryer, rubbing alcohol, and Goo Gone to remove the old adhesive. I won’t go through the step by step process, as there are many how-to’s online. But the key here is to get every last drop of adhesive off the body, and to have it shine. And, most important, not to remove the plate covering the bottom front of the camera. This would render SX-70 a dead camera. Here is how it looked after removal of the old leather-

SX-70 Chassis

SX-70 Chassis

I bought the precut leather from, and it is gorgeous. As the panels are already with adhesive, a good idea is to take a small bruch and put some rubbing alcohol on the body panels in advance, making the fine adjustment of the very stiky adhesive surface a breeze. The camera looks like new. Maybe better.

Complete with 70's style "man bag"!

Complete with 70’s style “man bag”!

Now the next challenge has been to ungum some battery contacts that have been corroded over the decades. After taking some Qtips and vinegar to wipe off the terminals, I went to Radio Shack and paid $19.99 for DeoxIT. This two setp process is an absolute miracle worker. Gone is the sluggish shutter response, as well as the intermittent boot up process that governs the ejection of the darkslide. When you insert a fresh film pack, the camera should come to life, and eject that card. It did, but after testing after the camera with the spent pack, boot up was touch and go. Now, it goes.

OK, the film. I ordered a three pack of Impossible Project’s new PX70 Color Protection film for SX-70. Unlike the films I experimented with two years ago, this film truly is the real deal. The colors are vivid, the skin tones accurate. the film is sharp and contrasty. No more crystals or artifacts. And, I think most importantly, no more shielding the exposure as it comes out of the camera with a cardboard shade, tongue, or crazy homemade contraptions. this film was two years plus in waiting. It truly was worth the wait. I’ve started shooting a second pack in one of my SX-70 Sonars, and the results are even more spectacular.

The Gingerbread Man- same test subject I used for Impossible films two years ago. he's looking a lot better now with Color Protection.

The Gingerbread Man- same test subject I used for Impossible films two years ago. he’s looking a lot better now with Color Protection.

This time, I even was able to find a human test subject. My friend Dennis, a doctor, at his desk, which doubles as his footrest-



The film does tend, as a daylight balanced film, to swing towards warm, greenish colors. use of a blue filter over the lens and electric eye might not be a bad idea. Application after scanning in Photoshop also works, as done here. Flashbars help to rebalance to a degree, but the exposures are still somewhat warmish.

I’ve made my peace with the folks at Impossible. They finally have a truly great instant film. Of special note- the staff at Impossible NYC is very helpful with regards to questions on the film, technical issues with your SX-70, or with SX-70 photography. I think part of the price justification in buying the film is that you almost have tech support, long after the extinction of the original Polaroid Corporation. And, if one considers the price of SX-70 film in 1972 when introduced in 1972, with the US Consumer Price Index, and adjusts it to 2012 dollars? Impossible actually works out to be a less expensive sheet of instant film.

Retrying The Impossible

I have posted and blogged about my disappointments with The Impossible Project’s films. Quirky, of questionable quality control, and very expensive. the films have been, at almost $3.00 an exposure, and a huge bust to many photographers who experienced Polaroid’s seamless behind the scenes development and innovation. This is now creatively marketed as “experimental” film. While creating a whole cottage industry around accessories, cases, books, filters, frog tongues, shades, the company has nonetheless spurred a cult following. And over $4 million of revenue in 2010 (Bloomberg BusinessWeek). The images also could yield speckles, crystals, and, in certain cases, an image that would fade. Good thing I scanned all of them, because many of them are now faded away, despite being well stored, and away from ambient light.

This past year, after shooting a ton of 35mm, I am now toying with giving integral instant film another try.

Recently, Impossible announced a PX70 Color Protection film, which does look indeed very promising. No longer requiring shades, shields, and cardboard contraptions to cover the emulsion as it is ejected from the camera, the films also promise less quirks, less voodoo, and seemingly much better colors. I have three Polaroid SX-70 cameras- the Sonar, the Time Zero (I really cannot see a difference between the two cameras, aside from slightly different Polaroid rebadging), and most recently, the Alpha 1.

The Alpha 1, which came out in 1977, added a spit prism rangefinder prism glass for easier focusing, slots for the included leather strap, and a built-in tripod stand. This particular model was given to me last year by my mailman, who knows I love and collect cameras. In beautiful condition, I decided to get it ready for the film, when I try it later this month. This called for a couple of hours of cleaning. I plan on keeping all of these cameras “stock”, and not reskinning them with new leather strips. That is yet another SX-70 cottage industry.

My SX-70 Alpha 1

My SX-70 Alpha 1

The camera is a beautiful, elegant looking instrument, which when first introduced in 1971/72, set the photographic world into a frenzy. While Polaroid invested millions and millions of dollars into its design, it took Dr. Land closer to his instant image vision. Unlike the previous crack and peel Automatic Land Cameras (AKA pack cameras), the SX-70 developed in front of the photographer’s eyes, while protected by a mylar sleeve. It was Polaroid’s first truly organic design, done completely in-house, and not outsourced. And it was the company’s first motorized camera, and Single Lens Reflex (SLR) design. Free of the litter associated with the Automatic Land Camera’s film, the camera was also more ecologically friendly in the American mobile lifestyle of the 1970’s. Better for the parks and landmarks that amateur photographers liked to capture for family snapshots.

Behind the front door are the rollers. A MUST clean item!

Behind the front door are the rollers. A MUST clean item!

There is a latch on the side of the camera, which opens the front door, where the integral film pack goes, The battery for camera power also is contained in the pack. The SX-70 does not house its own batteries. There are rollers, smaller but similar to the Automatic Land Camera’s. These should be cleaned, very well. I had great success using baby wipes, which I also use to clean the rollers on my pack cameras collection. The crud and debris tends to build up on the left side of the rollers. Believe it or not, there are actually videos on YouTube showing how to clean the rollers! It really is not that difficult.

Side view. Polaroid LOVED bellows in the 60's, and early 70's.

Side view. Polaroid LOVED bellows in the 60’s, and early 70’s.

I also used the baby wipes to clean up the leather and chrome. An eyeglass cloth came in handy to clean the viewfinder and front lens element. Done. The SX-70 really is a beautiful little jewel. Maybe one of the greatest industrial engineering feats in the history of photography, and prehaps Edwin Land’s crowning achievement, out of many. Now, to only see if it works. Film is on the way.

Three More, After A Brief Hiatus

This past month has included two trips to and from Nikon USA for the F3. Turns out there IS a shutter problem. The second curtain is closing too soon, the result of a braking problem, which is causing capping, also known as shutter bounce. While many online are telling me to get a second body, I have already had the LCD display, light seals, and flash circuitry replaced. I’d love to hear any suggestions from blog readers as to recommendations as to where to have the shutter replaced. Nikon USA no longer stocks the shutter, but advises that independent dealers might. Of note- the problem only takes place at higher shutter speeds (1/250th/sec or faster). They have tried twice to adjust the curtain tension, but this is a temporary fix. They also scratched the baseplate, but replaced it with a brand new one. That part was in stock.

Anyways, I did want to share three more shots from this summer’s performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost, at Fitchburg State University. Much slower shutter speeds here, with one of, if not THE last rolls of Plus-X.

(10) Loves Labour Lost Fitchburg Theatre Company 6 24 12 Nikon F3 135mm f2.8 Kodak PlusX

Contrast Rules!

(11) Loves Labour Lost Fitchburg Theatre Company 6 24 12 Nikon F3 135mm f2.8 Kodak PlusX

Starting To Lose Light

(12) Loves Labour Lost Fitchburg Theatre Company 6 24 12 Nikon F3 135mm f2.8 Kodak PlusX

Did All I Could To Stay Steady Hand Holding The Camera Here- Actually Leaned Up Against A Tree