Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

31

When most people think Polaroid, they imagine a photo shooting out of the front of a camera and developing before their eyes. But such was not always the case in instant photography. Older Polaroid formats required the photographer to manually remove the photo from the camera and wait some amount of time before peeling away a backing to reveal the image. These films came in rectangular packs and, even earlier, in rolls.

The first packfilm cameras were large, clumsy, and expensive. Polaroid envisioned a smaller, easier-to-use packfilm camera for the masses, which led them to develop the Big Swinger 3000 in 1968.

Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

The Big Swinger is still plenty big and clumsy. But it’s considerably less so than its predecessors, and was a relative bargain at $24.95. That’s not to say the Big Swinger was inexpensive; that 1968 price is equivalent to about $163 today.

Polaroid got a lot of mileage out of the Big Swinger’s tooling, making at least 20 other models with the same basic body over the next ten years or so. One of those other models was the Super Shooter, which I got for Christmas when I was nine. I had a lot of fun with it – read that story.

The Big Swinger was aimed at the casual photographer with its one-speed mechanical shutter and single-element plastic meniscus lens, which has probably a 114 mm focal length. Everything beyond 2½ feet is always in focus. The lens seems to be on the wide side; to my eye it’s like a 35 mm lens on a 35 mm film camera. The camera takes AG-1 flash bulbs, which are about the size of a peanut; they were available in every drug store when this camera was new. The camera takes two AA batteries. The shutter fires without batteries, but photos turn out black as the exposure system needs juice to work. The batteries also power the flash.

Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

Using a packfilm camera is tricky until you get the hang of it. Just explaining how to load the film would take two paragraphs. Fortunately, my favorite Polaroid camera resource on the Web, the Land List, does a great job of explaining, so go read it there. If you don’t like to read, watch this video from the Film Photography Project instead.

One neat feature unique to the Big Swinger is its exposure system. With film and batteries loaded, frame the shot. Then with your eye still at the viewfinder, squeeze the red part of the shutter button and twist until the word YES appears at the bottom of the viewfinder. Now the shot will be properly exposed. If no amount of twisting makes YES appear, you need to use a flash bulb.

Polaroid offered pack film in color and black and white, in square and rectangular formats. The Big Swinger 3000 can use only 3000 ASA film in the rectangular format, which Polaroid made only in black and white. Polaroid stopped making pack film ages ago, but good old Fujifilm took up where they left off and still makes a film this camera can use, FP-3000B. When I came upon this Big Swinger for about a dollar, I bought it because I knew I could shoot with it. This is my favorite photo from the pack I shot. I blogged about it before.

Instant Parking Lot

After you take a photograph, you pull it out of the camera. This causes a jelly of chemicals to squish out across an exposed negative and onto the photo paper, causing the image to form. (This is a remarkable feat of engineering. Check out this page, which explains how it works.)  It’s really important that you pull the whole thing straight out swiftly and smoothly so that the jelly spreads evenly. If you pull it out at an angle, jelly might squirt into your camera. If you aren’t smooth about it, the jelly spreads unevenly and mars the photo. That’s what happened in this photo – see the light bands across it?

Delta Royale

Fortunately, that’s the only shot I goobered in the whole pack. I had great fun with my Big Swinger otherwise. This is the church that stands across the street from my subdivision. (See it still being built in this post.)

Church

This is a squat little tree in my neighborhood. It’s not a great photo, but when you look at it larger it shows pretty well how the lens goes soft around the edges and especially in the corners. Nobody in the Big Swinger’s target market cared about that, though; the non-instant snapshot cameras available at the time mostly didn’t do any better.

Squat Tree

The Big Swinger 3000 wasn’t about fine photography anyway. It was about fun, and I had a whole bunch of that with this camera in my hands.

Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!

31 thoughts on “Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

  1. ryoko861

    As I’ve mentioned to you before, my son has a bunch of old Polaroids that he has displayed in his room. They are and will always be cool cameras! The film is expensive now and hard to find in my area. But I don’t think he has any intention of using them.

    1. Jim Post author

      I have four Polaroids now and I think I’m done — because they’re so big! They take up a lot of display space. I have another Polaroid post queued up for Monday, so stay tuned.

  2. Mike

    Very nice tonal and grain qualities in that fast film. I shot three or four packs a long time ago and liked the results, but I always felt a sense of anxiety in the process. I was intimidated by the cost, but more-so by the need to commit to precisely whatever came at the time the buttton was pressed. I just didn’t have the personality traits that polaroid seemed to require.

    1. Jim Post author

      I was really impressed with this film, too. The color pack film I shot as a kid was ho-hum and that’s what I was expecting from this b/w film, too. So I was especially delighted by the crisp contrasts and range of tones I got; the parking lot shot with the tree shows it best. Cost remains a factor when shooting Polaroid; the FP-3000B cost more than ten bucks a pack, for just 10 shots. But I rather enjoy the experience with this camera and film. I have one more pack of this film in the fridge and look forward to using it in my Big Swinger.

  3. Nicole Gelinas

    I have a polaroid similar to this but it is called the square shooter. I got it before I did research and found that they don’t make film for it anymore that will fit…whoops. I was actually trying to purchase what you have here though. Your results are really great! Have you tried the colored film packs?

    1. Jim Post author

      Yeah, the Square Shooter takes only the discontinued square packfilms. Fortunately, packfilm cameras can be had for dirt cheap, so you can try again. My Big Swinger works only with the 3000 ASA b/w film, so if I want to shoot color, I need to buy a camera that supports it! 

  4. Lone Primate

    I couldn’t believe it when you said you could still find film for this camera (nice touch taking the shot of the period car, too, BTW). Those shots are really charming. Wow, Fuji… I’ve got a couple of 3D digital cameras made by them, and at the other end, you’re getting film packs from them for an instamatic that predates the first moon landing. The sound you’re hearing is Kodak singing “I just handed my pinball crown to him”. :)

  5. Ted Kappes

    Good work with your Polaroid. I never have bothered to find out the whole story, however I wonder how much of the demise of Polaroid had to do with poor management? I would have thought that with good marketing they could have survived. I did use some of the Fuji in a Colorpak II last summer and it was fun. I did it mostly to show my nephews the process although I am not sure how impressed they were by it.

    1. Jim Post author

      Thanks Ted! Here’s a great blog with lots of Polaroid stories from the fellow who created their iconic “rainbow stripes” brand identity: http://giam.typepad.com/the_branding_of_polaroid_/

      I’ll shoot with my Big Swinger again because I had lots of fun and the camera does pretty good work for what it is. On Monday you’ll see some photos I took with an integral-film camera — I was far less impressed.

  6. zorgor

    It is pretty amazing the things they had to do to get cameras to do what they did in decades past, and even more amazing that they pulled it off in mass production… Seems like that kind of engineering feat should be even more expensive than $163!

    1. zorgor

      You know what amazes me that we seem to mass produce effortlessly, and yet somehow safely and reliably? Cigarette lighters and pens. Amazing when you think about how ubiquitous they are, and how rarely they fail… Ever hear of a lighter exploding or bursting into flames? Me either. Why not, ya know?

      1. Jim Post author

        I dunno, when I tried to light my gas grill the other day accumulated gas in the grill exploded. Darn near singed the hair off my legs.

    2. Jim Post author

      I have to imagine the camera was priced at a loss (at least initially, until they made it up on volume many years later) to get people in the door and buying those expensive film packs. You know, kind of like razor blades and ink cartridges.

  7. Kristal Lohse

    I really appreciate your blog on this, I found one in a vintage store here in Montana! Thought it was pretty cool, but figured I may not be able to take pictures. But found your blog and bought the film. Where do you get the flash for this camera? What kind do you get?

    1. Jim Post author

      Kristal, the flash bulbs are AG-1 (or AG-1B). They’re not made anymore, but often you can find some leftover stock for sale on eBay. So glad you found this post useful!

  8. Shannon DIXON

    I was 13 when I got my BIG SWINGER.IT was fun and cool for taking pictures without much focusing Was,nt everything back in the late 60,s early 70,s.Not many people could back in those days.With pot smoke and soda-pop wine all the other things we used for recreation,how many people could actually focus a camera.I wish I had all the old pictures from those day,s.All though they might incriminate some people that maintained they never smoked funny cigarettes or consumed alcohol or other mind or mood altering chemicals.Oh the good old days.It was all fun and cool but nobody remembers .That is why we had instant cameras! Who knows what the old Polaroids could tell! Ha,Ha they are still in someones old collection. Cosmic Cowgirl.

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