Down the Road

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Polaroid Automatic 250

19

So many old cameras are queued up waiting for me to shoot them that I forget how I got some of them. I think somebody gave me this Polaroid Automatic 250. It certainly wasn’t on my must-buy list.

Polaroid Automatic 250

Not that the Automatic 250 isn’t worthy of my collection. As Polaroid cameras go, it’s pretty good. It boasts a three-element glass lens, 114 mm at f/8.8. Its electronic shutter fires from 1/1200 to 10 seconds. Atop the Automatic 250 is a Zeiss Ikon rangefinder with automatic parallax correction. It is an aperture-priority camera, allowing no manual setting of exposure. Some might find that to be a bummer, but let’s be real – Polaroid cameras are about snapshots, and autoexposure only enables that.

Polaroid made 750,000 of these from 1967 to 1969 and priced them at $159.95. That’s about $1,100 2013 dollars. In comparison, the most popular digital SLRs sell today for $500-$600. Think on this for a minute – Polaroid sold three quarters of a million Automatic 250s that cost about twice what a modern DSLR costs. What’s more, the Automatic 250 sat atop an entire line of 200-series cameras in the late 1960s, the least expensive of which cost $55.95, or about $385 today. Polaroid sold millions of 200-series cameras in the late 1960s. Money had to be falling out of the sky onto the Polaroid Corporation during those years.

The Automatic 250 takes pack film. Mine came with a pack of type 108 color film that expired in 1969. It’s a real ray of photographic sunshine that Fujifilm kept making pack films after Polaroid got out of the business. Black-and-white FP-3000B and color FC-100C are available at Amazon.com, are reasonably priced, and work with the Automatic 250.

Polaroid Automatic 250

The Automatic 250 takes a funky 4.5-volt battery, which is still available if you’re willing to order it online at a premium price. I decided instead to adapt my Automatic 250 to work with AAA batteries, MacGyver style. I raided a little LED flashlight for its battery clip, which holds three 1.5-volt AAA batteries. That clip fits easily into the Automatic 250’s battery compartment (after unscrewing and removing the plastic clip that held the original battery). Inside the camera are two wires with snap-style ends that attach to the original battery. I cut off the snaps, stripped the wires about a half inch, and then attached them to the new battery clip with electrical tape.

Polaroid Automatic 250

Using these old Polaroids isn’t terribly hard after you get the hang of it. To keep this already too-long post from being way too long, please read the Automatic 250 manual as butkus.org to learn how to load film and take a photograph. Part 1 of the manual is here; part 2 is here. Also check out this YouTube video for instructions on loading film.

I laid some FP-3000B into my Automatic 250 and took all ten shots in under an hour just after Christmas last year. I had some trouble pulling the first few shots out of the camera, which I guess is common – these cameras, which were built for the metal Polaroid film packs, compress the plastic Fuji film packs a little too much. I read about a trick where you actually pop the camera latch before pulling out a photo. It worked, but fogged and streaked some shots before I got the hang of it.

I figured that the ultra fast (3,000 ISO) film would let me take available-light shots inside, and I was right. I got best results when I set the lighten/darken control (the dial around the lens) all the way to lighten. I focused on the bowl of bulbs on the coffee table.

Christmas scene

The Automatic 250’s decent lens yielded uniformly crisp photographs, and the film returned minimal grain. I scanned the prints on my Epson V300 scanner. It normally does a wonderful job scanning prints but never does justice to anything I shoot on FP-3000B. These scans aren’t nearly as good as the prints. This is the last shot from my test film pack, and it shows the pack’s other shots lounging about the kitchen counter.

Polaroid debris

After the new year I bought more film and tried again. I discovered that my electrical-tape battery connections didn’t hold. The exposure system needs juice; without it, you get all-black photos! I need to buy a soldering iron and more permanently attach those wires. But I retaped the wires and got this shot.

Hamper

The challenge with outside instant photography in Indiana in January is that the cold temperatures slow developing way down. The camera comes with an aluminum “cold clip” that you warm up under your arm. You slip the freshly taken photo inside it while it develops. To avoid that hassle, I took this photo outside and then dashed back in to let the photo develop at room temperature. This is the golf course behind my house. We’d gotten over two inches of rain, which flooded the 14th fairway. Then it froze overnight. Ice skating, anyone?

Frozen Golf Course

I shot my now former office on my penultimate day working for that company. In my line of work, it’s unusual for managers to have offices, and I really enjoyed this one all four years it was mine.

Office

This is Roger, a colleague. He shoots film, too, and has a small collection of cameras. Whenever either of us buys something interesting we bring it in to show the other. My Automatic 250 was the subject of our last show-and-tell as coworkers.

Roger

These photos say a lot about the Automatic 250: it packs a reasonably sharp, contrasty lens that is reasonably free of distortion and light falloff in the corners. To see more photos, check out my Polaroid Automatic 250 gallery.

I keep coming back to Polaroid cameras because I really want to like them. And I keep being disappointed in the image quality – though this Automatic 250 only disappoints me a little bit. I can see myself leaning on this camera whenever I want instant print gratification. To that end, I have a pack of color instant film, Fujifilm’s FP100-C, chilling in the fridge waiting for a warm day.

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If you enjoy old cameras, you may also
enjoy seeing the rest of my collection.

19 thoughts on “Polaroid Automatic 250

  1. pesoto74

    Looks like this is one of the Polaroids worth having. I too have found myself wanting to like Polaroids, however I have a hard time warming up to it for some reason. I can believe those sales figures for Polaroid. It seems like everyone had one back in the 60’s and 70’s.

    1. Jim Post author

      According to the Land List, most of the folding pack film cameras share this glass lens, so any of them should be capable of these kinds of results. Given film availability, I’d say a folding pack film Polaroid is the one to have if you want to shoot instant. I also really love it that I can shoot the 3000 speed b/w film indoors w/o flash.

  2. Mark O'Brien

    Wonderful post. I should look for one of these, as my Polaroid Reporter has 2 AA batteries that can only be accessed by removing the film…which if you find out that you have a battery problem with film in the camera is a real pain in the butt. Which I do.

    1. Jim Post author

      Oh yeah, my Big Swinger 3000 suffers from the same AA battery problem. I wonder if that’s why Polaroid built the battery into the film pack for the SX-70 and later integral film cameras — the battery is always as fresh as the film. I’m shooting with an old Canon Dial right now and its battery is in the film compartment. Naturally, it died halfway through my test roll. D’oh!

  3. Mike

    Thanks for the thorough write-up on the Auto 250. The parallax correction seems like a really good idea since you have to take what you get with the polaroids. That might help me get over the hump of seeing a dollar fly off every time I push the shutter.

    1. Jim Post author

      Mike, my impression of the parallax correction is that it’s decent — not perfectly precise, but way better than nothing. Many of these folding Polaroids have a rangefinder, by the way. Most of them have a focusing window and a taking window. The cameras with the Zeiss Ikon rangefinder do both functions in one window. And don’t hold me to this, but I think only the Zeiss Ikon rangefinders have the parallax correction.

  4. DennyG

    The dollar sign marked stats really are impressive. This (and similar Polaroids) with marginal optics and and unspectacular resolution sold at a premium over higher quality film cameras and relative speed is too simple a justification. Instant vs. soon is not at all the same as quick vs. slow. Polaroid changed photography. Period.

    1. Jim Post author

      Waiting for processing was always film photography’s Achilles heel. Polaroid obviated the need, but in the working-class family into which I was born, there was never money for such things. We made do with Instamatics and drug-store processing.

  5. chelcie3

    Go to the website landcameras.com. He’s awesome and he can either replace your battery wires for a reasonable price OR he can even put a rechargeable battery system in it for around $50. So he’s obviously a land camera specialist.

  6. Jason Powell

    The Polaroid Land 250 is the best automatic Polaroid Land Camera, in my opinion. The Zeiss Rangefinder is really great (especially if you get the earlier large window version) and you don’t have the now-useless development timer taking up space in the back (like the 350,360 and 450). Sure, the manual 180 and 195’s are better, but I’ve gotten so many good shots from my Land 250 I don’t really even care about the manual Polaroids anymore.

    When you get around to shooting that FP-100c, you may find that it’s too cool for your tastes (it is for me). Get some Roscoe warming gel material and simply tape it over your lens (or the Polaroid slip-on UV filter, which is what I did). Presto, perfect tones! I also use the orange slip-on cloud filter when shooting in B/W, which adds a ton of contrast to my FP-3000b shots.

    1. Jim Post author

      Jason, wow, thank you for all the excellent Automatic 250 advice! When I get around to shooting the FP-100C, I’ll look for a warming filter.

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