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.
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. (Unfortunately, both films have been discontinued since I wrote this post in 2012.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
If you enjoy old cameras, you may also
enjoy seeing the rest of my collection.