Camera Reviews

Polaroid Colorpack II

I’ve been drawn to Polaroid photography since I was a kid in the 1970s. I get excited over holding a developed print in my hands a minute after pressing the shutter button. So I’ve tried any number of Polaroid cameras looking for the one that balances cost and ease of use with the best possible quality photographs. It’s been a frustrating and expensive journey, but I think I may finally have found The One: the 1969 Polaroid Colorpack II.

Polaroid Colorpack II

I’ve tried every kind of Polaroid camera for which you can still get film. I really hoped I’d find joy in an integral-film camera, the kind where the print shoots out of the camera and develops before your eyes. No luck; they all yielded soft, muddy results.

I got sharper photos with truer colors from the older packfilm cameras, the kind where you peel the backing off after the print finishes developing. I started with the big, folding cameras, but found them to be complicated to use and take a hard-to-find battery. Also, they tended to put too much pressure on the plastic Fujifilm film packs, making it very hard to pull the first few prints out of the camera.

Rigid-bodied packfilm cameras don’t have these problems, but almost all of them come with plastic lenses that lead to soft results that distort in the corners.

But then I learned that most Polaroid Colorpack II cameras came with a three-element, 114mm f/9.2 coated glass lens. The Colorpack II was the first rigid-bodied packfilm camera to accept both color and black-and-white films. It cost $29.95 when introduced in 1969, which is about $190 in 2014 dollars. That may seem expensive, but it was a bargain compared to the folding packfilm cameras, most of which cost more than $100 new. Colorpack IIs are plentiful and eBay overflows with them. Right away I found one for twenty bucks shipped.

Here are all of the Polaroid cameras I’ve reviewed: the Automatic 250 (here), the Big Swinger 3000 (here), the J66 (here), the One600 (here), the OneStep 600 (here), the Pronto! (here), the Pronto Sonar OneStep (here), and the SX-70 (here). You can also see all of my camera reviews here.

I inserted two fresh AA batteries into the Colorpack II, for without them the shutter won’t fire. Then I loaded a pack of color Fujifilm FP-100C and started shooting. I shot the entire pack of film around the house, as the snowiest and coldest winter in my 20 years in Indianapolis severely curtailed my photography. But I was pleased. The colors are decent and the details are reasonably sharp. The corners are soft, but not unacceptably so.

The view from my front door on a snowy day

I missed my Automatic 250’s wonderful rangefinder as I twisted the Colorpack II’s guess-focus ring. The camera focuses down to three feet. But I was glad for the Colorpack II’s automatic exposure system, which is coupled to an electronic shutter that fires from about 10 sec to about 1/500 sec.

Blinds

My Colorpack II came with a few flashcubes, so I took a couple shots with them. In this photo I focused on the basket of bulbs on the coffee table. The flashcube properly lit only ten feet or so and led to lifeless colors.

Christmas tree flash

I tried again on an early spring day, shooting colorful flowers. This is where the Colorpack II and the FP-100C really shone.

Polaflowers

The actual prints look far better than these scans – they’re sharper and more colorful. I punched them up as best I could in Photoshop. Perhaps with more practice I’ll learn to scan my Polaroid prints without losing their essence.

Polaflowers

I tried a pack of the black-and-white FP-3000B in the Colorpack II. I’ve loved this film every time I’ve used it in other packfilm cameras, but on this overcast day I got nothing but muddy grays. (I also started scanning the borders of the prints, as that appears to be the convention among packfilm shooters around the Internet.)

Car

So I went back to the color FP-100C and kept on getting wonderful results.

Wash Out

You never know just how a packfilm print will turn out. The jelly might not spread evenly across the print, leaving undeveloped corners. You might not manage to pull the print out smoothly, leaving overdeveloped streaks behind. But that’s part of the fun.

Vette

And then the party was over: Fujifilm quit making packfilm. I had two packs of FP-100C in the fridge. I shot them up to say goodbye.

The new Broad Ripple

Naturally, by this time I’d shot this camera enough that I fully had the hang of it, and got a bunch of prints that satisfied me deeply. The candylike color and the almost-but-not-quite sharpness remain deeply appealing to me.

Shoe repair

As of this writing, you can still buy expired Fujifilm packfilm on eBay. But at $30 and more a pack, I’ve decided to let packfilm go. Farewell; it was a great ride while it lasted.

Qdoba

See more photos from this pack in my Colorpack II gallery.

The Polaroid Colorpack II is, to my mind, the best Polaroid camera in modern use. It was, anyway, until Fujifilm quit making the film. The Colorpack II gave pretty good image quality with almost no fuss.

These results are better than you’d get from a Kodak Instamatic, which was 1969’s typical point-and shoot camera. But even the most entry-level 35mm SLR of 1969 can blow the pants off any Polaroid camera.

But so what? Only a Polaroid camera could give you a good print in a minute. That will always be deeply charming.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Last updated on 27 December 2019 by Jim Grey

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12 thoughts on “Polaroid Colorpack II

  1. I am at the same point with the Colorpack II. It is probably the most satisfactory Polaroid that I have used. I do like the Fuji film better than the old Polaroid film. Still I can’t say that I plan to do much instant photography. I usually end up shooting a pack or two in the warm months.

    • I seem to turn to Polaroid photography in the winter. I don’t understand why, because these cameras are harder to use in the cold.

      I’m with you: the Fuji film is superior to the old Polaroid films.

  2. John Smith says:

    You have far more patience than I do Jim. I think I would have enjoyed shooting Polaroid back in the day, when the equipment and film were new and everything worked the way it was supposed to. I’ve tried several cameras (SX-70 and pack) and all the fiddling around required still only produces marginal results. I have a Polaroid back for my Hasselblads and may try it out, but probably only once.

    • I’m going to shoot these four packs of film currently in my fridge and then decide whether to continue. I realize that I’ll never get truly great color and sharpness from any Polaroid camera. But so often there’s pleasure in getting pleasing results despite the medium’s limitations. Finding out whether I am capable of that with this camera is part of the fun.

  3. I still use this camera monthly, especially on trips and holidays. Just a lovely piece, much better than my SX-70, and way more fun to shoot with.

    You can’t expect the quality of a SLR camera though, but that’s not what is was invented for :). Just the fun of a developed photo 1 minute straight after you shot it, that’s the thing that makes my day shooting with a polaroid.

    greetz

    • The farther I go on my photographic journey the more I appreciate a sharp lens and film that renders color well or delivers excellent tonal range. But yes, you’re right, shooting Polaroid is fun, and that’s why I’m keeping at it!

  4. Pingback: Polaroid Colorpack 100 packfilm camera | Style over Substance

  5. Pawel says:

    Hi Jim, nice range of cameras. Have you got experience with Colorpack 100 keeping the shutter open? Short shutter time (up to approx. 1 sec.) works ok, but when it’s darker it keeps it open until you move the camera to a ligher object. No matter how many seconds you wait… Any hit? Thanks, you have a lot of experience with packs to I just thoughs I would ask.. Pawel

  6. Brian Bednarek says:

    The ColorPak II was the first camera that I ever owned, I got if for Christmas when I was 11. I have always been a Polaroid/instant film lover. The camera never failed to bring joy … of course, now it’s all intregal film like Instax … which I do love too!!!

  7. Pingback: Polaroid Colorpack 100 packfilm camera - Style over Substance

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