Blind shadows Polaroid Colorpack II Fujifilm FP-100C 2017
The unattractive drapes that covered my sliding-glass back door had long been an embarrassment: rumpled, dirty. But they did the job of blocking the setting sun as it blinded people in the family room who were just trying to watch TV.
There always seemed to be a more important thing to do rather than put up the vertical blinds I envisioned there. But preparing to sell my house has moved me to do several projects that somehow never seemed quite important enough before. It’s a shame I won’t live here long enough to enjoy them. At least I should be gone before they, too, become rumpled and dirty.
I shot my last two packs of Fujifilm FP-100C during Polaroid Week three weeks ago. My packfilm stock is now gone and I’m out of the peel-apart instant-photography game. I’m not paying $30 for leftover stock of a film that cost about $8 new.
I’m sad. This is a lovely film, and it’s a shame it’s no longer being made. I made beautiful prints from my last packs.
I long ago whittled my packfilm camera herd down to one: the Polaroid Colorpack II, a decent all-around performer. I shot both packs of FP-100C in it on two separate days that week. Here are some photos from the first day.
And from the second.
Let’s take a look at some of these photos more closely, shall we? I scanned them on my Epson V300 through Silverfast. They’re not bad, but aren’t as crisp and jewel-like as the prints themselves. Here are some narcissus in my front yard.
It was a cloudy bright morning as I drove to work. I pass through the Broad Ripple neighborhood every day now, so I parked and made a few photos. This shoe repair is one of a small handful of businesses on the main drag that was in business when I moved here in 1994. In those days, most of the strip was little local businesses like this. Today, it’s all restaurants and bars. And the bars are generally giant, sparsely-appointed rooms in which you drink thin beer from plastic cups. The college kids probably love them but at my age I look for greater sophistication and ambience.
On a brightly sunny morning two days later I paused again in Broad Ripple. “Open late night” is a big deal around the strip, as the twenty- and thirty-somethings need someplace to grab a bite and sober up after the bars close.
Just down the street, the rising sun was right to shine this pattern onto the street through the Rainbow Bridge’s railing. I think I’d like to explore this subject more. A longer lens might yield some interesting results.
The Colorpack II’s focal length is great for grabbing gobs of surrounding context. You have to move in to the camera’s minimum focus distance of three feet before a subject will fill a frame (like the narcissus above). If you back up even a foot, suddenly the camera sees all. From this I induce the camera’s two main purposes: close portraits and wide vacation shots. With a 50mm lens on a film SLR, I could have isolated these truck noses and the shadows they cast. But with the Colorpack II, I will forever remember just where I made this photo: on the street by the office building in which I now work. This would be a killer feature on a trip, as even a quick family shot would bring in so much of the surrounding scenery. That’s a perfect way to record vacation memories.
All was not skittles and beer with this camera and film, however. The Colorpack II’s primitive autoexposure system doesn’t resolve challenging lighting like this very well. And the FP-100C tends to blow out strong highlights.
The film also washes out where the sun reflects off light objects. The effect is worse on the print; I tweaked highlights in Photoshop to bring out the fire-station’s sign as best I could.
And good heavens, don’t shoot this camera toward the sun. A lens hood might have helped. Did they even make lens hoods for these rigid-bodied packfilm cameras? There are no screw threads, and a push-on hood would cover the focus markings on the barrel.
And of course there are the usual pack-film vagaries such as undeveloped corners.
But oh my gosh did I ever have a great time making these photographs. I will forever be charmed by getting a nice print in a minute. And like I said, the prints look great compared to these scans. They’re little jewels of color.
But more than that, I really came to appreciate the Colorpack II shooting these last two packs. I would love to explore its lens’s capabilities some more, showing subjects and their surrounding contexts. It’s a shame pack film isn’t being made anymore.
Instant-film lovers worldwide contributed to a giant Flickr pool this Polaroid Week; see it here.
BlueIndy Polaroid Colorpack II Fujifilm FP-100C 2017
Most people need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. We’re wired to maintain the status quo; we just want things to stay the way they always have been. Or return to the way they used to be, because weren’t things just better then? I suspect we want an idealized view of the past, because that time makes sense in retrospect.
Indianapolis residents are generally not happy with the changes to transportation infrastructure here over the last 10 years or so. They shake their fist at lost driving lanes thanks to added bike lanes. They protest the coming rapid-transit bus and the corresponding loss of a driving lane on a major north-south corridor. They hope like hell the roundabouts that have proliferated in the county to our north don’t start showing up here, too. And they scream over the prime parking spaces lost to a controversial electric-car-sharing program — this one, called BlueIndy.
Presumably smart, yet certainly politically ambitious, people drive changes like these. Let’s assume altruistic motives. They’re trying to move Indianapolis toward a future they envision, one that will come whether we are ready or not. But such leaders have guessed wrong before, and we’re all happiest to have forgotten those failed initiatives.
Wash out Polaroid Colorpack II Fujifilm FP-100C 2016
At last, election day. More than anything, I feel relief that the campaigns are ending. However it turns out, it won’t be a washout.
Normally I’d tell you to get out there and cast your vote, even if it’s for the candidate I don’t like. Am I wrong somehow this year not to want to say that, to ask you to just stay home if you’re not voting for my candidate? Because the other choice is too frightening to contemplate?
What’s even sadder is how, given that I’m not revealing my choice, you can read that last sentence to apply to whichever candidate you like.
The last instant pack film is dead. Fujifilm has discontinued FP-100C, a color film.
I’m sure this is old news to some of you, as Fujifilm announced this at the end of February. Prices immediately jumped on remaining inventory. I bought three packs before prices shot into the stratosphere.
I’ve shot Polaroid packfilm cameras off and on since the 1970s, when my grandparents bought me one new for Christmas. I was charmed that I could get a print in 60 seconds, but wasn’t impressed with the the prints themselves. The colors were weird, and worse, they darkened with time.
And both films yield great sharpness when used in a camera with a capable lens. Photographers who put instant backs on their medium-format cameras got stunning results. My old folding Polaroid Automatic 250, with its decent lens, returned solid results. It was such a pain to use, though, that I gave it away and bought a rigid-bodied Colorpack II to replace it. I loaded one of my last packs of FP-100C into the Colorpack II recently and took it out to shoot spring color. I started with my freshly bloomed daffodils.
Up close on a bright day, the Colorpack II even creates a little bokeh. It’s not great bokeh, but that this lumbering brute of a camera does it at all pleases me greatly. The film does lose detail in the highlights, though, as you can see where the sun hits the top of this fire plug.
I took the Colorpack over to Holliday Park one afternoon. The Ruins, a huge art installation on the grounds, is being renovated and somewhat reworked. This is where they’re washing out concrete.
The Colorpack also came along with me to work one day. It’s conspicuous camera and it attracted a lot of attention around the office. Many of my young co-workers had never seen a packfilm camera before. This orange Vette in our parking lot doesn’t belong to any of them.
The callery pear trees have all finished blooming now, thank goodness, because the flowers smell like rotting shrimp.
One morning’s sun lit my living room well, so I tried an available-light shot of my bookcase. On the middle shelf are my Pentax ES II, Spotmatic SP, and H3; and my Yashica-D and Yashica-12. My Canonet QL17 G-III is hiding on the top shelf. The camera and film don’t give much shadow detail. I couldn’t even bring any out in Photoshop. Sharpness is off, too. If I had to guess, the camera probably went wide open (f/9.2) for this shot, and that’s when the lens is probably at its softest.
Finally, on an overcast day I finished the pack by shooting my house. I think this print’s flat colors show well that FP-100C is born for a sunny day.
I’m going to miss the Fuji pack films terribly. I shot two or three packs a year and always really loved the experience and the results. I know I can always buy (crazy expensive) Impossible films for my Polaroid SX-70, but the hard reality is that image quality just isn’t very good. The pack films and associated cameras truly were the pinnacle of instant photography. It’s a real shame that their era is ending. Yet it’s remarkable that their era lasted as long as it did.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I tried again on an early spring day, shooting colorful flowers. This is where the Colorpack II and the FP-100C really shone.
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.
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.)
So I went back to the color FP-100C and kept on getting wonderful results.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.