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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Film Photography

Shooting Fujifilm FP-100C

Holy cow, is Fujifilm’s FP-100C nice stuff. I shot Polaroid’s Types 88 and 108 color pack films in the 1970s and 1980s and was never impressed with the color rendition. But just look at the red the FP-100C returned. It’s so bold that it almost reaches out from the print and smacks you across the face.

Autumn bush

Unfortunately, my Polaroid Automatic 250 camera has developed an electrical gremlin. The two packs of FP-100C I shot yielded only four images, all of which were test photos after yet another repair attempt.

Enough with the cars already

But when my 250 works, it delivers the finest results of any instant camera I’ve shot. I think it’s because all of my other instant cameras have plastic lenses while the 250 uses a three-element glass lens. It returns images that are pretty sharp even in the corners.

However, the 250 is challenging to use even when its electrical problems are tamed. Pulling the first three or four images out of the camera always involves opening the back of this big, clumsy camera a little. You see, those Fujifilm packs aren’t as rigid as the Polaroid packs of yore and so the folding 250’s innards clamp that film down too tight. You need to vent the pressure to get those first prints out of the camera.

The rigid-bodied packfilm cameras, such as my Big Swinger 3000, don’t have that problem. The Big Swinger’s single-element plastic meniscus lens is nothing to write home about, though. And the camera is about to become useless as soon as stock of the only film it can use, Fujifilm’s discontinued FP-3000B, runs out.

Others love the Big Swinger’s lens for its slightly dreamy quality. One such gentleman is Eric, who writes the Load Film in Subdued Light blog. He enjoys that lens so much that, upon learning of FP-3000B’s demise, he pulled the lens out of his Big Swinger and inserted it into another rigid-bodied packfilm camera, the Colorpack II, which can take the slower FP-100C color film. (Read about it here.)

During that surgery, he discovered a three-element glass lens inside the Colorpack II. Aha! I immediately bought a Colorpack II on eBay. (The place is lousy with them, and most of them go for under 20 bucks shipped.) I have five packs of film waiting for it – two FP-3000B and three FP-100C. I remain inexplicably charmed by instant photography, and I am determined to find a reliable camera when I want to scratch that instant itch.

I’m less charmed by the integral-film cameras, like my One600 and my SX-70.

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Camera Reviews

Polaroid Automatic 250

I have so many old cameras 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 enables that.

The Automatic 250 was enormously popular — Polaroid made 750,000 of them from 1967 to 1969. That’s especially astonishing given their $159.95 price tag, which is equivalent to more than $1,200 today. 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, more than $400 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 was a real ray of photographic sunshine that Fujifilm kept making pack films for so many years after Polaroid got out of the business. Black-and-white FP-3000B and color FC-100C were available at Amazon.com at a reasonable price. In my opinion, they performed better than the old Polaroid films.

Polaroid Automatic 250

Unfortunately, the party ended; Fujifilm got out of the packfilm business. But not before I put a few packs through the Automatic 250.

However, the Automatic 250 takes a funky 4.5-volt battery. You can buy them on Amazon if you’re willing to pay a premium price. I instead adapted 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. 3×1.5=4.5; perfect. I unscrewed and removed the original battery clip from the Automatic 250 and, glory be, the flashlight clip fit right in. Inside the battery compartment 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.

If you like packfilm Polaroid cameras, also check out my reviews of the Big Swinger 3000 (here) and the Colorpack II (here). I’ve also reviewed some integral-film Polaroid cameras: the original SX-70 (here), the OneStep 600 (here), and the One600 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

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 expected 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. A lot of rain fell, flooding the 14th fairway. Then it froze overnight. Ice skating, anyone?

Frozen Golf Course

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.

Roger

Some time later I got the Automatic 250 out again and tried some FP-100C. Unfortunately, my battery hack performed poorly and many photos turned out black. Those that didn’t were badly underexposed. But look at those colors pop anyway.

Autumn bush

It was with this pack I decided I should try one of the hard-bodied packfilm cameras. I heard that early Colorpack IIs sported glass lenses, so that’s what I bought. It worked great. I ended up giving my Automatic 250 to someone who loves, and can better deal with the quirks of, these folding Polaroids.

Enough with the cars already

Despite my challenges, 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.

Instant photography charms me. I keep trying different Polaroid cameras trying to find The One. The Automatic 250 isn’t it. But in its heyday, it absolutely would have been.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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