Film Photography

My last pack of instant Fujifilm FP-3000B

Spring and summer pass right by without me ever thinking about instant photography. But come autumn, I start dreaming of Polaroids. I don’t get it, but I go with it.

I’m also on a jag to shoot up the expired film chilling in my fridge. That film wasn’t expired when I bought it — I’ve just been slow to shoot it. It’s in the fridge; it’s fine. But some of that film are last rolls of stuff you can’t buy anymore, such as Kodak Plus-X, Arista Premium 400, and my last pack of Fujifilm FP-3000B instant pack film. Can you see where this is going?

I had an idea for a photo essay. I loaded that FP-3000B into my Polaroid Colorpack II and started shooting. A couple shots in, I realized my photo-essay idea was terrible and that I wasn’t getting very good exposures. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. So I just shot the rest of the pack around the yard, enjoying my camera and the last of this film.

I have a one-car garage. During the warm months, it’s full of bicycles and lawn-care gear, and I park my car in the driveway.

In the driveway

I inevitably get lazy about storing things, and a bunch of junk accumulates on the garage floor. So one of of my late-autumn rituals is to put the bikes and yard gear in the shed and to properly store or pitch the accumulated junk so I can park my car in the garage during the cold months. Here’s this year’s mess.

Garage mess

This was a year of home projects. I hired many of them out, first and foremost the removal of my 21 dead ash trees. But I also had my windows and shutters scraped, reglazed, recaulked, and repainted. I rolled up my sleeves, too: I did a lot of landscaping in the wake of the tree removal, and I also repainted my front door. The previous owner had slapped a careless coat of white paint onto what had been a finished wood door, and it always looked pretty bad. I stripped all the old finishes off and painted the door in a copper color, which harmonizes with browns and oranges in my house’s bricks. In the spring, I’ll have that old aluminum storm door replaced with one of those great white vinyl doors with a rollaway screen.

Entry

One of my landscaping projects was to finally do something about the dead patch right behind my house. A vast patch of English ivy lay here when I moved in. It was a great ground cover, but it was also laced with poison ivy. There was no way to kill the poison ivy without also killing the English ivy — and it took years to do it, as both are hardy and persistent. But I succeeded, and for the past couple years I’ve had a big patch of dirt back here. The soil eroded, and I ended up with a negative grade — ground sloping toward the house, which risks water getting into the foundation. So I bought a ton of topsoil and got a bunch of help. We spread the dirt to create a positive grade, and then we planted nine boxwood bushes and spread some mulch to help keep that soil from eroding. I had all these big rocks in another spot in the back yard from some landscaping a former owner did, landscaping superseded by a later owner. I moved those rocks here to create a border.

New hedgerow

With all of this work around the house and yard this year, it’s no wonder I managed just one road trip this year, my October trip down the National Road in eastern Indiana.

Just for fun, I wanted to see how the Colorpack II and the FP-3000B would handle a double exposure. Here are my bikes, ready to go into the shed.

Double exposed shed

If you want to see the rest of the shots from this pack, check out my Polaroid Colorpack II gallery. There you’ll also see some wonderful spring-flower shots I made with this camera on FP-100C color pack film. The Fujifilm pack films are just great. I daresay I like them better than the old, long-out-of-production Polaroid pack films.

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Film Photography, Stories Told

Getting ready for winter, a photo essay on Fujifilm FP-3000B instant film

The last leaves fall the first of November, just in time for cold days and freezing nights. Let the calendar disagree with me, but I say this is where winter begins, bleak and down and lonely.

Bare Branches

Through October I spend every Saturday mowing up the trees’ prodigious leavings, just me and my old tractor. I cling to this ritual, which readies me for the closed-up months to come.

Tractor and Bagging Attachment

Most years I mulch the leaves back into the lawn. Some years I bag the shreddings. This year I dumped them behind the low fence in a corner of the back yard; the years will turn them into dirt. It’s mindless work: mow for a few minutes until the buckets fill, drive around back and dump, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Leaf Dumping Grounds

But in November, after the trees are bare and the yard is clean, a ceremony of sorts: the putting away. Unclutter the garage so the car can go in, clear the deck to protect summer things from rust and decay. Into the shed go the yard tools, the bicycles, the patio furniture.

Open Shed

As I move each piece, a summer’s events project on my mind, idyllic like color slides: the new brown bicycle I couldn’t ride after foot surgery, the dirty red wheelbarrow I used to spread fresh and smelly mulch, the new green electric cultivator that leveled and mixed compost into my front yard all torn up after the new sewer connection. My whole family worked an entire Saturday with me to do that and plant new grass. What a good day.

Electric Cultivator

The patio furniture went in next. I hardly used it this year thanks to the thick, relentless mosquitoes! The citronella candles on the table didn’t help at all.

Patio Furniture

All secured, it was time to run the gas out of the mower and tractor and put them away, too.

Push Mower with Tractor in the Background

While I waited, I walked around the yard, clear of leaves and still green, especially the new grass. That color will dull and fade through November; now is the time to enjoy it.

House at the End of Autumn

I noticed the work I didn’t get done this year. The driveway’s cracks need filled, dead limbs need cut from the maple, the windows need scraped and painted. Next spring, for sure.

Bare Tree Reflected

The motors soon shut off, one and then the other, out of gas. I pushed the tractor in first, the mower in next, and then locked the shed. One more job, which I hired out: haul that brush pile away. It was gone the following Tuesday. It feels good to have all those overgrown trees and bushes cleared out back. I worked at it here and there all year, sometimes alone, sometimes with one son or the other, once with my parents newly moved to my town and eager to do normal family stuff. Good memories.

Shed and Brush Pile

Good memories indeed. It was a summer well lived. Okay, winter, I’m ready for you now.

Photographed the afternoon of November 9 with my Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 on Fujifilm FP-3000B instant film.

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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

Goodbye Fujifilm FP-3000B

We are in the post-film shakeout era, a time when the world’s film manufacturers figure out what films will continue to be made now that most people shoot digital.

I argue that this era kicked off in 2009 when Kodak canned its seminal Kodachrome color slide film. Kodak has been the leader in film discontinuation, having ceased production of venerable Plus X black-and-white negative film and its entire catalog of slide films in 2011. It appears that its bankruptcy and its outdated manufacturing facilities are major factors in its decisions to discontinue films.

The film business is said to remain profitable, even for Kodak. But film’s mass-market days are over, as only hobbyists and some professionals still shoot film. I think the realities of a greatly reduced scale will cause other films to go by the wayside in the next several years. It will be interesting to see which films survive.

The latest casualty is Fujifilm’s FP-3000B instant film for packfilm Polaroid cameras, a niche product to be sure. Production ceased at around the end of 2013.

I’ve shot a couple packs of FP-3000B over the past couple years and I like it. I’ve shot it in both of my Polaroid packfilm cameras, a Big Swinger 3000 and an Automatic 250, and I find that the film can deliver decent contrast and tonal range. It’s not in the same league as Kodak TMax or Fujifilm Neopan Acros, but for instant film, it’s fabulous.

Here’s a shot from my Big Swinger 3000, which works only with the ISO 3000 packfilms and is rendered useless by Fujifilm’s decision.

Charger Nose

The Automatic 250 offers some ability to adjust aperture, allowing for available-light photos inside. It also offers a much better lens. This is where I sleep, recorded by the 250.

Bedroom

FP-3000B stock remains available as I write this; I just ordered two packs from B&H Photo. My Automatic 250 has an electrical gremlin I need to figure out, but when I do I’ll shoot those two packs as well as two packs I ordered of color FP-100C, which remains in production.

I have also shot some integral-film Polaroid cameras. See them here, here, and here.

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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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Camera Reviews

Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

Polaroid’s early packfilm cameras were large and ungainly, with bellows and complicated folding works. They were also expensive. Polaroid envisioned a smaller, easier-to-use packfilm camera for the masses, which led them to develop the Big Swinger 3000 in 1968.

Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

The Big Swinger is still plenty big and clumsy. But it’s considerably less so than its predecessors, and was a relative bargain at $24.95. That’s not to say the Big Swinger was inexpensive; that 1968 price is equivalent to north of $175 today.

Polaroid got a lot of mileage out of the Big Swinger’s tooling, making at least 20 other models with the same basic body over the next ten years or so. One of those other models was the Super Shooter, which I got for Christmas when I was nine. I had a lot of fun with it – read that story. I’ve also reviewed the rigid-bodied Colorpack II here. I’ve also reviewed the folding Automatic 250 here. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

The Big Swinger was aimed at the casual photographer with its one-speed mechanical shutter and single-element plastic meniscus lens, which has probably a 114 mm focal length. Everything beyond 2½ feet is always in focus. The lens seems to be on the wide side; to my eye it’s like a 35 mm lens on a 35 mm film camera. The camera takes AG-1 flash bulbs, which are about the size of a peanut; they were available in every drug store when this camera was new. The camera takes two AA batteries. The shutter fires without batteries, but photos turn out black as the exposure system needs juice to work. The batteries also power the flash.

Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

Using a packfilm camera is tricky until you get the hang of it. Just explaining how to load the film would take two paragraphs. Fortunately, the good people at the Film Photography Project explain in this video.

One neat feature unique to the Big Swinger is its exposure system. With film and batteries loaded, frame the shot. Then with your eye still at the viewfinder, squeeze the red part of the shutter button and twist until the word YES appears at the bottom of the viewfinder. Now the shot will be properly exposed. If no amount of twisting makes YES appear, you need to use a flash bulb.

Instant Parking Lot

Polaroid offered pack film in color and black and white, in square and rectangular formats. The Big Swinger 3000 can use only 3000 ASA film in the rectangular format, which Polaroid made only in black and white. Polaroid stopped making pack film ages ago. For many years Fujifilm made a film this camera can use, FP-3000B. When I came upon this Big Swinger for about a dollar, I bought it because I knew I could shoot with it. Sadly, Fujifilm has since stopped making instant packfilm.

After you take a photograph, you pull it out of the camera. This causes a jelly of chemicals to squish out across an exposed negative and onto the photo paper, causing the image to form. (This is a remarkable feat of engineering. Check out this page, which explains how it works.)  It’s really important that you pull the whole thing straight out swiftly and smoothly so that the jelly spreads evenly. If you pull it out at an angle, jelly might squirt into your camera. If you aren’t smooth about it, the jelly spreads unevenly and mars the photo. That’s what happened in this photo – see the light bands across it?

Delta Royale

Fortunately, that’s the only shot I goobered in the whole pack. I had great fun with my Big Swinger otherwise. This is the church that stands across the street from my subdivision. (See it still being built in this post.)

Church

This is a squat little tree in my neighborhood. It’s not a great photo, but when you look at it larger it shows pretty well how the lens goes soft around the edges and especially in the corners. Nobody in the Big Swinger’s target market cared about that, though; the non-instant snapshot cameras available at the time mostly didn’t do any better.

Squat Tree

See more from this camera in my Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 gallery.

The Big Swinger 3000 wasn’t about fine photography anyway. It was about fun, and I had a whole bunch of that with this camera in my hands.

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