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 It appears that its bankruptcy and its outdated manufacturing facilities are major factors in its decisions to discontinue films.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 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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Instant parking lot

I’ve bought and shot with a lot of old cameras this year. I used to always look for new subjects to shoot with each camera, but at some point this year I started running out of ideas. So I’ve been returning to familiar places, sometimes shooting the same old things but just as often noticing something I hadn’t seen before and shooting it. I’ve made many visits this year to the Broad Ripple neighborhood, to the grand and imposing Second Presbyterian Church, to the old town of New Augusta, and even to the parking lot at work.

I read the Film Photography Project blog, and the writers there have a serious fetish for instant photography. Polaroid hasn’t made instant cameras in years, but these dedicated folks buy long-expired film or new film from the Impossible Project and keep right on shooting. It makes me wistful for the great times I had with a Polaroid pack-film camera in the 1970s. These films give arty-farty results, though, which doesn’t trip my trigger and has kept me away. Then I found out that Fujifilm makes brand new color and black-and-white film for the old pack-film Polaroids. I immediately bought the first pack film camera I found, a 1968 Big Swinger 3000, bought a pack of FP-3000B instant film, and had an absolute ball wandering around the parking lot at work shooting cars. This was the best photo of the day, though my cheap scanner didn’t capture the full range of tones from the print. I’ll be buying a photo scanner here pretty soon and then I’ll write more about my Big Swinger 3000.

Film Photography

Captured: Instant parking lot

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