Camera Reviews

Polaroid Big Swinger 3000

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When most people think Polaroid, they imagine a photo shooting out of the front of a camera and developing before their eyes. But such was not always the case in instant photography. Older Polaroid formats required the photographer to manually remove the photo from the camera and wait some amount of time before peeling away a backing to reveal the image. These films came in rectangular packs and, even earlier, in rolls.

The first packfilm cameras were large, clumsy, and 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 about $163 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.

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, my favorite Polaroid camera resource on the Web, the Land List, does a great job of explaining, so go read it there. If you don’t like to read, watch this video from the Film Photography Project instead.

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.

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, but good old Fujifilm took up where they left off and still makes 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. This is my favorite photo from the pack I shot. I blogged about it before.

Instant Parking Lot

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

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.

Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!

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