Film Photography

The finest Polaroid photograph I’ve ever seen came from a photo booth

The finest Polaroid photograph I’ve ever seen came from a photo booth.

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On this spring day in 1985, the year my friends John and Jim and I all graduated high school, we were out being silly together and came upon photo booths at a mall. One was a traditional four-photo-strip booth, but the other promised Polaroid prints. I’d never seen a Polaroid photo booth before, and I’ve never seen one since. We piled in, I fed it a buck, and it took this big, beautiful photograph. (I’m on the bottom with the cheesy grin.)

Check out that sharpness! Dig those great colors! And those colors lasted — I scanned this 32-year-old print only recently.

If only I could get this kind of color and sharpness from my integral-print Polaroid cameras. I’ve shot several, including the vaunted original SX-70, and I’ve been dramatically unimpressed with the prints all of them created. How did this photo booth do such solid work?

But my disappointment with Polaroid photography isn’t really the point. I really want to tell you about a blog that features photobooth photographs.

Katherine has loved photo booths since she was a girl in the 1970s. She steps into them whenever she finds them — a rarer and rarer occurrence these days. And she collects forgotten photos from booths. And she shares them all on her blog, Photobooth Journal.

Today Katherine shares this photo, plus some other photobooth photos of this goofy trio and of just me, on her blog today. Click here to go visit and see!

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Photography, Stories Told

Photographic holiday memories

A rerun, from 2008 and 2012, as this Christmas nears. Now with new photos.

supershooterboxes
courtesy giambarba.com

My grandparents always owned the latest Polaroid cameras, and they passed on that tradition in 1977 when they bought my brother and me Polaroid Super Shooter cameras for Christmas.

When I unwrapped the gift, I remember thinking how cool the box was. I liked the box so much that I kept my camera in it for the almost 30 years I owned it. Not long ago I learned that the box, like all Polaroid packaging of the day, was designed by Paul Giambarba, a top designer who was a pioneer of clean, strong brand identity.

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I remember how easy it was to spot Polaroid film on the drug store shelf because it had the same rainbow-stripes design elements as the camera’s box. Film and developing for my garage-sale Brownie cost about half what a pack of Polaroid film cost, but the colorful Polaroid boxes on the shelf always tempted me. I often decided that next time I bought film, I would save my allowance for the whole month it took to afford a pack of Polaroid.

My brother also got a guitar that Christmas morning. My new camera came with a pack of film, so I loaded it and shot this photo of him on his first day with his guitar. He played this guitar for 20 years — he looked strange as an adult playing a kid-sized guitar!

rickguitar1977

20 Christmas Days later, when my older son was not yet a full year old, my wife gave my brother her old guitar. Our boy, drawn to the music, wouldn’t leave his uncle’s side as he played that evening. Steadying himself on his uncle’s knee, he looked up with wide amazement in his eyes.

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May this holiday bring you the gift of excellent memories to share with your loved ones down the road.

When I first posted this, in 2008, Paul Giambarba himself left a comment! It was a thrill. I followed his blog for years. He discontinued it a few years ago, and thanked me in a final post for saying kind things about his work. None of this would have been possible without the Internet!

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Film Photography

Goodbye Fujifilm FP-100C

The last instant pack film is dead. Fujifilm has discontinued FP-100C, a color film.

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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.

In comparison, the Fuji films were wonderful. The black-and-white FP-3000B, which was discontinued in 2013, had good tonality and range. The FP-100C’s appealing candylike colors made it a go-to film on a bright spring day. Better still, the prints stay bright for years.

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.

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.

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.

Wash Out

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.

Vette

The callery pear trees have all finished blooming now, thank goodness, because the flowers smell like rotting shrimp.

Pear trees in bloom

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.

Bookcase with cameras

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.

My home

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.

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Through the viewfinder - Polaroid SX-70

When I wrote about my Polaroid SX-70 last year, I criticized its viewfinder for the very narrow angle at which it allowed a subject to be fully viewed. But when your eye finds that angle, it is amply rewarded. The view is large and bright.

Monday’s post about the cameras from my collection that I photographed with my Nikon F2AS reminded me that I had used one of those cameras, this Agfa Clack, to illustrate the SX-70’s viewfinder. I brought my Canon PowerShot S95 up to the eyepiece and, true to form, spent several minutes getting it lined up just right so that I could capture all of the Clack.

Photography

Captured: Through the viewfinder

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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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Film Photography, Stories Told

Photographic holiday memories

This Christmas memory was originally posted in 2008.

My grandparents always owned the latest Polaroid cameras, and they passed on that tradition in 1977 when they bought my brother and me Polaroid Super Shooter cameras for Christmas.

supershooter

When I unwrapped the gift, I remember thinking how cool the box was. I liked the box so much that I kept my camera in it for the almost 30 years I owned it. Not long ago I learned that the box, like all Polaroid packaging of the day, was designed by Paul Giambarba, a top designer who was a pioneer of clean, strong brand identity. I remember how easy it was to spot Polaroid film on the drug store shelf because it had the same rainbow-stripes design elements as the camera’s box. Film and developing for my garage-sale Brownie cost about half what a pack of Polaroid film cost, but the colorful Polaroid boxes on the shelf always tempted me. I often decided that next time I bought film, I would save my allowance for the whole month it took to afford a pack of Polaroid.

rickchristmasguitar

My brother also got a guitar that Christmas morning. My new camera came with a pack of film, so I loaded it and shot this photo of him on his first day with his guitar. He played this guitar for 20 years – he looked strange as an adult playing a kid-sized guitar! Then on another Christmas day while I was still married, my wife gave him her old guitar. Our first son, who hadn’t been walking long, wouldn’t leave his side as he played that evening. He looked up at his uncle with wide amazement in his eyes, holding onto the side of the La-Z-Boy to keep himself steady.

May this holiday bring you the gift of excellent memories to share with your loved ones down the road.

Next: Christmastime television from Chicago.

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