Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Polaroid Primer: Integral Films

With the eminent death of Polaroid, there seems to be a renewed interest in the format and there are quite a few "newbies" out there. I've received the occasional e-mail asking for help with film formats and which camera is best to buy, so I thought it might be nice to write up a little primer on Polaroid cameras and film. There is a very informative website called The Land List, but it is a bit overwhelming for the beginner, or even someone who is interested in the various formats other that what he or she is already familiar with. I will be freely using information from The Land List in this article, like when I list off many of the cameras that I've never actually used, and I give them full credit for whatever I steal. This post probably won't be all that interesting for those "in the know". You know who you are, you "in the know" knowers. But there seem to be lots of questions and lots of unknowers out there, so maybe this will help.
What I will attempt to do is list each major film format, break that down into the various film types within that format, and the cameras that use that specific format. I may not list every single type of each kind of film, as many of them are no longer available many years ago. I will mainly stick to what is, for the most part, readily available. I will also not be talking about large format Polaroid, as I've never used any of it and know very little about it, really. But for most new Polaroid users, this isn't a very good starting point. Start small and work your way up.
This post, we start with...

Integral film is what most people think of, or are familiar with, when we talk about Polaroid film. The most popular Integral film is 600. This is the stuff that you can get at grocery stores, K-mart, Wal-Mart, etc. What does integral mean? It means this film is an 'all-in-one', complete process with no in-between steps or chemicals to interact with. It's all integral to the film, inside of its cozy little plastic package. You just press a button, the camera spits it out and you wait for the film to do its thing and develop.

600 film cameras spit out the photo through some mechanized action, and the photo slowly appears as if by magic. The final product looks like this, as shot with a One600:

The large area under the photo is actually where the developer is stored, and when the film ejects, rollers squeeze the developer over the image.
The second most common integral film is 779. This looks like 600, with some slight color differences. Some prefer 779 over 600 for its tones. It was designed for business and crime scene use.

It is no longer available directly from Polaroid, but it was just recently discontinued so you can find it through various online outlets. This example of 779 expired in 2002, so the color has shifted quite a bit. You see it is still the same "shape" as 600.

The most recent camera to use integral film in is the One600. You can still get these for $30-$60, so don't pay the $130 that some online shops charge. I got mine at Walgreen's for I think $39.99. There is a more expensive version call One600 Ultra. Polaroid isn't making these anymore, but they are still fairly common.

If you want an older 600/779 integral film camera, there are TONS to choose from. Many look like this:

There are probably at least a hundred varieties of this particular build. To list a few, from Land List's 600 camera page, we have Sun 640, Amigo 610, Cool Cam, Impulse, Job Pro, OneStep 600, Pronto 600, Spirit 600, etc.
The other film that is shaped like 600 is SX-70 Time Zero. This format was discontinued in I think 2006.

You can still find original Time Zero on ebay. This does NOT work in a 600 camera. It may fit but your image won't happen. It's so expensive, you won't want to bother trying anyway. If you want to use Time Zero, you need an SX-70. Here is a nice example of Time Zero. The color is a bit different, seemingly softer than 600. I'd like to try it someday.
Though I've personally never used Time Zero (too expensive for me), I use an SX-70 camera. This is my SX-70 Alpha 1 Model 2.

There are various models that I won't go into here. It's easy enough to research them on the web. I chose this because it seemed to have the nicest words said about it. Some people prefer the original SX-70. Some prefer the fancier Sonar models. Don't get the Model 3, as I've read it's piece of junk. Prices range from $50 to $200. Just depends on how patient and/or lucky you are.
Because the film is shaped the same, you can use 600/779 in your SX-70, which is what I do. BUT, and a very big BUT here, you may have to modify your SX-70, or your 600 film will be overexposed. There are many sites on the Internet that show you how to modify your SX-70, from very simple (what I do) to very complicated. Also, there are small bumps on the bottom of 600 packs that prevent them from sliding into the SX-70. This is easily defeated by placing a junk Polaroid film shot halfway into the bottom of the slot, then pushing the film pack in and then pulling your junk photo back out (as seen on the same site with the easy modification). It just makes the tabs slide over whatever blocks the pack. This was an intentional design, I'm sure, to prevent people from accidentally using 600 in their SX-70s. The other option is to purchase a product made by unsaleable called SX-70 Blend. This is most likely 600 or 779 with a dark filter placed over the pack to control the exposure. Using this film, you can use the full light/dark settings on your SX-70, and you can really just buy one or two packs and reuse the filters on your 600 film. I don't use the Blend or the filter, but I know people that do successfully.
There is also another SX-70 camera design:

These are very cheap, with fixed focus. They can be moderately confusing as they have a design similar to many 600 cameras. You can find them for around $3-$5. Don't be fooled by thinking cheaper equals better with these cameras. Problem is, how do you convert it? I couldn't even figure out how to take it apart without breaking it. If you want to use Blend or actual Time Zero, then go right ahead and get one, or five. They are cheap.
So why choose an SX-70 over all of the other regular 600 cameras? Manual focus is the main reason. That and the fact that the 600 cameras have the usual "less than 3 feet = out of focus". The SX-70 can be focused at around 6 inches from the subject. Maybe a little further away than that, but so much closer than a regular 600 camera with fixed focus. You get some great depth of field with the SX-70.

So, sure, you miss some of the ease of use, and there is no built-in flash, and you have to deal with modifying the camera, but the pictures look so much sweeter. And the camera just looks nicer. The SX-70 was the first integral camera, so you are enjoying a pretty piece of history, and a better design.
Another, different integral format is Spectra. Spectra cameras and film are no longer produced, but you can still find both on the Internet. Spectra film is shaped different than 600. It is a wider format, so it can't be used in anything but a Spectra camera.

The cameras are sometimes just plain ugly.

Some people like them, though. Different shape, wider format. I don't own one, so this is the only personal example I have of a Spectra shot.

Those are the basic integral film formats. If it doesn't have 600, 779, SX-70 or Spectra in the title, it's not integral film, so don't be confused by numbers like 667 or 669. Completely different film format that won't work in these cameras AT ALL.
That being said, there are a couple other less common integral films that are different from these formats. One was made by Polaroid, called i-Zone film. It's a mini film format that fits in mini cameras. The cameras are pretty cheap, but the film is slowly climbing in price.

There are plenty of examples of i-Zone shots in this flickr group.
There is also another mini format called Captiva.

I've never used it, but here is an example of output on flickr.
Similar to Captiva is an integral format made by Fuji called Instax. These are still available and Fuji still makes the film...but not in the US. Plenty available on ebay. There are two formats of Instax. The larger version uses a camera like this one:

This website has some examples of the "panoramic" Instax output of this camera.
Then there is a smaller format Fuji Instax that looks like Captiva called Instax Mini. The cameras are typically very goofy looking.

That camera looks like it wants to kill you. Instax Mini is readily available on ebay. I plan on picking one up sometime this summer.

Plenty of examples in the Instax flickr group.
That's about it for integral film, as far as I know. Should be all you need to get started with integral Polaroid.

Just remember, integral films:
1. 600: Includes 600, 600 Plus, 600 Platinum, 600 High Definition, 600 Black and White, 600 Write On, 600 Notepad, 600 Party, 600 Party and Fax. Mainly needs a 600 compatible camera or modified SX-70.
2. 779. Needs a 600 compatible camera or modified SX-70.
3. SX-70 Time Zero and SX-70 Blend. Needs an SX-70 camera.
4. Spectra: Includes Spectra, Spectra High Definition, Spectra Platinum, Spectra 700, Spectra 990, Spectra 1200, Spectra Grid, Spectra Image. Needs a Spectra camera.
5. All those other formats that use special cameras.

Hope that helps some folks. Next post, I'll cover peelapart film, specifically 3.25x4.25, as that is the format that is still currently available. The product numbers sometimes confuse people, but if all you want is integral, ignore all the other numbers and focus on the products listed above.
I can't really help you find film or cameras. That's what the internet is for. There are tons of Polaroid cameras and Polaroid films on ebay. If you have been paying attention, you should be able to pick out the 600/779 format cameras (ignore the $500 600SE cameras, as they are completely different and named, I assume, just to confuse people) and the SX-70s.
Enjoy the stuff while you can! 600 is the most popular format and will be the last to be produced by Polaroid, but will also be in highest demand. People will hoard it and try to rip you off, but there is still TONS of it out there right now (you can see people selling 50 boxes at once), so try not to pay more than $12 for a box of 10 exposures. Any questions? Leave them in the comments and I will try my best to answer, or maybe someone else reading this will have some better answers.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Shang Hai Surprise!

I recently ordered some cameras direct from mainland China, so in continuation of my series of reviews for "cameras you'll never own", I bring you this lovely beast!

Yes, that is one hideous case. Smelly, too. My fingers stink right now from handling the thing to take pictures of it. Old and smelly. Just the way I like them. My cases, not my fingers. It was described on the site as an 'old style case'. 1960s, I imagine. Let's take that ugly dress off, shall we?

Pleather on the outside, corduroy (Seriously, what kind of word is that? Just look at it!) on the inside. How 'bout we throw that on the floor in the corner. What are we wearing underneath?

Ooh, now that is sexy. Turn around for me. I want to see you from behind.

Oh yeah. Damn, you are hot! Check out that chrome! You've got it going on in ALL the right places!
Okay, enough of that. Still, pretty sweet camera, eh? Want one? Good luck. I'm sure there are others out China.
You can tell by the barrel that it resembles the Diana. So it is kind of a Diana clone, but it's built a bit better. I have no idea how old this thing is, so maybe the Diana is a clone of this thing. Some of the other cameras I got look like Holgas, but the Holga is probably based on a fairly common Chinese camera design. Who's to say the Diana isn't a dumbed down version of another camera? Not that this particular camera is complicated. It's actually easier to use!
Okay, so it looks kind of like a Diana. What's it called? Well, you maybe noticed that it actually says, right on the front, "TOY CAMERA". Seriously. So this thing is old. It's what we would call a toy camera by today's standards. It's from China. It says Toy Camera on the front. How perfect is that?
So maybe that is the name of the camera. Maybe not. On the front of the barrel, it shows us this:

Camera 65-4 Shang Hai Zhi Zao. I have no idea, but it's damn cool. Of course, I couldn't find anything about it on the interweb. Zhi Zao seems to be part of people's names. Shang Hai is obviously in China. 65-4 seems to be meaningless. Whatever. It's still about the best camera name I've ever encountered.
A bit more about the camera. That isn't silver paint on the top. I can't figure out if it's chrome or cast metal, but it sure is shiny. The ring was missing from the front, and I had an extra Banner ring that I threw on to make the carpet match the drapes.
This was a much-used camera. The winder is well worn. Look at how muffed up that metal plate is on the winder compared to the spotless chrome. That is some tough stuff, there.

It says "USE" on it, which is tough to make out in the picture. The spool holder inside the winder was also very worn out. Still holds film, but plenty smooth on the edges.
Looking on the bottom, we don't see the usual Diana-style open/close knob.

It is actually a screw. And a screw that unscrews completely.

Interesting. Amazing it didn't get lost. Inside we see metal tongs to hold the film spools in place.

Also, looking inside, notice the shape of the film frame...

Not square! Rectangular. Now look at the viewfinder...

Not only is it incredibly tiny, but it is round. Well, actually what I see is a square when i look through it. So framing is kind of guesswork. That's cool. I'm used to that.
It has the same settings as a Diana. Bulb and Instant, with three aperture settings.

The placement is different, though. The aperture switch is on the bottom. It is exactly the same as the Diana, with the three different 'holes'...well, two holes and no hole for 'cloudy'. One thing that kept me on my toes was the shutter lever. It's lower than the Diana's, and the B/I switch is where the Diana shutter lever is. So I kept reaching for that lever with my finger when I wanted to shoot. Annoying? I got over it. It also has the ability to take a handheld flash.
So I took the camera out today, along with a few others. No idea what to expect, and I was expecting the dullest output. One other difference from the Diana is that this camera is fixed focus. That's not a bad thing...the Fujipet is also fixed focus. The lens looks like it is glass...sounds like it when I tap on it. I figured It would take pretty straightforward rectangle shots. I like square shots. I don't like rectangle shots. Boo hoo. Guessed boring at best would be the results.
I went over to the Cave Creek area, as I haven't been over there for I think 10 years. Figured the desert would be pretty with all the rain we had. The Camera 65-4 takes 16 shots, and I kind of felt like I was wasting them trying to finish the roll. Again, I figured it was going to be all looks, no personality. Am I ever wrong? Maybe. Sometimes. Like now. This camera takes some very kick-ass photos. I I am in love with this camera. I want to marry it and have its babies. I'll gladly cheat on my other favorite cameras. I've moved on bore me. I've found something fresh, something sweet. Her name is Camera 65-4 Shang Hai Zhi Zao, and she has something you'll never have. Chrome. Class. Don't call me, I'll call you. You can keep the kids.
Okay, I'll shut up now. Here are some of the photos I shot today with Fortepan 100.

And I can turn it sideways for some horizontal action. That's Camelback Mountain way off in the distance, I think, with the Phoenix Preserves to the right.

Check out that crazy blur! So unexpected, and so lovely. No way will this camera sit on my shelf collecting dust. Use it a lot, I will. I shot one self.

Nerd. I look like a Vulcan. A Vulcan with a large jaw. That's the camera's doing, that extended jaw. Nifty. Squinty. The odd lines in the lower right are very interesting. Looks like fabric texture, but it's not. Just some strange lens effect. I'll have to play around with that next time.
So, another great camera to add to the collection. I'm really happy I found this! I'll be reviewing some of the others I bought in the coming posts. Ladies and gentlebums, I present:

On a Polaroid note, the discontinuation has been officially announced, with final production dates and expirations. Bummer. Looks like 600 will be the last to go. Makes sense as it is the most popular. Price gouging has commenced.
Check out Save Polaroid. Also, someone received an e-mail from Ilford that they would be investigating the possibility of licensing the technology from Polaroid. Could be interesting, indeed.
I took my 195 with me. I fixed my leaky bellows, and a few new leaks happened. So I repaired those and now it's sitting in the corner. Also took my SX-70 with some 600 film. Spring has sprung in Arizona.

Hope your Spring is Polaroidarific. I just made that word up. I'm so clever. Time to sleep. 'night.