Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Saving your Onestep 2 from the landfill- camera reincarnation!

I love the Onestep 2. Polaroid’s first camera under the name Polaroid in a decade, it is an instant point-and-shoot that embraces the cultural legacy of Polaroid while adding some nice updates. The addition of a flash and a timer to the focus-free lens and led counter makes for some simple party snaps that anyone can do. 

The one modern addition that I could have done without, however, is the integral USB charged battery. I am a big fan of Polaroid, likely one of the biggest. I have a collection of hundreds of working vintage cameras dating all the way back to 1948. The reason they still work today is that they were not built with parts that would stop working in a few years. Vintage cameras that shot integral film had the battery built into the film pack, so just add a fresh pack and you are ready to go! 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand Polaroid’s choice to move the battery out of the film pack. It is expensive and wasteful to have it there. Discarded packs often have tons of life left after the pack of film is shot. Fuji and Kodak before them do not have batteries in their packs. It just makes sense. 

Many Onestep 2 cameras’ batteries are failing and people are left with a cute brick. It is way too soon for these cameras to become obsolete! 

As a proof of concept, I took my mint green Onestep 2 and added external replaceable batteries. I added two cr123s in series so it added up to 6 volts. At first, the results were sketchy, but I figured it was my ad hoc twisted wires loosely taped. After I did it right- soldering followed by heat shrink- it performed flawlessly!!  

Note: Since this is just a proof of concept, you will need to forgive the aesthetic. You can come up with ways to pretty it up!

Here are my super-duper easy instructions in a few steps: 

Remove the front plate. There are two tiny screws holding it on from inside the film door. Now gently pry back the sides at the tabs shown in my photos. The front will lift out and off easily. 

Locate the wires on the viewfinder side in the gap between the circuit board and the back half of the camera. You will see a red and black wire hooked on to the side of the circuit board with a tiny white plug. Ease the plug out and gently pull out all of the slack. You may get about an inch. This is the plug that goes to the battery located right under the viewfinder. Cut the wires with the scissors so you get the plug and as long of wire as possible. 

Connect the wire that has a plug to the wire on your battery holder. Red goes with red, black with black. Solder it, as a weak connection WILL cause a disruption in the function. Now plug the little white plug back in.

That is all there is to it! Feel free to mount the batteries to the camera any way you want. You can cut a notch out of the side when you put your front back on. I just snapped it back on and the wire seemed skinny enough.

A word of caution- I did not do this with rechargeable batteries, so I don’t know if the USB charger would work or go terribly wrong. I have no interest in that for myself, but if you try and succeed, please tell me the results!

I shot a pack through with this modification and it worked like a charm!
The light leak in the upper left corner was the crushed pack. I buy pretty damaged packs so I can use them to test!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Hidden features, easy fun, or fixing the dormant closeup lens in a Polaroid Originals Onestep 2.

They say all of the Tesla cars being sold today could be fully automated with the flip of a switch. Tesla is waiting for the laws and society to catch up with their innovation. Products are sold all the time that have dormant features that are just simply turned on so they can sell the product for more. Conversely, a product is often dumbed-down in order to sell it for a lower price point. Same features, but no buttons to access the features. The goal is to hit both markets, the luxury market and the economy market. If you have ever driven in an economy car, you probably have noticed the plastic plates everywhere on the dashboard that are placeholders for those extra features.

The Polaroid SX-70 folding SLR instant camera was introduced in 1972 with a price of 180 dollars (adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars it would set you back a grand). Three years after that, they “dumbed it down” so they could sell it for half price. How did they do that? They blocked the ability of the user to focus benefiting from the single-lens reflex feature( for the layperson, an SLR camera allows you to look in the viewfinder directly through the camera lens, as opposed to a tube going thru the camera body). You will note, I said they blocked the ability- they did not get rid of all the mechanics of an SLR. I actually get a kick out of shooting with my Type 3 non SLR-SLR. I like hearing the familiar thwack of the mirror moving in the body of the camera for absolutely no reason. Perhaps this is why I was very excited to hack my OneStep 2!

I heard on a blog somewhere that the Onestep 2 can get stuck between lenses. There is just one problem with that description and the poster never explained: The Onestep 2 only has one “focus-free” lens as it is a point and shoot instant camera. I found nothing in my search to explain this. It may have been the newness of the camera line, as Polaroid Originals had just released this new line of cameras. I started searching eBay for broken Onestep 2 cameras, and I bought one that was broken since it had a blockage in the lens.

The camera was one of the slate-gray ones- a real looker. And sure enough, there it was! You could rock it side to side and see the lens switch from one to another. I fully intended on tackling it then, but life got in the way. I also got the Onestep + which actually had the lever where you could switch back and forth between a regular and portrait lens.

Lately I have been feeling braver since gutting my Impossible I-1 camera ( ), so I decided to dive in. I worked way too hard and removed way too much, so I will walk you through how to fix this anomaly properly(not the roundabout way I did it).

Removing the face-plate is quite easy.

Open the film door and you will see two tiny screws toward the front. Use a good, well-fitting screwdriver, as these will strip quite easily. Remove those screws.

Now look at the inside of the white face-plate I photographed, and you will see a series of bumps that pop into tabs around the side of the face-plate. Carefully pry around the edges of the face-plate from the back using a very sharp screwdriver or knife, starting at the bottom and working your way up. Once it releases, lift it out of the way. Tape the tiny screws to the camera body.

Look down on top of the lens area. You will see a gear and a tiny dot of glue. If the dot of glue releases, the lens will swing down into a middle position by gravity.

The later Onestep + has a piece of plastic that pops over the gear in order to switch between lenses. The earlier Onestep 2s are missing that piece of plastic. Oh, and they are missing the second lens. The lens holder is there, but no plastic in it. Sorry, It was my hope that I could rig something to gain access to the closeup lens, but alas, they left the second holder empty. I suppose you could hack it and add your own lens or funky filter to the second space.

While I was in there, I also wanted to know if this car had auto-driving built-in but turned off. You see, the Onestep + is a full-featured camera that has access to shutter speed and aperture control through a Bluetooth connection and a phone app. Though it appears that the parts could be added, the extra board was not included. On the plus, the extra board is located behind the lens switch.

So there was no real feature to be gained, except for the fact that this would be a really easy fix. I could just put a drop of glue back in place, but I went for something more permanent. I simply wove a piece of wire, tying the lens in the correct position. Putting on the face-plate was just the reverse of removal. Start at the top and snap it into place. Finish off with the two tiny screws.

This is a project within the capability of just about anyone. If it is too much trouble and you have a broken Onestep 2, donate it to the cause- I will gladly turn it into a project or two!

Speaking of projects- I am halfway into trying to unlock the SLR in the non-slr Polaroid SX-70 model 3. Who knows, it may just work!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Hacking the Impossible I-1. The camera deserved it and had it coming!

The camera on the left is my hack of the I-1. The camera on the right is an I-1 unaltered.
I was so excited when The Impossible Project released its new camera. The I-1 was definitely a step in the right direction for 600 film cameras. There had never been a fully manual 600 camera. The closest was the SLR680, and it was mostly automatic.
I love my camera hybrids! The camera in the middle is an automatic to manual conversion and the camera on the right is a roll film to pack film conversion.
I waited a long time to get mine, as they were 350 dollars new. Eventually, my time came, and I got one cheap. It was “broken”. It just needed a reset and I was off to the races. This camera requires that you have an I Phone or an android phone with the appropriate version in order to access the manual features. Yes, I said you need a smartphone to use your analog instant camera to its fullest! It also has a built-in battery, so like a phone, you have to charge it up regularly if you want it to be available for spontaneous shooting.

My first experience shooting with it was in the winter outdoors. I was shooting images of a house, and it was an awful experience. My fingers were going numb flashing between holding the camera, using the light meter, and choosing my manual settings on my smartphone. I nearly dropped the camera and my phone at different times. I had even considered gluing the phone to the camera.

Both the battery holder on the bottom and the eject button were 3-D printed.

Later, I decided to accept that manual and phone features would have to wait for studio settings with a tripod. I tried using it as a point and shoot, but the autofocus was slow and inconsistent- often ruining shots. To make matters worse, whenever I went for the camera, the batteries would be drained demanding a charging session.

Yet another thing that bugged me about this camera. Some features were never fully available to me because of phone incompatibility! I bought an android phone with the “correct” version of android, and the light meter feature would not work. I contacted Impossible and they told me that my phone was too old(it was new), so I bought a brand new android phone with an even newer version of android and it did not have all of the features, either. When I contacted them about this, they indicated that they could not possibly design software to work with all of the hardware out there and gave me a free pack of film. It is a good thing I bought this camera for a song because if I had paid the 350.00 retail I would have been pretty pissed about just getting one free pack of film.

Though the look of the camera was wonderfully designed, the viewfinder was also woefully inadequate. It was designed based on an old Zeiss camera with a flip-up finder and was challenging and near impossible to frame quickly. I fixed that for myself by designing an interface to a viewfinder from an old Polaroid Colorpack camera. I still sell these as replacements- I have probably sold more than 50 over the years.

Adding insult to injury, eventually, the camera battery tanked and it would require a full charge to shoot anything, and even after a full charge it would not show fully charged!

The ideas and goals leading to the I-1 were good, noble even. The execution left much to be desired. So I hacked it.

Though I would rather the Polaroid Originals design team do this for me, they have shown with their subsequent release of the One Step plus that they are set in their ways! The One Step plus is a One Step 2 with most of the features of the I-1. I want a 600 or I Type camera that has full manual controls and replaceable batteries. I want another stupid phone app like I want a hole in my head!

This modified I-1 is a simple proof of concept. I will likely build others eventually, but for now, it serves all of my holiday shooting needs! Though this is not meant as a tutorial, here are the steps I took: First I just removed just about every screw I could find and took it apart. Then I got rid of all the electronics, except the motor. I widened the hole that the original lens mounted in and mounted a 105mm prime in its place. I used black adhesive sheet foam as a light-proof gasket. That is all I did to make a manual camera!

The only thing left to do was run the film eject motor. I wasted a lot of time trying to slip and solder a tiny momentary switch into the original shutter button housing, but I never succeeded. Instead, I 3-D printed a button mount and used a simple momentary button that could be held down for the eject and released to stop ejection.

Years ago I dreamed about creating a fully manual plastic SX-70 box-style camera, as well as a fully manual 600. I ran into significant problems with those cameras and had to scrap the idea. There are good reasons we have never seen those conversions. First, the motor is in the body close to the lens, and that does not allow for a decent manual lens to fit. Second, it is challenging to dial in the focus, as you have to cut a hole in the bottom of a junk camera to see a ground glass, then move the lens to another camera for final mounting. Third, there is a ton of dremelling needed to get rid of excess plastic and give the clearance necessary.

The I-1 is different. The only cutting I did on the whole camera was just opening the lens mount. That is IT! I drilled a small hole in the side to run the battery wires. Easy-peasy! The motor is located in the film door, well out of the way of the lens. The entire circuit consists of four aaa batteries in series, a momentary switch, and a motor.

And here is the best part: dialing it in to focus is easy to do. The bottom of the camera comes off separate from the film door, the gears, the takeup hook, and the electronics. Removing two screws reveals the film plane! Just make a simple ground glass out of an old used pack of film, and you are on your way! I tell you how here: . After removing the panel and putting in your ground glass, press bulb on your manual lens and hold the camera upside down. Look down at it like you are focusing a TLR! I find it is easy to find your focus by googling free eye charts on your computer screen.

My first I-1 hack is a primitive one-trick pony, similar to the Polaroid Big Shot. I want to use it to take pictures at family Christmas parties, so I chose the 105 lens which makes it perfect for getting small groups of people. The ideal distance is 3 ½ feet, but a little closer and a little further are still sharp at most apertures. If I want to add a flash, I just screw in a generic grip with a cold shoe. The only problem I encountered thus far, is my old flashes are far too bright for the 650 iso film. Even at f32, my people images were blown out. In the short term, I am just trying to get used to a bounce flash. I found a nice mini slave that may work without bounce. Otherwise, everything works like a charm! There is no vignetting, and the bokeh is pleasing. I also tried it with a plus one diopter and it is perfect for portraiture!

Remember, this is bare bones. Some features I will likely add: I may do a viewfinder, but to make it more fun I will likely just do laser range-finding by converging dots, as that makes shooting easy and quick. I need a weaker flash if I intend to continue using the 600 film, but I also have the option of shooting sx-70 film at 100 iso. I will definitely try to clean up the looks a bit and hide the batteries. I may add a small rheostat to control film ejection speed, as fresh batteries make the film eject quite fast. While that is not a problem with the black and white, it promotes streaking in the color. At some point, I may use a 127mm lens and an adjustable focus as well. If I ever find a small ring flash I may add that to the look, but so far my search has yielded no fruit.

But for now, I feel I have created quite a nice little camera for the holidays by killing an I-1. And yes, I will kill again!

Take that- Polaroid Originals!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Reflective Objects: My Collection, or Hoarding as Art!

This fall I have been fortunate to be included in a show at the Kennedy Art Center in Athens, Ohio. The show, Reflective Objects: Collectors and Their Collections, was an opportunity for me to showcase my obsession for Polaroid cameras! 

The museum preparator and everything guy, Jeff Carr, made all of the pedestals and cases you see, as well as dress forms and any other thing to support the collections. He did an amazing job and added some much-needed color to my early Polaroid collection!

I wrote a bit of information to go along with the show, and here it is: 

When I think of instant cameras, I am always reminded of Arthur C. Clarke's three laws: 1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. 2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. 3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This followed by the famous quote of Dr. Land himself: Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.

My camera collection can be separated into roughly three categories: Early land cameras, scientific and professional cameras, and the later polaroid cameras: pop culture/ cameras as lifestyle statements. I write extensively about my camera collection in my blog: have drawn from a blog entry per category as a way of explaining my sickness.

Early land cameras:

It began with an innocent inquiry by a 3-year-old girl in 1943. While Doctor Land was snapping pictures on the beach in Santa Fe, his daughter asked: “Daddy, why can't I see the picture now?” He pondered that question the rest of the day and had a workable answer that would drive his company for the next half-century.

Though instant Polaroid roll film is one of the few types of instant film you cannot get any more, the cameras form an essential part of my collection. The 95 was the first fully instant camera they rolled out in 1947. The first pictures came out in a sepia tone and were prone to fading. This was solved by immediately painting on a sticky stop goo called the print coater. One would have to wave it back and forth to dry the coater. This is where the famous “shake it like a Polaroid” came from.

Originally the intention was to have other companies manufacture the cameras, but the cameras of the time were fairly inaccurate ( due to easy corrections that could be made in the darkroom). Obviously, with instant film no lab-based corrections could be made to the image. The cameras had to have very specific shutter times, so Polaroid started to manufacture their own cameras.

Polaroid got a reputation as a consumer point and shoot instant camera company in the eighties, but they were not always regarded that way. From the very beginning, Polaroid had the attention of professional photographers everywhere. Ansel Adams was a lifetime consultant to Dr. Land and a huge fan of Polaroid.

The earliest instant roll film cameras were very heavy- weighing in just above 5lbs! This was due to a tax break on “professional” cameras- the professional determination was based solely on weight! The 95 was a consumer designed product, but it was followed quickly by a string of professional-grade products including great fully manual lenses and shutters, the 110,110a, 110b, and 120. These cameras are still highly sought after by Polaroid fans. Today there is a small cottage industry that creates pack-film conversions of these cameras which then sell for around 700 to 1500 dollars.

Scientific and professional cameras:

Dr Land and Polaroid came up with a million ways to use instant photography, much of it in professional fields. From dentistry and forensics to passport photos, the ubiquity of instant photography ideas were endless. Not only were cameras constructed for very specific applications, but films were made with built-in grids, heightened UV sensitivity, and never before achieved film speeds (iso 20,000).

This part of my collection mostly falls into three categories: dental macro cameras, oscilloscope cameras, and passport cameras. I also have a couple stand-alone oddballs like the microscope camera. The film ranges from traditional pack-film to specialized Spectra film. Two are full SLR cameras. Others have preview windows built into the hood, and some use two lasers that form a cross on the subject when you are in the focal distance!

I am sure there are millions of these special-use cameras out there. If you get the chance- snag one. They are quite fun to shoot, and the looks you get are worth the low dollars they typically command!

Cameras as lifestyle statements:

When I started collecting the I-Zone cameras, I had to learn to accept my addiction. Hello, I am Aaron, and I am a camera collector. The reason for my acceptance is that these cameras don't take any kind of film that is available. Even the expired film I have found has not worked in them. They are officially for legacy only. They also may exist as a cautionary tale!

Dr. Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid, was very much against making cheap, mass consumer products. His idea was to allow everyone to have access to cameras and instant development, but never at the cost of creating a bubble gum and sugar cereal type product, and this is exactly what the I-Zones were. They were marketed to children and tweens, and they were a powerful short term market. They made them with bright colors, simple use, sticker backing, and convenient size. They were an early version of the facebook post. You snapped them, shared them, stuck them on your wall, and wrote on them. Dr. Land would have liked that part of the product, as he wanted shooting instant film to be an event. What he wouldn't have approved of is chasing the latest trend- the flash in the pan. He was about long term innovation.

Business wise, they were the hare, when Dr. Land preferred the tortoise. Not to say that he was slow, but he was steady. Dr. Land actually has the second most patents secured ever, with only Thomas Edison as his better. This “hare” shareholder and bottom-line mentality was eventually the death of Polaroid.

So here is what collecting has become to me. It is a legacy preserving action, the parts forming the whole as a unique art piece. The collection is about content- not just about surface. There is a deeper read. Obsolescence captures the movement of time, and often the color, design, shape, and purpose of the object capture the spirit of the era. Oh, yeah- it is fun, too.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Big Shot- big time, or swapping out that anemic development timer.

I tend toward the experimental with photography, but one area that I am a bit of a purist on is shooting pack film with my Polaroid Big Shot. I let the Magicube do its magic. I do the Polaroid shuffle to focus the camera (it is a fixed focus with a rangefinder to lock in focus). I do “no-frills” portraits of head and torso. I pinch straight down on the shutter lever all the way to the bottom of the motion. I even use the terrible development timer on the back of the camera. Until now!
About a third of my Polaroid camera collection is sitting pretty in an art museum in a collection show. Since I tried to represent important and interesting cameras, my Big Shot had to be a part of that display. I did not realize how much I would miss that collection until it was gone(and the show is 3 months long). This forced some change in my workflow. First, I built another manual pack film camera out of stuff I had lying around. I blogged about it here: . And second, I dug into my parts bin and put together/ cleaned up a Big Shot. You see, I take a Big Shot picture of everyone who comes into my art studio, and I could not bear to miss out on a whole season of pictures.
The camera worked well, but the terrible timer kept stalling! Though I love the Big Shot, I acknowledge that it wasn’t built of the best stuff. Most of the Big shots I encounter have broken shutter lever posts, missing t handles, chips on the body, out of true rangefinders, and of course, anemic development timers.
Looking at the outside and inside of the film door, a removal and replacement operation looked to be quite easy. Many things that look easy can be time-consuming and hard, but this is not one of them. I did the project in minutes and it was as easy as it looked.

Polaroid had a few standalone development timers that could be mounted to your camera strap(model 128) or screwed into your tripod socket(model 120). There have been others, but those are the ones that I have found to be fairly common. You can also find timers on old plastic pack film cameras, but I have no experience using them. I chose to use the oldest, a model 120 because the build quality is excellent and it can be calibrated from the back with a standard screwdriver.
The first step is to remove the existing timer. I just pried it up with a knife and it broke along the glue line. I then used a sharp knife to scrape away the excess pieces. When you are done with this step, you will have a hole too small for either timer. Do not try to widen the hole to fit the timer, as you will end up opening a hole clear through the back.

The timer will sit flush with the surface, covering the hole, but not sitting in the hole. I chose to use industrial-grade Velcro. It served the dual purpose of filling the hole and allowing for removal of the timer for calibration. I used strong Velcro because the adhesive side of it is super strong and will not fall off. Lesser Velcro will just eventually fall off. If you use the 120 timers, there are three tiny screws to remove on the back so you can get rid of the tripod screw plate.

Project done, workflow restored!