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 anymore, 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 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 packfilm conversions of these cameras which then sell for around 700 to 1500 dollars.
There were several other versions with this general shape- each refining the product. The last one, the 850 and 900, included the “electric eye” which allowed for the first automation of exposure. One version, the 80 “Highlander” was the first portable Polaroid camera. The J33 and J66 were roll film cameras that started to hint at the design of the later pack film bellows cameras, the Automatics.
My absolute favorite of this line of cameras is my 120. It is a fully manual camera manufactured by Yashica for Polaroid for international markets, and it has an aperture range from f4.7-90. It needed a tiny aperture like 90 to compensate for incredibly fast film speeds(3000). With such high film speeds in black and white, one could take indoor pictures with no need for a flash.
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.