Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Polaroid Packfilm Bellows transplant-one may die so that another may live

This is a very easy swap that I have performed many times. Over times the bellows(accordion-like leather or leatherette) can sag or get damaged. Sometimes the bellows can form pinhole light leaks, sometimes get caved in by a careless hand.
The Polaroid Automatic Land Cameras, despite being built very well, were susceptible to damage. One saving grace was a strong, light leak resistant, double layer bellows made of leatherette and fabric. Though I love the look of a leather bellows, the leatherette allows these bellows to survive the test of time. Mold is easily wiped off with these bellows, where leather bellows can be eaten and stained by mold and fungus. In fact, if you can mod them to fit, I suggest replacing any worn out mid format camera with these bellows(I may do that to my 2x3 Speed Graphic- the bellows is crusty leather with lots of light leaks).
These bellows, whether on the metal packfilm cameras or the plastic packfilm cameras, are easy to remove.
When I am doing this, I am always sacrificing the bellows from a plastic packfilm camera for a metal packfilm camera. If for some reason you are doing metal to plastic, there may be some extra steps involved in reattaching the bellows to the front standard.
The first thing to do is decide whether you want to preserve the tabs that hold the shutter cable and the automatic exposure wire. The camera will survive without these, but it is a good idea to rescue them as they help the camera fold up easily without kinks in the line or cable. There are two ways of rescuing them. One is to carefully pry them free of the old bellows, leaving them threaded on the cable and line. When you put the new bellows on, just glue them back on to the bellows. The second way is more involved. Unhook the cable from the front standard by LOOSENING the three screws. Unhook the line by clipping it in the battery compartment and remove a little staple holding the line in. Upon installing the new bellows, thread the cable and line back through. This method is waaaay more involved- I suggest you just glue the old ones.
Next remove the screws that hold the bellows on to the front standard. If you are sacrificing a plastic packfilm camera, there will be plastic posts with friction washers instead of screws. Just grip the friction washer holding the front standard and snap it off.
These next steps could scratch the black paint on the inside of your metal camera's enclosure. I will assume that you will take measures to avoid this(or don't care, as it is cosmetic). Any area you pry can be protected by masking tape or a well positioned piece of cloth.
Pry the tabs connecting the bellows to the camera. Use a small screwdriver or knife for this. Be careful not to puncture the bellows at this stage. Pry the tabs straight up, not prying them back any more than necessary. Pry only three out of four sides, and leave the 4th side untouched. Remove the bellows. If you are re-using this bellows, see to it that you save the little foam gasket that is under the bellows. If it is too far gone, you can use thin felt, black silicone, or just about anything black to help avoid light leaks there. Or you can go without. I have not had an issue with leaving this part out.
The replacement is pretty much the reverse of the removal. Slip the new bellows in with the tabs that are not pried back. Bend the tabs back in place starting with the ones opposite the ones that were not bent. Pinch the tabs down tight using needle-nose pliers. Make sure you are just pinching the metal flange and not the cloth of the bellows.
Now screw the front standard connection back on. Thread or glue the tabs back in place. It is that easy!
Remove these screws to detach from the front standard.

Pry back these tabs with a thin screwdriver or knife.

Notice the tab connecting the bellows to the shutter release cable.

If you choose to disconnect the shutter cable, just back out the three screws(do not remove them as they are very difficult to put back).

Camera with bellows removed.

Hook the new bellows on by bending the tabs back on.
Put some cloth or tape on the areas that are at risk of being scratched.
Use needle-nose pliers to tighten down firmly.

Here tabs are bent back in place tightly.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Polaroid Obsession Part Eleven, Polaroid in Name Only.

After a Polaroid bankruptcy in the early part of the 20th century, Polaroid changed- and not for the better. They went from a company of innovators to a company of lawyers and shareholders. Looking down the aisles of a Walmart, you will still see Polaroid on a lot of products. That is because all they do currently is sell their brand name to various products with no connection to creating the products. They do not have a manufacturing arm.
The cameras I am presenting here are Polaroid in Name Only. First on that list is the silver Mio from 2001. This was a slightly redesigned Fuji Mini Checki that used Polaroid 300 film which was Fuji Instax Mini film re-branded. Around 2009, they started generating a lot of fuss over a revolutionary new instant camera, showing prototypes paired with ideas. Instead, they just branded Fuji Instax Mini cameras in all colors and called them Polaroid!
The five other cameras, however, have a closer tie to Polaroid. Though it is believed that the digital camera killed Polaroid instant( I happen to believe it is shortsightedness and mismanagement ), Their powerful research arm(the legacy of Dr. Land) were pioneers in digital and digital imaging. Zink (zero ink) imaging material was born in Polaroid labs and perfected by Polaroid ex- employees. Using a very sophisticated color crystal layering system, they created a paper that when heated certain ways, produces much of the visible spectrum. The Zink based cameras print using a thermal head that functions similar to what old fax machines and receipt printers use. This allows the image to be collected digitally and printed digitally.
I have experimented with flame and with soldering irons, and some have even managed a crude form of emulsion lift with this paper. Though it is not an analog photography based paper, there are a lot of creative possibilities with it. Some have even had success printing on the old thermal receipts with it( I can't wait to try this!).
As you can see by my collection, they have come in all shapes and sizes. One of these is a Zink printer- you take a picture with your phone and push it via Bluetooth to the device. The two Z2300 cameras are camera and printer in one. You take pictures and choose which ones you want to print. They print on tiny 2x3 sticker Zink paper. The big, flat, square one is the Socialmatic. It is designed to look like the Instamatic logo( which interestingly enough was designed to look like a Polaroid camera). It is automatically tethered to the web, and can not only print out 2x3 images, but upload directly to your social network of choice.
This particular camera has been plagued with software and hardware problems. It remains one of my few “for display only” cameras, as it has an integral battery that failed( I got it really cheap!). It has a touch screen back with an OS that looks like Android and the front shows emoticons based on your mood. As the current trend on everything seems to be, these cameras get terrible customer support. People drop about 3-400 dollars on these Socialmatics and their complaints fall on deaf ears.
Despite all of this negativity, however- I do have a favorite! The Z340, a 2010 model, fits in your hand like a spectra, has a flip up LED, 14 mp, lots of fun capture options, creative filters, and most importantly- prints 3x4(much closer to original Polaroids). You can choose to print with the iconic white borders, but I have yet to do this successfully. The full bleed mode works best for me. This camera still feels like a camera in your hands. The only real improvement I can imagine, is they could pair it with a better lens/ sensor to go with it's great size and looks. It is quite clear that they just grafted on a cell phone camera, so the same limitations apply.
My collection of these is not comprehensive- there were some grey line stand alone printers that printed 3x4, and there are two new Polaroid Snap cameras out now, available in Walmart right next to the re-branded Fuji cameras.