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!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mamiya Universal Press and Polaroid 600SE CB-70 back update- Shooting on the cheap with i-Type film!

Versatility is important to me. I think that may stem from a past of scarcity. I live in Appalachia in the poorest county of Ohio, so that may play a part. Growing up Generation X, the first generation that could not count on getting a career, but rather stringing together jobs over a lifetime, could contribute to my values. Being an artist in a country that only celebrates millionaire artists may play a role in my feelings of lack.

But I like to think that my attitude comes from all of those campy post-apocalyptic 80s movies that the cold war brought us. Huddling in the bunker after the blast with my trusty Polaroid 600SE, I have to seek new and innovative means to shoot the varied and dwindling supply of a lost era. I will create adapters, backs, lenses, etc. to continue recording my passage through this life. I will use expired film, and process with coffee and vitamin c. I will combine various parts to create a working object. I will create hacks and shortcuts, some clever, many silly.

This is one of those hacks. Though I have created adapters that allow you to connect your CB-70 back to the Mamiya Universal Press and Polaroid 600SE in both horizontal and vertical orientation ( ), this hack will work with all CB-70 film backs.

In a world of scarcity, Polaroid Originals provides the film for the 600 cameras, the SX-70 cameras, and i-Type cameras. If you have a fresh 600 film or fresh SX-70 film, you can process them through the CB-70 back. If you wish to use i-Type film or film with a dead battery, there is an easy and cheap fix to add to your camera bag that will allow you to process with your CB-70 back as well!

6-8 volts can drive your CB-70 motor. There just happens to be an electrical socket on the backside of your CB-70. It runs on dc, so a two cr123 battery holder with the batteries arranged in series( in a line with one positive touching the other negative) will work to supply all your power needs. You will have to find a power plug of the correct dimensions. An easy way to find one is to just take the back to a thrift store and try all of them out. Remember, it doesn’t matter the power of the brick or the polarity of the plug at this stage. You will be using the wire and the plug, not the transformer. The dimension of the exterior of the adapter I used is 5mm, with the inner diameter of 2.1- 2.5(sorry I cannot be more specific!).

Once you have found your power plug, wire the positive to the exterior of the plug and the negative to the interior of the plug. This is the opposite of most power plugs, so be careful not to do the industry standard. Now test it. Get an i-type cartridge with a couple of old shots in it, or tape over the power connector on an old expired cartridge with a couple of shots left. Remember to always tape over the power contacts on the bottom of old film cartridges if you intend to use the cr123s instead. The contacts, even if dead, can create a drain in the circuit. Plug it in, and quickly press the green eject button. If you don’t hear and see an ejected picture, you may have it miswired. If no film came out, quickly unplug it and check your connections.

Now attach the battery holder to your CB-70 any way you like. I am going to attack mine with velcro and toss the holder into my camera bag! You are now ready for the apocalypse!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Getting that freshly Photo-shopped look, or making a twelve dollar “Polaroid Lab” for your SLR 680 or SX-70 instant camera.

When I make art I often look for the path of most resistance. It is not intentional, it is just part of my process that emerges consistently. For example- the idea starts simply enough: Paintings generated from photographic images of homes in my community. Then it becomes more complicated. Paintings generated from photographic images of abandoned homes in my community. Then, paintings generated from photographic images of abandoned homes in my community at night. And, paintings generated from photographic images of abandoned homes in remote areas of my community at night with little natural or artificial light. At this point I find myself standing in the dark, cold, abandoned streets freezing from shooting five-minute exposures all night and explaining to the police that I have done nothing illegal. Did I mention that my canvases were six by six foot? I can never do things the easy way.

One of my projects involved me taking a digital image and manipulating it only to record it on instant film. The project called the Dollhouse series needed the intimacy of a Polaroid format combined with the perceived legitimacy of the medium( a photo never lies!). This would be a breeze if I could use an Impossible Instant Lab or even the new Polaroid Lab, but I did not have the additional 200 plus dollars nor the requisite I-Phone(not to mention, I hate the idea of tethering the lab to another product-the cell phone- that has a fairly short usable life). I have a lot of old Polaroid oscilloscope cameras, and one of these would be perfect, except I really wanted to try the idea on the iconic SX-70 border and not the Fuji pack film style.

I set about looking for a solution, and this is what I came up with: the Kalimar copy stand. I hacked the Kalimar copy stand (generally found as new old stock on eBay) with a Dremel tool, pliers, and adhesive-backed craft foam. The end result is a stand that you slip into place on the front of your SLR-680 or SX-70. The camera balances squarely on the stand with the SLR 680, which you set directly on a tablet, or possibly a phone. With the flash turned off and using a shutter release cable, you focus the camera and take the shot! The stand comes with the enlarging copy lens built-in, but you will likely need filters to avoid the strong blue cast caused by an LED screen. I taped on a strong yellow filter and that did the trick.

So how did I do the mod? It was quite easy. Describing it is harder. Since I already had the camera and cable release, the whole project set me back 12 dollars! I started with the Kalimar Kali- Copier for the Polaroid ColorPack II camera. There are other Kali Copiers, but this one lines up perfectly with the lens and sensor on the camera.
When I did this originally, I spent a lot of hours cutting and measuring stuff, but if you print my simple template you will save time. 

Once you have cut the template out of light card-stock or an index card, lay it across the camera side of the stand, folding the sides to follow the metal tabs on the stand. Using a silver or colored sharpie, trace the template. Remove the lens from the stand and set it aside.

Now take your Dremel style tool and a good metal cutting blade and cut away the excess metal. This is the fun part- lots of bright sparks showering to the side of your work! Tip: when I traced with a silver sharpie it gave me a fat line. In order to be accurate, I cut away all of the silver right up to the black. Be careful to wear safety glasses, and support both the stand and your Dremel firmly. I adjusted my rpm to only 3000 and took my time.

Please take note from the photos that I did some cutting that was not on the template. Parts of the lens housing have to be cut back, as well. Be careful to only cut away what I have shown. Any more could weaken the stand. Follow the Dremel work with filing all of the raw edges that you created.

Now take your template and trace it onto a piece of adhesive-backed craft foam. This can typically be found in the children’s section of a craft store. I chose black, but you can do it in any color. The purpose of the foam is to protect your camera from scratches( I learned this the hard way!). Put the craft foam in place, covering every part of the stand’s camera cradle with the foam.

The final steps to building the stand require bending. This metal is not quite light enough to bend easily with your fingers, so I suggest using needle-nose pliers. Study my photos showing the slight bends outwards and up, and also hold your camera to the side of the stand. The hole should line up with the exposure window, and the cutout on the side should line up with the shutter release. Once I got everything bent and it slipped into place, I put an extra bit of bend at the top of the tab that didn’t have the cutout. This acts as a grip for the front of the camera. Once you have set it in the stand in its correct position, look at the shutter button and remove the foam that would press against it. Just cut out that small section so you don’t accidentally trigger the shutter button with the foam.

An area you may or may not decide to bend is the base of the stand. I chose to do it so it sits flatter. I pinched the part that allows you to slip pictures in to copy, as I wanted it to be flat and padded. I added craft foam to the surface so the screen I would be setting it on would be protected(I use my “instant lab” with a tablet), as well as to avoid touch screen activation with the metal.

Use is simple. Open the camera, turn off or remove the flash, mount the camera on the stand, plug in the remote shutter release cable, lift the camera and stand onto the tablet, then focus the shot.

This stand pictured here is my second one. I really think the template and instructions should make this a very easy project for anyone. There is one downside, though. You may get addicted to cutting things with a Dremel cutting wheel!