Polaroid Land Camera 100 Automatic

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I have reconditioned this Polaroid camera to use it on the 52 Rolls Project – I bought it just before the New Year, part of a successful mining of local thrift stores that turned up 5 cameras.  The Land Camera Automatic 100 was introduced by Polaroid in 1963 (produced until 1966) as the first fully automatic instant pack film camera; instant roll-film cameras had been produced by Polaroid starting in the 1940s but they seem to have had more of a commercial use (source and source).

All outward signs promised that this camera would work once I got some batteries into it, though it had not been modified to hold a modern battery. Indications of working order included it being loaded with film and coming with a spare pack (both are Fuji FP-100C, expired in October 2014), as well as having a set of three 1.5 volt watch-style batteries taped into it instead of an original 4.5 volt battery. The battery compartment and contacts were quite clean – they looked as if they had been cleaned up a bit after a minor battery leak in the past.

See below the jump for an illustrated description of the battery mod, and first test Polaroid photograph, for what the latter is worth.

Not only did it come with film, but it was still with the original case including a manual, warranty card and a quick guide (in French and English suggesting it was added for sale in Canada since the manual is in English only). The camera was $20, which is pretty steep by my usual standards for camera purchase. At the time I did not know if this was a fair price as I had not researched Polaroid cameras. However, I knew that the film is quite expensive and so decided that I was not going to lose too much if the camera was worthless. As it turns out, it is rated fairly highly in the Polaroid world and locally a film pack is $20 so I think that I got a pretty good deal.

Camera extended and all cleaned up.

The first task was to get some power to the camera to see if the shutter still fired. Testing the shutter beyond that simple criteria was not possible when it was loaded with film. This meant I had to modify the camera to hold modern batteries, as the ones that it was designed for are very hard to come by, and pricey. I opted for installing a AAA battery holder in the compartment – they are 1.5 volt batteries so you need to get three of them into the compartment. There are lots of examples on the internet of how to do this, but the most sensible one that I found suggested using a battery holder from a small cylindrical flashlight that accommodates 3 AAA and where the battery holder just slides out of the flashlight and fits nicely in the battery compartment. Most of the other descriptions are for holders that take 4 AAAs, are larger and thus need modification to complete the circuit in the unused battery slot, and to cut them down a bit, or worse to cut parts out of the camera battery compartment meaning it cannot be returned to original condition.  As it turned out, I had one of those flashlights in the house, loaded with fresh batteries and ready to go.  I taped the contacts from the camera compartment to the battery holder and tested the shutter by ear while covering the lens with my hand – it worked! The photo gallery at the bottom of this post has details on this pretty simple modification.

Next was to clean up the camera as it was quite grotty, especially around the film ejection slot, so I did what I could on the outside of the camera. Testing the camera then came down to taking a shot. The film is ISO 100 and the fastest aperture is f8.8 – unfortunately it is grey, rainy and really quite dark outside, even at noon which is far from ideal conditions for this kind of camera. However, as the camera has a shutter speed range from 10 seconds to 1/1200th second, the answer was a tripod. Estimating from the exposure of the DSLR shot below the Polaroid would have fired between 1/12th and 1/6th of a second, with my finger held on the shutter button providing vibration. There is no cable release attachment for these cameras, though there are commercially made work-arounds for about $30, or this kind of hack that I think I will try if I am to start using this camera.

Setting up the shot

Our front porch is partly roofed with glass facing south so it seemed the obvious spot in quite heavy rain. Sadly, for the first shot the shutter did not fire, which I only discovered by processing the film and finding it black. Inspection of the battery hack, which I had only applied thin strips of electrical tape to hold together, showed it had come apart and there was no longer contact being made. I don’t have a soldering iron, and did not want to borrow one to solder the holder in place until I had results to show it was all working – after all, if it wasn’t going to work, I could at least get the flashlight back and working. So, more tape and another try. And this time I got a photograph.

 

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The photograph is labelled #8, so I figure there are two more shots in the camera, and one other packet of film (10 shots). I don’t know if I will be able to use this camera for Roll 2 in the 52 rolls project since it is so dark at the moment, but with luck we will get a sunny break and I will be able to do some hand-held shots with it pretty soon. I think that the cost of film will generally limit how much I use it, but we will see. Once I post the results of using this camera at 52 Rolls I will link that post back to this one.

So, what else is needed with this camera? Not much I don’t think though possibly the rollers and parts inside the camera will need cleaning. Another task will be to recover the negative from the backing paper, a process that appears simple (or more complicated for the so inclined) though smelly as it involves applying bleach. I will give this a try, but not in time for this post – a future post perhaps.

EDIT: I have soldered the battery holder onto the leads and added photos into the gallery below. I tried to solder the old battery clips directly to the holder, but it would not take. Thus, I clipped off the old ends and soldered the wires instead. When installing the unit in the batter compartment I cut a strip of bubble wrap to put around the batteries so they were held firmly in the battery compartment. This should reduce stress on the soldered connections and the likelihood of something working loose.

 

Polaroids 2015-Jan-001

 

 Click on any image in the gallery below to view a larger version and navigate with the arrows.

Sources of useful information:

  • Good description of camera maintenance and battery mod here.
  • Useful illustrated listing of various Polaroid models, with specs for each one here.
  • A video showing how to do a good job on the battery modification, though using a holder for 4 AAA batteries here.
  • Beginners guide to using peel apart film here.

15 thoughts on “Polaroid Land Camera 100 Automatic

  1. Pingback: Polaroid Troubles | burnt embers

  2. Pingback: Two Polaroid Lessons Learned | burnt embers

  3. Pingback: Two Polaroid Lessons Learned | 52 rolls

  4. Hi, ehpem, long time no comment. Moved house – you know how that goes.

    Anywhoo – I am truly sorry; I had one of these cameras just before my move, and I sold it. I should have just sent it up to you. For some odd reason it never occurred to me. Bummer.

    Very glad you were able to make it work, and the images are extraordinarily better than the ones I’d taken with mine. The soft edges on things and muted tone is very nice; difficult to achieve this kind of look with a digital device.

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    • Hi Sam – no problem, but thanks for the thought. It would have cost me the same since I would have needed film, for $20! No postage this way. I hope someone that loves it will have it now and be putting it through the paces. They are pretty neat cameras, especially for something that is half a century old now.

      You should see my next photo – it will be on 52rolls.net pretty soon. Unmitigated disaster, well a mitigated disaster since I think I recovered something pretty interesting from my newbie mistakes.

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    • Hi Abigail, thanks for dropping by and commenting. This one was really very easy to fix and there is so much information on the internet about this model that I was not at a loss at all. However, some of the other cameras I own, and some of the problems they have, are completely beyond me. Either I don’t own the necessary tools (such as a spanner to dismantle lenses and to take off many kinds of nuts that hold body plates in place and so on). When I do get inside a camera, I often just back out, reluctant to make a mess. Some cameras also have very little information available on the internet, which makes it hard to learn what to do. I only scrape the surface of this stuff, if it is beyond me, I either shelve it and look for another working model, or if something special I might get it professionally done. For a camera that is otherwise kind of junk, then I am less shy about learning on it – no great loss if I make it worse.

      Good luck with your Agfa – you probably need to get into the lens, which means getting your hands on a spanner wrench (and other tools) of the right kind, and documenting everything you do very carefully as you go (video or lots of stills is a good idea) so you know how to put it back together! Read a lot about this kind of thing first, learn about things like shims for aligning the glass, in case you come across some that need to be put back exactly the same way, etc.

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  5. I worked in an “old time” camera shop back in the 60s and remember cleaning the stainless steel rollers when people complained of spots on their photos. The cameras were pretty nifty and easy to use but film was expensive. It took a commitment before making a photo unlike our digital cameras today.

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    • Hi John. I was a kid in the 60’s but remember seeing these cameras around. My dad was a scientist and used Polaroid a lot for microscopy. A year or so ago he gave me his SX-70 which I have not tried yet – it takes a different film system where the battery is in the cartridge. Without a cartridge with live battery there is no way of knowing if it still works. I don’t remember the SX-70 being used much though, and if there were shots taken, I have not seen them around – perhaps they have all faded away. I do have a dim memory of applying fixer on a little sponge to Polaroid prints, so I think I must have used one a few times, but I really don’t have any memory of where, when how old I was let alone what kind of camera it was. Perhaps it was helping in the lab, but more likely it was fooling around with some friends perhaps in my late teens.

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  6. I remember using a camera similar to this when I worked for the studio. Even then the film was expensive (shot for shot) compared to film. I loved the immediacy of it, though, and the prints were beautiful. I never owned one myself but I sure did miss it when I left.

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    • There are quite a few things I like about this camera – the size, the bellows, the simplicity, the point and shoot aspects combined with some pretty sophisticated technology, especially for its time. Only having taken one shot, I am not yet sure about the image quality, or perhaps the qualities of the image if you see the difference. It will be a lot of fun to give it a trial run.

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    • Hi Yvonne – there is a lot of satisfaction in getting a camera to work and then using it. And in the process I am sure I learn more about the camera and the way it works, or should work. I like to think that helps me take better pictures with the camera. There is also a particular satisfaction in finding a good deal and making it work. I just could not afford to buy old cameras if I bought them on-line or similar places,

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