Shooting Instax on a Polaroid Big Shot

A big thank you to PetaPixel, EMULSIVE, and DIY Photography for publishing this article and Hackaday for covering it!

About the Camera

Released in 1971, the Polaroid Big Shot was a funky, green
plastic camera that was built for one thing: portraits. The plastic behemoth
is simply designed, using a fixed focus 200mm, single element plastic meniscus
lens. The grip has a stereoscopic rangefinder integrated in it, which makes
framing and achieving focus easy. Focal length is fixed at approximately three
feet, emphasizing the portrait centrality of this camera. The shutter speed is
a static 1/52 second, combined with an adjustable aperture of f56, f36 or f24.
A small aperture and rather slow shutter speed meant most “normally” lit photos
would be underexposed, especially indoors, so most photos would require the use of a flash. For the flash the Big Shot uses Magicubes, which are an explosive, four
use, disposable flash cube. There is a large Fresnel diffuser for the flash
that is built into the front of the camera, which softens shadows and makes the flash much less harsh. A favorite of Warhol, he used the camera to shoot dozens of
portraits, often using the resulting Polaroids as basis for his screen-printing
art.

The Film and The Problem 

The Big Shot consumes Type 100 Pack Film: a ten shot, peel
apart instant film produced by Polaroid from the early 1960s until the
mid-2000s. Fujifilm also produced a version called Fuji 100C, which was
discontinued in 2016. This discontinuation marked the death of pack film and
consequently, the cameras that used it. Prices of the now expired Fuji 100C are
incredibly high, often fetching over $100 for a single pack. There is an effort
by SuperSense, a small Austrian company, to produce and sell Type 100 film
called One Instant. Offered in color and black and white, this peel apart film
is priced at $50 for three single shot packs: a great product but still quite
costly. As mentioned earlier, the Big Shot uses disposable Magicubes for its
flash. New old stock Magicubes can easily be found on eBay for cheap, but a
reusable option would be preferred, as it’s likely to be less expensive. So, to
conclude, you can shoot expensive, expired Fuji 100c or new, similarly priced
One Instant in your Big Shot, both averaging over $10 per shot. And when using
a flash (most of the time shooting), new old stock Magicubes found on eBay,
garage sales, your grandparent’s closet, etc. will have to suffice, potentially
adding to the cost. This is all a little discouraging for someone who wants to
experiment with the Big Shot, rather than have it collect dust on a display
shelf. All hope is not lost, well, not for this at least.

An idea 

There are still many affordable and available instant films
being manufactured currently. One of these films, is Fuji Instax Wide, used in
Fuji’s popular Wide series cameras. It can be found for around $10 a pack
containing 10 shots, relatively cheap… and encouraging! Type 100 Pack Film has
a size of 108mm x 83mm, while Fuji Instax Wide is 108mm x 86mm. See what I see?
A measly three millimeters is all that’s stopping us from cramming our Instax Wide into the Big Shot! However, there are a few other things to consider before
we cram our Big Shot full of Instax. To start, film size just refers to the
dimensions of the piece of film; it includes the dimensions for the chem pack
and film border, not just the size of the exposure. Nor does this dimension include
the size of the plastic housing the film is held in. Moreover, Instax is 800
iso, much faster than typical Type 100 packfilm, which was commonly 100 iso.
Unfortunately, unlike Type 100 packfilm, Instax doesn’t produce a negative,
only a positive. There are plenty of other differences like color, chemistry,
etc. but those are inconsequential for our purposes. Regarding the
Magicubes/flash, various electronic flash conversions were sold at the same
time as Magicubes. These are just like any other basic camera flash; however,
their trigger is designed to fit a Magicube mount. One of these conversions is
called the Acme-Lite 138, which uses standard AA batteries, which are much
cheaper and easier to find than Magicubes. I purchased one on eBay for $15, but
there are many other models that accomplish the same thing, all which can be
found online for not very much money.

The Acme-Lite 138

The Acme-Lite 138 attached with gaffers tape

Potential Solutions and Design 

So, we’ve found a current, inexpensive, instant film and a reusable flash, now what? Can we just stuff a pack of Instax Wide in the back of the Big Shot and call it a day? Well, although a bit brutish, it does work. A pack of Instax with its plastic housing is just slightly larger than a pack of Type 100, so it won’t sit perfectly, making closing the back cover a challenge. I did manage to take a few photos using the following method: The Big Shot and Instax is brought into a darkroom or a darkroom bag. Removing the Instax from its protective baggie, the sheet of plastic in front of the first slide of film is then removed. The Instax is then loaded into the Big Shot, with the film facing the exposure area and centering it as much as possible. The rear door is closed, but it requires a bit of force, since the Instax pack is a bit larger than Type 100. Once closed and removed from the darkroom/darkroom bag the Big Shot is ready to take a photo! After the photo is taken, the Big Shot is brought back into the darkroom/darkroom bag to remove the Instax film pack. The Instax can now be loaded into any Fuji Wide instant camera. Once the Fuji Wide is loaded it can be removed from the darkroom/darkroom bag, the lens covered, and then a photo is taken. Covering the lens makes sure the film will not be re-exposed, but it does send it through the rollers of the camera, bursting the chem pack, thus developing the shot. This sounds like a long process, but I was able to transfer film between the Big Shot and Fuji Wide in under a minute. The results I obtained using this method were good, however I noticed a black bar on the top of the photos. This is from the film not being lined up exactly with the exposure area. Although this method works, if I continued to do this, likely the rear hinge on the rear door of the Big Shot would break from the stress of the larger Instax pack pushing on it. Also, I couldn’t remedy the black bar caused by the Instax film not being perfectly lined up with the exposure area. 

Loading the film

Developing the film

Building the Film Mount 

Because of these issues listed previously, I thought shooting a single piece of Instax film instead of placing the entire pack of Instax into the Big Shot would work much better. However, if a single piece of Instax film is placed in the exposure area, it’s bound to move and fall out of place, as there is nothing holding it. What’s needed is a film holder, so let’s make one.

Tools and Supplies

  • Printed Film Holder
    Template 
  • Chipboard/Thin
    Cardboard
  • Scissors/Exacto Knife 
  • Glue/Glue Stick 
  • (Optional) Black Permanent Marker

The film holder is rather simple, and it can be made from a variety of materials. I used black chipboard that’s approximately 1/16” (1.5mm) thick but any thin cardboard with a similar thickness will do (think cereal box). The template provided can be printed on standard 8.5 x 11 paper, pasted/attached to the cardboard, then the pieces cut out and glued accordingly. When printing out the template, make sure to print with no margins, so the dimensions are accurate. The black permanent marker can be used to color the cardboard/film holder black so it absorbs light, not necessary but it may improve results.

Print with no margins

Using the Film Holder

So, we’ve made our film holder, now to use it! Forgive me to those who thought this would be as simple as loading, shooting and voila, a nice instant photo. The process is much more of, well, a process and unfortunately requires a few more steps than the previous method but is very similar, so apologies for the restatements. Like before, the Big Shot, Fuji Wide, Instax, and film holder is brought into a darkroom or a darkroom bag. If using a new pack of Instax, it is removed from its protective baggie, the sheet of plastic in front of the first slide of film is then removed and a slide of film is then withdrawn. Although tricky, withdrawing the film by gently pressing on it with both thumbs and sliding it up and out of the slot at the top seems to be the best method (make sure your hands are clean!). The piece of film is then placed in the film holder, making sure the exposure is facing out. The holder is then placed into the Big Shot and then closed. The pack of Instax can be loaded in the Fuji Wide for safe keeping, as to not expose the film. Once closed and removed from the darkroom/darkroom bag the Big Shot is ready to take a photo. After the photo is taken, the Big Shot is brought back into the darkroom/darkroom bag to remove the film holder. The film is then removed from the film holder and slid back into the original pack of Instax, making sure the chem pack is facing up. The Instax can now be loaded into any Fuji Wide instant camera. Once the Fuji Wide is loaded it can be removed from the darkroom/darkroom bag, the lens covered, and then a photo is taken. Phew! As I said a lot of repetition and many a step. However, the included images should hopefully illustrate this better than my word salad can.

Unloading a slide of film

Loading the film in the film holder

Unloading the film in the film holder

Reloading the film

Developing the film

Tips For Shooting

The use of a dedicated light meter or meter app is handy
when shooting with the Big Shot, although you don’t have much control. As
stated previously, Instax is 800 iso, the camera’s shutter speed is a fixed
1/52 second, and the aperture is only adjustable to f56, f36 or f24. When
shooting indoors, a flash is almost always necessary. Daylight shots with no
flash are certainly possible, and I’ve included some below. Speaking of flash,
since the Acmelite is much larger than a Magicube, I had to adhere it to the
camera using gaffers’ tape, not elegant, but very functional. 

Finale (finally…)

I’ve included some photos taken using both “techniques”
described. Although a little involved, once you’ve got the hang of it, the
process isn’t too bad, and the results are quite unique, especially for instant
photography. I’m sure this process can be applied to other cameras that use
Type 100, although I haven’t tried it on anything other than the Big Shot. Hopefully
this encourages some out there to experiment with these methods and get some
interesting photos on a Big Shot or other “obsolete” cameras.

Using Film Holder and Acme-Lite 138 (No Black Bars)

Nosferatu was a fantastic model

The camera loves him

No Film Holder and Magicubes (Visible Black Bars)

I look worse than Nosferatu

I still look worse than Nosferatu

Daylight Shot and No Film Holder (Semi-Visible Black Bars)

Portrait shot with no flash outside

Another portrait shot with no flash outside


Isco Lens Conversion

The behemoth

Huge thanks to PetaPixel and DIY Photography for publishing this article, and Hackaday for covering it!

Browsing through an antiques shop, I stumbled upon a Kodak slide projector with a very peculiar attachment: a large lens. This particular lens caught my eye as it was an absolute behemoth. It was heavy and had “ISCO GERMANY” engraved into it.

After seeing the price of only $10, I had no choice but to bring it home with me. My intentions were realized but not well thought out; remove the lens and convert it to fit on my DSLR. After poking and prodding the projector, I assumed the lens was removable and went at it with a screwdriver. Thankfully this assumption was right, and it was removed easily. The lens is nearly a foot long, the front glass has a diameter of four inches and it is HEAVY. The aperture is fixed at f3.5 and the focal range is an adjustable 300-400mm. After a quick clean of the glass, I began to think “how the hell am I going to attach this thing to my camera?”.

With the lens now removed, cleaned and still the same gargantuan hunk of glass and metal it was beforehand, it was time to see if it could even work on a modern DSLR. The rear diameter of the lens and element looked similar in size to that of my Helios 44/2, which uses an M42 mount. The Helios 44/2 is a vintage Soviet lens and M42 is a lens screw mount that was common on older film SLRs, and it is easily adapted to most modern DSLRs. Measuring and comparing the rear elements and lens diameters with calipers confirmed that they were nearly identical to each other. Fueled by curiosity, I removed the M42 to EOS adapter from Helios lens and attempted to attach it to the rear of the Isco lens with tape, which didn’t work (surprise, surprise). I don’t give up very easily (yes, I do) so I decided to keep going.

Screwing just the M42 adapter into my DSLR allowed me to use live mode with no lens attached. With the camera now in live mode I held the Isco lens about an inch or so in front of the hole where a lens should be attached. To my surprise, I could see, and I could vary the focus by changing the distance between the lens and the camera. It was crude, unsafe, and dumb but it worked! Now I needed to design an adapter that would be a little less crude than this setup.

Hand held, no adapter

Hand held, no adapter

Hand held, no adapter

My initial design was a simple barrel focusing system, so I began by modeling a few tubes in CAD; easy, right? The first tube was 40mm long, and the inner diameter was only a hair larger than the rear outer diameter of the lens barrel. This allowed the tube to be pressed over the rear of the lens, about a 8mm down, and held in place via friction. With what I’ll call the male side complete, I began work on its female counterpart. Fortunately, it was just another tube with an inner diameter slightly larger than the male tubes outer diameter, allowing it to slide freely when inserted. I also added an base to the bottom outer diameter, which would allow me to glue an M42 to EOS adapter to it, so it could be mounted to the camera. I exported the models and 3D printed them in black PLA. After a bit of sanding and cleanup, I glued the M42 adapter to the outer female base, pressed the male side of the adapter over the rear of the lens, and then slid over the female side of the adapter. To my surprise everything fit well and worked! Focus was obtained by sliding the lens further or closer to the camera, like using a handheld telescope. The focal range was correct for just a guess, and I was able to take plenty of interesting photos with it. However, the it was difficult to obtain accurate focus as it was tedious to use. Moving a heavy, awkward shaped lens *just* the right amount to get an image in focus was difficult, as I found I would pull the lens too far out of the barrel or push too far inward. This led me to relying on moving myself rather than the lens to get images in focus. I also had a fear that the glue at the base and the M42 adapter would fail and sheer the lens from the camera.

Female adapter

Male adapter

Taken with the barrel adapter

To solve these problems, I adopted a heliocoid design for the focusing barrel and integrated the EOS mount, so there was no need to glue one on. Heliocoid focusing barrels make use of a simple spiral or thread to guide the lens in the barrel. This threaded barrel allows you to screw or unscrew to bring the lens closer or further away from the camera’s sensor to focus the image. The updated heliocoid design was a simple one, sticking with the initial barrel adapter premise, I just added some threads, and changed a few dimensions. The female end of the adapter was extended, totaling 48mm, and I incorporated a receiving thread to the inner diameter. The receiving thread is 1.5mm wide and deep, essentially a half circle, with a pitch of 40mm. Since the pitch was so great, I was able to add another thread of same dimensions directly across, forming something similar to a double helix, for more stable threading. I then modeled an EOS adapter where the outer base was in the previous design, so there was no need to glue one on. The male end of the adapter was also extended, and I added threads to the outer diameter of the barrel. The threads were made 1mm wide and deep for clearance, with the same pitch of 40mm. The overall length of the barrel is 50mm, however I only modeled threads on the first 10mm. This allows the adapter to be screwed fully in and able to travel the entire focal range without the threaded male section exiting the barrel.  I was able to add a “stop” to the end of the female barrel, so the lens could not be unscrewed so much that it would fall out. This stop was a simple ring the same inner and outer diameter of the female barrel that had no threads on the inner diameter. Once the male end was threaded in, the stop was glued in place. 

Male adapter

Female adapter

Stop

Phew, that was a lot. However, after exporting the files from CAD, printing in the same black PLA and assembling everything together, the results were in! It worked better than the initial design. It’s much easier to focus and there’s no fear of the adapter breaking; plus, it’s a little more “refined” looking. All in all, this was a fun project to follow through and I can’t wait to take more photos with this setup.

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