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

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
  • Chipboard/Thin
  • 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

Using Format