I recently bought a Polaroid Land Camera 340 (manufactured between 1969 and 1971) from eBay. After resisting the temptation for many months to delve into instant photography, in fact I wasn’t at all interested in it and I didn’t really appreciate the potential of it. Listening to Michael on the Film Photography Podcast (FPP) go on and on about instant photography was driving me mad. However, after seeing many brilliant examples of great images from Polaroid Land Cameras I’ve changed my mind and now I’m hooked! I’ve even gone back and listened to previous episodes of FPP that I snoozed through!
This camera brings together the big three film companies – Fuji, being the last manufacturer of instant peel-apart film, Polaroid for the camera itself and Kodak(!) for…ummm… the AAA batteries; I wanted Kodak to be involved somehow!
The first step in getting the Land Camera up and running with readily available batteries is the battery conversion. It’s very well documented on the web so I won’t go into the details. I bought a AAA battery holder from RS. I soldered a wire between the -ve and +ve terminals of one of the compartments to short it so that only three batteries were required (the camera needs 4.5V). I wanted to make sure the camera was functioning before going to too much effort so I quickly snipped off the old battery terminals and did a quick and dirty connection between the new battery holder wires and the camera +ve (white) and -ve (black) wires. The picture below is the conversion in a nearly finished state.
I then tested the camera to make sure I could hear two clicks from the shutter mechanism. Covering the ‘electric eye’ on the front of the camera simulates this nicely as the camera thinks it’s extremely dark and so holds the shutter open.
When performing long exposures, you have to make sure to leave your finger on the shutter for the whole time otherwise the shutter will close prematurely.
After cocking the shutter and with my finger covering the ‘electric eye’ I pressed the shutter button and heard a click, then uncovered the ‘electric eye’ and heard another click – success! It seemed to work!
The next step is to brutally modify the battery compartment so that it will allow the new battery holder to fit. I had to remove a LOT more plastic than expected, which includes removing part of the battery holder plastic. It’s certainly a snug fit and it took quite a bit of trial and error to finally fit the holder in a way that allows the door to close. I’m left with a lot of jaggy and splintered plastic, but I have ordered some grinding stones that will fit on my drill to tidy things up a bit.
Ordering film – the FP-3000B does not seem to be readily available in the UK and where it’s available it’s pretty expensive at about £17. I found an eBay seller based in Hong Kong selling it for £9.90 (incl. postage). Delivery was within two weeks, but it’s certainly worth the wait for the reduction in price. I think I will stock up on a few more packs!
When searching for a Land Camera on eBay I used this very useful table to narrow down my search. I decided I definitely wanted a glass lens, either a metal or plastic body and the scene selector (which provides more aperture options). If I came across any with the single Zeiss finder at a reasonable price then this would be the top of the list. This narrowed my list to the following:
Metal Body, Zeiss finder: 250, 350, 360, 450
Metal Body: 100, 240, 355, 455
Plastic Body: 230, 340, 440
I watched a few auctions come and go, placed a few cautious bids and let them go when they went for too much. Then I found an auction for a 340 that included the portrait and close-up kits and also a self-timer!
I had a suspicion that I would want at least one of these kits at some point and getting hold of them can be quite tricky (and expensive) so finding a camera (the 340 – plastic body with glass lens and scene selector) with both kits included was a real bonus. I placed a last second bid (snipe) and won the auction! Now I have received the camera and tried out the various focus options I’m really, really pleased I have both the close-up and portrait kits; they are going to be invaluable.
The Polaroid Land Camera 340 Specs
Most of the information from Camera Wiki
- Separate rangefinder focus and parallax-corrected viewfinder
- Coupled rangefinder manual focus
- 10sec to 1/1200s shutter speeds
- 114mm f/8.8 3 element glass lens
- Aperture range f/8.8 to f/46
- Aperture priority automatic exposure using ‘electric eye’
- Exposure compensation using lighten/darken dial
- 100/660 Series Film, 3.25″ x 4.25″ negative/print size
- Mechanical development timer (not needed these days as Fuji film is self-terminating)
- Plastic body
- 4.5V battery
I opened the manual and here’s what I was presented with:
So I heeded the warning and read the manual! :-/
Using the camera is pretty easy, although a little daunting at first when it’s all new. After removing a new film pack from the wrapper, it’s a simple case of opening the back of the camera and clunking it into place making sure the tabs are not going to get trapped. Before inserting a new pack it is also recommended to clean the rollers – there is plenty of information about all of this on the web. Once the film is loaded and the back is closed it’s time to pull the dark slide out of the camera. It’s important to do this with care and hope it doesn’t tear! My first attempt was successful and fairly non-eventful!
After firing the shutter it’s time to pull the white tab (again with care). This pulls through the next tab, whilst simultaneously presenting another tab to allow you to pull the sheet through the rollers and out of the camera. Pulling the sheet through the rollers bursts a chemical store and spreads it across the negative and print to develop it. It’s important to do this fairly quickly and evenly – no stopping part way through otherwise you can end up with an uneven spread of chemicals and marks on the resulting image (I believe). Once the sheet is out of the camera you have to wait for the time as printed on the sheet, this varies according to the ambient temperature. Fortunately Fuji film is self-terminating, which means it doesn’t matter if you leave it a bit longer than stated. They do recommend peeling it before 8 minutes have passed to ensure the chemicals don’t start to dry and damage the print. I like to wait about 90 seconds or so to be sure; then the really fun bit – peeling the print from the negative and seeing the result!
The following table from Option8’s Instant Options site shows the approximate apertures at various film speed and scene selection settings:
My second attempt at using the portrait kit indoors I consulted this table and concluded that there was no way I’d get enough light to hand hold the camera at f/46 – the shutter was going to take about 1/2s. So I ignored the advice that’s written on the kit (always stop down to the ‘bright sun’ setting) and stuck with f8.8 and took a shot of the Yashica Mat… hmmm, the depth of field was a wee bit shallow and I ended up with a mainly out of focus print. Silly me, I’ve learned the hard way! You can see the result later in this post.
Some more pictures of the camera:
On to the results, my first four prints! I really enjoy the whole process, it’s so tactile and exciting; it really brings back the magic of photography having a print in your hands within a minute of capturing it. There is a bit of a learning curve to get the most out of the camera and film and I feel like I’ve already learned so much from just four prints.
For the first test shot I decided to move the scene selector to ‘indoors’ even though I was going to shoot outdoors because it was starting to get a little dull. I had no idea how accurate the ‘electric eye’ was going to be and so I dialled in 1 notch lighten exposure compensation just in case. I spent ages messing around focusing and framing the shot that Abi got a little restless – just as I triggered the shutter she moved her head downwards. I think the capture looks OK, but her head is probably a little soft.
The next shot was indoors with only a bare lightbulb as a light source – ugly light! I used the portrait kit on this one and the DOF seems sufficient. I obviously left the scene selector to ‘indoors’ but foolishly moved the exposure compensation to normal. With Josh lying on white sheets I should have moved the compensation to lighten by at least a couple of notches. The resulting print was a little dark and muddy. The shadow cast on Josh’s face by his hand is also annoying; I was too busy thinking about the many other factors involved in instant photography that I lost sight of the basics (like the quality of light)
Here’s the print of the Yashica Mat where I decided to leave the scene selector set to ‘indoors’ f/8.8 when using the portrait kit. Despite focusing on the ‘h’ of ‘Yashica’ the accuracy and DOF was not sufficient to give me a sharp print. Exposure compensation was set to 1 notch lighten.
The last print is one of Abi in front of our house. The sun had gone behind the clouds and it was looking pretty good, but unfortunately I took too long again (messing around focusing and over thinking the whole thing) that the sun came out bright again on Abi. Coupled with 1 notch of lighten and Abi was pretty overexposed.
Lots of lessons learned! A cool thing about FP-3000B is that it produces a negative as well as the print. Scanning the negative looks like the image below…
Then in Photoshop you can invert the image and tweak the levels and curves to give the following result.
Here are all the scanned negatives, inverted, tweaked and cropped. They are a bit grubby (from dried up chemicals I suspect), does anyone know if it’s possible to clean them up – please leave a comment if you have any advice! Scanning the negatives gives a slightly sharper and lower contrast image so it can be really worth doing, especially if there’s a way to clean them.
More B&W prints to come, then I’ll give the FP-100C colour film a try!