My Precious

Polaroid Packfilm Party

Polaroid Land 350 by Polaroid
Polaroid Land 350
Johnny is a Drawer
Jessie Polaroidness
Petey plays Wii
Johnny still Draws

My roommate and I have been browsing thrift shops for almost 2 years now, and I've developed a mild obsession with Polaroid Land cameras. I don't buy them all, I'm just trying to figure out a way to convert them to support 120 or medium format film, which is a pretty backwards thing to want to do.

In any case, I hit up a church mission store in a town near here, and the owner, a nice older gentleman, showed me two cameras. One was a really great Kodak 110 kit, complete with flash and winder and bulbs, but not very appealing in my case.

The other was a nice Polaroid, with bellows and a rangefinder, and in excellent shape with an owner's manual. I told the man about my project, and he reduced the price for me from $6.99 to $5.00 without hesitation. I took it home and began to surf the web, finding out how the film worked and what the process was like.

As it turns out, it uses Packfilm, which is still available today. Since I work at a camera shop, I bought the only pack we had, and threw it in, and followed the directions. After having played with an SX-70 and other 600 cameras, the decision had been made: there was no turning back. The pictures were clearer, crisper, better saturated, and well exposed.

Why the love: The 350 did a few things the other models did not. The viewfinder is a Zeiss Ikon rangefinder that connects directly to the bellows, so your focus is spot-on. The camera comes with an auto-exposure system, so it will determine for you the best times for your framing. They built the shutter and exposure section thinking forward: ISO speeds might not be accurate anymore, but it supports 75, 150, 300 and 3000. Also included on this model and seldom found on other Polaroids natively: a tripod mount!

I don't know what the biggest draw to the camera is, really. It's just a gorgeous model, and the shooting process is terrific. Everything is numbered for you, so you can't forget the process:

1) Set your focus using both hands and the viewfinder

2) Snap your photo

3) Reset your shutter (it's like a trigger)

4) Pull out the exposure and wait.

There's a timer on the back that helps you know when your photo is ready, based on suggested development times. Like the common "shake-it" 600 instant Polaroids, this image develops while you wait, but you have to pull two pieces of the paper apart to see your image. If you peel early, you underdevelop, too late and you overdevelop. The other terrific part is that you will probably get development goop on your fingers, so keep a napkin or towel handy, and definitely wash your hands when you're done.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Polaroid Packfilm can also be manipulated physically, by doing exposure transfers before the print is fully developed, or emulsion lifts, where you boil the print and pull off the emulsion, placing it onto whatever your heart desires. Other artist use pressure to manipulate the images, and other options abound.

All else I can say is that having this camera has been a treat, and I expect to keep it in the collection so long as they produce film for it (and they do so far!). Average cost for a 10 exposure pack is between $9 and $15, depending on the film type, and the cameras can be found online starting at $12. One tip, if you're inclined: these cameras used specially shaped batteries that seem to be uncommon. The 340 model uses one, and the 350 used two, for the exposure section and the timer. I didn't want to spend the money on new batteries, so I stripped some wires and taped everything together to one set of tiered AA alkalines. So far so good, and the timer is pretty darn accurate.

This camera is a blast to use, beautiful, unique, and enthralling. Just like darkroom printing, it's exciting to see what's going to develop, to see how your picture rounds out. If you're into the uncommon, pursue packfilm models that are in clean condition with little or no battery corrosion, and you'll have something so many young people like me never knew existed and makes you great art to boot. Happy peeling!

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