Beginner’s Guide to Polaroid: Part II (Peel-Apart Film) by Phil Shen
Phil is back with part two of this fantastic guide into the world of polaroid. Come and learn a bit more about peel apart film.
If you haven’t yet, make sure to read Part 1 (Integral) of this two-part beginner’s guide to Polaroid.
Peel-apart, or pack, film is actually a chronological step back from integral in the Polaroid film lineage. Using peel-apart film is a bit fussier than using integral — after pulling your picture from the camera and waiting for it to develop, you peel the paper off the print — but the format is absolutely worth it for the results you get. Sometimes integral film can be pegged as lo-fi, but with peel-apart film, you can get high-quality prints instantly. There’s still something magical about a print that’s produced through real-world light and chemical processes.
Type 100 film is the most popular peel-apart film still available: This is a film that measures 4.25 × 3.25 inches with a white border. As with integral film, Polaroid no longer makes peel-apart film, but Fujifilm manufactures their own more modern line. While I miss the color tones of some of Polaroid’s original films, like the 669 or the 690, the new Fuji films are much more forgiving with development time, and they’ll produce crisp results. You can even wait hours before peeling them without losing quality or colors shifting, which is especially nice if you’re on location and want to wait to peel all your film back at your dust-free studio.
The two films I recommend using are Fujifilm FP-100C for color and Fujifilm FP-3000B for black and white. The 3000B, with its 3000 ISO rating, is a great all-around film, even indoors in dim lighting without a flash.
Fujifilm FP-100C being peeled apart.
Fujifilm FP-3000B in low light
Any of the original Polaroid foldable Land Cameras are perfect entry-level cameras for peel-apart film; check out Martin Kuhn’s The Land List for a detailed list of cameras. Polaroid’s original Land Cameras — named after their inventor and Polaroid’s founder, Edwin Land — are compact, with a front case for protection, and they feature automatic exposures. In every sense, the Land Camera is a point-and-shoot camera.
As a photographer, Land Cameras totally excite me. Car aficionados must feel the same toward classic cars. Land Cameras look sexily vintage, and they have enough modern functions to stay usable today. Whenever I see one at a flea market, I gravitate towards it right away. Pull out one of these classics and you’ll almost certainly attract attention and questions from onlookers.
These old cameras are plentiful and affordable. I’ve gotten a few at the magical price of $1. Any Land Camera model is a great starter model, but if you want to be more discerning, look for a metal-bodied version 100, 250, 350, and 450. They’re better-built, with a glass lens and a convenient tripod socket.
Polaroid even made ultra-professional (and much more expensive) versions of their Land Cameras with full manual exposures. These are the crème de la crème of Land Cameras: the 180, 185, 190 and 195.
On the opposite spectrum, Polaroid also introduced non-foldable plastic pack film cameras. Some of the models are more convenient because they take AAA batteries, but there are ways around the original Land Cameras’ battery limitations that make their portability and higher quality worth it.
The original Polaroid Land Camera 100
Land Camera Battery Tips
Most Land Cameras have electronic shutters and metering, which means you need a battery. Most come with two battery voltages, either 3V or 4.5V. The Land Camera’s battery compartment indicates which voltage it takes.
If you don’t want to fiddle with your camera and want to start immediately, keep an eye out for 3V cameras. All you need to do is pick up a readily available CR123A 3V battery and a bunch of fresh asparagus or broccoli — those purple rubber bands are perfectly sized to keep the battery connectors tightly holding your CR123A battery (see below).
The 4.5V batteries can be purchased online as a PX19 battery. Or if you’re like me and want to be able to swap batteries more easily, follow these instructions from Instant Options to convert your camera to take AAA batteries.
To make sure your battery is working, use your finger to block the exposure meter window completely, cock the shutter, and then hold down the shutter without releasing it. One click when you hold down and another click a couple of seconds later means you’re good to go. If you hear two quick clicks, make sure your connection is snug.
Rubber band trick for 3V Polaroid Land Cameras
Where to cover to test your battery
Lots of other cameras, even non-Polaroid ones, use peel-apart film. In the past, photographers used peel-apart film to test exposures for medium-format cameras (old-school chimping). One of my favorite cameras for using peel-apart film — and not for test shots — is the Mamiya RB67.
You get medium-format’s depth of field with the satisfaction of instant film, and the results are beautiful. After seeing amazing peel-apart photographs online, I purchased a Mamiya RB67 with a Polaroid Land Camera Back Model 1 just to shoot peel-apart film. The RB67 shoots polaroids in a square format, so be aware that some Polaroid backs offset the image to one side. My preference is the back that requires a P adapter; this centers the square image on the rectangular film. The RB67 is a beast of a camera to tote around, but it’s worth it after seeing how much detail it captures, up close or far away. It really makes the film shine.
A word of caution, though: Don’t drop this camera on your foot!
Mamiya RB67 with Polaroid back
Both shot with a Mamiya RB67 Polaroid back with Fujifilm FP-100C film
Another peel-apart film favorite of mine is the cult Big Shot Polaroid camera. This was one of Andy Warhol’s favorite cameras, and many of his celebrity portraits were shot with this odd-looking contraption. It’s a one-trick camera meant to take tight portraits with a Magicube flash cube, but within these confines you can produce nearly endless results. Everyone who visits our home gets a shot with the Big Shot.
Polaroid Big Shot
Polaroid Big Shot with Fujifilm FP-100C film
Experimenting with Peel-Apart Film
Diving into manipulating peel-apart film opens a floodgate of techniques, from image transfers and emulsion lifts to bleached negatives, so I’ll leave you with one simple way to start experimenting with peel-apart film.
If you’re using Fujifilm FP-3000B, when you peel apart the negative, don’t throw it away. Let it dry for a few hours in a low-dust environment, and when it’s not a gooey mess anymore, scan it with a flatbed scanner. Use an imaging software like Photoshop to invert the image, and you’ll have a fun alternate look to your original black-and-white photo.
Too many cameras to list use peel-apart film. Because they’re so inexpensive and plentiful, the Polaroid Land Camera is a great starting camera, but lots of other cameras can create gorgeous results.
Whether you decide to stick to integral films or can’t get enough of peel-apart film, Polaroid cameras open up an entire alternate world of film photography. There’s way too much to quickly cover on this topic, but these basics can start you with an amazing genre of photography that I hope never disappears. Happy experimenting!
Along with his fiancée Kim, Phil Shen is a professional portrait and food photographer based in the Bay Area. He always makes sure to bring a Polaroid camera to every shoot.
Many thanks to Phil for sharing the article with us. It is a brilliant read for those who are curious about the world of Polaroid cameras and films.
Phil’s Website: http://kptwo.com
Edited by Spencer Foxworth: https://twitter.com/spencerfoxworth
Thanks for this excellent post.
A few months ago, I was photographed by a street vendor with a Mamiya Universal with a Polaroid back. The black and white FP3000 series print was outstanding. I have been hankering for one ever since.
I like the idea of the RB67; less lost film real estate than a Blad
You can get a nice big negative from the 100C too, just save the other half and wipe away the black backing with a mr clean magic eraser.
I recently shot a project for my school newspaper’s yearly art show using a Polaroid 320 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinschenk/6366298915/) that my dad found in his neighbour’s garbage and Fuji 3000b. Running around in -20 degree weather, trying to keep the camera/film warm so it can develop, and ducking into buildings to peel apart the film while avoiding spilling developer fluid all over myself was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had photographing. I don’t have the pictures online yet, but most of them came out well exposed. The film jammed at the end, so I lost one of the ten shots, but peel apart film is a lot cheaper than integral!
I highly recommend people to try it, especially if they can find a cheap camera.
It’s important to note that the Fuji film packs are plastic, as opposed to the original metal Polaroid packs. Because of this, the Fuji packs are slightly thicker, which makes for a tighter fit in the camera and often results in the dark slide simply ripping and the paper tabs pulling off of the first couple of photos. The simplest fix for this problem is to procure an original empty metal pack. Half the time they’re still inside the camera when you buy it. In a darkened or shaded room, like a bedroom or bathroom, pop the plastic cover off of a new film pack (make sure the dark slide stays in place to protect the film) and slide the metal top from the original Polaroid pack onto the new film pack. Now insert the pack into your camera. The dark slide and exposures should now easily pull out with only the proper amount of resistance.
Thanks for posting this. Can you give more details about which is the parts to get to get the Polaroid back to center on the RB67? Keep in mind, I don’t know anything about the RB67 or Medium Format cameras in general …
Thanks for these great intros to the format. I’ve shot a few dozen packs of these but in a crappy polaroid camera that leaks. This info has inspired me to choose a better camera for this film. Thanks!
I really hate you seriously – Because of your blog post I just ordered a 250 with a portrait lens kit and 6 packs of 3000b paper ^^
And I have a very bad feeling that my 5D3 will become covered in dust over the next 2 months :))))
Thanks for this post! Brings back warm memories…the Polaroid Land Camera is one of the first cameras I used when I was a little kid.
With the recent announcement that 3000b will be discontinued soon, would you still recommend getting into the older Land Cameras? I want one pretty bad, but it seems that soon the only option for Land Camera film will be via the impossible project, and their films are so expensive.
I was really sad to hear about the discontinuation of 3000B. It was one of my favorite films. I stocked up right away. Since Land Cameras are relatively affordable, I still think they are worth picking up. I take positives from the fact that there’s still Fuji FP-100C color film available to shoot with!
Hi Bellamy (or Phil),
I recently came into the possession of an absolutely lovely mint-condition Polaroid 360 Land from an estate sale but have been having so much trouble with the batteries. I tried the rubber band/CR123 hack which only worked intermittently and already cost me a pack of film when the meter kept dying at random moments. :( Do you happen to know of any place in Tokyo that does AAA battery conversions? After some Googling, I wrote to Osawa in Ebisu and Sweetroad (a Polaroid specialist in Kanagawa) and no one seems willing to do it. Sending it abroad to get the battery compartment swapped out would probably mean buying a whole new camera, and I’m very fond of this one! It’d be so great if you happened to know of anyone who could help. Cheers!
I have a Polaroid 360 camera and was wondering what you set the camera for when using Fuji’s FP100C film? It has an ASA of 100, but the camera’s setting is for 75. Do I have to adjust the darken and lighten control on the front of the camera?
You can find converters on Ebay like this one: (http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-AAA-Converter-w-Batteries-for-Polaroid-Cameras-100-101-102-230-240-250-340-/251871402714)
Maybe this can solve your problem
Does anyone know of a good method of storage while film is drying ?
Before Polaroid discontinued its pull-apart film I did a lot of Polaroid transfer artwork using the Vivitar slide printer. Can I use FUJIFILM FP-100C 3.25 X 4.25 Inches?
Oh wow, awesome! I’m so going to pay a visit to that local thrift store that had a perfect condition Polaroid Land camera on their camera shelf for €15 now (well tomorrow, as it’s only open in the weekend).
I didn’t realise that there was still film available for it! So thank you for this article!
And that’ll teach me to not look further than the current Polaroid stuff, because my Snap is in no way as exciting as the vintage models XD
Hi, Joshua! You can use the “Step5 Polaroid Print Holder”. Here is the website where you can buy it: https://squareup.com/market/photole-photography/step-print-holder
What are we going to do without the FP line of instant film? The last of the pack film is dead:(
Hello Bellamy. How did you manage to stretch the typical 56mm squared medium format dimension on the RB67 to 73mm which is the picture width of the FP-100C ? ( https://www.fujifilm.com/products/instant_photo/films/fp_100c/ )/