I thought it may be fun to write a blog post about one of my favorite cameras in my collection, the Polaroid Land Camera Automatic 100. This camera is actually quite fun to use and also a little challenging. A friend of mine gave me this camera and after a little modification I was able to get it to work like it was nearly new. If you are a "Mad Men" fan, you may have seen this camera used in one of the series episodes.
Polaroid first started manufacturing the Land Camera Automatic 100 in 1963 and discontinued it in 1966, replacing it with the 240 and 250. One of the things that makes this camera pretty interesting is the fact that it was the first mass produced camera to include an electronic shutter. This camera is also the very first camera that Polaroid manufactured that uses pack film; one of the very things that later made Polaroid cameras so popular.
This camera is considered "Automatic" because when you press the shutter button it meters the light and then selects the correct shutter speed (10 sec. - 1/1200 sec.) dependent on the aperture that is being used. This is very similar to the Aperture Priority mode that is popular on most of todays modern cameras. The lens is 114mm, contains 3 glass elements, and its widest aperture is f 8.8. Aperture selection on this camera is very limited and only has two selections you can make. The first aperture setting is stopped down for shooting outdoors with black and white film or bright Sun light for color film. The second aperture setting is wide open (f 8.8) for indoor black and white photos and dull cloudy day shots with color film.
Now, I'm sure that many of you have heard that Polaroid has stopped manufacturing film, and your right. Fortunately, Fuji Film is still manufacturing pack film that can be used with most models of Land Cameras and its readily available and affordable. The film size is 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches and comes in ISO 100 Color (FP-100C) and ISO 3000 Black and White (FP-3000B). What makes things get a little tricky is this camera has ISO settings for 75, 150, and 3000 speed film. So, what do you do when your using ISO 100 film? I discovered after a little experimentation that you get the best results by setting the camera to ISO 75 when using ISO 100 film, without any changes this will slightly overexpose the film. To counter this, you can use the exposure compensation on the camera by turning the the front of the lens to get your photo to the desired brightness/darkness. The exposure compensation allows you to adjust the exposure by -1 / +2 stops.
The Automatic 100 has two different viewfinders, both of which are on the same assembly that swings up and latches into position. The smaller circular one is used to focus the shot and acts like a rangefinder. Basically when looking through it you will see two ghosted views of your shot and you adjust the focus bar (that moves the bellows forward and back) to get the two ghosted views to line up and appear as one. Once you have done this, you have properly focused the shot. The second rectangular viewfinder is then used to compose your photo right before you press the shutter button. I found out the hard way that the viewfinder is very difficult to reassemble once taken apart. There was a little dirt in the viewfinder of my camera, so I took the assembly apart to clean it, then spent well over an hour trying to get it back together.
One of the things that make this camera a little challenging (and fun) to use is determining how long to allow the film to develop before peeling it off its backing and thus stopping the development process. The development timing varies dependent on the temperature, if you peel it too soon the film is underdeveloped (blacks areas are not really black, and white areas are too light), peel it too late and it becomes a bit overdeveloped (the entire photo appears to be too dark). I've read that the newest FP-3000B black and white film now self terminates its development, I guess I'll find out when I get a few new packs and try it out.
Overall this is a pretty fun camera to use, and you get to see your results right away (almost like digital). One of my favorite things about using this camera is the fact that I usually get to meet new people while using it, because often they will notice how old or different looking it is and stop to ask questions.