Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Polapainful Repairs + 195 vs 180: Deathmatch!

Sometime last spring, I was shooting up north and suddenly the shutter on my Polaroid 195 wouldn't fire. I couldn't figure out why until I got home and noticed that the cable leading from the red button to the shutter had gotten pinched while when I closed the camera. So it would fire on occasion if I pressed down hard enough of the button. I recently decided it was time to fix the stupid thing.
The cable is made up of a couple basic parts. There is the outside coil and an inner wire that pushes through to fire the shutter. First I tried to straighten the coil out by bending it back into some semblance of straight. All I managed to do was crimp the hell out of the thing and make it worse. So much worse, in fact, that the wire wouldn't push through the coil at all. The only way to fix it at this point was to replace it.
Sorry about the half-ass pictures through this, but this was really one of the bigger pain-in-the-butt things I've done with a camera. I was very annoyed through most of the process. I just wanted to get it over with without injuring myself anymore than necessary (I have a huge blood blister on one finger from the pliers and managed to stab myself in the thumb a few times with the shutter wire). All in all, this was about a three-hour project.
Here is the crimped cable after cutting it off of the camera.

That was the easiest part...clipping the wire. Nothing else was easy. I had to remove the original cable from the 195. This is the end of it after I got it out.

The brass end is the part that is stuck in the camera body. Now, I first tested the removal of this part on my 102 that I use as a pinhole camera, because I knew I didn't need it. I just used a screwdriver on the top and wedged it under and it popped right out. Easy! Moved on to the 195. Not easy. Really, really hard to get out. I basically had to pound it out with a hammer and then snap it so I could pull it out. I ruined the silver metal ring that surrounds it, but I had the ring from the 102, so that was okay (you will see all of this when I start putting the 195 back together).
For the new cable, I found a Countdown 90 on eBay for cheap. I wanted this camera because the body was plastic. I just ripped off the top and crushed the plastic around the brass until I had my usable cable remaining.

Not much left on the top of that camera. But I think I payed $7 for the Countdown. Okay, so I have my outer coil and my new wire...time to put it back together. This was the easiest part.

The silver ring goes first (this is what holds the red button), then the coil goes through. That brass part on the top actually holds one of the front focusing brackets, so it has to be secure. I just took a screwdriver and hammer and tapped it into place until it was all the way in and tight. Then you feed the wire in through the top. the wire is attached to the red button and has a spring under it to provide resistance. When you push the button to fire the shutter, you want it to spring back, not stay pushed in.

Simple enough. Now it becomes a pain again (getting the camera apart was annoying...this part had me cussing). At the end you have this bare wire. This is the part that will attach to the front and fire the shutter.

Well, that wire alone isn't going to push anything. There is a little piece of brass I had to remove to get all of this apart that acts as a bumper for the firing mechanism. Getting this back on was...impossible.

It's blurry, but it's that little thing at the end. I had to tape the red button down so I would have enough wire to work with. This is seriously the hardest piece of metal ever. I could slide it over the end, but I couldn't get the metal to pinch the wire. I tried for at least 30 minutes. I squeezed it, I pounded it with a hammer. When I finally made a dent in the thing, I popped it off at the same time so it wouldn't fit back on the wire properly. So...screw all that. What I finally did was take a piece of the coil from the old cable and superglued it to the end, let it dry, then pinched that with pliers. It worked, fortunately. If it hadn't, I would have had to taken it somewhere and had a piece clipped on there.

Again, very blurry, but you can see it sitting at the end. This took care of all the really tough stuff. I've kind of breezed over all of this and it seems pretty simple, but it was all incredibly annoying. Everything is tiny and my tools are big (that's what she said). I'm over it now, but I was about ready to take my hammer to the whole thing. Ugh.
So now all I had to do was hook it back up on the front. I also superglued the thing that holds the cable to the bellows. The cable is held in place by a metal piece that is held in place by three of the tiniest screws ever. That's a lot of fun, as well, messing with tiny screws in an area that doesn't allow much room for a screwdriver. I have a set of small screwdrivers I got from a hobby store, but they are still a bit long and barely fit in the space available.

When putting this back together, you need to make sure the cable is advanced enough that the wire will reach the shutter release. This was the easiest part of the project, though. And, in the end, we have a working shutter cable once again.


All of the shutter cables on folding cameras work the same, but I wouldn't recommend this project unless you really love your camera, or it's expensive like the 195. This post feels like a rush job, but I barely wanted to screw around with taking pictures while dealing with this mess. Worked out well in the end, though.

I also got the Countdown 90 for another reason. I was curious about the electronic timer on the back.

I was hoping it used some kind of watch battery and that I could swap out the back with my 195. The 195 has a mechanical timer. The original was broken when I got the camera, and the replacement I got from another camera was also broken.

I'm not a big fan of the thing, mostly because it sticks out and digs into my belly when it's hanging from my neck. So I was hoping to stick a back with the electronic timer onto it. Well, the timer is powered by the same batteries that power the meter.

The 195 (and 180) actually has the same battery compartment, but it's empty.

So all of this would require a lot more work than I want to do. Rewiring and all kinds of stuff. Plus the Countdown is a different color and plastic, so that part would just look like crap.

I'll just have to find a cheap folder with a working mechanical timer someday. I don't even really use timers anymore, but it's the principal of the thing. It should work!
Okay, so why am I so concerned with getting my 195 in shape when I have my 180? I want to take my 195 to Japan! I did a few test prints to see what the difference between the 180 and 195 was. They are very similar, but they have different lenses. The 195 has a larger lens and the aperture is 3.8 to 64, while the 180 has a smaller lens and the aperture is 4.5 to 90. I don't think I've found any reason to use the f90 yet (that's very small), but it turns out there is a big difference at the low end. Using Fuji FP-3000B, I took the same shot in my living room in low light. First I set both cameras at the widest...3.8 for the 195 and 4.5 for the 180. I set the cameras at 30 for speed, which is pretty slow and allows time for some camera shake if you aren't steady. The difference is apparent...

Huge difference in exposure between the two. Next I set both at 60 for shutter speed...

So the 195 at 60 is about equal to the 180 at 30. This makes the 195 much more versatile in low light, which is something I want when I'm shooting in Tokyo. So what about a difference in quality? I've read that the 180 produces a sharper image than the 195. I tested that theory out and basically found the two cameras to be exactly the same in picture quality. I shot ID-UV, and used the same pack to prevent differences in film quality. Both cameras were set at f8 and 250. On top is the 195, then the 180, and then the Colorpack III (which auto-exposes), just for comparison.

And once more at infinity focusing, f16/60.

Again, no difference that I can see. If one ever has sharper images than the other, it may be from the different focusing systems. The 180 has the single-window Zeiss focus, where focus and framing is done through one viewfinder...

...while the 195 has the dual-window focus, where you focus and frame in separate finders.

I have no issues with one over the other, personally. The Zeiss does have a tendency to drift after awhile. The focus doesn't line up properly in the viewfinder. Mine is fine, but I noticed this while checking out some other cameras in a shop.
The one thing I do like about the 180 is the super-obvious EV system for setting exposure. I didn't get really good at this until I got the 180 (I don't use a light meter). Now I always know where to start and can make typically accurate adjustments on the fly.

The 195 has something similar, with some numbers painted red, but not nearly as user-friendly as the 180. I'll just have to make some notes before I go.

So, the Polaroid 195 and 180.

Which is better? Which should you buy? Can't really say. The 180 is an older camera than the 195, and the 195 tends to sell for more, though I payed the same for both (around $200-$250). Chances are a 195 you find will be in better shape than a 180. The mount around the lens of the 180 seems to be much softer and dents, which makes it tougher to get filters on the camera. But the 180 has the Zeiss finder, though you can get one from a cheaper Polaroid camera and replace the finder on the 195. I have no problem with focusing and framing in separate windows, though, so I just left it. The 180 has the nice EV system and the aperture squeezes down to f90, if you can find a use for that. The 195 has a wider aperture at 3.8, making it more versatile in low light. Other than that, though, there isn't really much else different about them. So it all comes down to personal preference, and what you are willing to pay. I'm keeping both of mine, so I have two manual cameras to use at the same time if I want. Hell, I like my cheap Colorpack III as much as these two (that's what I used to shoot the 195/180 shot). It's not always the equipment, it's what you do with it.
Anyway, this was WAAAAY longer than I was planning, and I'm super hungry. Seeya.


  1. Great post !
    Mine happened same thing and tooks me a while to find out until I saw the bloody cable... I'll try fixing, in the meantime I have selotape around the cable, looks crap but is working until I found a replacement cable... thanks !

  2. you can actually just remove the metal plate that holds the cable in place on the front and fire the shutter with your thumb (press up on the 'switch'). works fine and is easy to do, but it was the principle of the thing for me. some things are craptastic, others need to be 'whole'.

  3. It's weird that there's less than 2/3 of a stop's difference between f3.8 and f4.5, but it looks like there's more than a stop's difference in the 1/30 sec pictures.

    Have fun in Japan. How long are you going?

  4. i need a 195 but can't find one!! help :(

  5. ebay and patience are about the easiest options! they sell from $150 to $300 depending on condition.

  6. I need a replacement shutter release button and spring for my 195. Any suggestions? And is it fairly easy to replace it?

  7. any folder, they all use the same button and cable.