Monday, May 04, 2009

The Polaroid Big Zip

So many projects, so little time. So, awhile ago I thought I talked about the Big Swinger 3000. Looking back, I guess I'm wrong. Or maybe it's part of another post. ANYWAY, so the Big Swinger 3000 was released in the late 1960s as a budget camera that only uses 3000-speed film, as the name implies. There is an earlier version called the Swinger Model 20 (sold from 1965 to 1970), which takes Type 20 roll film only. Also produced was the Swinger Sentinel (for Type 20) that shares the same body color as the Big Swinger. The Swinger 20s are the most useless Polaroid cameras, as Type 20 hasn't been made since 1970. Don't ever pay more than $5 for one of these, as I see tons of them on eBay selling for $20-$50. It isn't good for anything except taking apart (and I am, in fact, taking mine apart as I write this).

Often confused for its brother, the Big Swinger 3000 is the pack film version of the series, and it was only produced for three years (1968-1970) according to Land List. The stylings are similar, with its fixed-focus as well as its exposure system, which relies on a single shutter speed with a variable aperture. You squeeze the red knob (ouch!) and twist, looking through the viewfinder until you see the word YES in the checkered pattern. Simple and brilliant.

Using only (at the time) 3000-speed Type 107, the Big Swinger 3000 was a one-trick pony. A one-trick pony that takes amazing photos. This has become one of my favorite cameras. But, didn't I say it takes Type 107, which was discontinued in 1999 or so? Well, Type 667 is the successor, and Fuji FP-3000B works as well (which also happens to be Fuji's cheapest instant pack film). Check out a couple shots with Type 107...

And with Type 667...

And with Fuji FP-3000B...

The camera has this fantastic low-grade lens that vignettes and warps along the edges. I love this cheap chunk o' plastic so much I dragged it all the way to Japan with me.
In 1974, Polaroid released Type 87, a square-format, 3000-speed film, the equivalent of Type 107. Along with this, it created the Zip.

The cheapest Polaroid camera ever at $13.95, the Zip is on its way to being as useless as the Swinger Model 20. It only uses Type 87 pack film, which is increasingly difficult to find. Even I only have three packs left. I was offered some not long ago, but had trouble justifying $25 a pack.
The Zip works exactly as the other Swinger models, with the same exposure method. A couple shots from the camera...

Type 87 is still my favorite film, and if I had known it would disappear so quickly, I would have bought tons more when it was still $8 a pack.
So, moving on... on a discussion on, someone asked about the Zip and getting film for it, and skorj mentioned cutting off the back and attaching a 100 pack film back to it so you could use Fuji FP-3000B in it. Well, I was pretty keen on that idea. Looking at the camera for a couple minutes, though, I couldn't really see hacking the back off of the Zip without messing up the exposure system. Plus I didn't think the body of the Zip would be wide enough to allow for full coverage on Type 100s. Comparing the Zip with the Big Swinger, they seemed pretty similar, so I started by removing the fronts off both cameras. Super easy job, only three screws to remove. Easiest Polaroids I've ever disassembled.

After pulling them apart, I found that the two fronts were identical on the inside! Screw placement is exactly the same.

The only differences I found were that one screw was shorter on the Zip, and the flashbulb release was slightly longer on the Zip, preventing it from fitting properly on the Big Swinger body.

And while I have the backs off, you can see how the exposure system is a simple aperture. There is a prism on the inside front of the body that reflects the light onto the YES exposure system (which requires two AA batteries), which you see in the lower part of the viewfinder.


So it was simply a matter of sanding down the flashbulb release and screwing the Zip onto the Big Swinger body, and voila! Or as an old ex-gf once put it...wala!!

Easy as that, no cutting required. A Zip front on a 100 body, maintaining the functionality of the exposure system. So how does it shoot? I've only taken a couple shots so far to test it out...

So it's pretty similar but I do note some differences. The vignette is a bit more prominent in the corners (maybe) and it warps differently than the Big Swinger lens. The Swinger lens tends to stretch things out towards the bottom, while the Zip lens almost has more of a fish-eye effect, possibly with more blur along the edges. Also, the exposure system behaves differently. In full sunlight, the Zip tells you to set the exposure much lighter than the Swinger does. Which may explain why I had so much trouble with the Zip in low light. The Swinger is more forgiving in low light, while the Zip would massively underexpose in low light. But then the Zip has better latitude in bright light. The Zip is a newer camera, so there must be some minor improvements to the system, and maybe a faster lens? It all looks the same from the outside to me, so no idea. Will definitely take this camera out and use it many more times. Love the effect and mood!
So, while I was talking to you, I took apart the Swinger Model 20 and made an interesting discovery (yes, I'm a multitasker). Take a look...

While the camera bodies are completely different, the fronts are exactly the same! Screw placement is identical...even the flashbulb switches are the same height. So, of course, I'm going to have to buy another Big Swinger and put the Swinger Model 20 on the front! More on that when I get to it. Will maybe do a quick comparison of the three versions to see if they really are any different.

EDIT: While messing about after writing this, I've found that while they are almost the same, the body attachment is different. But it looks like I can switch out that back plate by just sanding down a single protruding screw hole on the Big Swinger plate. More later.

And on another note, this week is 'Roid Week. Ha ah, sorry, couldn't's just such a foul name. But it is 'Roid Week 2009 on flickr. So if you are on flickr and you shoot Polaroids and you upload them to flickr, join in the fun of posting your Polaroid photos in the group. I don't think anything happens other than the pleasure of shooting Polaroids and showing them off, but that's enough for me.
Until next time. I have a couple things happening (including trying to convert a crappy 600 integral camera to pack film), and will get to that stuff eventually...along with whatever catches my fancy, as well. Seeya!


  1. Stephanie Thomas7:56 AM

    I love it! I've had some bad luck with my Big Swinger...this post has inspired me not to give up on it :)

  2. Thanks for this very interesting article. Reading your blog satifies the need in me to dissassemble my own polaroid cameras... which is a good thing as after I reassemble them I always seem to end up with bits left over :(

  3. Roid week LOL
    You got me there. I initially came here because I thought this was going to be relevant to my field of interest.

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