Saturday, August 01, 2009

Polaroid sans Auto: The Manual Cameras

Been awhile since I've posted...but I did post like three in two weeks. I've been out shooting quite a bit, but haven't really done anything new with my cameras. A few projects in line, but nothing finished yet. I've been wanting to talk about the manual pack film (peel-apart) Polaroid cameras, so this little dead spot seems like a good time to do so. Skorj has an excellent review of the 195 here, and the 600SE here, but I still have to put my two cents in, of course (aside from my little 180/195 comparison here). I thought this would be useful for those trying to decide which manual camera to buy, a question I see frequently on forums.
The fully manual pack film cameras are the 180, 185, 185 (2000 version), 190, 195, 195 SE, NPC 195, 600SE, Fuji Fotorama FP-1, and the Konica Instant Press. I'm not including every other manual camera that can use a Polaroid back (including the Mamiya Press that some say is more versatile than the 600SE). I don't have enough experience with all of that. I'll mostly talk about the cameras I own: the 180, 190, 195 and 600SE (and maybe the 110A conversion), with a few asides on those that I don't own.
What defines a manual Polaroid camera? Well, they are fully manual, meaning no exposure help, auto or assisted, and no auto-focus (which none of the pack film cameras has, while most integral cameras do). You set your aperture and shutter speed and you focus through the rangefinder. Simple as that. Every other Polaroid pack film camera aside from those listed above has some kind of auto-exposure (aside from the Swingers, which have an assisted set it using the simple YES metering). This includes all the folders and hardcases and, well, all of them. I like to have both manual and auto cameras with me, but the manuals are certainly more versatile, and are all of a higher build quality. I'll also say right up front that most of the "technical" info on these cameras, such as date and numbers produced, comes directly from The Land List. After the general camera info, I'll talk a bit about advantages and disadvantages...just a comparison and maybe why you might choose one over another.

Polaroid Land Camera Model 180
This is the first fully manual pack film camera, produced from 1965-1969. Estimated production numbers are 51,000-80,000, with a retail price of $189.95 (theoretically almost $1300 in today's currency). It features a 114mm 4-element glass Tominon lens. Aperture is from 4.5 to a miniscule 90, with the speeds being Bulb, 1, 2, 4, 8 , 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, and 500. Focal range is 3.5 feet to infinity. Has M and X flash sync, as well as V, which is the self-timer mode (approximately five seconds). Usable film types include all Type 100s (including the Fuji equivalents), as well as all Type 80 films.

While this camera is fully manual, it does feature a nice EV scale on the side of the lens mount.

What this allows you to do is use a meter with an EV, or the way I use it is as a starting point for my exposures. The scale is 12-21, and the manual explains it better than I could.

The Zeiss viewfinder is a single window, containing both the rangefinder and viewfinder. It works how you would expect...a little box in the middle in which you line up your object until it is in focus.

A couple shots taken with the Polaroid 180...100 Sepia, Fuji FP-3000B and ID-UV.

Polaroid 195 Land Camera
This camera was produced from 1974-1976. Estimated production numbers are unknown. Land List states more than 10,000, but I see just as many 195s for sale as 180s, so the number produced was probably similar. Retail price of $199.95, which is actually cheaper than the 180, given that it is a newer (and better) camera. It features a 114mm 4-element glass Tominon lens. Aperture is from 3.8 to 64, with the speeds being Bulb, 1, 2, 4, 8 , 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, and 500. Focal range is 3.5 feet to infinity. Has M and X flash sync, as well as V, which is the self-timer mode (approximately five seconds). Usable film types include all Type 100s (including the Fuji equivalents), as well as all Type 80 films.
I've had to make various repairs to my 195, so it's not quite minty.

The case started to fall apart awhile ago, and I had it taped together. Then I lost it in Japan. The red "racing stripes" are my fix for leaky bellows. I tried liquid tape, which just crumbled after a few months. I then tried to patch the individual leaks with black electric tape, but there were too many and the tape wouldn't hold. This was my final fix. It was 9:30 at night in the town of Kochi in Japan, and the only place open was a department store and all they had was red tape for 100 yen. So I patched it up in my hotel room...and it works great! No more leaks.

You can see the 195 also has a manual timer on the back, which is lacking from the 180. The original was broken. I bought another cheap camera with a timer to replace was broken as well. So I gave up and attached an old timer in its place. I never use the timer anyway, but I wanted something to fill the gap.
The viewfinder is a split finder, which presumably was cheaper than the Zeiss. You focus in one window, and then frame your image in another.

Some people replace the finder with a Zeiss, which can be found on some of the cheaper folding cameras. It doesn't bother me, personally, so I left it as is.
Another difference is the lack of an EV scale on the lens.

Though the red numbers are kind of used as the base exposure settings. 60 with 8 or 11, then you twist both to maintain the same exposure. 45 and 64 is in blue, for 3000 speed probably.
There is also a 195 SE. Skorj's 195 does have an EV scale on it, so I presume that his is probably the SE edition, as everything else on the camera is the same.
Some shots from the 195, two with ID-UV, one with 100 Chocolate.

Polaroid 190 Land Camera
This camera was produced from 1974-1977 for non-US markets. Estimated production numbers are unknown, but probably over 8,000. These are actually fairly rare. I assume this camera was made for European and Asian markets (my instructions are in Japanese). It features the same 114mm 4-element glass Tominon lens as the 195. Aperture is from 3.8 to 64, with the shutter speeds being Bulb, 1, 2, 4, 8 , 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, and 500. Focal range is 1.2 meters to infinity. Has M and X flash sync, as well as V, which is the self-timer mode (approximately five seconds). Usable film types include all Type 100s (including the Fuji equivalents), as well as all Type 80 films.

This camera is basically the same as the 195. The biggest difference is the inclusion of an electronic timer instead of the manual timer.

It takes batteries, of course (if you open the battery compartment on the 180 and 195, it is empty). It's kind of an odd duck. You set the time, and when you pull your film it turns on, making a funny whining sound when the time is up. I don't use it. One downside to the electronic timer is it adds a level of tightness to the pack, as it is pressure sensitive (turns on the timer). This is fine for Polaroid packs...but Fuji packs are a very tight fit. You have to pull the tab very slowly so it doesn't rip. On cheaper cameras with electronic timers, some remove the timer, or bend the clips that press down on the pack. So far it hasn't really been an issue for me, so I've left it alone.
Another big difference is the use of the single-window Zeiss finder that is used on the 180.
Other than that, the only other difference is the meter scale on the focus bar replacing the feet of the US 195 model. I assume there aren't any 190 cameras with an EV scale, but there are so few of them about that it's hard to follow up on.
And a few shots from the 190, with Type 690, ID-UV and Type 108.

Also in this line of cameras is the 185, a super rare edition which was produced in very limited numbers and sports a different lens than the 180 and 190/195, and also has an exposure meter built into the shutter body.

It looks like maybe the exposure meter is basically a needle that tells you if you have enough light for your shot. There are two people I know of that have 185s, and one paid around $1000 for it. There was one on eBay that was trying to go for $10,000. Every time someone didn't pay for the winning bid, the sellers raised the price. Not sure how much it ended up going for. These photos are "borrowed" from eBay. I should have bough one for $1000 when it was offered a few years ago!
There is also the 185 (2000) camera...

...which was later rebranded as an NPC 195. There seem to be several variations of this camera, I assume because they were individually hand crafted.

I haven't used either of these, so I can't say much about them. Except I'm not sure why they chose to use existing camera numbers instead of calling them something else. They certainly don't look anything like the originals! I'm sure they are decent cameras, though. They appear on eBay occasionally if you have a spare $4,000.
Okay, so out of 180, 190 and 195, which is best? Well, they are all pretty similar. As for as photo quality, they are all exactly the same. I would probably recommend the 195 over the 180. The 3.8-64 aperture is going to be much more useful than the 4.5-90 apertures. The metal surrounding the lens of the 180 is softer as well and tends to get bent, making it difficult to screw on the filters.

These filters work with the 180, 190 and 195.
If you don't like the split finder on the 195, you can always swap it out with the Zeiss finder. Just be aware that sometimes the split image in the Zeiss viewfinder can "drift", making it difficult to focus, which doesn't seem to be a problem with the dual window finder.
You can also buy close-up and portrait kits for these three cameras, but they are different for the 180/190 and the 195, as the viewfinder is different (unless you swap).
Recently someone has been selling new filter adapters and kits for the 180/190/195. on eBay. I have one on the way and will review it at some point.
The 190 is kind of cool just because it is less common than the other two, but other than the finder and timer, a 195 is the same thing. The 190/195 is also newer than the 180, so they tend to be in better condition overall. At least I see more beat up 180s for sale than 195s.
So is there any reason to have the 180? Some believe the lens is sharper than the 195, but I haven't found this to be the case. The f90 aperture is probably for use with 3000 speed film, but I've never had to go that small. Maybe why it's not present on the 195. If you are planning on owning more than one manual, getting one of each is an option.
There is another manual option, though...

Polaroid 600/600SE
The 600/600SE is basically a Mamiya Universal Press body designed specifically for Polaroid backs. You can't, in fact, use the same back as the Mamiya Universal Press because the mount is different. The difference between the 600 and 600SE is that the SE allows you to use three different lenses, while the 600 lens is fixed and not removable. And, also, this camera has absolutely nothing to do with 600 integral film. These only use Type 100 films (and the Fuji equivalents).

The 600SE is, of course, the better option of the two with the ability to swap the lens out. The main lens is a 127mm, with an additional 150mm "portrait" lens and a 75mm wide lens also available. My 127mm lens is broken, so I just use the 75mm, which is the reason I wanted it anyway. The lenses have apertures from 5.6 to 45, with a focus of 3.5 feet to infinity.

When you change lenses, there is a switch on the camera that changes the viewfinder to match the 127 and 150mm lenses. If you are using the 75mm lens, there is a special viewfinder that hooks onto the top. It also sports a parallax set it depending on the distance and it fixes the 'up/down' problem. I find this viewfinder a bit difficult to use, though. The edges don't seem particularly accurate, and it's virtually impossible to shoot a level horizon through the thing. So I usually frame through this finder, and then use the regular viewfinder if I need an accurate line in the photo.

Another advantage to the 600/600SE is the removable back with darkslide.

This allows you to use multiple film types if you have multiple backs. You have to use 600/600SE backs, though. That little split "key" on each end isn't split on regular Polaroid backs, so they don't fit on the 600SE and vice versa.
You can also get various accessories, like macro spacers.

Now some will say that a Mamiya Universal Press is a better buy than the 600SE. I originally bought the 600SE because I got a good deal on it, and it required less thinking and research on my part. Camera body and three lenses. Easy enough. But the Mamiya Press cameras are typically cheaper than the 600SE, and there are more options for lenses, so I sold the 600SE and picked up a Mamiya. You can read my comparison between the two camera here.
So which is better, the folding manuals or the 600SE/Mamiya Universal? Why choose one over the other? Well, the biggest turnoff for me with the 600SE is the size and weight. It is large and very heavy...not compact by any description of the word. So ease of use and comfort is definitely a factor. The obvious advantage to the 600SE is the interchangeable lens set....though if you were out in the field, carrying all three plus the camera, and then unscrewing the shutter cable and swapping them out, etc., is a bit of a hassle. You are more likely to choose one lens at a time. I only use the 75mm because I already have a "regular" lens with my folders. There seems to be a lack of filters for the 600SE, as well, and I like to use my ND filter with my 190/195 so I can open up to 3.8 in full daylight (also noting that the 600SE cameras are only 5.6). I get a lot of overexposure with the 600SE here in the land of endless sunshine. But the 75mm is an excellent lens and is super-sharp, so it's nice to have. The 600SE tends to be more expensive than the folders, as well, and with all three lenses expect to spend more than $1000.
Some shots with the 600SE and the 75mm lens, using ID-UV.

One other manual option that we have is to convert a roll film camera. I did this with a 110A.

There are a couple advantages to going this route. One is the cool factor. It just looks cool. That's it. Another is price. Well...if you do it yourself. If you buy one, you can pay anywhere from $250-$1000, depending on build quality and who made it. If you do it yourself...I spent $45 on the camera and $10 on the back. So time is the biggest cost.
A couple shots from the converted 110A. Mine is a bit leaky.

As for practical advantages over the cameras above, there really aren't any. The lens is nice, but no better than the 195s. It's smaller than the 600SE, but bigger and more awkward than the folders. So it really comes down to personal choice, and the head turn factor. Though the 600SE is beast enough to turn heads...and any Polaroid camera garners quite a few stares.
You can also read about my one-of-a-kind GOMZ conversion here. An option only for the hardcore!
ALSO (always an also), you can get the Konica Instant Press or Fuji Fotorama FP-1. You can read my review of the Konica Instant Press here, and my review of the Fuji Fotorama FP-1 here. They are typically very expensive when they show up in an auction... the end. My recommendation? One of each...haha. Well, it works for me. If you had to buy just one, I would say get the 195. Good overall camera, better than the 180, easier to use and cheaper than the 600SE. Takes all pack film formats (Polaroid and Fuji) with no issues. Speaking of which, you can use Type 80s in the 180/190/195 (if you can find some), but not in the 600SE. You can buy a Type 80 back for the Mamiya Universal. You just have to aim towards the left side of the viewfinder, as it doesn't adjust for the smaller film size. Here are a few parting shots of Type 88 in the 190.

And Type 87 in the 195.

So whatever you choose, enjoy!



  1. Great reviews Sean. I love my 600SE but it IS a heavy beast. The 75mm is my lens of choice with it too! I'd love to get a 190 or 195, but they seem hard to come by these days or are just too far out of my nurse's budget. On evilbay there are a couple of 195's with a 'buy it now' price of over $500 (Au). I'm hoping one day I'll get lucky at a Garage Sale!
    Have a great time camping!

  2. Excellent post! I own a Fuji FP-1. Somebody asked me recently how it compared to a 195. I don't own a 195 (only a 180 in bad shape). I wrote the following: "I see two advantages that the 195 has over the fp-1 1) the 195 has a 114mm, f/3.8 Tominon lens, the fp-1 only has a 105mm, f/5.6 Fujinon lens 2) as far as I know there are no accessories for the fp-1 like a portrait kit or a close-up kit. That being said, the fp-1 is very well built and a joy to work with, more so than the professional polaroid cameras I find. It is quite light making it well suited for street photography and it is also a camera from 1995, so it is likely to be in better shape than the 195 and especially the 180, these cameras are already quite old and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find them in good shape. The fp-1 is quite rare given that it was never released outside of japan. You can occasionally find it on eBay and almost always through a japanese seller. Expect to be pay somewhere between $400 and $700."

  3. thanks for the added review!

  4. Excellent post as always, but you referred to shutter speeds as f-stops on a couple of occasions, you might wanna fix it?

  5. Enjoy Yosemite; I'm sure you'll make some beautiful photos. This post has made me covet more polaroid cameras. I have a 100, 450, sx-70, and One Step. Did not know there were these manual ones out there. They're enticing!

  6. Anonymous9:03 AM

    Thanks for this summary! I've never about this 185 with light meter inside, thanks!

    I thinks the npc 195 is quite a good option because they sell on ebay for a little less than old 180/190/195, and they have a universal copal shutter that alow you to change the lense quite esaily.


  7. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Hi, I didn't know you could use type 80 films on the Polaroid 180?! I thought it was limited to type could I use Polaroid Viva 80 with it then?

  8. Anonymous4:56 PM

    Hi! Great review! I was wondering if you know the difference between the M and X seeting on the Polaroid 195? Thanks.

  9. Anonymous3:58 AM

    I think M is for Bulb flash setting and X is for electronic but I might be wrong...

  10. This blog is great, thanks a lot! Just wondering if I could ask you for your advice on something! I'm shooting with 663 film on a Polaroid 180. I've heard people talking about coating black and white film, but the box came with no coater. Do I need to do this with 663? I've noticed the prints seem to curl up before they are even developed and peeled apart. Also can you reccommend a flash to get for the 180? Thanks again!

  11. From another archaic analog user to the other, I enjoy the 600SE/Mamiya Press style cameras. I opted out for a Mamiya Univeral Press w/ a type 3, 100/3.5 lens. It takes 55mm filters, which are easy enough to find. Definitely still a huge hassle to lug around, though! Anyway, happy shooting! --huy

  12. Anonymous3:58 AM


    cool post

    any leads on finding a Polaroid 185 in tokyo ?

    cheers, thank u ! cory

  13. last i heard, there was a 185 at oosawa camera in ebisu!

  14. Peter9:35 AM

    What I've found from shooting the 180 is, you always get a great reaction, it's that chrome and bellows 'vintage' look - 'yeah, it's a vintage piece, just like me'. The FP-1 and 600SE just don't get that kind of vibe going :)

  15. Sigh...I wish i can own Polaroid 195 and Konica Instant press...But can't find any online....T_T

  16. Hey man, I just stumbled on your blog, qnd wanted to say that you're doing an amazing work and you're doing it great !


  17. Anonymous4:14 PM

    Just found your review. All I can say is it is excellent and nice to see one that is not biased. I do not find any advantage with either the 180 or 195 but I do not shoot wide open as a general rule.

    After having both the 195 and 180 for some 20 years and using them side by side, the different viewfinder/rangefinders are different and though 180 owners love to scream the 195 was a cheapened version as it does not use the Zeiss system, maybe so but if it is Polaroid did an excellent job in the substitution.

    Both of mine were shelved a couple of years ago after being my favorite shooters, to the extent cameras such as my Bronica ETRS and Leica were more oft than naught left at home even on day outings. The only limitation is that regardless of what we'd like to think, they will only realize their potential when on a stable surface or a tripod. Hand held, yes, it can be done but no one who has tried it that I know every produced as good a result as they did when the same image was taken with the camera mounted.

    Sadly, around here before Polaroid stopped production getting film became impossible and now even trying to locate the Fuji is both near impossible and more than 2x the price as only a few hundred miles south of here in the States.

    Since shelving them, both have now developed sticky shutters so they are on the to be serviced list provided I get some film. I'll probaby just order it from the States.

  18. What a great pictures you made with these cameras! I have a couple of them myself, but were never able to do anything with them. Are there still some guides available for how to use them? If you are interested in the types of cameras I have, please let me know!

  19. Anonymous7:45 AM

    Hello everybody,
    I got problem with Tominon lens 114mm f4,5 on Polaroid 180. Can shot just wide open which is not too bad untill when I decide to use FP-3000B film:(
    Is there anybody out there who have experience with this lens? Its probably something minor, but dont want to open lens by myself.

  20. What did you mean exactly by "drift" in this paragraph?

    "If you don't like the split finder on the 195, you can always swap it out with the Zeiss finder. Just be aware that sometimes the split image in the Zeiss viewfinder can "drift", making it difficult to focus, which doesn't seem to be a problem with the dual window finder."

  21. You will see a vertical doubling of the image. The mirror inside tends to "crawl" upwards...I frequently tap on the top of the finder to get it back in place. Very common with the Zeiss finder.

  22. Anonymous3:17 AM

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