Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dr. Moominstein returns! Polaroid 195 head transplant...it lives!

My poor Polaroid 195 has seen a lot of use and abuse. I've probably taken 2,000 shots with it (and it was already 30+ years old). A couple years ago, I kinked the cable and had to replace it, which I talked about here, and I replaced the bellows. More recently, I tripped on the dog's leash and dropped it on the sidewalk. Ever since then, it has had issues with focusing, only working sporadically. While I now mostly use my 190, it seemed kind of pointless to just let the 195 die, unused on a shelf...so I kind of started from scratch! What's old is new again, with a 195 lens fitting on to a 250 body. Many folding cameras are nearly identical in build, with the lens being the main difference, so in theory, the fronts should be swappable. I looked at various folding Polaroids, and didn't want a plastic body, and I wanted a Zeiss lens. I don't care about back timers, and a local shop had a couple 250s for cheap, so a 250 was going to sacrifice its life so my 195 might live again. Yes, I didn't even dig up the corpse of an already dead 250...he was alive and healthy, and I killed him for my project. It was worth it.
First thing to do is to remove the "good" part of the 195 (and the bad part of the 250) - the front. The body is a mess, but the front part that houses the shutter and lens was in perfect working order. This is really a simple matter of removing a screw and a bolt on the bottom, and the four screws inside that hold the bellows to the front.

First, remove the four interior screws, then the screw on the right bottom. This will leave the front swinging from the bolted post.
There are a couple small differences between the 195 and other cameras. The 190 and 195 have a small support foot on the bottom that none of the other folders have. Also unique to the 195 is the absence of a spring on the bottom. Instead it uses a piece of metal that creates resistance, similar to the resistance from the springs. You need this resistance to focus the camera. I was figuring the 195 front would work fine with the 250 spring system since the 190 uses a spring and the 195 and 190 are almost identical otherwise.

So after removing the bolt (I used a monkey wrench), the front slides off of the strut pole.

I had also had a couple issues using the 195 with light leaking in a circular shape on some prints, so I opened up the lens board and wrapped some electrical tape around the inner lens to make a better seal.

Here you can see how bent the 195 is...that bar should be parallel with the base.

I made an effort to bend everything back into place, but between the damage done when I replaced the shutter cable and dropping the camera, it was beyond repair.
And we have the head of the 195 awaiting transplant alongside the donor 250.

I took apart the 250, clipping and removing the wire that powers the meter, since the 195 doesn't have one.

The front comes off easy...just don't lose the spring!

All that is left to do is to put the 195 front onto the 250 body. I couldn't really take photos of this because it was a two-hand job, but I'll describe it quickly. First, slide the 195 front into its bar, line everything up and put the right bottom screw in, so that is holding the strut, front and under slat (the part the spring will go in). Feed the knob on the bottom strut into the hole under the camera and then attach the smaller end of the spring onto it. While holding the stretched out spring, fit the first left-hand hole over the exposed vertical bar end. Before feeding it through the second hole, you need to fit the spring end over the post, then feed the post through the second hole. Then you replace the washer and bolt! It's easier than it sounds, really...maybe a three-minute job. Then you replace the four screws that hold the bellows in place (just close the camera and it will all line up), and reattach the cable (which I forgot to mention, but you can see how it works here...just a matter of three screws and a small flathead screwdriver).
Just remember, work right to left!
In the end, we have a living, breathing 195!

This 250 has a better Zeiss finder than the 190 (and 180), with a larger viewing area (the other 250 at the shop had the smaller finder). If you are looking for Polaroid cameras with the Zeiss finder, this is something to anticipate and look for.

It's a family reunion!

Of course, I had to take some shots to test the focus...and it works beautifully! Very expired 669 and a setting sun...

Good stuff!
On a side note, I no longer have my 195 front cover because I set it down (along with a now missing print of some vintage arcade cabinets) so I could take this long exposure at this semi-abandoned ropeway station on Shikoku. I walked out without the cover and print.

Moominstein's monster lives! Argh! Grrr!

For more interesting monsters, check out Mijonju's Konica/250 beast!
Until whenever, adios!


  1. Awesome photos and description of the repair process. I have an old (but functional) Brownie camcorder, and unexposed film for it, but I never figured out how to load the thing! Plus, mailing in the reels for development is a bit pricey.

  2. What a beautiful skill, i'm planning a similar conversion so your post is very helpful. Thanks & greetings from Italy

  3. Hooray! I wish I could bring you my 195 for a bit of TLC - the viewfinder is off, so what you see is not what you shoot. BOO. I trust you way more to fuss with than I trust myself.

    Oh hey, can I ask you a bellows question?

  4. I just came across your blog trying to find instructions for converting what I found - a still new Polaroid 150 Instamatic - to a pinhole camera - since I'm not mechanically inclined - I'm hoping I can make it work - any suggestions?

    I'll bookmark your page and continue to look at back posts - so very interesting -

    As an aside, while a kid in SF, met Imogene Cunningham after I helped her bring groceries to her little cottage on Green St in SF - circa 1971 - and hearing her talk about box cameras and B/W film was a highlight of my tender years = Cheers!

  5. Let's burn the monster, folks!! aaargghhhh!

    no really, good stuff. I have 340 and looking at that I was wondering what will I do when the time comes... now I know: send it over to you?

  6. Hey
    Which film types does the 195 use?

  7. Le comte d'Orgel1:45 PM

    I did a similar transplant at home a few years ago. Got the optical block off a 195 and I put it on a 350 body. The rollers were attacked by rust and couldn't spin, and the inner bellow was getting loose.

    If someone wants to give it a try too, know that it won't be really hard. There aren't a lot of tiny mechanical pieces to loose nor glass elements to clean and shelter from dust :)