Polaroid Colorpack IV

Polaroid Colorpack IV is a viewfinder instant camera which originally uses the Polaroid Type 100 packfilm. Produced from 1969-1971, it belongs to a family of so-called rigid-body Polaroid packfilm cameras that were aimed to promote sales by having lower price tags than their higher-end close relatives like the 100 Series, from which all are rangefinder folding cameras with some having a high quality lens and even manual exposure capabilities. The Colorpack IV on the hand is much simpler. It uses scale focusing with an optical focusing aid in the viewfinder. This aid assumes that when the red square in the viewfinder covers an average size human head, the distance between the camera and the subject would be about 5 feet. In addition, the distance scale is also visible inside the viewfinder. Though I don’t see much use of such feature for this camera, its design of using a tiny mirror (visible barely in the photo below) above the lens to project the image of the distance scale onto the bottom of the viewfinder is pretty genius.

Based on the The Land List site, the Colorpack IV has a 114mm f9.2 3-element lens and this particular copy has a coated glass version (as in the upper photo above) instead of an uncoated plastic one. The quality of the lens is actually not bad given the camera’s original intended use though I haven’t really put it into any extensive testing. The aperture of the lens is changed by the film speed selector (visible barely in the photo below, set at “75”) above the lens and on the left side of the shutter button. Two film speeds are available, ISO 75 and ISO 3000, as most Type 100 color and black&white films are of these two speeds respectively. According to an online discussion, the ISO 75 setting fully opens the lens to f/9.2 while the ISO 3000 one stops down the lens to f/42. Also, the aperture diaphragm is located before the shutter and thus the change is visible through the front of the lens. Exposure control is automatic through an electronically control shutter with speeds from 10 – 1/500 seconds. Compensation is possible through the “Darken-Lighten” dial located beside the lens, a feature seen on most Polaroid cameras. The long exposure capability seems attractive at first but as one cannot use a cable release nor a tripod with the camera, it would require a pair of super steady hands with the camera resting on certain objects like a piece of furniture to take a satisfactory shot in low-light. Moreover, the Colorpack IV uses flash-cubes (via the covered socket on the left side of the camera) and has no sync-terminal nor a hot shoe, the use of an electronic flash is thus impossible.

As mentioned before, this camera uses the Polaroid Type 100 film, which is a “peel-apart” style instant packfilm (i.e. all print/negative pairs are stored in a single pack). Each exposed sheet of film needs to be pull out from the camera manually from which during the process, the developing chemical is activated by running the film sheet through the rollers inside the camera body. After a set developing time, which varies according to ambient temperature, the film sheet is then peeled apart to retrieve the print. The remaining negative and the paper “packing” are usually thrown away. To aid the timing of film development, the Colorpack IV provides a mechanical timer on the right side of its body as shown in the photo below.

About Peel-Apart Instant Films

In 2008, Polaroid discontinued all its instant film products including the Type 100. From that time on, the only available available peel-apart packfilms were made by Fujifilm. They included the color FP-100C (ISO 100) and the black&white FP-3000B (ISO 3000), both are 3.25″ x 4.25″. Moreover, Fujifilm also made 4×5 peel-apart packfilms for use with large format instant backs. Unfortunately, all these had also been discontinued as of 2018. The production of the final lone member FP-100C stopped in February 2016. Occasionally, a small number of remaining stocks would emerge in the market, most should have been expired especially for the black&white ones. The conditions of these varies a lot, depending  on the expiry dates and on how they were kept (i.e. was it in the fridge? proper defrosting when transferring out of the freezer? etc.). Their prices would also mostly be at the premium range. Thus, it is best to purchase from a trusted seller, preferably a professional camera store.

So what is the point of using a discontinued, “troublesome”, and time-consuming instant film on a feature limited camera? The answer lies not just on its relatively larger size (3.25 x 4.25″) but also on the negative of the developed film sheet which usually got thrown away. The negatives of peel-apart instant film can actually be retrieved through a simple process which uses bleach (yes, household bleach!) and water. There are many tutorials online, one of them was written by documentary photographer Daniel J. Schneider. Generally speaking, the better condition the negative was in (i.e. not sticking together with others, no uneven spill of developer, etc.), the more “usable” the retrieved piece will be. Having the negative of the print means that one can make better prints or even digital scans from it. This usually results in better shadow details than the original print, not to mention other added benefits of having the capabilities of fine-tuning exposure and contrast. Photos below show two retrieved negatives (of the two original prints in the photos above) being hanged dry and their respective film scans.

Just like the original prints from which the paper packing can be left-on instead of being removed to create an artistic effect, the same applies to the retrieved negatives if one scans/prints them all the way to the edge just like the above. On the other hand, these edges can be cropped and results in the image below. In this particular case, the cropping is needed as the perspective correction would result in the edges being distorted. However, the “instant feel” of it is then lost just as one crops off the the white borders of a Polaroid integral-film image. What are integral-films? The more well known Polaroid SX-70, 600 and Spectra are all of this type from which no negative can be retrieved as everything is “integrated” in a thick single sheet. The in-production Fujifilm Instax instant films, such as the Instax Mini, are also integral-films.

 

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