Camera Review: Polaroid Model 180 Land Camera

Last week we featured a camera review by one of our readers, Michael Smith. Mike talked about the Polaroid Model 195 Land Camera and briefly mentioned it’s close cousin, the Model 180.  You can find that review here.

Today we are joined by another reader, Sandy Phimester. Sandy has been a supporter of the blog since it’s launch and has been tagging his instant shots on Instagram for us to see. When it came time to review this camera, we knew he was our man. It goes without saying, and Sandy will confirm this, the 180 and 195 are must have instant cameras if you are seriously into pack film. You really cant go wrong with either, it’s just a matter of which camera finds you and if you’re willing to shell out when it does.

On to the review:

I’ve had the Polaroid 180 Land Camera for a few months now, and having burnt through quite a lot of (some pretty embarrassing mistakes) film, I can safely say that this camera has really changed me as a photographer – for the better.

I think everyone has some fond memories of a family member shooting instant film on a vacation or during a family gathering. My first such memory was of an uncle who had a Land Camera style of camera. The second I saw that people were bringing life back into these and using them not only for fun, but for serious work, I knew I had to have one.

Polaroid 180 Land Camera

Years Produced: 1965 to 1969

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Now there are quite a few variants on the Polaroid Land Camera. Most Land Cameras had plastic bodies and plastic lenses and exposed using automatic settings. Changing slightly over the years, most Land Cameras were designed for the average Joe wanting to capture shots of his family. These were great cameras, but far from professional. Another “downside” to these is that they have slower apertures, hovering around the f/8.8 range for being wide open. I only say downside because for a lot of people this is a bit of a limitation, that and the automatic nature of the camera leaves some people (myself included) itching for something a little more…

There’s where the Polaroid 180 falls into place! Not only did I want this cool old camera that instantly reminded me of my youth, fond family memories, but it had a faster lens, f/4.5, and the body was mostly metal and the lens is constructed from glass, not plastic like most of the automatic bodies. Plus, it’s full manual control for aperture and shutter speed (max shutter is 1/500), without any need for a battery. For me this was the ultimate experience. I could get results that I saw in my head and be in complete control.

Film Used

The 195 uses Fuji pack film which is available in FP-3000B (Black and white 3000 ISO) and FP-100C (Color 100 ISO). Fuji discontinued 100b – a black and white 100 ISO film – a year or so ago but you can still find it although its getting much harder to right now. The film dimensions are 4.25 x 3.25. Film can be found at a number of locations and in bulk most times at a good discount on Amazon.

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Form and Function

The camera is light and very easy to carry around all day, I’d say it’s one of the lighter cameras I’ve owned and is quite a difference from the medium format rigs I’ve come to love. Construction is good, but you need to be careful with the bellows. With cameras this old, generally speaking, I tend to baby a little bit while out shooting.

The camera works in stages: load the film carefully as to assure the tabs are sticking out of the body, close the back, pull the dark-slide out, you cock the shutter on the front and then you’re ready to shoot. Quite simple really. There is no meter in camera, so bring a handheld one and you’re totally set!

There are a few quirks with metering I should talk about briefly! First of all, the 180 is somewhat known for having a slow shutter in it’s old age. Not all, but some do have this issue and mine is one. It took some trial and error (notepad/pen/paper) shooting in my backyard to realize that I needed to rate the 100C at 250, and the 3000b at 8000! I’d suggest that if you’re getting one, to first confirm it works “as is”, and if not, well don’t worry, it’s an easy fix, or you can just leave it like I have.

Now, if you don’t always want to be shooting quite stopped down (try shooting 3000b outside during the afternoon, f/90 anyone!?) then just do what I did! I got a step up ring and a variable ND filter! Now I can shoot 3000b all day long under the sun, and with some testing I now know at what ND strengths I need to be able to rate my film for any light condition! This has been extremely useful, and has made shooting this camera even more fun!

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It should also be mentioned that no matter how the shutter works, you need to be very careful about metering instant pack film, it’s extremely picky. Shoot 3 photos of the same subject in the same light, change settings slightly, and you’ll notice that they can all look good, but the 1 with the perfect exposure is going to look perfect, it just stands out so much more. You’ll see!

I’ve successfully shot, handheld, down to very slow shutter speeds ¼ or 1/8 quite often. You have to be careful, of course, and it won’t be as sharp, but quite useable!

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Focusing is easy, rangefinder style, and I’ve had no significant problems. It will take some getting used to, but over all I find it quite enjoyable. Framing is a tiny bit of a gamble sometimes, but I’ve been very pleased.

Minimum focus distance isn’t too great, in a few examples I’ll have posted you can start to tell just how close it really (or isn’t?) is, I haven’t found it a limitation yet, but I do plan on getting the portrait kit/goggles. It just hasn’t been a priority.

Pulling the film from the camera is simple, you just want to give it a nice even pull, and when I say even…. I mean it. There is a hesitation near the end of the pulling, when the film is almost out, and it feels natural to let it do that for a half second, but you just want to carefully keep pulling in one even motion. This way the chemicals will disperse properly across the whole frame.

There are three modes to shoot on, you can attach flash bulbs, which I have, but have not used yet, you can shoot it with a sync cable for off camera flash / studio work, and just normally. I’m a basically natural light only photographer, so I have always just left it.

I shoot this camera mostly during my personal sessions with models, or candids with friends. You must slow down, which is always a bonus if you can afford the time. It’s such a joy to use, and I cannot imagine my photo life without it now. Everyone seems to respond so well to it, young and old, they all want to ask about it and see the prints. There is nothing like that magic moment when you peel the print and it just looks perfect, everyone goes “ohhhhhh!”.

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Pros

Light and easy to carry for extended periods of time
Well made
Fast lens for this type of camera
Manual control for shutter/aperture
No battery
Cool factor!

Cons

Somewhat delicate because of bellows
Cost (they’re getting pricier and pricier!)
Framing subjects isn’t 100% accurate
Minimum focus distance isn’t great (you can get a portrait kit)

Wrap Up

Here are a few more shots taken with the 180. Throughout all my adventures with different cameras, this is one of the very few that sticks with me for everything I do. Going on a shoot? MUST bring it! Going to family get away? Done deal! It’s just too much fun. And scanning the prints on a flatbed is easy, so having web ready versions of your shots is simple.

 If you’re looking to spend a bit more money, and want full control AND want a land camera, then this is a great way to go. I like mine so much I plan on getting a 2nd one next year.

 

Comments

  1. Great review!

  2. I have one which I might sell – it belonged to a family member and I have never used it but it seems to be in very good condition, and some of the lenses are still in their plastic wrappers and the original case is included. Are you still interested? Or please let me know the best way to sell it.

  3. I think you would have an easy time selling a 180 in good condition on ebay or on one of the film related Facebook groups.

  4. Thank you – I will try ebay – there seem to be a few already listed.
    All other suggestions also welcomed – I thought there might be a dedicated camera site.
    Thank you.

  5. Alex…do you still have it for sale?

Trackbacks

  1. […] weekend, still the quality of the content was not lacking! Sandy Phimester reviewed the amazing Polaroid 180 Land Camera! We also had a wonderful response to our bi-weekly assignment, which this time around was My Town. […]

  2. […] Sandy was one of the co-authors of our Polaroid 180/195 camera review. You can find that post here. We have followed along with Sandy’s work for a while, as he has been very active on […]

  3. […] The Polaroid 180 is totally different from most vintage Polaroids you are probably use to. It has not only a metal body, and a glass lens but it’s has fully manually aperture and shutter speed control. This is another one that I will likely save up for in next few years. [more info & more] […]

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