One of the best things about shooting instant film, weather its pack film, expired Polaroid, or modern Impossible film is the number of cameras at our finger tips. As much as I’d love to get my hands on every model made for these reviews, the sad truth is I can not. But, thanks to such a wide audience and the willingness of our readers to lend a hand, we can bring you actual reviews from your fellow shooters.
Today we are joined by Michael Smith of Ash Imagery with a first hand review of one of the greatest Land Cameras ever made, the Polaroid Model 195.
History of the 195
The Polaroid Land Camera 195 was one of the highest-specification models ever made by Polaroid. It was intended for professional users – Camera Wiki
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.
Best Use and Shooting Environment
I’ve used the 195 in multiple situations including weddings, family sessions, engagement sessions, model work, and personal work. While I will continue to the use the camera in all of these situations, I feel the 195 is best suited for a situation where you have the ability to slow down and control the environment. For me, that is with model/boudoir work and engagement sessions. With those types of photography I have nearly full control (if not all) of where and when we shoot, the pace, and the light. With this control I have time to choose the right film and take my time getting the camera settings correct and eyeing up the scene. I’m not saying, by any means, that you can’t use the 195 in faster situations. You definitely can. You just have to be quicker with the camera and make faster decisions. Here is how I use the 195 in each of these situations:
Weddings: Portraits of the bride and groom and the occasional “getting ready” image where I have more control and can plan the shot.
Engagements: I carry it around the whole time and use 1 to 2 packs per session. I use it on the images I can set up and utilize the light to the best of my ability. I don’t use it for fast paced shots.
Boudoir/model: This is where I love the 195. I have complete control over the entire scene and can use the 195 whenever I feel its best.
Family: While I may use the for a few family images at a family session, it doesn’t come out as much as they tend to be more fast paced with a child involved. I still use it though and have gotten some great images.
I have used several land cameras including the 420, 360, and 210. Of those I found the 360 was the best because I had a little more control over the settings than most land cameras. None of these compare to the 195. I’ve also owned a 600SE and while its super sharp, its extremely bulky and cumbersome and still prefer the 195 by far. With the 195 I have complete control over the aperture AND shutter speed. This gives me the ability to shoot in a variety of different conditions and not be at the mercy of the camera’s meter. Instead of relying on the internal meter, I can now use a handheld light meter to obtain my settings and set the camera accordingly. Had I known the 195 existed prior to purchasing any other land camera I would have skipped over them and purchased a 195.
Form and Function
The 195 is nearly identical in shape and form to all land cameras aside from a few small, but important areas:
1. There is more metal that makes up the camera so it is a bit more rugged than most land cameras.
2. Zeiss viewfinder. The 180 has one, and so does the 360. I’m aware that the 195’s did NOT originally come with one but many I have seen for sale have it already on. If it doesn’t you can always swap one on. This process is very simple. The one I own came with it already swapped on. I recommend doing this if it hasn’t already been done.
3. The lens is a 114mm 3.8 Tominon (nearly a 50mm lens in 35mm format). This is the ONLY land camera with an aperture setting this wide open. The next closest is the 180 which is 4.5. After that most are around 8 or 11. This is a huge selling point as you can now use the camera (as previously mentioned) in darker conditions and still get amazing, crisp images. Even at the 3.8 aperture the lens is still super sharp.
4. Shutter speed control. While 1/500 of a second is the fastest shutter speed on the camera, it gives you plenty of room to work with as the max aperture is 64.
All in all, it feels and looks similar to most land cameras but its a far better camera. The viewfinder is collapsable and fits nice and snug when you close it up.
Carry it on your shoulder with a strap
Manual control over shutter speed and aperture
Made of better materials than most land cameras
Fast 3.8 lens, super sharp at all apertures.
Close-up kit that will allow a focus distance of 9″ to 15″ is available. Check out Landcameras.com for this and other accessories.
Its the most expensive land camera (prices are around $600-750), fairly large when opened and ready to shoot.
This is one of those cameras that you need to have if you love instant film – especially the Fuji pack film. Yeah, its expensive. Yeah, they are rare. But trust me, find one and pay the price. Its worth it. I went through 3 land cameras before I even heard of this. 3 land cameras AND a 600SE. Had I known about the 195 I would have never purchased a 600SE. The 195 is the holy grail of pack film cameras. And honestly, you can’t go wrong with a 180 either. Its more affordable and the only difference is the lens is 4.5 instead of 3.8. When you get one in your hands and shoot with it you will understand what I’m talking about. As you know, nearly all instant film cameras give us grief at some point due to us being at the mercy of their internal meter. Having complete control over an instant film camera is priceless and the 195 does just that.
Next week we will have a review of the Model 180 that Mike mentioned in this review. Stay tuned…