5.30.2017

An Instant Repeat: The Polaroid 440

When it rains, it pours.  I had not even cleaned the dust from my Polaroid Colorpack II camera before I had elected to look about to see what other models I might be able to find, stopping in one of my favorite shops in Baltimore known for carrying some affordable collectable cameras, when I spotted a folding type model among the offerings for a mere $12! I was now the owner of a second Polaroid pack film camera - a model 440! 

Plastic fantastic?  The Polaroid 440 isn't on the very top of the list of desirable Polaroid models, but finishes strong with its glass lens and adjustable aperture.

My enthusiasm for the Colorpack was still quite strong, but given that I was in the area, and knew this store was one of the best in which to find such a thing, it made complete sense to grab this while my logistics allowed, so as to give a try to a model with a touch more in the way of user features and adjustability.  Admittedly, I hadn't quite vetted the 440 in relation to other models in the pack film line up, but it looked to offer a decent bit of features.  I had no idea of its functionality, but if worse came to worse, it would make an interesting display piece.



Looking over the 440 model, I was enthused to notice the flip up viewfinder with rangefinder for focusing, an ability to "stop down" the lens for bright settings, and a somewhat more portable profile than its sibling, at least when folded down.  My enthusiasm began to wane a bit when I opened up the battery compartment to discover a Mallory cell that had likely been sitting inside for the better part of three decades and had both seeped as well as fused to one of the battery contacts.  Fortunately, I was able to isolate the contacts, and an evening soaking them in a shot glass with white vinegar cleaned them of any leeched acid.

Even with this resolved, the battery feature of this 440 model spotlighted what was, and would continue to be, a sore spot with this model compared to the Colorpack II.  It used a 3 volt cell that was not commonly found today.  However, with some adaptation, and a strong rubber band, many users of Polaroid cameras using 3V batteries reported luck with adapting them to use CR-123 cells.  I certainly had a decent supply of these, but my attempts to use the "rubber band trick" only met with frustration, and me stripping the contact from its wire.

My "solution" would be to tape the frayed wire to the negative terminal, and open the battery chamber before each shot to press the positive terminal to the post.  This worked most of the time, but not always, as it was easy to slip and lose contact.  Unfortunately, in the two instances where it didn't work, I could sort of detect this based on the quick nature of the click when the shutter was released, but I neglected to think this through fully.  Without the battery power, the shutter simply didn't operate as intended.  All I had to do was to STOP, reseat my fingers on the battery posts, and try again BEFORE pulling the film exposure from the camera.  Instead, I pulled the shot from the camera, and unveiled a perfect black rectangle.  Artful perhaps in its own way, but not the wisest use of $2.50.




The cadre of controls at a glance or two.  Above, a film speed dial and a lever to stop down the lens in accordance with conditions, as well as a lighten/darken dial similar to the Colorpack.  Below, one can see an indicator to show which aperture setting is selected above the lens, as well as two push buttons that move the struts as well as adjust the rangefinder.  The red button is the shutter released, depressed after pulling down the cocking lever seen in the top photo. 



Even setting the battery issue, and my slightly odd method of rectifying it aside, I found using the 440 a bit more of a hassle than the Colorpack II.  Much of this stems from the fact that I'm a reasonably good estimator of distances, and while the Colorpack's lens was encircled by a distance scale, the 440 employed a rather simple unit-focusing design in which either of a pair of "buttons" were pushed inward to achieve focus by registering dual images of the subject in the small rangefinder (which moved the struts to change the distance between lens and film) before moving to the viewfinder to fully compose and shoot the image.  

While this wasn't a huge hassle, and would presumably help reduce the possibility of distance estimation error on my part, it was accompanied by the need to manually cock the shutter before each shot, which I often forgot.  Combining this with the particularities I was following to ensure power was flowing to the circuitry often resulted in a comedy of errors in which I focused, made my efforts to establish battery contact, composed, and fired the shutter release only to realize I hadn't cocked the shutter, requiring me to redo several steps.  

The shutter on the Colorpack II didn't require manual cocking, making for a bit more fluid of an experience to me, helped in large part by its compatibility with common batteries.  From a usage perspective, I was actually a bit more appreciative of the experience using the "lowly" Colorpack than this more upscale model. 




The two part viewfinder, with a small, but very clear rangefinder, whose patch can be seen below.  As I would come to discover, framing accurately in the viewfinder was a little more challenging than expected when I wanted to crop elements out of a scene. 



Still, despite my belly-aching about its rather roundabout ways, I was quite glad to be able to shoot the 440, expecting better things from its known glass lens (I'm not sure if my Colorpack is one with the glass lens or the plastic lens) and the ability to pinpoint focus using the rangefinder.  In addition, the ability to stop down the lens in bright light using the sliding lever below the lens board would theoretically allow for even sharper images to really maximize the return on my $12 investment.

As well, the 440 has a slightly faster lens (f/8.8 vs f/9.2) than the Colorpack, and a difference in features that does not even factor in with "conventional" film photography.  Cost containment in the Colorpack model left Polaroid to use "spreader bars" instead of rollers as the means of "breaking" the developing pack and spreading the developing chemicals across the film.  Both methods did the job, but the prevailing thought would be that the (more expensive to produce) rollers would do a better job of spreading this evenly across the surface.  

As I came to discover, none of my shots using the 440 had the undeveloped corners that some of my shots in the Colorpack exhibited.  I can attribute this to the even coating that the rollers provided. However, I did find that the exposures taken on the 440 came out of the camera far more easily than those from the Colorpack - perhaps TOO easily.  Most resources recommend a slow but steady removal of the shot from the camera, but I found it tough to gradually remove the shots from the model 440. 


My improvised solution to power the camera consisted of tape and a savvy squeeze of a CR-123 cell between the contacts of the model 440. 

While using the 440 was generally a bit more involved than the more simplistic Colorpack, it was still an enjoyable experience, in spite of the hiccups with the battery and the shutter cocking.  I was quite impressed at how Polaroid was able to make a "modern" bellows camera during the 1960's and 1970's that still works quite well today, at least as long as one can acquire the endangered film for it. Just as with the Colorpack, I looked forward once again to each and every shot taken with the 440, and sought to push it to its limits as much as I could.  In one instance, it actually FAR exceeded its stated limits, leaving me nothing short of amazed, even if other limitations made this capability a bit of a challenge to use. 

My "second" Polaroid journey follows, with a bit of intertwining with my first! 

An "artistic" baby blue bracket to the left?  Nah, this was the result of improper film loading that I hastily corrected in the light.  The fanned pull tabs didn't pop into the proper door requiring some adjustment on the fly.  Regrettably, the left edge of this photo was what I was attempting to focus upon.


Technical goblins remedied, I set out to do a comparison shot with the Colorpack.  Though the composition isn't exactly the same, the focusing point is.  Though this result is good as well, I'm actually a bit more partial to the sharpness I see in the shot from the Colorpack versus the 440.


An increasingly common "test" of mine is to focus at the nearest focusing distance to test it as well as to sample the out of focus rendering.  The 440 does well on both accounts with this one, though I begin to notice some funny coloration in the sky areas. 


By my next shot, however, I'd begun to notice a few more undesired results from the 440.  I traipsed into a community farm space and focused upon the right headlight to snag this image and had very high hopes for it, only to be disappointed.  Image sharpness is lacking, perhaps from some motion blur, and the infusion of red color into the sky is very noticeable, as well as the dark area to the right.  In addition, I recall composing this image to where the tractor took up more of the frame, while the modern apartments were not in the viewfinder. 


This closer focused image under an overcast sky came out more or less as I'd hoped it would.  But again, I'd composed it to where the left edge of the gate iron was aligned with the left edge of the frame.  I now know that the lens sees more than the viewfinder does. 


According to most resources, the maximum shutter speed of most of the Polaroid pack film models is an impressive 10 seconds.  So imagine my surprise to squeeze the shutter open and discover it held open for about 30 seconds for this image, before I finally relented and let go to avoid overexposure.  The result is surprisingly nice, but admittedly marred by a missing feature in all plastic bodied Polaroid pack film cameras like the 440 - a tripod mount.  The camera was merely resting on a wall. 


This is what happens when a Polaroid pack film camera isn't getting power.  Though most of my shots worked with my improvisation, this was not one of them.  I call this one "Midnight under a New Moon." Coming soon to my Artistic Gallery! ;)


Last shot for my inaugural cartridge on the 440 was this image of a particularly period specific subject.  Again, I'm a bit disappointed at the results from this shot, not really detecting the sharpness that I'd hoped, while dismayed at the magenta hue invading the overall scene. I did take care to FILL the viewfinder frame with the car to get an idea of how much more the lens sees in comparison to it.

Had the Polaroid 440 been my first model of this genre, I'd have certainly liked it.  However, having used this camera after using the Colorpack, and comparing the results, it is very clear to me which of these two cameras will next see a pack of film, and it's not this one.  I don't know if this camera's seeming issues with image sharpness as well as its spreading of chemistry via the rollers are an anomaly or not, but I find that I generally prefer the look of the snappy results on the more basic camera model to the somewhat indistinct and poorly colored results from this mid-grade model.   That the usage of the Colorpack is appreciably easier than the 440 is an particularly nice bonus that only furthers it as the preferred model of the two for me. 

Will this have been my sole experiment with the 440?  I can't say for certain.  Unfortunately, pack film is in limited supply and isn't exactly a cheap thrill.  I didn't see anything in particular from this set of photos that I don't feel I could have replicated with the Colorpack.  Yes, the rangefinder makes focusing a bit more precise, but given that I wasn't seeing the sharpness in those subjects anyway, I once again couldn't see myself turning to use the model 440 again. 

I will keep my eyes open for a similar 100-400 series model Polaroid in the near future that I can snap up at a modest cost, but even if one doesn't materialize, I'm happy to have the Colorpack as a good user Polaroid, in spite of its bulk.  With that in mind, and with 2 more packs of film in my employ, I can certainly say that I'm hardly finished shooting this new-found medium!