I had a Halloween-type party to attend this weekend (Saturday Oct. 18 which was World Toy Camera Day, but more about that later) and wanted to attend as a press photographer circa 1950’s so I could incorporate my toy cameras into the outfit. I was browsing the men’s suit section looking for a jacket that was classy yet over-the-top. The best I could find was a Master’s-Green polyester number. Not quite the look I was going for. OK, maybe I could go as Laverne from the old “Laverne & Shirley” T.V. show? Nope, no luck finding a workers shirt or suitable pencil-thin capri pants. I hate shopping and was getting really frustrated. All hopes of finding a cool retro Halloween outfit were shot. I figured, while I was in a thrift store I’d have more fun searching for something useful, thus began my quest last week for, you guessed it, a ‘new’ bargain vintage camera.
I got lucky at the first store. In the camera section, hidden behind a busted Olympus body, was an Action Sampler with film still inside! I grabbed it off the shelf and tried it out and unfortunately the four shutters weren’t firing correctly. Other than a few junker cams there was nothing of real interest.
At the second place I was able to procure a 5-pack of 35mm expired Kodak Gold 24 film for $5.00. That made me pretty happy but I was left wanting more. It was time to go hard core. With some child-free time on my hands, I decided to hit a few antiques stores.
I drove to a nearby town and at the first store I was greeted by a friendly grey cat. I couldn’t go past the foyer until the kitty was petted a few times. This place had some great stuff — old military uniforms, football helmets, bitters bottles and toys caught my eye — but no cameras in sight. I went up the rickety wooden stairs to the second story, which looked to be mostly furniture, lacy things and moldy-looking Christmas decorations, and struck gold. I found a complete Polaroid Land Camera 220 kit, complete with bag, instruction booklet and stiff mounting paper, for $3.00! I was like a kid at Christmas. I marveled over the crazy construction of the camera, it’s bellows and sliding focus system. There were even some notes left in the bag written by the camera’s owner (who was clearly as anal-retentive as I am about my equipment) reminding her of what batteries and flash the camera used. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was which size film it used. If Fuji’s instant film fit the camera it would truly be a great score but if not, I’d only be out three bucks and I’d be able to use it until Polaroid film dissapeared.
I logged onto The Land List, a comprehensive categorization of virtually every Polaroid camera known to man. If you haven’t yet visited the site, check it out. Much to my shock and amazement my new treasure indeed accepts the Fuji! I was so completely stoked! Even my husband was thrilled and how could he not be? For $3 I had a great camera in my hands. The Land Cam is heavy but fits in the hands quite well. All the controls you need are easy to reach. The only awarkward part is the bellows, but that’s what gives it that distinct, retro look. As far as I can tell Aunt Bertha (or whoever owned it before me) took great care of this specimen. It smells a little funky (like the moth-balled top of someone’s closet) but other than that it’s very clean. I even had fun reading the instruction book. My favorite quote: “As soon as you open the film pack you will begin to accumulate waste paper. There will be more when you develop the pictures. We hope that it won’t become litter in the streets or be scattered around the landscape”.
I’ve seen Land Cameras at other thrift stores selling for around $5.00 so they can definetly be had on-the-cheap. Instead of eBay for Polaroid cameras check out your local thrift or antiques store. Many people have no idea that you can still get film for these beauties and prematurely abandon lovely, working relics. Remember that most of these cameras need batteries, a fact I found out the hard way. After wasting a few pictures and exposing nearly the entire pack to light, it became evident that my shutter wasn’t opening (even though it sounded like it was) because there were no batteries in the camera. Again, with the help of The Land List, I was able to order the correct sized 4.5Volt battery with snap-ends from batterymart.com. Once it arrives I’ll begin viewing the world through my Land Cams eyes.