Polaroid Type 55 Film and the Old Press Camera


Putting Old Camera Technology to Good Use

I have a small collection of old film cameras. The collection started purely from a practical and humble beginnings. Basically I wanted to emulate one of my early photography hero, Ansel Adams but I could not afford a view camera. The most practical route was purchasing an old press camera or Graphic Speed 4×5 camera.

Photography Prints

This was the early days of the World Wide Web and I found my well used but highly workable old friend on the bulletin boards of America Online. This was before the Internet took off with graphical interfaces like web browsers. The only thing you could do was email and text bulletin boards such as the ones on AOL. Luckily the photography community was an early adopter of the web as an commerce vehicle. That and an education in old cameras from the magazine Shutterbug, lead me down the path of 4×5 photography using the old, metal and leather Crown Graphic camera from Graflex of Rodchester, New York, with its Graflex Optar F4.7 lens.

I don’t know if I’d say this camera “served me well” or not, because I don’t have lot of images left from those days, but just like anything in life, my partnership with it and Type 55 Poloroid film certainly lead to a greater appreciation of today’s digital photography. All of those solutions and chemicals. To take a shot with Type 55 took the following steps:

  • Setting up the camera and tripod
  • Compose, focus on ground glass
  • Insert film into Poloroid holder
  • Insert holder into back of camera
  • Pull out film backing
  • Expose the film
  • Slide the film backing back
  • Then try to remove both film and backing from holder for later processing or proceed with processing.
  • Processing – Move lever to processing mode.  Pull backing and film through the rollers with a nice steady, even pull.
  • Wait appropriate time for exposure of the NEGAGIVE (because the processing time for the negative and positive were very different)
  • Pull backing away, put negative in water bath.  Coat the positive with glossy goop if so desired.
  • And then dry off the negative and store.

Of course countless of things could go wrong in the process and the film was expensive.  Something like $50 for a box 10 film pods back the late 80s. But the results were often fantastic.  The view camera was capable of very sharp images with long depth of field and the film had a beautiful tonal range.

Art Prints

Needless to say this was not the best platform for a budding photographer to learn on.  True each image required one to slow down and think about each image very carefully because of the time, mess and money involved with each shot.  But because you’d be so limited on how many images one would take in say a year, it was tough to learn by doing.

Photography Prints

Believe it or not there is a new effort to revive the Type 55 film. http://www.new55project.com/ Who knows, maybe I’ll have to take down the old camera and stop using it as a prop and put it back into service.

Photography Prints

– Edward M. Fielding – www.edwardfielding.com