It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t showcased any of my Polaroid pack-film cameras. They are uniquely physical and satisfying to use. My collection includes a pair of cameras with family history; Dad bought the 230 when he returned from the army, and Gramp bought the 220 for a trip to Bermuda. As it was snowing heavily, neither of them was coming off the shelf. The 250 was in hiding, the 420 is Beth’s; the Colorpack II is cool but I felt like a rangefinder; the Countdown 90 isn’t working. I have a pair of thrift store 103’s though. . .
Manufactured from 1965 to 1967, the Polaroid Land Automatic 103 is a simpler variant of the 100 series RF. It has a 114mm f/8 lens with an automatic electronic shutter. A simple slider selects between two apertures for either color (100ASA) or B/W (3000ASA) film. The rangefinder uses separate focusing and viewing windows, and it folds inside the camera when closed.
I dipped into our stash of Fuji FP3000b for some snow shots. I’m going to miss this film when it’s gone.
Like most Land Automatics, the 103 is mechanically complicated to use. The front slides out and locks. Focus is accomplished with a sliding bar which moves the lens board back and forth. The shutter is cocked manually with a lever on the right side of the lens board then tripped by a button on the camera body. After exposing, you pull a paper tab on the right side of the camera then pull the print out of the camera. The spreader rollers make a nice ringing sound. Modern Fuji film is self-limiting, so timing print developing isn’t necessary.
Polaroid simplified the process by numbering each of the controls. I disagree with their operating order though. The manual recommends leaving the shutter cocked, presumably so you won’t miss a shot. As an owner and user of many old cameras I prefer not to leave any springs compressed, so I arm the shutter immediately before shooting.
I’ve recently completed conversion of all of my pack cameras to modern batteries. My first two shots with the 103 were junk, and I thought I’d done something wrong. Upon investigation I found that I’d simply left the exposure ring set too dark. After a quick adjustment, they were fine.
Manual from Mike Butkus
Polaroid 103 at the Land List
If you want one, you have lots of options. I find pack cameras and the 103 in particular to be frequent thrift-store bargains. Neither of mine cost more than $12. If you just have to get your hands on one today, try eBay. Most any example you get will require conversion to modern batteries, but the process is easy. Google can help, at least until I get around to writing the article.