The Land List -- Using Electronic Flash With Pack Cameras

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Introduction (10/02/99):

As you may have seen on the main FAQ page, I claim that the possibility exists of using electronic flashes with the 'classic' automatic packfilm Polaroid cameras, even though they were not originally designed with electronic flash in mind.

Ever since then, I've received email from several visitors to this site who either wanted advise on choosing an electronic flash for this purpose, or indicated skepticism of this claim in general.

Well, you see, I have a confession of sorts to make. Frankly, I never really tested this theory to any degree except for a few informal snapshots I've taken under long-forgotten conditions. I primarily use 3000-speed B&W film in my pack cameras, which almost never requires a flash anyway, and what color film I do use is usually for outdoor photos. In other words, I don't take a lot of flash photos with my Polaroid pack cameras.

So, to make a long story short, I've now performed a few somewhat controlled experiments with electronic flash on 'classic' Polaroid automatic pack cameras. What follows are the results...

NOTE: I realize that the information on this page may be confusing and difficult to follow. I thought about scanning all the test photos and arranging them in a chart of some sort, but the scanned version appear so different from the original photographs that a lot of the distinctions between them get lost in the process. So, I'm leaving that out for now.

Set up:

For this experiment, I chose two automatic folding Polaroid pack cameras-- a model 100 (Automatic 100), and a 450 (Automatic 450). The 100 is of the 'first generation' of Polaroid folding pack cameras, and was designed for flash photography using the #268 Flashgun with M3 flashbulbs (the later 200- and 300-series of cameras are similar in this regard). The 450 is of the last generation of the 'classic' folding pack cameras, and was designed for flash photography using the #490 Focused Flash with Hi-Power flashcubes.

A bit of background about the design of the flash autoexposure mechanisms in these cameras:
The 100 (and the other 100- through 300-series cameras) was designed to automatically determine flash exposure by directly measuring the light reflected from the flash during the exposure. This is actually the same way the camera handles ordinary daylight photography-- the metering system operates dynamically during the exposure.
The 450 (and the other 400-series cameras) handles daylight photography the same way as the earlier cameras, but flash autoexposure is entirely different. When you plug in the flashgun, the 400-series cameras sets the shutter to a fixed speed, with flash intensity regulated by a set of louvers in the flashgun which are physically coupled to the focus control. So, in this case, the exposure is fixed, but the light output from the flash is variable.

Two very different electronic flashes were selected for this experiment.
One is a high-power (but not particularly modern) thyristor automatic shoe-mount flash, a Rollei 134 REB. This flash has a guide number of 110 (ASA 100, distance measured in feet). [If I owned a Vivitar 283, I'd have used that instead, but this flash would probably be considered to be of a fairly similar class]
The other flash is a rather typical low-end manual shoe-mount flash, a Kako Mite. This flash has a guide number of 56 (ASA 100, feet), and is pretty typical of common inexpensive flashes (actually, I bought this one for a dollar from a dealer's 'bargain bin' at a camera show).
[I also had prepared to make a set of attempts using a third electronic flash (a truly ancient Thrift-Lite 'potato masher') in case I needed to try something with a longer flash duration, but this turned out not to be necessary]

All the pictures taken in this test were taken from the same position (camera was mounted on a tripod) at the same test target. The test target consisted of newspaper pages taped to the wall, and two fairly large (relative to the target as a whole) multi-color two-dimensional objects arranged off-center. Test photos were taken at a distance of 5 feet, which was chosen due to it being a typical distance for indoor portraits, and also in order to accomodate the Kako Mite's fixed flash output (with ASA 80 film and the cameras' f/8.8 lenses, optimum exposure should be at something around 5 feet). There was very little ambient light around the target, so that almost all of the light used for the exposures would have to be from the flash.

Film used was (outdated but still usable) Polacolor ID (Similar to Type 669) film.


First, I took a series of test photos with the Model 450 camera.

The first photo was taken using a Hi-Power flashcube in a #490 Focused Flash, just as intended for this camera. This photo turned out correctly exposed (though perhaps just slightly overexposed) and served as a control case for comparison with the other tests with this camera.

Next, I attached the Rollei electronic flash. In this case, I merely connected a standard PC cable to the PC outlet on the camera. Since the camera detects the presense of the flash by means of an extra 'finger' on the #490's connection plug, this meant that the camera's exposure system would still be set for normal existing light photography. This photo turned out very well exposed (even better than with the #490), but the shutter stayed open after the flash fired, and didn't close until I released my finger from the shutter button.

I used the Kako Mite electronic flash for the third test. This photograph turned out a bit underexposed, but probably not objectionably so for most people (it also evidenced some light falloff towards the sides typical of many inexpensive flashes, but that's not the camera's fault). Again, the shutter stayed open after the flash fired, and didn't close until I released my finger from the shutter button.

The fourth test was made with the Rollei flash again, but this time rather than using a standard PC flash cable, I used a cable I pieced together using the plug from an otherwise damaged Polaroid #268 Flashgun (which has the same sort of special plug that the #490 flash has) in order to 'fool' the autoexposure system to thinking I had attached the proper Polaroid flash. This photo also turned out perfectly exposed (essentially identical to the other picture taken with this flash), but, as expected, this time the shutter closed after the flash fired (as it should).

Then I took a similar series of photos using the Model 100 camera.

The first test was made using an M3 flashbulb in the #268 Flashgun as intended for this camera. This photo turned out correctly exposed, and served as a control case for a basis of comparison.

The second test, again, used the Rollei flash and a standard PC flash cable. This photo turned out just very slightly overexposed, but certainly not objectionably so. Unlike with the 450, however, the shutter closed immediately after/during the flash's firing (in fact, the exposure was so brief that I wondered if something had gone wrong).

The third test photo was made using the Kako Mite, and this one turned out slightly underexposed, but better than with the 450. As with the Rollei flash, the shutter closed immediately after/during the firing of the flash. [NOTE: I actually made two test photos with the Kako Mite and the 450. Both turned out similarly in terms of exposure.]

The fourth test was with the Rollei flash and my 'special' cable as described earlier. This photo turned out to be considerably overexposed, with fine details almost completely washed out. Interestingly, on these cameras designed for the #268 flash, the extra prong on the flash plug causes a perforated disc to be pushed out of the path of the CdS cell. This perforated disc is present during all 'normal' existing light exposures, so it's interesting that removing it (thus letting more light hit the metering cell) actually resulted in overexposure with the electronic flash.

Due to the encouraging results in the 2nd and 3rd tests, I made two further test photos to determine if the metering system was actually able to respond during the brief flash duration of these electronic flashes.

So, for the next test, I re-connected the Rollei flash using the 'normal' PC cable, but set the flash to full-power (manual mode). Given this flash's guide number, this would normally result in an overexposure of about 2.5 stops at f/8.8. The actual photograph did in fact turn out overexposed-- but probably by something closer to 1 stop. Actually, it was closer to correct exposure than was the fourth test (above) using this camera, and might not be considered completely objectionable in some situations.

The sixth test was done using the Kako Mite. Since this is a manual flash and so was already operating at full power, I moved the camera to 3.5 feet from the test target (the camera's minimum focus). This should result in a stop or so of overexposure. The resulting photo turned out to be just about correctly exposed, however. ...But, since all the previous test photos using this flash (at 5 feet from the target) evidenced underexposure, this isn't too surprising from that vantage either. (I'm more inclined to think that the exposure chart on the back of the flash is a bit optimistic about this flash's actual power output...)

While I had all this stuff set up, I also made another test with the Model 100 and the #268 flashgun. This time, I used an M3B (blue coated) bulb rather than the clear M3 bulbs intended for this flash. The resulting photo was rather underexposed (slightly more so by comparison with the Kako flash on the 450), but still might be considered an acceptable photograph. Color rendition did not seem to be particularly affected by the use of the already blue-coated bulbs, though.

The two electronic flashes used in this test-- on the left, a Rollei 134 REB; on the right, a Kako Mite.


While this was not a truly scientific experiment by any means, I think this little test yielded some useful information.

First and foremost, I believe this proves that folding automatic Polaroid pack cameras do in fact sync properly with electronic flash. [In other words, the flash sync on these cameras is likely ordinary X-sync, and not a true M-sync.]

Second, there is clear evidence that electronic flashes can be used effectively with folding automatic Polaroid pack cameras without any modification made to the camera itself. The following tips would be suggested by these tests, however:

In addition:

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Last updated 10/03/99

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