As a professional photographer, one of my hobbies is collecting vintage cameras. My collection has massed to over forty cameras now. Most sit on a display shelf and collect dust. The few I do shoot are the Polaroid Automatic Land Camera series. My favorite is the Polaroid Automatic 100. They take packfilm still made by Fuji (available here). My draw to these cameras is they are instant… well almost instant. They take about 60 seconds to develop. My other favorite has been the Fuji Instax 210. This shoots their wide film and is a ton of fun at parties. The built in flash is great for indoor shots, and the pictures develop before your eyes. The size, at 4×3 is just about perfect…. but I digress.
Growing up in the past 30 years, film photography has been a dying artform. As my cameras collect dust I looked for ways to bring them back to life. The ‘proper’ option for most of my cameras is to buy 120 film at $10 a roll, cut the spool to fit in a 620 camera, then spend another $15 to mail it away to some lab in California, all for just 10 shots that may not have even come out. After shooting half a roll, I decided there has to be a better and cheaper way to shoot my cameras that take 620 film.
Loading and Shooting the Film:
The first step is to make sure you have a take-up spool. Most of my flea market cameras have had one sitting inside it. If you don’t, you may not want to buy one on ebay. It usually ends up costing more than the camera itself. Your best bet is to find a 3D printer and print a spool. My local library actually has a MakerSpace with 3D printers available for free.
For this tutorial I’ll be using Fuji Film Super HQ 200 Speed in my Argus 75 camera. The next step is to make sure your film canister will even fit in your camera. I grabbed my film, put it inside, and close the door. It took a little coaxing, but it worked and I knew I was in business!
The next step is to seal up the little red film door on the back. 620 film has a paper backing so you can see which exposure you’re on. 35mm doesn’t have this, so we need to seal it up. I used several pieces of electrical tape. Be sure to cover both the inside and outside or you’ll get a little red dot in your photos.
Once you have a camera that the film will fit into, you’ll notice the film canister is too short for the camera. To keep it in place, I use some soft foam I had from a shipping box. Simply find something to wedge into place that will keep the film tight.
Next, run the film up to the take-up spool and take it in place.
I found it helpful to mark the bottom sprocket hole of the film and turn the film advance until the marked hole was at the top. For my camera it was 12 sprocket holes and two turns of the film advance wheel. One thing to note, as the camera takes up more film, the take-up spool will get fatter. This results in needing to turn the wheel less and less. My first few shots needed 2 full turns, later shots would have needed only 1.5 or 1 turn. I wanted to be sure the pictures didn’t overlap, so I took the full 2 turns on my first roll.
Now just shoot until it won’t let you wind anymore. Once the film is exposed, grab a pair of scissors and go into the darkest place in your house. For me, that meant the bathroom. I put a towel under the door and sat in the shower with the curtain closed. In the dark, open the camera, grab your 35mm film and wind it back into the canister. Once wound up, use the scissors to cut the piece you taped to the spool. Now you can turn the lights back on!
Take your film to your local photo lab and ask them to only develop the film. No prints wanted, and make sure they don’t cut the film. Here is the best part… it only cost me $4 to develop the film and took about 30 minutes.
Scanning Negatives Without a Scanner:
Once you have your negatives, you need to scan them. I didn’t have a scanner, so I improvised. To scan the negatives without a scanner, I chose to make a pseudo lightbox. This allowed me to scan my film negatives using my digital camera. I grabbed my camera and dialed the focus in manually, taping the focus ring to keep it from moving.
Then I added the flash, softbox, remote shutter, and flash-sync cord. I set it all the manual, ISO 100, F11.
With everything in place, I cut my negatives and started shooting them one by one.
I then took my memory card and loaded the RAW images into Lightroom. It’s as simple as reversing the tone curve and adjusting the white balance.
Now you’re all set. Enjoy your 620 camera converted to 35mm film!
Thanks for reading.