Film Friday: Combining a Polaroid Model 455 and Fujifilm Instax 100 to make a retro Instax Wide camera: Digital Photography Review

Fujifilm discontinued its FP instant pack film in 2016, opting instead to focus on its Instax film series. You can still find FP online, but it’s old and expensive. Fujifilm Instax Wide Instant film is 10.6 x 8.4cm and costs a bit over a dollar per photo, keeping instant photography relatively accessible.

For Jim Skelton of Emulsive, the Instax Wide film is good, but the Instax 100 camera, first released in 1999, is ‘not only ugly, clumsy, and noisy, but it also doesn’t take the greatest of pictures with that 2-element plastic lens.’ Skelton, an experienced camera modder, decided that he wanted to try to hack together the ugly Instax camera with a much better, more stylish Polaroid instant camera.

The modified camera, which Skelton dubs the ‘Pola Instax 455,’ is a vintage-looking camera that takes much more after the Polaroid part of its lineage than Fujifilm. Skelton stripped the Instax down to ‘just the film handling mechanism.’ This involved removing screws and electronics (including a shock-risk capacitor) and cutting off the molded lens barrel. This was tricky since Skelton needed to cut it off flush with the film plane while keeping the film ejection mechanism intact.

The Fujifilm Instax 100 and its two-element plastic lens

Rewiring the film ejection motor proved fairly simple for the experienced Skelton. However, the motor gave Skelton issues. The motor was running with its momentum after cutting power, causing a loop of ejecting film. After much fuss, Skelton solved the issue by gluing aluminum foil under the shutter release button and doing a bit of soldering. He later found out that if he had instead used an Instax Wide 210 camera, the issue could have been avoided altogether because its shutter button is a micro-switch.

Skelton’s Pola Instax 455

Despite what seemed complicated at the time, it turns out that Skelton had been doing the easy part. Fitting the Instax film back while maintaining the proper film plane was challenging. Skelton needed to use a hacksaw and Dremel to saw parts of the Polaroid 455 frame. He writes, ‘While hacking into the 455, I frequently tried fitting the Instax back, noting where it wasn’t fitting, and hacking further. It was brutal.’ After a lot of cutting and fitting, the Instax back ended up with only a 6mm rear offset from the original film plane.

With some custom-fit black closed cell craft foam to seal the area of the roller in the Instax back, it was time to start putting everything back together. Mounting the back required cutting straps from a tuna can and attaching them to the camera using screws from the Instax 100 disassembly. These strips of can block light.

The back of the Pola Instax 455

After doing some wiring, the last step was moving the lens body back 6mm to compensate for the rear offset. Skelton writes, ‘This is an awkward amount, as the minimum distance the lens body can be moved straight back is 18mm, and anything less than 11m will cause the bottom horizontal strut to interfere with the aperture/speed settings. So I decided to try moving it back and to the side 11mm using spacers and a 3/16″ rod.’

The solution has a couple of issues. The bellows can’t fold perfectly, which creates kinks. Changing the aperture settings is difficult because the camera’s horizontal strut is close to the aperture dial and lever. After some testing, Skelton determined he needed to 3D print new horizontal and vertical struts to offset the lens body correctly while maintaining the full focusing range.

Pola Instax 455 with custom struts

After all the hard work, is the hacked camera good? ‘So now, instead of having to use an ugly, clumsy, noisy, mediocre quality Instax 100 camera, I get to use a deluxe classy Polaroid pack film camera with a high-quality 3 element glass lens to take Instax photos,’ Skelton writes. ‘It’s always fun unfolding the bellows, attaching any accessories like the portrait/closeup attachments or the flash, then focusing with the rangefinder, cocking the shutter, framing the photo and taking the picture.’ Head over to Emulsive to read Skelton’s full breakdown of the report and see more images.

All images credit: Jim Skelton

About Film Fridays: We’ve launched an analog forum and in a continuing effort to promote the fun of the medium, we’ll be sharing film-related content on Fridays, including articles from our friends at 35mmc and KosmoFoto.

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