BIG SHOT Explorations
If your attention span is on the short side and instead of reading this post you rather see a video just click on the image above…
A lot of people love the “vintage look” in photography these days.
Of course, one thing is to obtain it with the plethora of software readily available or by applying “vintage filters”, like on Instagram, to a digital image, another thing is to get old technology to work for us, today, and create photographs just like we would have done 30, 40 or even 100 years ago.
One of my all time favorites is the Polaroid BIG SHOT camera, a minimalistic medium format plastic contraption that Andy Warhol used extensively in the 70’s to take portraits of the rich and famous (you can see Andy at work, photographing Farrah with a BIG SHOT here – beginning at 2:45).
But there are problems to solve if you want to keep shooting a Polaroid BIG SHOT today.
Polaroid went bust, so the only usable instant film stocks on the market are the Fuji FP-100C (color, 100 ASA) and the Fuji FP3000B (black and white 3000ASA).
The BIG SHOT has a marvelous 220 mm plastic lens with a center, left and right setting (aperture), center being normal, left darker and right lighter.
According to tests carried out on the BIG SHOT group on Flickr, by member “monodistortion”, the lens aperture is (roughly) f /36.7 at the center setting, f/55 at its darkest setting and f/24 at the lightest one.
The shutter speed varies (surprised?) from 1/52nd of a second to 1/43rd, averaging 1/48th of a second.
With such specs you’ll soon understand you need a lot of light to expose your photographs properly.
Unless you can use the brightest of sunlight on the brightest day, more often than not you will need a flash.
The only flash that can be used on the BIG SHOT camera is the MAGICUBE (note: not the similarly named flashcube).
A metal rod that pops up when you depress the shutter mechanically triggers the MAGICUBES, tripping a small wire and provoking each of the four small flash bulbs to pop. MAGICUBES generate a very powerful light, of duration of about 1/30th of a second, being diffused on the face of your subject by a Fresnel lens mounted right in front of it.
Getting hold of these little marvels of a long gone technical ingenuity is getting difficult, the few you can find on ebay are usually overpriced and naturally are to be discarded after they flash.
Well, loving the remarkable images I get out of my BIG SHOT camera as much as I do, I actively started looking for alternatives.
After long studying the remotest recesses of the World Wide Web, I realized there is a very sought-after plastic box called “National PW110 Adapter” capable to transform the mechanical trigger of the BIG SHOT into a PC flash sync pulse.
Like most things from a bygone era this little sync box that attaches to the MAGICUBE receptacle is almost impossible to find, and the very few still around are being sold for ridiculous amounts of money to die-hard aficionados.
So how can I keep shooting with this iconic portrait camera you can only focus by dancing back and forth?
And what about using my studio strobes with it?
Ingenuity turned out to be the solution: I Velcro-ed the smallest flash trigger transmitter I could find in my box of tricks to the BIG SHOT camera, then I stripped the wire that goes into it and I simply taped the two exposed ends above the metal rod that pops the MAGICUBES.
Voila! : It worked!
Not an elegant solution but it gave my BIG SHOT a lease on life!
I am currently experimenting with different strobes and different settings, the biggest problems being able to match the extremely powerful light of the MAGICUBES and their very long flash duration.
However, I am getting there, very happy to bring back to life yet another image-making machine from the past!
Here is the first image I shot today with my new/old “strobist” BIG SHOT system.
Just using a humble Nikon SB600 flash on a stand, camera right.
Still got to work on the exposure but, at least, it’s telling me that the flash duration syncs all right !!