Shooting with a Polaroid Swinger


The first camera I ever owned was a Polaroid Swinger (also known as the Model 20). It was the rage in 1965 through 1967 and what every teenage boy or girl wanted. It used instant film so you could see results right away and looked really cool. It even included a wrist strap so you could actually swing it from your wrist. The Swinger was the first relatively inexpensive instant camera, a forerunner of all of today's Instax cameras. And the ads featured hot young actress Ali MacGraw.

I went through a phase a few years ago after I discovered eBay of buying all the cameras I'd owned over the years but gotten rid of. So I picked up a Swinger for $19.95. Coincidentally, that is what it cost in 1967, although in today's dollars, that would be $150.

I've made it a practice to actually shoot pictures with every old camera I buy on eBay, even the ones from as far back as 1896. This presented a challenge with the Swinger, as the series 20 instant film for it has not been made for many years and there is no modern equivalent.

Fortunately, the width of type 20 instant film was only a bit wider than 120 (non-instant) film which you can still buy today. My solution was to cut up a type 20 film spool to make extensions that I glued to a 120 spool that allow it to fit in the camera and be used as the take up spool.

Because the Swinger used instant film, the film was transported through the camera by pulling the edge of the film that stuck out the back of the camera to start development and seat the next frame for the next shot. You can't pull 120 out the back with every shot or you'll ruin every shot. So you also need to devise a way to transport a roll of 120 through the camera.

I did this by buying a knob with a set screw on Amazon along with some 3/16 inch nylon bolts. I cut down the head of the nylon bolt to make it a T shape that would fit into the top of the take up spool and then drilled a hole through the top of the camera. . Then you push the bolt from the inside of the camera through the hole and screw the knob onto it from the outside. The bolt is long enough (I think it was 1 inch) that you can pull the knob up far enough to remove the take up spool and short enough that when you push the knob down it engages the T of the bolt into the take up spool. The hole drilled is tight enough to prevent light leaks, but loose enough to allow you to pull the knob/bolt assembly up to release the spool. There is no frame counter and I didn't try installing a red window like most 120 cameras have. I load the film and wind it until the big arrow bar on the film backing lines up with the viewfinder. Then close the back and wind 6 full turns of the knob. After picture 1, wind 1-1/2 turns to pic 2, 1-1/4 turns to get to pics 3 through 6 and one turn for pics 7 through 12. Then as you do with all 120 cameras, wind a lot to get all the film and paper backing onto the take up spool.

On the supply side, I noticed that the Swinger has really big cavity for the original type 20 film roll and that the interior has a steel frame. So I took the easy path and just used a piece of plastic I cut off of a Fujifilm FP-100C to cover a good portion of the hole and four small super magnets to hold the roll of 120 film.

The type 20 instant film was ISO 3000. The Swinger has a fixed shutter speed and a variable aperture that is set by squeezing the red button and turning it until the word "Yes" appears in the built in extinction-style exposure meter Therefore, it's very important to buy a Swinger with a functional meter and also that you only use ISO 3000 film like Ilford Delta 3200. Note that the exposure meter requires two AA batteries which you access from the inside of the film chamber.

Here are some pictures I took with camera and developed at home.

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