Using a Polaroid 545 Back for the First Time : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

OK....This isn't really a question any more, but a note on my experience. Maybe another beginner can benefot from it, and you pros can fall out of your chairs laughing.

I am an amateur photographer. I've been doing 4x5 since about September 1999 when I got my Toyo 45A. I am self taught - from internet and books. I do not live in NYC or LA where you can spit and hit another LF photographer to whom you can questions. I have to drive half-way across the state to find a store that sells 4x5 film. I had never personally SEEN a 4x5 camera until mine arrived via UPS.

Anyway, when getting ready to purchase the camera, I was collecting accessories. I got a used 545 Polaroid back, because everything I read talked about how important it was for proofing, etc. (I digress here for a minute). When I began shooting, I found that I could shoot several sheets of Tri-X or TMax for what a sheet of polaroid cost. And after shooting a polaroid, if you want enlargements or copies, you STILL needed to shoot film. I figure if I have an exposure question, I can bracket. I can see where polaroids are useful if you have some complex flash set-up, and that's the only way you can see the effect, or if you're a pro on a shoot, and want to be VERY sure every is working, or a client wants an idea of what things look like, but I concluded that I, personally, had little use for it.

Anyway, I recently bought a lot of film, paper, and mounting supplies from a man who had taken a 4x5 photography class (in CA where thay have such things) and apparently did not plan on staying with it. The box arrived yesterday, and the first thing I opened was the box of polaroid film. I pulled the holder out of storage. I am going by the instructions on the holder, which says something like, "...withdraw the envelope from the film." After my problems, I went to the Polaroid web site this morning and downloaded the manual for the 545i, whose instructions say, "...withdraw the envelope from the film UNTIL IT STOPS." (my emphasis). I destroyed two film packs before getting one to work. For the third, I left the envelope hanging out of the holder, whereas for the first two, I removed it completely from the holder, with great force, or with the application of the "Release" lever. When I switched to "Process" and removed the film, the black plasticy sheet that apparently contains the dye that is supposed to transfer to the photo is left hanging from the holder while the remainder of the pack is in my other hand. No photos developed.

Of course, with the first exposure, I left the aperture open, I am very embarassed to say. I realize that this is a common rookie mistake, but in the 7 months I'd been shooting LF, I had never done that.

Am I right here? The envelope is NOT to be removed completely away from the holder?

I do have a question: I his books, Ansel Adams mentions his book "Polaroid Land Photography." Amazon shows it out of print. Does anyone have a good book on Polaroid photography that they can suggest- perhaps one that discusses the technical aspects - how it works - interesting things you can do with it, etc.?

-- John H. Henderson (, March 24, 2000


yes you should pull the envelope until it stops, do not pull with great force. The Lever should be in the L position and the front of the packet (the side with the target) should be facing the front of the camera. use the release lever only to take out a packet that you do not for some reason want to expose. After exposing the film slide the paper sleeve back in to the holder all the way to the end. Switch lever to P (for process and pull the entire packet out of the 545i; I usually remove my 545i from the camera before I do this so I won't disturb the camera. Polaroid is a terrific tool, both for teaching yourself the possibilities of your camera (swings tilts, and other movements) as well as a way to jugge your composition. If you shoot Type 55 positive/ negative film you can use the negative to check your focus.

-- Ellis Vener (, March 24, 2000.

I can sympathize with your frustrations.

When you're taking the picture, you withdraw the envelope but NOT fully out of the holder. Be gentle here. After exposing, you push the envelope back, switch the lever. Then remove the holder from the camera, and pull the packet out quickly, but smoothly.

Understanding how these work will help do it right.

The film envelope has two main pieces. The outer envelope has the print paper attached to it. The inner piece has the film and developer packet attached. The inner piece is held to the outer envelope with a little metal clasp at the bottom.

When you put the lever to LOAD, the rollers move apart. This allows you to insert the film without damaging it and rupturing the developer packet. It also sets a catch at the bottom of the holder to grab the metal clasp (attached to the film).

Now you insert the envelope. The rollers are apart, and the clasp catches onto the metal clasp. When you pull the envelope out to expose the film (and don't pull it all the way out. Just till you meet some resistance) the clasp is holding onto the film, and keeps the film in the holder. You then expose the film.

Now you push the envelope back in the holder. Turn the lever to process. The process position moves the rollers together and releases the catch holding the metal clasp so the film, paper, developer and envelope will come out together. When you pull the envelope out, the developer packet ruptures, releasing the deveoper gel, and the rollers spread it out evenly over the film. This also squeezes the negative (with developer on it) against the print paper.

You count the development time down, slowly peel the print from the film, and coat the print (if required). Some films need coating, some don't.

The negative and developer stay on the film, and the positive image transfers to the paper.

You don't usually use the small release lever by itself. It is there in case you want to remove the envelope without processing. You might want to do this if it's cold out and don't want to process until you get in a warmer place. (You have to have the big lever in the Load position to do this.)

It's very difficult to pull the envelope for processing while it is still in the camera, so I suggest removing the holder from the camera before pulling the envelope.


1. Waste a film, and take it apart just to see how the whole thing works. This is how I figured it out.

2. Open the cover that exposes the rollers and see what they do in the load and process positions.

3. See what the release lever does by looking at the catch as you press and release the lever.

There are lots of reasons for using Polaroid, but it certainly isn't essential. Here are some:

1. Flash Lights in the Studio: you want to make sure you've got the lighting just right. This is difficult with modelling lights; Polaroid removes the guess work.

2. Depth of filed check: film doesn't record quite the way you see it on the ground glass; Polaroid let's you know exactly what will happen.

3. Instant Feedback: this is a great teaching tool. You get to see what you did right and wrong instantly and make corrections.

There are other unusual uses, but these are the ones that apply when you are first starting.

By the way, there is a Polaroid film that gives you a print and a regular negative, though they have different ISO ratings (the print and negative, that is).

I don't use my 545 holder much anymore because the film is so expensive. They have a pack holder that brings the cost of the film way down. (They actually have 2: 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 which is the cheapest, and a 4x5 pack.) I use this once in a while, mostly for studio checking.

Regarding "Polaroid Land Photography", I have a copy and it is worth getting if you can. I've purchase many used books on Barnes & Noble (though not this one) in their out of print service.

Best of luck, Charlie

-- Charlie Strack (, March 24, 2000.

I too have a Polaroid 545 back and hardly use it. The film is way too expensive and I find the back hard to use sucessfully - although that is probably my fault. I subsequently bought a 405 Polaroid back which I like a lot better. It's smaller and the film much cheaper. It doesn't give me exactly 4X5 when I use it but that hasn't been a problem at all. I'd rather have 80% of a 4X5 in Polaroid 405 format than 0% of a 4X5 in Polaroid 545, if you follow my thinking.

-- David Grandy (, March 24, 2000.

Just a thought, but make sure you have the right side of the film packet facing the lens. This is the side with the cross hair in the circle. Otherwise, the outer envelope will pull all the way off when you pull it to expose the negative.

If you look at the end of the envelope nearest the metal end clip you will a see a raised white strip of cardboard. This catches inside the end of the holder and keeps the envelope from coming apart.

You do all the loading and exposing with the lever in the L position. Only move it to P when you are ready to process.

The suggestion to blow a film and take it all apart is a good one. Hold the metal clip with your fingers and pull the twin tabs at the other end until it separates. You can also see how the release catch operates in the holder.

Feel free to e-mail for more detailed info. I shoot almost exclusively Polaroid 4x5 and 8x10 and have very few mishaps any more, although I did go through a learning period.

-- Tony Brent (, March 24, 2000.

Ellis makes a very fine suggestion about trying Polaroid Type 55 P/N. The print lets you check composition and exposure while the negative can be used for critical focus check (I use an old 10x loupe from my days as a geologist). If you are careful, you can also clear the negative in a sodium sulfide solution and print from it. Polaroid suggests that Type 55 has an ISO rating of 50. This is kind of an average as the best EI rating for the print is different than the best EI rating for the negative. I usually rate the film at EI 80 for the print. Although I haven't purposely exposed for the negative yet, I've been told that some people overexpose by as much as one stop to get the best negative (maybe others could provide better data on this).

-- Larry Huppert (, March 24, 2000.

The detailed instructions above are spot on and hopefully have resolved your query. However, there is another use for the release lever, other than releasing an unexposed film.... You can use Quickload film in your Polaroid 545, exposing it exactly as you would expose a Polaroid, and then after pushing back the outer envelope you simply use the release lever to allow you to remove the film. The 545 holder is not as good as the Quickload holder for using Quickload film but it will do in an emergency - I use it whenever my Quickload holder jams up! Incidentally, I am a professional commercial photographer and NEVER take a shot without first taking a Polaroid. The cost is insignificat compared with the cost of getting the shot wrong, and anyway, the client pays for it - and expects to.

-- Garry Edwards (, April 06, 2000.

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