Gear review // Polaroid 900 4x5 (Converted by Razzle)

It is sad news to find that Dean Jones, the man behind the Razzle 4X5 cameras, plus many other panoramic and other hand made cameras passed away from cancer last year 11-12-2014. I only just found out this morning through a friend. I did not know Dean personally but have several conversations with him when purchasing My Polaroid connversion a couple of years ago.

image Razzle

I've always liked shooting film - I guess due to "that feel" that most photographers share when shooting it. I've been shooting 35mm for quite a while now, mostly black and white, but with the quality of digital cameras such as Fuji's XE-1, X-pro 1 and the likes of Olympus' OM-D, although I love the grain and texture of 35mm film it is obvious that digital has surpassed in quality for quite some time now. Even with medium format film there are rival medium format digital cameras which provide the same if not better quality with a fraction of the hassle (but this is only so if you're down with spending at least $10K). So if digital cameras can achieve a better quality image at a fraction of hassle is there really any point in shooting film?

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Large format is however one format of analog photography that will surpass the quality and overall 'grand element' of any digital camera to this day. I've always wanted to shoot 4x5 and even larger formats such as 8x10 and beyond but I've never really wanted to hassle around with field cameras that take ages disassemble, load, work out the exposure, set the shutter, set the aperture, work out what I am exactly shooting, pull over a dark curtain, whip out the ground glass, shoot with a zone system in mind and then reverse everything just for one shot. Obviously you can see how I wasn't interested in all these procedures but that all changed once I found this...

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I bought a 4x5 but not like the ones I described above. This one is an old Polaroid 900 that has been converted to take 4x5 film. It has a bright viewfinder with a rangefinder which makes focusing just that more easier and fun to use which is great compared to the difficult to use viewfinders of other 4x5 cameras such as the Graflex. As a customised camera instead of using the standard inbuilt Polaroid lens, I was lucky enough to find one which had a Nikkor-W 150mm 5.6 lens attached (usually they'd come with a lens such as the Rodenstock 150mm 4.7 but I find the Nikkor better). In 35mm terms this lens is equivalent to your standard 50mm focal length. Film loading is easy - you simply slip in a 4x5 holder and remove the dark slide like you usually would with a LF camear. Built with the unique "Razzlok II" back, once the picture is taken you simply slip in the dark slide and pull the holder out.

The best feature of the Razzle 4x5 Polaroid is its portability. The camera includes a hand strap which makes it possible to use without a tripod, making it possible to shoot street photography with a large format camera! The camera also folds up nicely to fit inside your everyday bag. 

image by Simon P M Johnson

image by Simon P M Johnson

Hamish Swain by Simon P M Johnson

Hamish Swain by Simon P M Johnson

Overall I find Razzle's 4x5 Polaroid one of the best camera buys I have so far bought. It does everything I've wanted it to do in terms of shooting 4x5 with 100% more ease and fun. The only thing I dislike about the camera is the fact it can't take Polaroid peel-apart film (eg. FP-3000B etc...) but this isn't a huge problem as at the end of the day I wanted to shoot 4x5 B&W film. I'm pretty sure Razzle does make models that can take the peel-apart film. My advice is if you've always wanted to shoot large format film but have always been put off by the complexicity and fiddly processes Razzle's 4x5 Polaroid is the camera for your. I know there are other converted Polaroids out there that take 4x5 film but I've never seen one as easy-to-use yet practical as this one.

Oh yeah and I bought the camera for $900 but that's worth it for a portable 4x5 ;)

By Mino Peric