The Polaroid MiniPortrait 203 Passport Camera (and Project)

The Polaroid MiniPortrait 203 showing the film back. Photo by Derrick Story.

A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law Chris showed up at the house with a beat-up nylon flight bag. Inside of it was a Polaroid MiniPortrait 203 with 15 exposures of Type 669 film.

"I found it in the old man's garage collecting dust," he said. "I thought you might be able to put it to use."

I had told Chris about theAnalogstory over beers one day, and he was excited for my new online venture. His finding and bringing over the MiniPortrait was his contribution to the project. And what a contribution it is.

The MiniPortrait was used to shoot passport pictures. The 203 has twin lenses that can print a pair of identical images on a sheet of Polaroid film. But it also has a setting that allows you to shoot one frame, recompose, then shoot again, and both images are placed on a single print.

The Polaroid MiniPortrait 203 front view showing twin lenses. Photo by Derrick Story.

When I discovered that feature, my mind began to reel with possibilities. But first I had to ascertain if the camera was still working. I downloaded a user manual, figured out its basic operation, then called my assistant Leah over for an impromptu photo shoot.

I underexposed the first image. But made some lighting adjustments and hit gold on the second try. Thank goodness! I only have 13 exposures left, and I didn't want to blow through them figuring out the camera.

"Leah" - Captured with the MiniPortrait 203. Photo by Derrick Story.

The camera has its own flash, and I wanted to use that as the main light to stay true to the passport look of the camera's era. I filled in some light with window illumination and a LCD panel light overhead. But continuous lighting was a bit of a challenge considering that the slowest shutter speed is 1/60th and maximum aperture is f/8 (specs at the end of the article). Fortunately, it did work. And the lighting combination did a great job of maintaining the vintage Polaroid look.

The expired film also contributed to the cause. It was dated March 2005, and had been stored in a garage that gets very hot in the summer. Yet, it still rendered images with good detail (and lovely faded colors) - a testament to the quality of Polaroid pack film.

After the second exposure, I wrote down all of the settings, camera to subject distance, and lighting notes. I should be able to repeat the look for future sessions. Leah loves the shot, and we started brainstorming about who to photograph next. I want to create one complete gallery with this batch of film. Then maybe start something new with some Fujifilm FP 100C that I found on eBay.

This Polacolor pack film expired in March 2005. But I can still find some Fuji pack film on the aftermarket.

Speaking of the film, this will end up being an art project in the truest sense. Since Fuji discontinued its production of instant pack film in this size, it's only a matter of time before the existing supply dries up, then so does the pictures from this wonderful camera. These will be one of a kind prints for sure.

In meantime, I'm going to take this as far as it will go. I'll post images on About that Shot as I shoot them, and a complete gallery once the project has a dozen or so prints. Stay tuned. This should be fun.

Basic Specs for the MiniPortrait

  • Shooting 2 passport pictures on 100 pack film
  • Two focal distances 1.92M and 1.2M. with sonar fine focusing adjustment.
  • f/stops from 8 to 32. 
  • Two shutter speeds 1/60 and 1/125.
  • Flash setting for 100 and 3000 ISO
  • Can be used with or without included bounce flash
  • Separate flash with X-sync cable
  • Selector switch for taking 2 different pictures or 2 identical pictures.
  • Uses 4 AA batteries.
  • 6 volts DC socket for AC adapter.
  • Uses removable Polaroid film holder model 73A.

And if you have questions about which type of Polaroid film works with specific cameras and backs, here's a terrific page on www.polamad.com.

-Derrick

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