The Big Shot — Polaroid’s Uniquely Fantastic 1970s Plastic Portrait Camera


Let’s get Andy Warhol over with right away, since the iconic artist — whose works are now being snapped up by the “one percent” for crazy prices, long after his death — made a name for this camera by toting it around for a few weeks and taking pictures of his celebrity friends. 

But, with or without Andy, the Big Shot — introduced in 1971 and discontinued in 1973, a few years before the introduction of SX-70 — is a wondrous camera, embodying a large quantity of Vintage Polaroid Genius in its unique plastic snout.

What the Big Shot does (one might joke and say “ALL” that it does!) is to take incredibly pleasing color portraits of human beings (and, for those who march to the beat of a different darkroom timer, pets or flowers) on peel-apart color pack film (Fuji FP-100C, these days; Polaroid’s is gone).  The quality of the photos produced by this hunk of old plastic is so nice that it makes you wonder about how today’s digital technology really works for us — or against us.

Figure:  if you hold some expensive 24 megapixel camera a foot from somebody’s face, blast an electronic flash into their eyes, and grab a photo, how flattering can you reasonably expect this picture to be?  Not very, unless you like to see deer-caught-in-the-headlights.  Great for dental records or forensic identification or police line-ups, maybe, but otherwise?  Barring the possibility that your favorite friends and subjects are Scarlett Johansson, George Clooney, and Angelina Jolie, you’ll probably get something you’d prefer to delete!

But do the very same thing with your overweight middle-aged next-door neighbor and the Big Shot, and you will find — some might say magically — that the camera manages to capture their very best visual qualities, and leaves the rest in that Origami-pile of paper and sticky developer goop that you dispose of when you’re done.  This camera refuses to take bad pictures of people; the results are consistently, almost eerily, good.  From a camera made entirely of plastic, with no electronics, batteries, light meters or exposure control, focusing mechanism — are you amazed yet?  You should be!

Those of us who own, use, and love the Big Shot do so for many reasons.  For one thing, molded into its very plastic (the camera is too primitive to have DNA, Polaroid or otherwise) is Dr. Land’s contempt for (indifference to?) marketing and market research as a guide to product development: surely, nobody at Polaroid did any market studies to determine whether there was a demand for “single-purpose plastic portrait cameras” in the early 1970s!  Also pleasing, to curmudgeons like this author, is the fact that the Big Shot’s greatness has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it was any kind of market success — it probably bombed, and certainly had a short product life. 

Who cares?  Polaroid didn’t.  The Big Shot, and the company that created it, and the man who created that company, were way above all that.  Polaroid was on top of the world throughout the 1960s, could do no wrong in the stock market, were the sole owners of the instant photography business — and their greatest commercial and technological triumph, SX-70, was waiting in the wings (their greatest failures, Polavision and Captiva, also).  In short, when this camera rolled off the Waltham, Massachusetts assembly lines, Polaroid was at the top of their game, and the Big Shot makes pictures that actually show it. 

One could safely say — read my lips — that no Polaroid camera ever made takes better pictures (excepting the 20 x 24, wise guys).  So buy one on E-Bay (don’t forget the Magicubes), get some Fuji FP-100C on Amazon, and have some fun.  Let your inner Andy out!  Do the Big Shot Shuffle!  These times will never come again.

For more on the nuts and bolts of the Big Shot, visit these links:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s