Reviewing the Polaroid “Passport” Camera!

Hey everyone!

Today, we want to share with you a particularly interesting variant of the Polaroid camera which had caught our eyes when we first discovered it: the Polaroid Studio Express 203 (“Studio Express 203“). It has a variant model which contains the same specifications, except that the facade is different: the Polaroid Miniportrait 203.

These non-folding professional cameras uses packfilm (much like the original Polaroid Land Model cameras), but naturally we had also obtained modified instant backs to be able to shoot instax film. Its intended use was to to capture passport-type photos, but it can be used to capture duo-type photos on a single piece of film.  In the USA, the Polaroid Studio Express cameras were utilised for taking passport photos, but when it stopped allowing the use of Polaroid photos, the cameras were sent to other countries which continued to use them; incidentally, Singapore was one of them!

The specifications are interesting: the Studio Express 203 has 5 different apertures (f/8 f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32) and 2 lens, but you can select which lens to fire (either both at the same time or one after another). This nifty features allows users to come up with creative and inventive shots when framing and shooting this camera. It also has flash  speeds compatible with ISO 100 or ISO 3000 (definitely needed for taking passport photos).

This is our Studio Express 203 camera!

Testing the Studio Express 203 with the 1.92m Lens Adapter

On the desk, there are two lens adapters that allows the user to shoot images at a further distance (i.e. 1.92m). Without it, the image will be blurry.

On the left: with the lens adapter; on the right: without the lens adapter.

Testing the Studio Express 203 Outdoors

We decided to test the use of the camera on one such trip to the Thomson Nature Park, a relatively new nature park which is part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. We chose a simple trail to amble along, as our objective was to see what we could capture with the Studio Express 203. Because of the relatively small aperture (largest being f/8), we decided to use flash as we walked along the darkened forest trails.

Being able to capture 2 separate photos on the same film permits us to exercise our creative and/or capture juxtaposing images.
We also made use of the “golden hour” sunlight to capture the images, which produced a stronger depth-of-field effect.
As the nearest focusing distance was 1.2m, we stood quite far away from the object, but the
The Polaroid Studio Express 203! We made sure to clean up the camera after laying it on the grass 😛

The beauty of the Polaroid Studio Express 203, unlike any other Polaroid “passport” cameras, is the “sonar rangefinder” function! As such, the sonar rangefinder ensures that the camera is at the correct distance for sharp focus and correct image size. When inserting “AA batteries” inside the handle, a red-light signal would appear in the viewfinder, informing when the image is in focused. If the camera is too close, the left-hand light will be flicked on; if too far, the right-hand light will be flicked on. If the camera is at the correct distance, both lights will be flicked on.

Control Test Shots with the Studio Express 203

After this, we decided to test the camera with the following variables: flash speed (ISO 100 or ISO 3000), focusing distance (1.2m or 1.92m) and aperture (f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32). By changing the variables, we were curious with how the film would be captured in the different scenarios, especially since the shutter speeds were fixed. Further, as the ISO for the Fujifilm Instax Wide film is 640, it did not fit nicely with the flash speed available for this camera. For reference, the left photo captured on the instax wide film is with the flash pointing upwards towards the ceiling, and the right photo captured is with the flash \pointing at the object.

The first two collages below were shots taken at flash speed of ISO 3000, the variable being the focusing distance and aperture. Naturally, with a fixed shutter speed, this probably means that the shots would not be very well-lit with this flash speed.

These series of photos were taken at flash speed of ISO 3000 and a focusing distance of 1.92m, the variable being the aperture. It is apparent that even with the direct flash, the camera could not capture the image well after f/11. Clearly, the upward flash shots were as good as hopeless!
These series of photos were taken at flash speed of ISO 3000 and a focusing distance of 1.2m, the variable being the aperture. It could be that because the focusing distance is nearer than the first set above, light does not need to travel as fast and therefore the captured (flash) photo is still somewhat passable at f/16. There is also a slight visual improvement for the upward flash shots at 1.2m (versus 1.92m above), but nothing to write home about.

The next two collages below were taken at flash speed of ISO 100, the variable being the focusing distance and aperture. As such, we were expecting the shots to be brighter for sure.

These series of photos were taken at flash speed of ISO 100 and a focusing distance of 1.92m, the variable being the aperture. The direct flash shots were too bright up till f/32, whereas the upward flash shots could only be sustained by to f/16.
Just to clarify, the left shot for this collage is of the upward flash shots, whereas the right shot is the direct flash shots. At a nearer focusing distance of 1.2m, the object is clearly overexposed when flashed directly, even up to f/32. As for the upward flash shot, the image is still passable at f/22.

These test shots gave us a good indicator of how to shoot with flash on Instax Wide film next time, as it is likely to be the film of choice over the packfilm (given the latter’s scarcity and rarity). It seems that for dark areas, the flash speed of ISO 100 at f/22 onwards would be ideal, whereas in outdoor areas, the flash speed of ISO 3000 at f/8 onwards would work fine. These are general pointers and will depend much on the lighting condition too.

Overall, we love the feel of the Polaroid Studio Express 203. Even though it is a bit bulky, the creative options (of being able to shoot two images in one photo frame) are appealing and that is part of the reason why we obtained it in the first place! Ironically, we have not used it to take photos it was intended for: portraits of people! We will definitely do so in future and share our images with our readers!

Till next time,



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