Polaroid 20×24 camera

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Polaroid 20×24
Self portrait of Elsa Dorfman with her Polaroid 20x24, taken with another 20x24
TypeInstant large format field camera
Sensor typeFilm
Sensor sizenominally 20 in × 24 in (51 cm × 61 cm)
Film formatInstant (peel-apart roll)
FocusManual, via bellows extension
Exposure meteringExternal meter required
ViewfinderGround glass/hood
Frame coverage100%
Dimensions25.2 in × 40.9 in × 59.1 in (64.0 cm × 103.9 cm × 150.1 cm) (W×L×H)
Weight240 lb (109 kg)

The Polaroid 20×24 camera is a very large instant camera made by Polaroid, with film plates that measure a nominal 20 by 24 inches (51 cm × 61 cm), giving the camera its name, although at least one camera takes pictures that are 23 by 36 inches (58 cm × 91 cm).[3]


The Polaroid 20×24 is one of the largest format cameras currently in common use, and could be hired from Polaroid agents in various countries.

A plexiglass sheet is taped to the front of the lens, and the subject uses their reflection to help determine where they are in the frame. Because of the size of the image, acquiring an image with sufficient depth of field can be a challenge, and the lens (the camera at 20×24 Studio in New York City was fitted with a Fujinon-A 600 mm f/11 lens) is often stopped down to f/90.[4] Lenses were available in a variety of focal lengths ranging from 135 mm to 1200 mm, but only the 600 mm, 800 mm, and 1200 mm lenses were designed for the 20×24 format.[5]

The 20×24 is collapsible for storage and transport like a field camera: the bellows are compressed into the body, and the body lowers into its base.[6] In use, the bellows can be extended from 17 to 60 in (43 to 152 cm); the front standard has a movement range of 24 in (61 cm) (rise and fall), 6 in (15 cm) (side-to-side shift), and 4 in (10 cm) (swing) while the rear standard is fixed and has no movements. The body of the camera may be moved from 24 to 72 in (61 to 183 cm) above ground level.[5]

 The film comes out of the BOTTOM of the camera. I always feel I am delivering a baby or praying to a cameragod because I pull the film out on my knees. The pod end comes out first.

 — Elsa Dorfman, from photographer's website[2]

Developing chemicals are stored in foil pods housed in the processing unit at the rear of the camera, and are applied to the exposed film via 22-inch-wide (56 cm) titanium rollers.[1][5] The film comes on two rolls: a 150-foot-long (46 m) negative roll and a 50-foot-long (15 m) positive roll. After the negative is exposed, one foil pod is ruptured by the rollers and the developing chemicals are spread between the negative and positive rolls as the film exits the bottom of the camera's rear processor;[5] 112 minutes after exposure, the negative and positive are peeled apart, producing the finished photograph.[7]


According to John Reuter, a former Polaroid employee, only six cameras were built between 1976–78; five remain in use.[4] Tracy Storer clarified that two prototypes were built first, then using the lessons learned, five finished cameras were completed; famous artists and photographers were invited to use the cameras at the Polaroid studios on the condition that Polaroid was allowed to keep some of the resulting images.[8] The camera was built by the company's wood and metalworking studios under the supervision of John McCann, at the request of Dr. Edwin Land, who wanted to demonstrate the quality of Polacolor II film, which the company was about to launch in 8×10 format. The first portraits were taken at the 1976 Polaroid shareholder's meeting.[5]

The 20×24 Studio was spun off from Polaroid in 1980, with Reuter assuming technical and artistic lead duties, and the Studio's camera moved to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1982. That year, camera time was made available to students. 20×24 Studio moved to New York in 1986 to service the demand for commercial photography there, and the original space became known as 20×24 Studio Boston.[8]

In 1997, Tracy Storer assembled the first new production 20×24 in twenty years using spare parts and a 20×24 field camera front built by Wisner Classic Manufacturing Company; Storer had been hired by Calumet Photographic to build the camera for a new large format studio in San Francisco, which was renamed The Polaroid 20×24 Studio West in 2001, and later Mammoth Camera. Storer has since built additional 20×24s on private commission and for 20×24 Holdings, one of which was shipped to Germany.[8] Wisner also offered a processor for Polaroid film (essentially the rear section of a 20×24), allowing the use of Polaroid 20×24 film with the large Wisner field camera;[9] at least one Wisner processor is owned by 20×24 Holdings to test film.[8]

Polaroid 20×24 Cameras[5][10]
No. Owner Location Notes
1 MIT Cambridge MA Original prototype which is now an empty shell; rollers and motor were removed.[11]
2 20×24 Holdings New York City Two cameras: one is studio-based (at the Film Society of Lincoln Center), and the other is the "travel" camera
3 Supersense Vienna Originally acquired by The Impossible Project. Currently operated by Supersense,[12] offering photo shootings for the public.
4 Elsa Dorfman Cambridge MA Dorfman used the camera from approximately 1980 until her retirement in 2015.[1][13]
5 20×24 Studio Berlin Berlin Originally acquired by Jan Hnizdo and moved to Prague; later purchased by Markus Mahla in 2018 for 20×24 Studio Berlin.
6 Estate of Edwin Land Cambridge MA Bequeathed to the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments in 2004; it was a retirement present for Land in 1982.[14]
20×24 Studio West San Francisco "Hybrid" camera assembled by Tracy Storer using parts from one prototype and a Wisner front.[8]

Production of the film for the 20×24 was discontinued in 2008, with approximately 550 boxes in stock at the time.[1] Each case of film contained one negative roll, three positive rolls, and 39 pods, able to make up to 45 exposures with sparing use.[2] When the photographer Elsa Dorfman retired in 2015, only half the remaining stock was left,[1] although The Impossible Project stated they were exploring how to restart film production.[6] 20×24 Studio, which was founded by Reuter to lease the cameras and sell the required supplies, announced they had restarted production of the chemicals in 2010.[15] However, 20×24 Studio later announced in 2016 that support would be discontinued at the end of 2017; at the time, it cost US$1,750 (equivalent to $2,130 in 2022) per day to rent a camera and each exposure was an additional US$125 (equivalent to $152 in 2022).[16][17] Improvements to the chemistry made using the old, stored film more viable, and 20×24 Studio later announced they would be able to continue operations through 2019.[18]

In 2021, Ethan Moses built a new Polaroid 20x24 camera, one of the first to be built by someone other than Polaroid.[19]

Users and portrait subjects[edit]

Photographers such as Dawoud Bey, Ellen Carey, Chuck Close, Elsa Dorfman, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, David Levinthal, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Rauschenberg, Joyce Tenneson, Jennifer Trausch, Andy Warhol, TJ Norris, and William Wegman have used this heavy (235 lb or 107 kg), wheeled-chassis camera. Ansel Adams used the camera, notably to make the first official photographic Presidential portrait, of President Jimmy Carter in 1979. .[6][17][20][21]

To celebrate Lady Gaga's new role as Creative Director of Polaroid, a portrait of her was shot with the 20×24 camera on June 30, 2010 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[22][23][24]


  1. ^ a b c d e Becker, Deborah (December 22, 2015). "Portrait Photographer Elsa Dorfman, Known For Her Giant Polaroid Camera, Is Retiring". WBUR. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Dorfman, Elsa. "About Elsa's Studio and the Polaroid 20×24". Elsa Dorfman: Still Clickin' in 20 × 24. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  3. ^ Hoffman, Katherine (Autumn 1999 – Winter 2000). "Elsa Dorfman: Portraits of Our Time". Woman's Art Journal. 20 (2): 24–28. doi:10.2307/1358981. JSTOR 1358981.
  4. ^ a b Gampat, Chris (October 2010). "A Tour of the Polaroid 20x24 Camera". The Phoblographer [blog]. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "20×24 Studio FAQs". 20×24 Studio. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Gampat, Chris. "Instant Gratification on a Grand Scale: Polaroid's 20x24 Camera". Explora [blog]. B&H Photo-Video. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  7. ^ Becker, Deborah (May 31, 2020). "Cambridge PHotographer Elsa Dorfman, Famous For Her Giant Polaroids, Dies At 83". WBUR. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e Storer, Tracy (August 2018). "History". Polaroid 20x24 Studio West. Mammoth Camera. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  9. ^ "Page 13". Wisner Classic Manufacturing Company. Archived from the original on April 16, 2003.
  10. ^ "About Us: The History". 20×24 Studio Berlin. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  11. ^ "MIT Museum Receives 70 Years of Polaroid History in Donation from PLR IP Holdings" (Press release). MIT Museum. April 12, 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2020. The archive of Polaroid history and artifacts contains some of the most fascinating inventions and innovations from the 20th century. Rare Polarized glasses dating from the 1939 World's Fair, original newsprint sketches by Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land, a historic bellows camera the size of a filing cabinet, as well as examples of Land-designed camera prototypes, and SX-70 cameras that defined the instant photography era, are just some of the original items that the MIT Museum acquired.
  12. ^ "SUPERSENSE POLAROID 20X24". Supersense - Shop, Manufactory & Event Space. Retrieved 4 December 2021.
  13. ^ Greenspun, Philip (August 2018). "History of Photography Timeline". Philip Greenspun. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  14. ^ "Polaroid instant camera, large-format 20 x 24". Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  15. ^ "The Impossible Project and 20×24 Studio" (Press release). 20×24 Studio. March 29, 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  16. ^ Kennedy, Randy (June 20, 2016). "Champions of a Monster Polaroid Yield to the Digital World". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  17. ^ a b Leuchter, Miriam (June 21, 2016). "The End of Polaroid 20x24 Large-Format Instant Photography?". Popular Photography. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  18. ^ "20×24 Studio to Continue Operations in 2019" (Press release). 20×24 Studio. February 23, 2019. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  19. ^ Moses, Ethan. "Thanks @brooklynfilmcamera and @wyckoffwindows for having me to do some 20x24 direct postitives in Brooklyn over the next few weeks. Follow @brooklynfilmcamera for more details about portraits and workshops coming up!". Instagram. Instagram. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  20. ^ Mark Feeney (March 16, 2008). "Instant karma". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2014-03-15.
  21. ^ "Live Portrait Sessions with the 20x24 Polaroid Camera" (Press release). Hathaway Gallery. October 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  22. ^ "Polaroid NEW0076". Polaroid. 30 June 2010. Archived from the original on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  23. ^ "Lady Gaga and the 20×24 Camera at MIT Museum". 20×24 Studio. 30 June 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  24. ^ Lyons, Ana (July 7, 2010). "Lady Gaga pops by MIT". The Tech. Retrieved 1 June 2020.

External links[edit]