Polaroid SX-70
Photo de Marlon Medau sur Unsplash

A Comprehensive Overview of the Polaroid SX-70 Camera

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In the world of instant photography, Polaroid stands as a towering legacy, a testament to the artistry that can be crafted with a camera. Known not just for the practicality of instant images, but also for enabling a distinct style of artistic expression, Polaroid has managed to combine science and artistry in each of its camera models. Since the genesis of the company in the 1950s, Polaroid has been steadfastly adding vibrant chapters to the photographic narrative, profoundly shaping the way we capture, share, and perceive images.

Of the multitude of creations from the Polaroid repertoire, there stand four models that have not only stood the test of time but have also significantly influenced the course of photographic history. These iconic models are the Polaroid SX-70, the 200 series, the Polaroid 600 series, and the Polaroid 1000. Each of these models, in their unique ways, has left an indelible mark on the field of photography.

The Polaroid SX-70, in particular, with its elegance and sophistication, represents the epitome of Polaroid’s design ethos and technological innovation. A marvel of engineering and aesthetics, this model blends functionality and style in an unprecedented way. With its innovative features and artistic capabilities, the SX-70 continues to inspire photographers, artists, and enthusiasts, underscoring the extraordinary influence that Polaroid has had on the evolution of instant photography.

The Elegance of a Classic

Launched in 1972, the Polaroid SX-70 is an easy choice for those who love elegant lines, refined finishes and the thrill and charm of unfolding a camera before taking a picture. The Polaroid SX-70 is not just an instrument, it is an objet d’art, favoured by luminaries such as Anselm Adams, Andy Warhol and Lucas Samaras. More than just a camera, the SX-70 is a compact embodiment of SLR (single lens reflex) technology. The appeal of the Polaroid SX-70 lies in its foldable body, an advantage for the adventurous who want to capture the world without the burden of a cumbersome camera.

The SX-70 transforms the every day into a spectacle, making the act of photography an event in itself. It’s not just about taking a picture; it’s about performance, making a bold statement in vibrant colours or a subtle whisper in a sleek aluminium body.

The appeal of the Polaroid SX-70 lies mainly in its foldable body, a feature appreciated by travellers or city explorers who want to carry an instant camera with them at all times without taking up too much space. As with other Polaroid models, this camera is as much about seeing and taking pictures as it is about being seen.

Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera © Fabian Reus
Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera © Fabian Reus

Unfolding and using the Polaroid SX-70 is a discreet and invisible act. Polaroid creates objects that are meant to stand out and be noticed, not to ‘spy’. It is bold and eye-catching, both when it is in bright colours and when it is covered in a smooth layer of alloy. In this way, it’s a constant reminder that photography is as much about the process as the resulting object.

Polaroid SX-70: A Detailed Technical Examination of a Photographic Marvel

With the Polaroid SX-70’s launch in 1972, the world of instant photography was revolutionized, and its groundbreaking blend of design and technology has ensured its status as an enduring classic. The SX-70 embraces the functionality of the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, offering manual focus and giving photographers the freedom to make their own decisions. Now, let’s embark on a technical deep-dive to truly appreciate the SX-70’s innovative construction and advanced capabilities.

A camera designed for precision

Firstly, the SX-70, classified as a single lens reflex (SLR) camera, is designed for precision. The camera sports an elegant focusing system similar to 35 mm analogue cameras. The viewfinder is the key, where the alignment of the split circle image guarantees perfect focus.

As an SLR, the SX-70 uses a mirror and prism system that allows the photographer to see exactly what is being captured through the lens. This feature eliminates parallax errors, making the SX-70 an ideal choice for accurate framing and precise focusing.

The camera’s four-element glass lens offers an aperture range from f/8 to f/22. This range allows you to experiment with depth of field and light control. The lens has a focal length of 116mm, giving a wider view of the scene than most point-and-shoot cameras.

In terms of focusing, the SX-70 has a manual focus system that allows precise control and focus adjustment from just 10.4 inches (26.4 cm) to infinity. The split circle rangefinder in the viewfinder helps to achieve perfect focus; aligning the split image means the subject is in focus. For those who find manual focusing a tedious task, there is also the option of an autofocus model. The choice depends on personal preference and photographic ambitions.

Other features include a built-in electronic shutter with speeds ranging from over 10 seconds to as fast as 1/175th of a second. This provides versatility in capturing different lighting conditions and movement. There is also a frame counter on the back of the camera to indicate the number of exposures remaining in the film pack.

A compact and stylish device

The SX-70 is as compact as it is stylish. Its folding design reduces it to just 1.25 inches thick, 4.25 inches high and 7 inches long, making it easy to carry. Encased in a copper-nickel alloy skin, the camera has a rugged yet lightweight body that weighs only 23.6 ounces (670 grams), contributing to its travel-friendly nature.

The SX-70 also offers a range of accessories including a remote shutter release, close-up lens and flash bar. The flash bar provides extra light with ten bulbs split between its two sides, making it a useful addition for indoor or low-light photography.

Polaroid SX-70 compatible films

The SX-70 uses Polaroid integral film, specifically the SX-70 film type with an ISO of 160. The 3.1 x 3.1 inch (79mm x 79mm) photos are ejected from the front and developed in daylight within 15 minutes. Although not ideal for immediate exposure to light, shielding the photos immediately after ejection can help preserve image quality.

The Polaroid SX-70 graces the market in three distinct models – the Original, Alpha, and Sonar. Each variant has subtle differences, yet all bear the classic Polaroid charm. Some photographers lean towards the Alpha model, as it offers control over aperture and focus. Film types compatible with the SX-70 include the PX 70 Color Shade and PX 100 Silver Shade, which can be sourced from the Impossible Project or private sellers via platforms like eBay or Etsy.

polaroid sx-70 pictures

Despite its alluring design, the Polaroid SX-70 does present challenges. Its angled lens, not pointed straight ahead, may feel unconventional. And the photos, instantly exposed to daylight upon ejection, can have their quality affected. This immediate exposure is critical, as the first few seconds of the developing process are crucial. To ensure optimal results, a dark location for the photograph immediately post-ejection is advisable.

While the SX-70’s unique angle lens and instant exposure may present some challenges, the camera’s innovative features and timeless design make it a valuable tool for instant photography enthusiasts. Beyond its technical specifications, the Polaroid SX-70 is a testament to Polaroid’s commitment to combining technology, art and user-friendly design to capture not just images, but the joy of instant photography.

The Polaroid SX-70 Beyond Photography

The SX-70 isn’t limited to photography. Its vintage aesthetic makes it an excellent piece of home decor, particularly paired with vintage wooden furniture. The contrasting combination in a minimalist room can also make it an interesting ornament. Even the original instructions manual for the Polaroid SX-70, with its fascinating imagery, can serve as unique wall art. So blowing one up in a print shop and combining it with the camera itself can really brighten up any boring wall.

SX-70 Land Camera
SX-70 Land Camera Collection © Luke Healey

Where to Buy the Polaroid SX-70 and some tips

You can buy the Polaroid SX-70 online at Etsy, eBay, the Impossible Project’s shop for refurbished cameras, or at local flea markets. However, given its historic value and iconic design, it can be pricey, ranging from $200 to $350. So if you find one for a good price, consider buying it, even if it’s not fully functional, for its historical value and iconic design. The advantage of buying online is that you can often get a one-year warranty and accessories for a lower kit price, especially from shops specialising in vintage cameras.

The SX-70 in Visual Culture

For proud owners of the Polaroid SX-70, their piece of 20th-century history may inspire a deeper dive into its roots. Grant Hamilton’s documentary ‘Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film’ offers an excellent insight into the history of the object and its creators. Shot in 2012, forty years after the launch of the SX-70, this documentary goes well with the 1972 advertisement for the camera designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

Giants of European and American cinema such as Lawrence Olivier, Liv Ullmann and Christopher Plummer starred in advertisements for the Polaroid SX-70. For an insight into how the worlds of advertising, cinema and photography intertwined in the late 70s, these videos are easily accessible at www.openculture.com.

Coleccionando Camaras - SX-70 LAND CAMERA
SX-70 LAND CAMERA © Coleccionando Camaras

At its core, the Polaroid SX-70 is more than a camera. It’s a cultural icon, a classic example of the fusion of art and technology, and a testament to the timeless appeal of Polaroid’s unique approach to instant photography.