Polaroid SX-70

I represent the first generation of photographers who grew up never knowing the dark room or the schlep of buying roll after roll of film. Instead, I grew up frustrated by buyer's remorse, and Moore's law impact on the constant progress in digital photography capacity and quality. Despite the decades of advances in CCD (the device that captures light and record the image) technology, digital photography still struggles to capture some of the magic of film photography, especially the colors of a simple Polaroid.

Last weekend I found a Polaroid SX-70 at my local Goodwill, on the same shelf where I found the switchable panorama plastic camera, for $5. Unfortunately, Polaroid discontinued the SX-70 film five years ago and Ebay is the only place to find film. The high cost of film, $2 to $3 per exposure, delegates SX-70 photography to a cult-like following.

The SX-70 was the first auto focusing Single Lens Reflex camera in wide-scale production. Today cameras rely on color contrasts and the sharpness of lines to quickly focus. These Polaroid SLR's used sonar, identified by the circular gold plate with a mesh cover, to judge the distance from the subject and adjust the lens in the same way that submarines use sonar to aim torpedoes and navigate shallow waters.

The chrome plated steel and leather body breaks down to a 12" by 5" by 1.5" block, roughly the size and weight of a photo book. Its a pretty slick little set up. Here is a video from the 70's showcasing the original SX-70's features. (Please not that this is not the auto focus version as described in this post.)

I have developed my creative photographic process on the assumption that each exposure costs nothing, I will never shoot film because I can't conceptualize spending a few dollars per exposure to get a photo. For example, after about 30 tries, I finally got this right. With an SX-70 I would have spent anywhere from $60-$100. With my Canon G9, it was just a fraction of the price I paid for the camera and memory card.

My inability to shoot Polaroids makes them all the more interesting and desirable. Here are some Polaroids taken by my friends with cameras similar to the SX-70:

Mikael Kennedy

Spencer Philips

The SX-70 was in my possession for a turbulent couple of hours as I toyed with the idea of trying my hand with Polaroids. In the end, I sold the camera to my friend Spencer and decided to stick to my guns.