Polaroid SX-70 First Impressions
Released in 1972, the Polaroid SX-70 is an integral film SLR. Of course, at first glance it looks nothing like an SLR and some might argue that the definition is being stretched, but you can’t argue that it’s an amazing achievement of design.
I’ve wanted one of these for years, mostly because I wanted more control over my instant photos.
Now that I have had one for long enough to put several packs through, I have a few things to tell you, good and bad.
Hi everyone, Azriel Knight here and today I’m giving you my first impressions on the Polaroid SX-70
We have all been in love with a camera before. We are all guilty of gear acquisition syndrome, or G.A.S. One of my bucket list cameras was the SX-70. It looked like nothing else. It has an almost romantic feel to it. But romance will only get you so far and for me at least, the honeymoon didn’t last very long. I’ll get to those parts in a bit but first a quick overview of the camera and its functions.
The first thing you’ll notice is it’s heavier than expected. Mine, with a full pack of film and an after market wood grain finish it weighs in at over a pound, or about 730 grams.
You pull the top and it pops up and locks into place. Mine is a little tough, and a lot of the time I have to pull up and then push back on the front to lock it in.
On the front you’ll see the focus dial, shutter release, exposure compensation dial, light meter window, flash bar slot, and of course, the lens, capable of a minimum focusing distance of just 10.4 inches.
The film holder release is on the side, simply press down, then load a pack inside.
The back has a tiny display, telling you how many frames you have left. The modern film comes in packs of eight instead of ten, so subtract two from whatever you see.
It’s impossible to talk about the camera without talking about the film.
Now of course, if you have just about any other film camera out there, you can buy whatever you want. Kodak film, Ilford film, any kind for its format. Unless you modify it yourself,
Polaroid is locked in.
The SX-70 only comes in 160 ISO (ASA) with colour or B&W and the film in the 20th century was nothing short of magic and hasn’t been reproduced in the same way since Polaroid went bankrupt.
The Impossible Project, which later became Polaroid Originals, and is now just Polaroid have made huge leaps in the quality of their product, and I can only speak for the packs of Polaroid Originals before they re branded, but, I still have to either flip my camera upside down and frantically hide the photo as it comes out, which doesn’t work 100% or tape a shield to the end of it, and I still have to be careful anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful Polaroid has survived at all in the 21st century, but man, do you know what it’s like having to put an ugly taped up plastic duck bill on the end of this amazing design? It’s like when you were a kid, and you couldn’t wait to go out trick or treating in your superman costume and your mum says “oh hunnie it’s cold outside, better put a jacket on or you’ll catch cold.”
It ruins the look.
Maybe I have it all wrong but that took some of the experience away for me. I knew what I was getting into when I bought it, but it still sucks. However, we all need to keep supporting Polaroid so they can crack that code.
I’m going to give you a few tips if you’re looking for one or just bought one and then I’ll list some personal pros and cons, but first here are a few of my favourite photos taken with the SX-70.
Okay, here are a few things that I wish I knew before buying my SX-70
- Buy a reusable modern flash bar called a mint flash instead of new old stock on eBay.
- Remember your exposure compensation will reset every time you close the camera. You want to set it to -1/3 of a stop every time you open the camera because the new film has a different ISO (ASA).
- Some of the early models don’t have tripod sockets. Something to watch out for.
- If you want auto focus, upgrade to an SX-70 Sonar
- And a big one here. Be ready to spend some money. There is going to be a learning curve, and if the subject really matters, you may waste two or three shots getting the exposure right. I bought ten packs to get myself started, and I feel like I still have a tonne to learn six packs in.
I hope you found a useful tip here, and be sure to tweet me your SX-70 tips
Okay, let’s talk about some pros and cons. First the pros.
Manual focus was the initial deciding factor for me, and many people. The quality of the lens too, but fine tuning the focus was a big plus.
The minimum focusing distance on the camera, for me is by far my favourite feature. Being able to shoot subjects less than a foot away really opens things up.
Lastly, as I mentioned, I think the SX-70 is one of the most beautiful cameras ever made.
And now the cons
If you’re not willing to delve into lomography, or modifying the camera, you’re going to be locked at ISO (ASA) 160 and that means a flash or a tripod for many low light situations. A 116mm lens with a max aperture of f8 doesn’t really make it easier either.
Next is having to shielding my photos. Not the cameras fault, but since I’m locked into one type of film it’s worth mentioning. Putting a shield up or cramming the shot into my bag is a pain but I recognize this won’t bother some people.
The colour also has its shortcomings and I know people love that Instagram look but Polaroid’s reputation was brilliant high gloss colour, and the New Polaroid is getting closer and closer to that all the time, but they aren’t quite there yet. You’ll need to decide what colours look good on the film to you, and seek those ones out when you’re making photos. Or you can just shoot B&W.
I think what is important here is not to take the camera too seriously and have fun with it. There are moments where this format is perfect in capturing the mood.
And those are my first impressions on the Polaroid SX-70. If you like what I do around here, consider becoming my patron on Patreon, you can also follow me on Instagram and twitter, and until next time, stay classic.