Thursday, May 14, 2009

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.


Tucker said...

You know of this site, right?...

Foster Huntington said...

yeah, her stuff is great. a little surprised i forgot to link her in the post.

tintin said...

I've always loved the softness of the color polaroid prints. The really amazing thing about the film (at least on my Dad's 101) was the 3000 ASA. Tri-X was grainy as all get out and it was rated 400 ASA. That the polaroids had such fine grain was amazing.

Shaun said...

That is a beautiful Polaroid camera. But my first time behind a Polaroid camera was despicable. It learned that it takes a time and practice to be able to capture the world in a 4x4 box. So practice and keep me updated on the progress. I'd love to see your work progress over time. And date them on the back. It makes the experience that much better when looking back through them.

greenjeans said...

I understand your frustration with film. I'm old enough to remember that my first 'real' camera was a Nikon film slr. Every shot I took at first looked so good in my head, but then, after waiting a day to get them printed, I'd be so surprised at what I'd actually shot. Now I'm just that grumpy old guy complaining that you kids don't have to count/worry about how many shots you take. And don't get me started on photoshop!

ps have you ever tried any medium or large format cameras?

Foster Huntington said...

You can still get 3000 ASA film. man those take some amazing black and whites. someday when i am not a broke college student i will try my hand with some format like that.

Foster Huntington said...

I have honestly never really experimented with any film. I bought my first digital camera eight months ago as my first foray into photography. I hope to mess around with medium format sometime but dont have the time or resources now.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful short film made by Charles and Ray Eames about the SX-70:

(also worth noting that the word verification for leaving this comment is "fingshiz")

Foster Huntington said...

I just added the video to the post. its amazing i will forward the "fingshiz" on to google and see what they say,

Victoria Thorne said...


what could be better?

Reference Library said...

Film here.

Viagra Online said...

That's why I love to live in those times because everything is easier and you can find it everywhere. I don't understand how do people live without these useful things. Generic Viagra Buy Viagra