Review – Polaroid SX-70 Original SLR Camera

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I have had my SX-70 camera for a few years and I really love it. This review is on my own very early version of the original Polaroid SX-70. It is the first single lens reflex or SLR instant camera that was manufactured by Polaroid starting in 1972.  Many variations were made and eventually Polaroid produced cheaper non-folding plastic box instant cameras that also used the SX-70 integral film.

SX-70 Polaroid Camera

The SX-70 is made out of a chrome-plated plastic body with brown leather panels on the top and bottom of the camera. It has rubber bellows that expand when the camera is opened. When not in use the camera is generally in a closed folded up position. The camera can be pulled open from the top panel and a metal hinge on the side of the camera keeps the camera open. The Polaroid SX-70 uses manual focus with an automatic exposure system. You can focus on objects anywhere from 10.4 inches to infinity. This camera does not come with a built in flash, but instead has a socket on the top panel where you can insert a flash bar or electronic flash.

This camera can sometimes be found in stock in my Etsy Shop or you can also find it on Ebay and in thrift shops. The average cost of the camera ranges from $100 all the way up to $400. The camera drives a higher price due to the higher quality images it produces and it being a first of its kind. Considering the age of some of these cameras many of them may have dry, cracked or even deteriorated panel covers that would need to be replaced. If that is the case you can purchase new skins from a company called Land Cameras. You can also find skins on Ebay for a little cheaper at the following link SX-70 Polaroid Skin Replacement.  That is where I get most of my replacement skins and I have yet to have any problems. You can see an example of on that I have worked on here. SX-70 in Closed Position

Film

The Polaroid SX-70 currently takes film from The Impossible Project. That is the only film that I really trust to still be used. If you buy expired film from Ebay and some shops you take the chance of purchasing film that is dried up and unusable or just so old that all of your Polaroids are washed out and and covered with streaks(which is sometimes desired for projects, but still you run a huge risk). You can find film from Amazon.com from the following links for both Impossible Project Color Film and Impossible Project Black & White Film. It can also be bought directly from The Impossible Project. The camera can take both SX-70 film as well as series 600 film. Although in order to use 600 film with your camera you will need to adjust the film down to about 100 ASA with the help of an ND filter. I find that the easiest way to do that is to buy the HERE.film

Flash

The SX-70 camera does not come with a flash, but it can accept flash bars and electronic flashes. I would high recommend finding an electronic flash since flash bars are no longer being produced so there is a finite number of them left in the world. Both flash types can be easily found on Ebay.com and in specialty camera shops. Each flash bar has 10 one time use flashes with 5 on each side. If you run into some trouble with having the flash bars go off you can sometimes run an eraser over the contacts to clean them. The SX-70 has Auto flash exposure based on focus distance with a max flash distance of 20 feet. When you are using the flash your subject will be best lit if they are between 3 – 20 feet from you, otherwise your subject will appear to bright/light if they are within 3 feet or too dark if they are beyond 20 feet. SX-70 Flash Bars

The Focus and Lighten/Darken Control Wheel

Since this is an SLR camera you are able to see in real time how the camera is going to focus on your image. You can hold the camera so your eye is about an inch from the viewfinder so that you can see a black frame around the image with the focusing aid in the center. You can either focus using the whole image and turning the focus wheel back and forth until you have a clear view of what you want or you can use the split circle. The split circle is used by focusing on a vertical line in the image. If the vertical line is broken move the wheel until the line becomes continuous then you know your image will be in focus. You can then frame your photo from there.

SX-70 Polaroid

For most outdoor use you will not need a flash unless you would like to use it for flash fill. So the next thing that you have to worry about is the lighten/darken control to the right of the lens. Most times I start out by keeping it in the middle but if it gets very bright out or if you are in low light and don’t think the flash is going to reach all the way you can adjust the knob. Looking at the front of the camera you turn the wheel to the left to make it  darker or to the right to make it lighter. What this essentially does is it covers up the light meter on the the camera with different shades of dark plastic so the shutter stays open for a longer or lesser time. Remember the wheel returns to the middle when the camera is closed.

Inserting Your Film

You can now take your film out of the box it came in. Place the film into the camera by opening the bottom front of the camera up, which is done by pushing down on the little yellow tab on the right side of the camera.  Once you place the film inside and close the camera you should hear a whirl and the dark slide should pop out. The dark slide is the thin cardboard piece of paper that has been protecting the film from light exposure.  If you are using Impossible Project Film you should make sure that you have let you film warm up to room temperature if you have been storing it in a fridge.

SX-70 Side View

Serial Number

If you do own a folding SX-70 camera you can find out when exactly your camera was made and some of its specs from the serial number. The serial number can be found etched on right side of the camera under the top frame panel.

The website www.mint-camera.jp has a calculator that you can put in the serial number and it will output the information based on a table that he has. Based on my own serial number I was able to get the following information.

  • The complete serial number you entered is 0J307507758.
  • Your camera has the original SX-70 shutter electronic design (“hybrid shutter”).
  • Your camera is probably an original SX-70 or Alpha / Alpha 1.
  • The serial number itself is: 75077
  • Your camera was made on September 20, 1973 during the A shift.

The information is really interesting and it gives me some insight into when the camera was made and what type of shutter it has.

Picture Taking

What makes using the SX-70 so great is because it is an SLR you can get a great depth of field in your images. You can take some close up picture of objects with a great blurred effect in the background or you can get nice crisp landscape photos. The camera can take both color and black and white film and I have given some examples in both below

The first set of photos were actually taken with some new Pioneer film from The Impossible Project. It was great for really hot weather, but because it was a little cool where I was at the images were a little bit more washed out and over exposed.

Bernini Hotel taken with SX-70

Horse taken with an SX-70

 

Mt Rushmore taken with SX-70 Polaroid

These next set of photos were actually taken indoors in my own apartment. I was planting some herbs and wanted to see if I could capture the event. The film used was older Impossible Project film that I had had in the fridge for awhile.

Herbs taken with SX-70

This last photo is of some rock sculptures at Lake Tahoe. I thought that  they were they were stacked all over one area of the Lake was really cool and I wanted to get the background of the mountains on the other side.

Lake Tahoe taken with SX-70 Polaroid

If you really like this camera and it’s design as I said before you can sometimes find in my Etsy Shop at this link HERE. If it is not in stock you can always drop me a note and I can source it for you for no extra cost and make a reserved listing just for you.

Most times the manual for this camera is no longer with the camera itself, but I had one for the Alpha model which is about the same.

*The Polaroid Alpha SX-70 Camera Manual*

Specifications:

  • Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) viewing and focusing
  • Chrome-plated plastic body
  • Leather panels
  • 4-element 116 mm / 8 glass lens
  • Focus: 10.4 inches – Infinity
  • Front-cell focusing using a geared wheel on top of lens
  • Programmed Auto Exposure: Speeds from 1/175 – 10 sec
  • Aperture: f/8 – f/22
  • Built-in electronic flash
  • Rigid plastic body with some vinyl covering
  • Automatic flash exposures for all pictures (flash always fires)
  • Max flash distance 20 ft
  • Built-in flashbar socket for flash
  • Socket for electrically-actuated remote shutter release

I hope that you have enjoyed this review. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you think I have left anything out.

*Impossible Project Film photo taken from The Impossible Project Website.

2 Comments

  1. Magnus Nystedt August 18, 2015

    It’s a very cool camera for sure. I was wondering about this: “What makes using the SX-70 so great is because it is an SLR you can get a great depth of field in your images.” How does it being an SLR mean that you can get “great depth of field”?

    Reply
    • Adriana August 18, 2015

      So what I mainly mean by that is that most SX-70’s or 600 series Polaroids are fixed focus or rely on sonar autofocus. It’s great that with this Polaroid you can frame your subject to be in the foreground and have a blurry background. The SX-70 really allows you to get a really shallow depth of field if you desire. You can also take a landscape photo and have everything in focus as well.

      Reply

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