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1970s Polaroid SX-70 Cameras Make a Comeback 106

Posted by timothy
from the for-all-your-expensive-art-projects dept.
cylonlover writes "When it was released in 1972, the Polaroid SX-70, with its foldable SLR design, was the world's first instant SLR. It was also the first camera to use Polaroid's then-new integral instant film that contained all the chemical layers required to expose, develop, and fix the photo. Photojojo is now offering Limited Edition Polaroid SX-70 cameras that have all been restored to working condition, and integral instant film is also available."
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1970s Polaroid SX-70 Cameras Make a Comeback

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  • I get why most 35mm cameras have been obsoleted, but this is one camera type that still makes sense. Sometimes you need to take a photo, and have a copy in your hand, NOW. Not just tourism, but other commercial uses. And you can always scan the photo if you must send it digitally as well.

    • by Sylak (1611137)
      I've been under the impression instant cameras *ARE* still commercial available (notably the one that makes headshot stickers that had a period of popularity in the early 2000's)
      • Polariod are actually still selling devices that can print their photos instantly. plus they do have a really hip printer that can print from your mobile phone over bluetooth while on battery.

    • by LMacG (118321) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @11:38AM (#37340746) Journal

      Fuji still makes some instant cameras, the Instax and Instax Mini line. The blood-sucking leeches, errrrr, the company that currently owns the Polaroid name rebadges one of the Instax Minis as the Polaroid 300 and sells it at a premium.

      The Instax films are not compatible with older Polaroid cameras that use integral films, but Fuji also makes some films that fit the even older Polaroid pack film type cameras (pull the film out, wait 60 seconds, peel, wonder what to do with goopy negative portion).

    • by godrik (1287354)

      I do not know much about these technologies. But for commercial use, you either have a stand, a register, a car or something a little bigger. You can afford to have a "wifi digital camera" that sends the picture to a printer. You can look at it first and then decide whether you want a printout or not. And you can keep logs and backups.

      Yet polaroid are cool!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Not just for coolness. I use the instax professionally; getting a photo _now_ into a physical, sealed log is important for some applications.

        Just use digital personally.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Portable printers exist and how often are you more than a couple hours from a drug store?

      Do you really need it right now, or is a couple hours later ok?

      • by LMacG (118321)

        Clearly you've never seen the joy in people's faces when you hand them a photo that you've just taken.

        I take one of my Polaroids with me to street festivals and such. See a person with a cute puppy or a funny hat or whatever's interesting, take a shot, hand it to them, walk away.

        • We still hand people photographs we've just taken. It's called Facebook. But I agree, it can't recreate the situation you described.
        • Better method (Score:4, Insightful)

          by midicase (902333) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @12:43PM (#37341574)

          See a cute person with a puppy or a funny hat or whatever's interesting, take a shot, hand it to them, ask them out.

          • or take a shot, keep it, and later wank to it...
            • by tehcyder (746570)

              or take a shot, keep it, and later wank to it...

              I thought that's why they invented cameras on mobile phones, surely all those people with phones waving around and shouting at random arent actually having conversations?

              Just remember to turn off the flash if it's got one, and the stupid camera shutter sound, that's a dead giveaway.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          I don't know what kind of people these are that have this joy after being handed a Polaroid photo. Personally, every time I see one I shudder in disgust, for two reasons: 1) the absolutely horrible picture quality, and small size (which can't be blown up, because there's no negative and the quality is so bad to begin with), and 2) the idea that this moment in time is forever doomed to being only captured with such a shitty photo, when a better camera could have taken a really nice photo and preserved it.

          • by LMacG (118321)

            I bet you're a blast at parties.

            • by Grishnakh (216268)

              So I guess you want to forget about any good parties you went to? Because those crappy Polaroid photos won't be around in 10 or 20 years. I have some Polaroids from when I was younger; I can't make out a damn thing in those photos. If they had been taken with a real camera, I'd still have usable images from those times.

              • So I guess you want to forget about any good parties you went to?

                I've always heard that the best parties ARE the ones you can't quite remember clearly...

              • those crappy Polaroid photos won't be around in 10 or 20 years

                Which is a good thing, if you go to the kind of parties I used to. The last thing I need is crystal-clear shots of me engaged in "questionable" (or "indictable") activities. I always thought that was kind of the idea of Polaroids -- you can be sure that you have the only copy. None of this "Of course I'll never show anyone these pictures, they'll never leave my phone."

              • by LMacG (118321)

                1) That parties thing? Yeah, that was a metaphor. You might want to look that up.

                2) I have a box full of Spectra/Image photos that go back to 1986. They're all clear as the day they were taken.

              • by wsanders (114993)

                In fact, the old SX-70 film used amazingly stable dyes. They should look as good now as the day they were shot. Sharpness was not so good. The stuff was expensive, I remember a magazine costing somewhere in the $10 neighborhood even in the early 80s.

                As opposed to my E-4 and E-6 process stuff from those days which is already starting to fade.

                I have one of these cameras around the house somewhere .... sheesh $350 if it works and I put it in a fancy box??

                • You're correct-- Polaroid SX-70 and other integral films have turned out to be quite stable indeed. Polaroid B&W peel-apart prints are also incredibly stable-- as stable as conventional B&W prints on silver halide paper.

                  The only Polaroid prints that tended to fade were the (mostly older) "coater-required" B&W peel-apart films-- if you didn't bother to use the print coater! Also the Kodak Instant films (at least in the early days) faded pretty badly when exposed to UV (i.e. sunlight), but tho

              • by rednip (186217)

                Because those crappy Polaroid photos won't be around in 10 or 20 years.

                As there is a reasonable chance that you won't be around in 20 years, perhaps you too should now be discontinued; all thing are fleeting, especially our youth. Besides, trust me, kids these days won't generally be wishing for any more documentation of their events and indiscretions. Also, even in the 70's people knew that Polaroids faded.

                • by Grishnakh (216268)

                  So you don't think anything should be recorded for posterity? Not musical performances, not artwork, not photos of anything important, we should just use really crappy media that goes bad after a few years? Should we also print all books and magazines on ultra-cheap paper that disintegrates in a few years? I guess you don't care much about museums or libraries...

              • by Joce640k (829181)

                So I guess you want to forget about any good parties you went to? Because those crappy Polaroid photos won't be around in 10 or 20 years. I have some Polaroids from when I was younger; I can't make out a damn thing in those photos.

                Ah ... but these days you can put it on a wooden table when you get home and take a photo of it with your cellphone.

                • by Grishnakh (216268)

                  Even when the photos were brand-new, I couldn't make out much in those Polaroid photos. The picture quality has always been lousy.

                  Polaroids have always been nothing but a cheap, overpriced gimmick. They had a horribly expensive per-photo cost, the picture was tiny (even smaller than a crappy 110 photo, and much much than a 35mm photo printed at 4x6), the picture quality was lousy; the only thing they had going for them was the instant nature, for fools who have no patience or appreciation for quality.

                  Now,

              • So I guess you want to forget about any good parties you went to?

                Yes, that's what the booze is for... And makes for funny conversation if you meet the same people 3 weeks later... "I did what?"

          • Never heard of the Beetles. Are they any good?
          • by Alex Belits (437) *

            the Beetles

            I did not expect to live long enough to see "The Beatles" misspelled.

          • by bronney (638318)

            Oftentimes, the precious moments in life isn't in the precious things; but the moment itself. People don't party for parties, but for the people. And shooting photos isn't just for the photo, but the stalk, shot, print, whatever. As long as you're not shooting 12 year olds, handing that Polaroid picture to a pretty girl is telling her:

            A) my precious Polaroid has 10 frames and I chose one to be of you *wink*
            B) in this digital age where shooting is free, I burn money for pleasure by shooting analog *wink*
            C

      • by swordgeek (112599)

        Sometimes you really do need it right now. More to the point, sometimes you need something that is guaranteed unaltered. Insurance adjusters have used instant cameras for decades, because they might have one chance to photograph a wrecked car or something like that. First of all, (unlike with traditional film) they can find out on-site if they got the picture they needed; and secondly (unlike with digital) they can pretty much enter it as claim evidence as a true representation of the subject.

      • Portable printers exist and how often are you more than a couple hours from a drug store?

        Do you really need it right now, or is a couple hours later ok?

        I think I'm too old to "shake it like a Polaroid" for two hours . . .

    • by tgd (2822)

      They are, just not the SX-70.

      There aren't many cameras today made as well as the SX-70. Its a work of art.

    • Sometimes you need to take a photo, and have a copy in your hand, NOW.

      Presumably, that's not a big enough market to sustain production. There are, after all, very few cases where this is really true.

      • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wSLACKWAREorf.net minus distro> on Thursday September 08, 2011 @12:25PM (#37341346)

        Presumably, that's not a big enough market to sustain production. There are, after all, very few cases where this is really true.

        These days, yes. Back in the "old days" where digitals took crappy photos to begin with, having photos available quickly was quite an advantage over having to finish the roll and waiting 3 days to get it developed and get prints.

        With digital cameras being quite good, and instant enough, the market basically vanished. No longer having to wait weeks after a vacation to get back photos to use up the roll, or taking pictures of the airport to use up the roll so you can develop it on the way back has meant well, getting photos done minutes after it was taken is a much smaller niche than just taking the photos, and a few hours later broadcasting it all over twitter and facebook.

        The niche now are for those sponaneous moments between strangers where neither wants to share personal information, and documentation for legal or scientific reasons because the photos can be captured right then and there, with no time for doctoring.

    • Reconditioning the old cameras is one thing, but I'd be worried about a continuous supply of the proprietary film. As long as the Impossible Project can stay afloat and keep manufacturing it though, cool. Kind of a niche market though.
    • Sometimes you need to take a photo, and have a copy in your hand, NOW.

      I get that, I really do- but that idea has one simple flaw; you have ONE (1) copy. You give it to some one, NOW, and your aced out the one copy. Not really much different from simply passing around a digital and looking at the preview. Plus the camera has the added benefit of allowing the user to pan around the photo and blow up sections.

      And you can always scan the photo if you must send it digitally as well.

      I personally don't see that as being any more convenient than emailing or publishing the photo directly from my phone/camera.

    • Why can't they put a little printer inside a digital camera, then they could make even more money on the ink.
      • by Yamioni (2424602)
        Because then the camera would be about as large as the SX-70 was(is). And the market seems to demand that cameras now be these tiny little pieces of shit that break the second you fart on them. At least with consumer level point-and-shoot cameras, not so much with expensive professional cameras. But then again professional cameras are expected to be a bit bigger and bulkier to begin with, and if you're using one chances are you don't give a toss about the instant feature. The people that want the instant ph
    • by nurb432 (527695)

      I get why most 35mm cameras have been obsoleted,

      I don't. Analog is still better. Unfortunately for the unwashed masses 'good enough' is just that, good enough and in the consumer world 'good enough' sells more and the people that care about quality often lose out.. A big part of the reason we got stuck with the lesser quality VHS instead of Beta.

      • Analog is still better.

        I recall reading that high-end digital cameras have now caught up to, and maybe even surpassed, the resolution and color accuracy of chemical film. Digital also gets you instant review, perfect copies (and, as a consequence, longer storage life), the ability to store many more photos in a given space, easier transmission/sharing, and the ability to run off draft quality copies quickly while still allowing for high-quality professional prints.

        What does chemical film offer? The only thing I can think of is

  • Good ol' Polaroid! Did anyone at the time think that was ever going to be said so soon about such a leading edge company? I still have my Swinger in the original (tattered) box.
    • Leading Edge Companies, tend to become outdated. Why because they get so ingrossed in their success and making fun of all the old guys they don't pay attention to the other new guys rising up to beat them.
      Also with their new technology, they are often afrade to inovate the next step, because it could kill off their tride and true profit revenue.

      Only time will tell if something is a Fad or the next big thing.

    • by obsess5 (719497)
      Yes, those were the days. The cool thing about the Swinger was that, with flash, if you turned the distance down to the closest setting, you essentially had a pinhole camera with an infinite depth-of-field. I took a couple of close-up pictures of my model railroad layout this way - you know, kind of standing on the track with the train coming at you, all in focus. Wish I'd taken more advantage of it at the time, but I was a kid and film was expensive.
  • Clearly a new usage of the phrase "making a comeback."

    • by hedwards (940851)

      And thanks to TFA, the product is now dead as a door nail. It's what inevitably happens when you're selling to hipsters.

      But then again, I'd tell you about the camera I'm using, but I'm sure you've never heard of it.

  • by RoverDaddy (869116) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @11:35AM (#37340714) Homepage
    I never owned one (I was only a kid) but I recall the advertisements and articles for this camera. It was an enormous step up from the existing instant camera technology with the layers you had to peel off the picture and the chemicals (fixers?) you needed to apply.

    The camera body was also a miracle of engineering design because of the way it could fold flat for storage, but pop open in just the right manner for all the optical paths to work (including the SLR aspect).

    Much later I owned a Kodak instant camera during their brief foray into instant film, before Polaroid's arsenal of patents (from the SX-70 I guess) did them in.
    • The SX-70 may have been easier to use than the older stuff, but the older stuff actually had a much better image quality. The black and white Polaroid peel-apart materials were really good stuff, for example: Ansel Adams swore by the stuff (it could give him an instant preview of the shot AND with a little bit of care, a good negative to bring back to the darkroom, fix and make traditional prints from) Their color materials were less "high end" than the black and white materials but they still did a much be

    • by viridari (1138635)

      The camera body was also a miracle of engineering design because of the way it could fold flat for storage, but pop open in just the right manner for all the optical paths to work (including the SLR aspect).

      Actually the folding feature was quite an old and mature technology by the time the SX-70 was released. Before consumers really took on to the 35mm format, medium format folding cameras were quite popular. The technology was pretty mature by the time my grandfather took his folding camera to WW2, and certainly by the 1950's when my own Zeiss-Ikon Super Ikonta 533/16 was manufactured.

      Fuji still makes a medium format folding camera today, but it's priced for wealthy enthusiasts.

      • Um, your Super Ikonta is a nice camera, but it is not an SLR.

        The more modern Fuji folding cameras are not SLRs either. Folding cameras were once very popular indeed, but none of those were SLRs.

        The magic of the SX-70 design was not that it folds up (heck, even the original Polaroid 95 was a folding camera), but that it was the first folding single-lens reflex camera.

        The closest thing to a folding production SLR before that was the Graflex family, but those aren't really folding cameras, since the mirror bo

  • Link to the project (Score:4, Informative)

    by luckymutt (996573) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @11:46AM (#37340832)
    Proper link to Impossible Project [the-imposs...roject.com] not included in the article. They're the people who bought the factory and now reproducing the film packs.
  • by LMacG (118321) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @11:46AM (#37340838) Journal

    The films from The Impossible Project work, but at this point still need to be considered "experimental". The biggest problem they have yet to conquer is the chemical layer that shields the photo from light immediately after ejection from the camera - aka the opacifier layer.

    All the current films require that you immediately protect the film from ambient light while it develops, which definitely kills some of the joy of the original SX70 experience.

    Still major amounts of mad props to TIP for saving the film manufacturing equipment from being scrapped and being able to create a whole new film that works even as well as it does, on a shoestring budget in a short amount of time.

    • by markhb (11721)

      IIRC, the early-generation SX-70 films, back in the Garner/Hartley era when they took 10 minutes for the image to fully appear, had the same caveat regarding protecting the image from ambient light. My uncle used to lay them face-down on the table while they developed.

      • by swb (14022)

        I remember my Dad shaking/waving them -- I'm not sure what this did, but it could have been with the Kodak copy.

        IIRC, wasn't there an earlier Polaroid film that had a layer you had to peel back after a certain amount of time?

        • I remember my Dad shaking/waving them -- I'm not sure what this did, but it could have been with the Kodak copy.

          Shaking the picture did nothing. It was like pushing an elevator button for a second time. Didn't make anything happen faster but it soothed people while they waited.

          IIRC, wasn't there an earlier Polaroid film that had a layer you had to peel back after a certain amount of time?

          Yes. In fact this was the case for quite a long time. I'm old enough to remember people using this sort of film.

          • by LMacG (118321)

            And those pack films produced the types of Polaroid photos that would have benefited from some shaking, since the development was quite a wet process. (Integral film too, but it's all encased in plastic). Older pack films also had to be coated with a fixative that also required drying, so yeah, there was a whole lotta shaking going on.

          • by WorBlux (1751716)

            IIRC, wasn't there an earlier Polaroid film that had a layer you had to peel back after a certain amount of time?

            Yes. In fact this was the case for quite a long time. I'm old enough to remember people using this sort of film.

            Hell, I've used it in the past five years. Worked in a fairly small DNA lab, and they used that sort of film/camera to capture the results of a gel electrophoresis. Camera had a filter on it to only capture UV light. The B&W film provided a good contrast, any you could tally the results while the setup of the gel was still fresh in your brain.

  • This could put a dent in all the nuwdy picks of wives and girlfriends to the interwebs. How much does a girlfriend cost again?

  • I'm pretty sure there's a non-trivial gap between "company releasing a product" and "making a comeback".

  • by sootman (158191) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @12:07PM (#37341136) Homepage Journal

    Just a few months ago, Technologizer wrote a great article about this very item and the work behind it: Polaroid's SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible [technologizer.com]

    In 1972, instant photography was no longer a novelty: the world had been introduced to it in 1947 when Polaroid co-founder Edwin H. Land unveiled the Model 95, the company's first camera...

    The existence of previous instant cameras only helped emphasize what a great leap forward the SX-70 was. Unlike any previous Polaroid, it was a single-lens reflex (SLR) model with a viewfinder that showed exactly what you'd get. Unlike any previous Polaroid, it folded up into a 1"-thick leather-encased brick that was (just barely) pocketable. Unlike any previous Polaroid, it built the battery into the film pack. Even the flash--in the form of a Polaroid invention called a flashbar that packed ten bulbs into a double-sided array--was custom-designed for the SX-70.

    Most important, unlike any other Polaroid, the SX-70 asked the photographer to do nothing more than focus, press the shutter, and pluck the snapshot as it emerged from the camera--and then watch it develop in daylight. It was the first camera to realize what Edwin Land said had been his dream all along: "absolute one-step photography."

  • ugh. while i love my SX-70s dearly and think they're a great camera everyone should try, photojojo is ripping people off. perfectly working ones can be found for much, much less money at camera shows and thrift stores.

    i will happily sell you one of mine (i have two) for half what they are charging. half!

  • .. with the passion only a kid on a meager allowance could muster ..

    The $100-150 (in early 70's money) price tag was so far beyond my reach it might as well have been on Mars, but I got to experiment with them at the camera shop (while the film was still affordable enough that they were willing to tolerate me taking the occasional demo shot) and got hold of one for a whole day through an elementary school project.

    I've been fascinated with them ever since. The whole idea of a folding instant-film SLR ca
  • One of the overlooked innovations in the film pack was the flat Polapulse battery. It was designed to deliver bursts of high current needed to drive the flash and run the motor that ejected the exposed film. A friend in high school saved the spent film packs from his parent's camera and did an experiment in Electronics to measure the current these could produce using a VTVM (Vacuum Tube Volt Meter) and a known resistance. Even partially drained, ten of these batteries wired in series delivered an impr
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      That seems very unlikely, given that wiring batteries in series gives you more voltage not more current.

      Parallel gives lets you add the currents...

    • by Megane (129182)

      Back in the day I used a Polapulse battery to power a TRS-80 Model 100, partly because I was too cheap to burn AAs in the thing, partly because I was too cheap to just throw away the Polapulse batteries, and mostly because it was such a cool idea. The only problem was that I never could get a reliable enough connection to those contacts, so I switched to lugging around a 6V lantern battery instead. Years later I got a solar cell pack (about 100 sq in) for a Powerbook 145. It used the exact same plug with op

      • by hawk (1151)

        Some folks carved out a spot for a a fifth AA to run them
        on 5 nicads to get the 6v of four gular AA.

        Some of us just ran them on 4 nicads, significantly improving battery life . . .

        hawk

      • that offended my sensibilities, 2 (the throwing away, not ur post;-) i also ripped them out & saved 'em...made gr8 handwarmers when shorted;-)

  • Already sold out!! I have been looking for a SX-70. Hmm, $350 though? Wowsers.
  • The SX-70 is one of the greatest works of industrial/product design, ever. Henry Dreyfuss's masterpiece.
    IF we taught design as required unit in art in public schools, the work of Raymond Lowey, BelGeddes, Dreyfus , Noguchi, there would be many competators to Apple Inc.

    Dreyfuss never designed a second rate anything. Look it up if you cannot name at least three famous examples of his work, you will be surprised. He said 'I don't do packaging' meaning that he needed to be involved from the very beginning

  • The business edition, with magnification and time stamp!
    Haven't used it in quite a while.

  • by RogueWarrior65 (678876) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @10:37PM (#37347778)

    "You see this? It's worthless. Ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But I take it and bury it in the sand for a thousand years and it becomes priceless! Like the Ark. Men will kill for it. Men like you and me."

From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk

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