Sometimes things go so much easier than expected. “I think I want to collect some old film cameras,” I told my dad. I’d been hanging around Tumblr and Pinterest too much again and my interest in old-school analog film photography had most seriously been piqued. I knew my dad had been an avid photographer back in his youth, so figured this would be great news to him. “A few cheap ones to begin with, then work my way up to Leica, Rolleiflex, Hasselblad… but first I want a Polaroid SX-70.”
“Oh,” he replied, “That’s the really flat one, right? The one that pops open?”
That was exactly the model I was talking about.
“I think I still have mine lying around in a closet here somewhere.” And that’s how I became the proud owner of my dad’s Polaroid SX-70.
The SX-70 is one of the coolest Polaroid cameras ever made. Everyone’s familiar with their later box cameras, the ones that feature in every ’80s movie, but those were plastic-fantastic and chunky. This SX-70 was much slimmer, more expensive, and the very first model that used the Polaroid integral film we know and love. The goal for the SX-70 was to create a camera that was so compact you could always carry it with you, no matter where you’d go, and without having to deal with rolls of film or development labs.
To make this dream a reality, the SX-70 had a complex system of lenses and mirrors on the inside that is ridiculously elegant. Everything folds away perfectly for transport but pops right into place when you open the camera up to take your shot.
My parents got this SX-70, an Alpha 1 model with black fake leather and branding from the German Revue department store, as a wedding gift. My mom even told me that when I was born my dad showed everyone in the hospital the Polaroid picture he took of me with this camera, right after delivery. In fact, unbeknownst to me, this camera took pictures of me throughout my younger years. But as time went on my parents switched over to the far more common 35mm film cameras. By the time I was old enough to remember the cameras being used, the SX-70 had long disappeared into a closet.
The camera came with some accessories that are also amazing to see. One was an original pack of Time-Zero film from the ’70s in its original packaging. This film would be absolutely unusable, chemically expired and with no charge left in the battery, stores outside of a refrigerator for decades, so I didn’t even try to load it. But just look at it – the iconic Polaroid branding warms the heart of every designer. This is how simple and effective package design could be, once at a time.
The other accessory was a flashbar, a relic so old it’s hard to imagine we ever had something so wasteful. Instead of a reusable flash, like the ones we have on modern cameras and even on our smartphones, old flashbulbs were single-use consumables. But having to replace your flashbulb each and every time you took a shot would slow you down immensely. So a flashbar was a plug-in flash that contained 10 of these single-use flashbulbs, each one consecutively firing off as you took more shots until you’d used all of the bulbs. At which point you threw the entire flashbar away. It’s innovative for its time, but wouldn’t be acceptable in the modern day and age.
I still need to buy some Polaroid film for the camera – Polaroid itself doesn’t sell it anymore but you can get a new version of the film from ex-Polaroid employees who started a company called The Impossible Project. Looking forward to trying it out!