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Arthur's Polaroid SX-70 Resources

The SX-70 is probably one of the coolest items to come out of the 70s along with the GMC Motorhome, F-16 and the Space Shuttle. One was featured in a 6 Million Dollar Man TV episode. MIT was famous for 2.70 contraption contests constructed from SX-70 parts from the nearby Polaroid factory.

I just found a couple of Polaroid SX-70 instant cameras in the $1 and .50c pile at a Salvation Army store in Kirkland. One is tan leather with some sticker damage, put an iron on patch over it and it looks OK, the other is a black leather autofocus with the sonar attachment, it has strap lugs and tripod socket. Both work, I'll sell either one for $80 plus shipping. On the internet, working ones go from $25 up to $200 depending on condition, and who's selling it. It took a bit of tracking down to find stores that had SX-70 film, the Payless and Safeway in Issaquah both stock film, but nobody has flash bars.

These were really cool when they came out in the early/mid 1970s. They are folding SLR (single lens reflex) cameras - what you see is through the same lens as the film will get, not a separate viewfinder, making manual focus easier. They also fold flat, which is a neat trick. Newer models has have a split circle and lens markings to help focus as well. The latest generation of cameras feature a wide-format instead of square image, but don't have quality of the original SX-70. These sold for $200 in a time when you could get a basic small car for $3000.

The sonar model adds an automatic rangefinder for autofocus, a feature that didn't come out in expensive 35mm SLR until the 80s. Exposure is completely automatic. It will do timed exposures up to 14 second if the light is too dim, and film eject / advance is motorized.

This stuff is pretty common today in a $500 SLR but most 35mm cameras of the day were "semi-automatic" requiring setting speed or f-stop and matching a needle display, with manual film advance, and rangefinder cameras required matching up 2 superimposed images. A fresh battery comes with each pack of film which can generate enough current to put out a lot of heat if you short it out (not recommended!) It had a muli-element glass lens as well.

It used the "flashbar" system that has 10 bulbs in a horizontal sequence with no need to rotate like a flashcube, or flip it over, though electronic flashes were also made, and you can still get awkward flash adapter for $75. Most retailers no longer carry them, (You can get an entire disposable camera now with built-in flash for the price of two flashbars!) but they can be found in stores that time forgot (the ones with really wide leather watch bands and other stuff stuck in time) or a few 800-number places (below) or Cress's flashbulb web page.

Ads are still pretty easy to find in 70's National Geographics. A tip - I'm told that you can swap partially used packs of film, but you'll lose the top picture. Also, empty film packs will still drive an SX-70 shutter system if you're shopping for these cameras, and are perfectly good 6v batteries for your science project. (though I did get one pack with a weak battery)

During the 80's, I got a Kodak instant camera for a while, but traded in for a Polaroid Sun 660 when Kodak got out of the market. The 660 uses faster (ASA600) film, which means you can use cheaper smaller f/stop lenses. It has a built in electronic flash that uses the film battery pack, and folds over the lens when not in use, making only a slightly higher package than the folding SX-70, and a tripod socket. It has a zone focus system, plastic lens and separate rangefinder. Pictures aren't great, but work well enough. Now the stores are selling piles of the latest version, with fixed focus and a close-up mode, and a sleeker body.

I remember hearing the story at MIT about how the SX-70 was cool but just too expensive for most Americans. What they really needed to do was a way to build a cheap fixed camera that used the same film system, and that's the basis of the best selling models to this day.

What do you do with a Polaroid instant camera? The pictures don't look as good as 35mm, and you can get 1hr developing now. But a polaroid makes a neat extra camera when you need just one print right away, or want to give one away (you don't have to wait for the reprint to come back). And scanned resolution of a print still looks better than a digital camera if you need a picture right away. So it's fine as an extra camera, and if you can find an SX-70 for $1, it fine just as a collectible item

I also found out that the resolution on an SX-70 is good enough to do a pretty decent job with the Kodak kiosk instant print set up at $10 a sheet. You can also get 6 copies on a sheet, slightly shrunken down, faster and better than getting copies from Polaroid.

Links

Flash and Film

Some Prices
$  1.00 Salvation Army Store, C7 Sx-70 sonar, working
$  1.00 standard sx-70 (defective)
$ 49.00 SX-70 with leather case
$ 95.00 ex SX-70 sonar
$195.00 refurbished tan sx-70