The Sexy Polaroid SX-70

The Polaroid SX-70 is one of the coolest vintage cameras that you might not even be aware you’re staring directly at. How is it so elusive? It’s small, flat and hides in discrete cases like this:

IMG_0264Although for most people, opening the case might not help much, because you’ll only find this:

IMG_0265And unless you know what this flat, leather-covered metal obelisk bearing no markings is, you might just set it back it down and be on your way. But a little sleight of hand will convert that flat box into this:

IMG_0267The Polaroid SX-70. Vintage Polaroids are a favorite shelf piece for collectors and decorators, but the SX-70 retains a cult following of photographers like few other vintage cameras. Introduced by Polaroid in 1972, the SX-70 was the world’s first instant SLR camera and was also the first Polaroid that required no user intervention in the developing of prints (earlier models required prints to be peeled out of an envelope of chemicals, mounted and rubbed with more chemicals).

IMG_0273It was a high-end consumer camera designed with a bellows and mirror system that allows it to function as an SLR but still fold completely flat. It is equipped with an electronic eye for adjusting exposure as well as user controllable focusing. Advanced features for a Polaroid.

But what makes it so popular? The reason is actually the film. SX-70 film takes several minutes to develop completely. Eventually people learned that touching or manipulating the print while it was developing would alter the resulting image. Artists began deliberately manipulating images to create a wide range of effects—some appearing like impressionist paintings. Although Polaroid stopped production of the film in 2005 and supplies ran out in 2008, the die-hard fan base has resulted in new companies manufacturing films which approximate the qualities of the original product. If you have a working SX-70, you can now get film for it—and other Polaroid models—from the Impossible Project.

Manipulated SX-70 Print, From Wikipedia

Manipulated SX-70 Print, From Wikipedia

Although these regularly sell online for $100 and up, I found this one recently at a tag sale for $4. It came with the case, manual and even the unused leather strap.

IMG_0274Originally I thought I might sell this since I already own one and they appear to be identical. Or are they?

IMG_0277I was surprised to find they are slightly different models. My first was a model 1 SX-70 and the new one is an SX-70 Alpha One. Honestly, there’s not much difference other than some very slight focusing control changes. But still, it’s a good feeling to know you aren’t collecting exact duplicates.

IMG_0281A sexy little sought-after camera isn’t the only thing you might find in their discrete leather cases. With my first camera I bagged some sweet vintage vacation swag.

Apparently the last time this camera left its case was a 1970s flight the Friendly Skies of United

Apparently the last time this camera left its case was a 1970s flight in the Friendly Skies of United

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