Back to the Future with the Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera
About a week ago I won an Auction (with the help of Jake McCluskey) on eBay for a Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera. This may not be a big deal to you or you may even have one already, but it is an item I have always wanted in my camera inventory. I collect old cameras, especially the beefy metal body ones. Every time I am at a thrift store and see one I get anxiety and have to have it. Whether it works or not it doesn’t matter to me, I just enjoy the cameras for the pictures they once captured and the stories they once told.
I mentioned the Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera is one I have always lusted for. In years past the Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera was a marvel of its time for professional photographers. It was not uncommon for professionals to carry around a Polaroid Camera alongside their SLR gear so they could see the scene in print long before the film was developed. Even Ansel Adams carried around a Polaroid camera. His version was a Type 55 that was capable of the quick print along with a Large Format reusable negative.
My goal for owning a Polaroid was not to be like the greats that walked before me, but to enjoy the tactile nature of the print. In this day and age where we take so many photographs we fail to print them half as much as we make them. This is a shame, really. I am at fault here too, I think I printed 15 pictures last year and 3 were gifts. I just don’t think about printing all too often.
I was shocked that I could still find film for SX 70 Type Land Camera’s. I guess there is a big niche here that is larger than I expected as the supply is pretty high on Amazon for SX 70 Film. I have purchased 4 cartridges of film for this Land Camera and another One Step Polaroid that I purchased from a thrift store and they work great! One thing about the Polaroid Land Camera types is the battery is in the film cartridge and not in the camera itself. This means you can usually get a good deal on SX 70 cameras as their owners seldom think they operate due to dead batteries.
The shocking price of tactile photos
When I first looked into film for the SX 70 I was shocked by the price tag, $22 for 8 pictures… geez! Now I can understand why I was scolded at the young age of 8 for taking so many Polaroid Pictures of my Legos. Could you imagine if you had to spend over $20 on 8 pictures these days? We’d all be broke and the hobby of digital photography would have a much smaller devoted following. I compared an SD card that costs roughly the same as a SX 70 film cartridge. The Sandisk 32 Gigabyte SD card gets approximately 570 twenty megapixel pictures per use and you don’t have to buy it again when it “runs out”. So why on earth would I still be buying Polaroid film?
The tactile nature of the Polaroid print is so much fun. Really that is the only way I can describe it. There is something undeniably awesome about the snapping of the shutter and the immediate sound of motors printing your most recent capture. You don’t need to download it, don’t need to process it, and don’t have to send it to a printer. It is right there immediately in your hand.
Since these 8 captures are so precious at almost $3 per picture you become much more selective about what you shoot. I used a whole “roll” in the first hour of owning it just to see how it worked and shortly after I felt ashamed of myself for wasting $20 on pictures of random objects around the house (to include my wife, but she’s not random).
Where am I going with this?
I have an idea. You see I am always experimenting with every type of photography and this kind is really interesting. There is much more to the Polaroid and I find that every cartridge I open yields a new Instamatic or even Instagram type of look. As I experiment with the Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera I am coming to several findings.
- I am much more deliberate about what I shoot with it.
This mindset should find its way into my Digital Photography which means less time taking bad photos. Some people say there is no such thing, but trust me there is. When we have unlimited exposures we limit our time composing saying, “I’ll just toss it later” … then why take it in the first place?
- I am enjoying the natural Instamatic effects of the prints.
I am not quite sure what yields the Instamatic look, whether it is the lighting at the time or the film cartridge being used or a combination of both. However, I am documenting the looks I receive in Photoshop Actions and now Color Lookup Tables. It is one thing to use a filter or a preset, but it is another to study those presets long before they are created to better understand what is happening to the photo in the process.
- History becomes less of a mystery.
I picked up a camera back in 1999 that was my first experience with photography. I had a Canon AE-1, I loved it and treasured it as my Mom handed it down to me when she upgraded. It got me through many years of film classes in High School and helped me understand an art form I had not yet taken on. However, I was not as interested in it as much as I was painting and sculpting so I didn’t study it half as much as I’d have liked. Now I feel like I am going back in time to study things I never put an effort toward.
- I am much more grateful for what we have now.
You saw the price of the film for the SX 70 Land Cameras, $22 for 8 prints. Last year I shot a total of 3981 photos that would be about $11,102 in Polaroid prints. The reality is I only spent a fraction of that on Memory cards and extra camera batteries. We live in a time where access to great things is only a click away both on the internet and on the camera. I know I have often overlooked that and now I am much more grateful for the technology and what it provides us.