In 1947, Polaroid introduced its first consumer camera. The Land Camera Model 95 was the first camera to use instant film to quickly produce photographs without developing them in a laboratory. The popular Model 95 and subsequent Land Cameras required complex procedures to take and produce good photographs. Photographic paper had to be manually removed from cameras, peeled open after 60 seconds, needed several minutes to dry, and often left developing chemicals on hands. The instructions for the Model 20 Swinger, introduced in 1965, warned that, if not followed, "you’re headed for plenty of picture taking trouble".
Pictures from the SX-70, by contrast, ejected automatically and developed quickly without chemical residue. Polaroid founder Edwin Land announced the SX-70 at a company annual meeting in April 1972. On stage, he took out a folded SX-70 from his suit coat pocket and in ten seconds took five pictures, both actions impossible with previous Land Cameras. The company first sold the SX-70 in Miami, Florida in late 1972, and began selling it nationally in fall 1973. Although the high cost of $180 for the camera and $6.90 for each film pack of ten pictures limited demand, Polaroid sold 700,000 by mid-1974. In 1973–4, the Skylab 3 and 4 astronauts used an SX-70 to photograph a video display screen to be able to compare the Sun's features from one orbit to the next.
There were a variety of models beginning in 1972 with the original SX-70, though all shared the same basic design. The first model had a plain focusing screen (the user was expected to be able to see the difference between in- and out-of focus) because Dr. Land wanted to encourage photographers to think they were looking at the subject, rather than through a viewfinder. When many users complained that focusing was difficult, especially in dim light, a split-image rangefinder prism was added. This feature is standard on all later manual focus models.
The later Sonar OneStep and SLR 680 models were equipped with a sonar autofocus system. This sonar autofocus system greatly helped the user's ability to focus the camera, especially in dark environments, and could be turned off if manual focus was needed. The Sonar Onestep models were the first autofocus SLRs available to consumers. The later SLR 680/690 models updated the basic design of the Sonar Onestep to more modern standards by incorporating support for newer 600 film cartridges instead of SX-70 cartridges, and a built-in flash instead of the disposable Flashbar. Today they are the most evolved forms of the SX-70, and are highly sought after by Polaroid enthusiasts.
Though expensive, the SX-70 was popular in the 1970s and retains a cult following today. Eminent photographers such as Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Helmut Newton, and Walker Evans praised and used the SX-70. Not until the $40 Model 1000 OneStep using SX-70 film became the best-selling camera of the 1977 Christmas shopping season, however, did its technology become truly popular.
The SX-70 included many sophisticated design elements. A collapsible SLR required a complex light path for the viewfinder, with three mirrors (including one Fresnel reflector) of unusual, aspheric shapes set at odd angles to create an erect image on the film and an erect aerial image for the viewfinder. Many mechanical parts were precision plastic moldings. The body was made of glass-filled polysulfone, a rigid plastic which was plated with a thin layer of copper-nickel-chromium alloy to give a metallic appearance. Models 2 & 3 used ABS in either Ebony or Ivory color. The film pack contained a flat, 6-volt "PolaPulse" battery to power the camera electronics, drive motor and flash. The original flash system, a disposable "Flash Bar" of 10 bulbs (five on each side, with the user rotating the bar half way through) from General Electric, used logic circuits to detect and fire the next unused flash.
Although a variety of models were offered, all share the same basic design. All SX-70 models feature a folding body design, a 4-element 116mm f/8 glass lens, and an automatic exposure system. The cameras allow for focusing as close as 10.4 inches (26.4 cm), and have a shutter speed range from 1/175s to more than 10 seconds. The Model 3 departs from the other models since it isn't a SLR, but instead has the viewfinder cut into the mirror hood. A whole array of accessories could be utilized with SX-70 cameras, such as a close-up lens (1:1 @ 5 inches), electrical remote shutter release, tripod mount and an Ever-Ready carrying case that hung from the neck and unfolded in concert with the camera.
A lot of the technology used in the folding SX-70 cameras was later used in the production of rigid "box" type SX-70 cameras, such as the Model 1000 OneStep, Pronto, Presto and The Button. These models, although also utilizing SX-70 film, are very different from the folding SLR SX-70s.
Polaroid SX-70 film was introduced to the market in 1972, and was a market success despite some problems with the batteries on early film packs. The original SX-70 film was improved once in the mid-'70s (New Improved Faster Developing!) and replaced in 1980 by the further advanced "SX-70 Time-Zero Supercolor" product, in which the layers in the film card were altered to allow a much faster development time (hence the "time zero"). It also had richer, brighter colors than the original 1972 product. There were also professional market varieties of the SX-70 film including 778 (Time Zero equivalent) and the similar 708, Time Zero film without a battery, intended for use in applications such as the "Face Place" photo booth and professional or laboratory film-backs, where a battery is not needed. Time Zero was the film manufactured up until 2005, though overseas-market and some last run film packs were marked only as SX-70.
A feature of the SX-70 film packs was a built-in battery to power the camera motors and exposure control, ensuring that the battery would never be exhausted as long as film was in the camera. The "Polapulse" battery was configured as a 6 volt thin flat battery, and used zinc-chloride chemistry to provide for the high pulse demand of the camera motors. Polaroid later released development kits to allow the Polapulse battery to be used in non-photographic applications. In the 1980s, the company even produced small "600" AM/FM radios that would run on film packs in which the film cards had been exhausted, but the battery still had enough power to be reused.
Polaroid's SX-70 "Time-Zero" film was phased out of production in late 2005 to early 2006 (differing according to regional markets). Small quantities of the film may still be acquired, however at often very highly inflated prices.
The Impossible Project currently produces lines of Black & White and Color film compatible with the SX-70, but their films use a different chemistry than original Polaroid film and have different characteristics.
One feature of SX-70 integral print film is its ability to be manipulated while developing, and for some days after. Because the emulsion is gelatin-based, and the Mylar covering does not allow water vapor to readily pass, the emulsion stays soft for several days, allowing artists to press and manipulate the emulsion to produce effects somewhat like impressionist paintings. An example of this technique was used on the cover of Peter Gabriel's third album, Peter Gabriel. Another example of emulsion manipulation was the cover of Loverboy's debut album, Loverboy, where artist Barbara Astman created the cover by typing lyrics from the album onto a self-portrait Polaroid as it developed.
The 500, 600, and Spectra/Image materials do not use a gelatin-based emulsion, and cannot be manipulated this way.
Manipulation of the photograph is best done about two minutes after the picture has fully developed. It will stay soft and workable for about 5–15 minutes. Some colors will be more difficult to work on (dark green), whereas others are workable for a long time (red). If the photo is on a warm surface or slightly warmed in an oven, image manipulation is made easier.
- Instant camera
- Edwin H. Land
- James Gilbert Baker
- Polaroid Corporation
- Instant film
- Laurence Gartel
- Mike Brodie
- Stefanie Schneider
- Lucas Samaras
- McCracken, Harry (2011-06-08). "Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible". Technologizer. Time. Retrieved April 7, 2012.
- Hunt, Curtis "'Quiet' Sun not so Quiet" (September 17, 1973) NASA JSC News Release
- "Polaroid instant film is back ... sort of", CNN, SciTechBlog, March 25, 2010
- Plummer, William T., "Unusual optics of the Polaroid SX-70 Land camera", Appl. Opt. 21, 196-208 (1982)
- New Batteries: Flat packs, lead-acid Ds, 150-minute ni-cads, chlorine power, Popular Science October 1973, page 102, Google books preview, Retrieved April 27, 2010
- "Polapulse battery" (archived 2009)
- Sean O'Hagan (5 April 2010). "The Polaroid revival". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- "About-Production-Starting from scratch". The Impossible Project. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
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