Camera Review: SX-70

SX70 Polaroid Land Camera 100 FP3000b

SX70 Polaroid Land Camera 100 FP3000b

The SX-70. Many of you reading this probably already know the magic contained within the small name. When Edwin Land, co-founder of Polaroid, brought this little box of magic into the world in the ’70s he truly introduced a camera system like nothing before. Today, the iconic camera is something that is still unparalleled and sought after by many. It is one of the few go-to cameras to shoot instant film and produces some of the most gorgeous and unique images we’ve ever seen.

So what makes the SX-70 so special? Well, for one it’s a folding SLR. Yes, a fold able  single lens reflex camera. Crazy, right? So when you pop this bad boy open and look through the viewfinder, what you see is what you can expect to appear on that little white frame that ejects after you release the shutter.

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar, PX70 Cool

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar, PX70 Cool

Film:

Speaking of that “little white frame,” the SX-70 takes integral instant film introduced and popularized by Polaroid and recently resurrected by The Impossible Project. In fact it was this camera that introduced the world to the now legendary 3.5 x 4.2 in white frames. Originally, the camera was designed to take Polaroid film specifically designed for the camera simply called SX-70 film. The film was soon replaced by the cult classic Time Zero film, as it featured better color and near instant development time.  Though it has been discontinued since 2006, it can still be found on eBay for a hefty price (or for cheap, if you are patient and willing to hunt). Other Polaroid manufactured films usable with the SX-70 are type 778, 708 and Artistic TZ. Impossible now makes their PX-70 film for use with this camera and is readily available on their website. (check out our review for that awesome film here). Even though the camera was designed to only take SX-70 film, back in Polaroid’s hey day, people found ways to mod Polaroid 600 packs to fit the camera. Now it’s even easier to shoot 600 film, particularly with Impossible’s PX-680 film and an ND Filter.

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar, PX70 Color Protection Justin Molina, SX70, PX70 Color Protection

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar, PX70 Color Protection                       Justin Molina, SX70, PX70 Color Protection

Features:

Did we mention this camera is a folding? Yeah? Well let us mention it again: It’s a FOLDING SLR. This fact still blows me away. The mere concept is just genius.The SX-70 also has manual focusing, and even an auto-focus feature if you are using one of the Sonar models. This thing can get close too, like 10.4 in. from your subject close, allowing for those tight portraits if you please. The depth of field on this camera is insanely shallow as well, allowing for an otherworldly effect on your images. The 4-element 116mm f/8 glass lens is not the sharpest in the world, but its what gives the images its unique, soft dreamy look. All of these elements come together to create a beast of a camera that produces some really unique photos.

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar ,V4B Test Film Justin Molina, SX70, PX70 Color Protection

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar ,V4B Test Film Justin Molina, SX70, PX70 Color Protection

 

The only thing that makes this camera fall short of perfection is that it exposes automatically, from a shutter speed range of 10+ seconds to 1/175 and an aperature range of f8 to f22,  so shooting something that is backlit is really hit or miss. The camera offers a little bit of  exposure control with its lighten / darken wheel, but in the end it isn’t much. Still, it’s not a deal breaker by any means; for some the unpredictability of the camera is what gives it its charm, but it is definitely something to keep in mind.

It’s also worth nothing that there are many many different Models of the SX-70, some with different features here and there, most of them being small. For example the tripod mount and strap lugs were not introduced to the SX-70 until the Alpha 1 model; my Land Camera Model 2 does not have them. Some have split focusing, others don’t. Some are white, some are black, some have brown leather and others have black leather. Other differences are quite large and raise the question “what on earth were they thinking?” Yes, I’m looking at the Model 3. For whatever reason, the SX-70 Model 3 is NOT an SLR. I may be biased, but for me the charm of the SX-70 is that it is a folding slr camera. The model 3 completely removes this feature. Not only that, but focusing with the Model 3 is a pain, since it’s a manual focus camera but lacks any visual aid to tell you are focusing correctly since it must be focused by scale. Other majorly differing models are the Sonar models, mentioned earlier. They all include autofocus using the Sonar AF feature, which can be turned on or off, so if you aren’t forced to use it if you don’t want to. If you are still in search of an SX-70 and are super picky like me, you want to be very sure you are getting the exact model you want with all of your ideal features. Or if you are less picky and want a beautiful machine that is guaranteed to work, Impossible sells stunning refurbished models.

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar, PX70 Cool                            Old Generation PX680 Gold Frame + ND filter

Francisco Chavira, SX70 Sonar, PX70 Cool                                   Old Generation PX680 Gold Frame + ND filter

Out In Th Field:

When you finally take this bad boy out to shoot, you want to make sure there is plenty of light since film for the SX-70 measures at a pretty low ISO. Low light will cause the camera to expose too long, resulting in overexposed or blurry images. Of course, there are ways around this such as using a flash bar If you want to shoot inside with low light. Window light can be your best friend when indoors, and you can even use a tripod with a cable release as well.

Justin Molina, SX70 PX70 Color Protection, Francisco Chavira, SX70, PX680+ND filter

Justin Molina, SX70 PX70 Color Protection                          Francisco Chavira, SX70, PX680+ND filter

 

Really, this camera can be used in just about any situation. Whether at a party or on a photo shoot, the SX-70 puts in a lot of work. In fact it has become a staple in my current photo shoot load out and I just recently produced some of my favorite images with this camera. It’s really something else.

It takes a little bit to get the hang of this camera and learn it’s little quirks and personality traits; what it can and can’t handle. Once you do, though, the reward is something unmatchable; you will be unstoppable with it and will produce images that cannot be mimicked by any other camera.

Justin Molina, SX70, PX70 Cool

Justin Molina, SX70, PX70 Cool

 

Pros

  • folding, single lens reflex instant camera
  • shallow depth of field
  • short focusing distance
  • manual focusing
  • compact

Cons

  • Automatic exposure
  • recent popularity = higher prices
  • possible to come across a malfunctioning camera
Francisco Chavira, SX70, Polaroid 779 Film + ND Filter

Francisco Chavira, SX70, Polaroid 779 Film + ND Filter

 Accessories:

This camera has plenty of nifty gadgets you will want to experiment with. Like the Impossible Projects Mint flash. No more need for those one use flash bars. This one is reusable and will let you shoot in any light, day or night. The SX70 shade is essential for any Impossible film shooter. It is the perfect shield for shooting in bright sun and avoid light. You’ll want when shooting old generation Impossible film, their black and white film and even the new Color Protection film to get crisp colors. Let’s not forget to mention Impossible’s ND filter. When ever you  want to shoot PX680 or Expired Polaroid film in you SX70 its essential! One of the most powerful accessory you can get are the original Polaroid SX70 accessory kit. This kit includes a tripod mount for early SX70 models, remote cable release, lens shade, close up kit and flash diffuser. Lets say your SX70 has had a ruff life or has been loved and used so much and its original skin show it. Well you can get replacement custom skin over at Skin Love or from Aki-Asahi.

We are big fans of the SX70. In fact the 3 of us own one. It is an iconic camera and certainly one of the most elegant we carry in our camera bags. It is the reason we love shooting integral film. Ours are used on a regular bases and experienced a few tumbles. They are resilient little machines. If you don’t own one get one, once you do you fall in love like we have.

Comments

  1. Hello,
    I just picked up an SX-70 and I am somewhat familiar with the workings of this camera-sold them new back in the 70s. The camera is in excellent condition but the focus ring doesn’t move. Does it need battery energy from the film pack in order for the focus mechanism to function?
    Thanks,
    mary

    • if it is the Sonar model you will need to move the switch above the focus dial for it to focus manually. For autofocus it would need power. If it is a non sonar model, the dial should move freely.

      • Thanks!
        It’s not a sonar. It is just a regular SX-70-not even an Alpha. But I am surprised that because of the obvious, light use this camera seems to have endured that the focus mechanism would not function. So, you are saying that it should just move freely?
        Thanks,
        mary

  2. Andreas says:

    Hi,
    I bought a SX 70 sonar model some weeks ago and started experimenting with it again (had my first one around 1980). Everything works as expected – only the sonar autofocus gives poor results when used in smallest possible close distance. When I focus manually, everything’s fine! I found no hints in the web concerning this problem – is it a “normal” behaviour of this camera model? Then I would just forget the cool sonar technology and use the focus dial instead …

    • Anytime I’m trying to focus close, i use the manual focus. I’ve never researched or given much thought to it, but just figured the camera was almost 40 years old and quirky. Sonar works great 90% of the time.

  3. Hello, for a closeUp or regular portrait, do you used the “makrolens”? I dont find any information about that little thing.. regards..

    • The do make a close up kit for the SX-70. It includes 3 lenses for different magnification. They are usually easy to find on ebay, and work great!

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