Tuesday, January 20, 2009


"businessman plans to rescue the abandoned format"

"If all goes to plan, the Polaroid factory in Enschede, Amsterdam, will soon be making film again thanks to its new owner, an eccentric Austrian artist and businessman named Florian Kaps.

...Dubbed "The Impossible Project", the development of new film for Polaroid cameras launches today. Working with the Manchester-based black and white photography company Ilford, the machinery is in place to produce film of two exposure types, each compatible with both the classic SX-70 cameras popular with artists and the more modern 600 series."


Saturday, January 03, 2009


It's been a long time since my last post - almost three years to be precise.

The end of Polaroid's film-making days has been the writing on the wall for several years now but it's now official. As of three days ago, Polaroid is officially out of the instant film market.

That occurrence has been the cause of much sadness and reflection, including a great piece by the New York Times' Michael Kimmelman that I think captures the romance and magic of the Polaroid (and the beloved SX70 more specifically).

A friend, coincidentally, also sent me this remarkable story from Mental Floss magazine about someone who took a polaroid almost every day of his life, starting in March of 1979, through October 25, 1997 (the day he died of cancer).

Meanwhile, there's an on-going campaign to save Polaroid film called, um, "Save Polaroid".

People write me asking, where can I get film for this camera? and besides eBay (which I don't normally recommend), the only other place currently selling that I could find is Polapremium.com. They sell 8 shot packs of SX70 TZ Artistic Film (which means it can be manipulated) for $21 (not including shipping). That's definitely a bit price but given the finite supply, I can't blame 'em.

I had been using the SX70 Blend which I think works fine but I'm not clear if it's still being sold or not but you can try here.

People have also asked me about adapting the 600 film to use in the SX70. I looked into it back when that "solution" was first proposed but personally, I don't like it. It "works" in terms of being able to take instant photos with it the hack but the need for a filter adjustment plus having the manipulate the pack just seems like you're setting yourself up for more trouble than it might be potentially worth. If people have experience with that however, feel free to share.

Someone asked "is it possible to get a brand-new SX70?" and the answer is: "not exactly." You might be able to find a never-used-before SX70 off of eBay but Polaroid stopped making the camera itself decades ago. In general, I would never recommend you buy an SX70 that hasn't been tested - it's fragile enough that any number of mechanical problems can occur with them and you don't really want to chance buying a busted one.

Despite the fact that the film for them has dried up, they still sell surprisingly well on eBay. I'd suggest folks look there but just make sure you know which model you're looking for. I never liked the white-and-tan models (which were 3rd or 4th gen). I prefer either the first gen or Alpha 1s.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


At this rate, I'll shoot through my two new packs in about three days. It's just nice to be using the SX-70 again though. That said...

Yeah, yeah, prerequisite cute kid photo. Again, this is using the flash bar. And again, I'm impressed by the quality of the flash fill system.

These two photos were taken a mile from one another and I'm just a bit disappointed by them. I always forget that I've never really taken a blue-sky shot with the SX-70 that I loved. Maybe I need to over-expose it a bit but the colors just feel a bit dull and you can barely make out the Golden Gate Bridge in the first of the two. I don't know what I could have done to fix it, except maybe shoot over the trees (which actually would have been impossible). The contrast is off too.

As for Ocean Beach shot, that felt too dark to me too but had I exposed it longer, I think the colors would be even more washed out. I need to figure out how to take more effective landscape shots or just avoid them entirely.

Monday, March 13, 2006


I ended up ordering two packets of Time Zero film from B&H Photo (alas, they are now out of stock). It took far longer to get here because of a post office mishap but they finally did come through. I loaded 'em up and started to take some pics. My main concern is that there might be a small hole in the bellows of my camera. Apparently, that's what caused this effect though I'm speculating that if this is a recurrent problem, it only happens in bright sunlight. In any case, as you can see in the four photos below, I didn't have that problem and it's nice to be shooting with non-expired film that doesn't leak emulsion like my last packs did (that should teach you: NEVER buy expired Time Zero film).

It's been a long, long time since I've used the SX-70 - damn near three years! - and to be honest, I forgot how much I love the design of this camera. The only other thing that I own that might come close is this Audio Technica portable record player I use but the SX-70 is probably my single most favorite "object" when it comes to the style and design. It's really just a beautiful camera.

I'm sad though that Polaroid is discontinuing Time Zero and while I've seen the workarounds for using either 660 or 779 film with it, they sound like a small pain in the ass if you ask me. If you have had any experience with using the conversion, please let me know. I just like the simplicity of the camera the way it is now and the idea of having to physically alter anything makes me very wary (especially since I'm all thumbs).

By the way, I tried using the disposable flash bar with the camera for the first time ever (thanks sis!) and I have to say, it turned out really well (the last photo in the quartet below was taken with the flash). I was thinking about getting a permanent flash but I'm not sure which 3rd party flashes will attach and work with the Alpha 1 model though clearly, there is at least one model that does.

I also have to say that I'm really amazed at the range of prices one can get for an SX-70 on eBay. Personally, I've never paid more than $50 for any of the working models I've found - that includes two SX-70 originals plus the Alpha 1 that I use now. Part of the problem is that with the disappearance of the film, it's very hard to test the camera to see if it works (and believe me, a lot can go wrong with a 30 year old camera) so anyone advertising a confirmed working camera can get far more for it than a "your guess is as good as mine" as-is model. Personally, I'm tempted to get another original (i.e. first edition) SX-70, just for the hell of it but I'm not trying to pay $150 for the privilege!

Lastly, if any of you out there want to split some packs of un-expired Time Zero film with me (especially if you live in or around S.F.), drop your contact in the comments. I don't want more than 5 or so at any given time but I'm down to buy 10 and then split them.

I can't believe my daughter's over a year old and this is the first time I took a Polaroid of her. Oops.

The two above are from the San Francisco Botanical Gardens which are a mere two blocks from where I live. That big tree is in the middle of a glade in the Parks. I should have exposed the print longer since the tree is slightly back-lit. Oops. The flowers turned out better - glad the colors still come through nicely on the Time Zero film.

This is using the disposable flash bar. Now that I know it works, I'll have to use 'em more since I have three bars (but only two packs of film. Oops).

Monday, December 26, 2005


I'm assuming many of the recent visits to the site have come through PC World's "50 Greatest Gadgets" article. First of all...welcome. Second of all, you'll notice I haven't updated this page in over two years. Much as I love my SX-70, I haven't shot with it much lately for a simple reason: Time-Zero film is even harder to come by than ever.

Walgreens used to be my fall-back (and at $15/pack, it's not a great place to have to fall back on) but even they don't carry the film anymore. There's still eBay but again: do not buy expired film. It's not the picture quality, it's the emulsion leaking out that you have to be wary of.

By the way, I discovered something interesting lately, talking to another SX-70 enthusiast...the reason for the "Endless Summer" effect on my Polaroids from July '04 was not related to the film: instead, my friend speculated that I have a small pinhole in the camera that is allowing extra light in and that's what creates those crazy, washed out colors. Cool effect though I might have to buy a better SX-70 in order to take "proper" pictures down the road (but first, I need more film).

Also, it's worth noting that prices on the SX-70 have seemingly risen considerably in the last few years. They were always collector's items but I think there's been an increasing awareness of them and demand is driving up prices. A note: a lot of what's sold on eBay says "untested" and I'd really, really caution people from buying those. At one point, I ran through THREE different SX- 70s that I got (all from eBay) and they were all broken, even the ones that seemed like they were in pristine mechanical condition. The only way you can be sure it works is if the seller tests the camera. Especially given the age of many of these, there is any number of problems you can potentially run into that you'd never be able to diagnose without actually testing the camera. Not to cast suspicions, but a seller who lists their camera as untested is either being lazy or trying to pass off a busted camera.

If any of you have SX-70 appreciation pages with photos, please email me: I'd love to see some more.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Album 3 - November 2002 - July 2003

The November photo is kind of errant since all the other photos are from the spring and summer. Make sure to check out the "Endless Summer" selections.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Album 2: Shanghai 2002

16 shots from the insane city of Shanghai. For more photos from Shanghai (though not Polaroids), see the following travelogues:
  • Shanghai Surprise (2002)
  • Shangheezy (2004)

  • Sunday, August 18, 2002

    Photo Album I - April to August 2002

    As you can tell, I really liked shooting with the SX-70 in the first few months after I got it. There are 64 images in this album.

    Thursday, April 04, 2002

    The Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

    Released in 1972, the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera was a landmark in instant camera design and functionality. Designed at the cost of $750,000,000 (like, whoa) the SX-70 was the parent model to the modern Polaroids - one-step instant cameras with film that required no peeling. Not only that, but it was also rumored to be one of the very first pocket-sized SLR cameras available in any film format. The luxury of owning one at the came didn't come cheap: the SX-70 initially sold upwards $300, which, by early 70s standards, made it cost-prohibitive to most basic consumers. (source: http://joyopfer.com/sx70)

    These days, you can expect to pay significantly less, with good, working models as cheap as $10 at swap meets and not much more online at sites like eBay. While they seem primitive by today's modern instant camera standards - no built-in flash for example - the SX-70 still takes gorgeous, beautiful pictures in good light and besides, it boasts some of the coolest style you'll ever find in any camera with its faux-leather binding, chrome trim and of course, pop-out design.

    I was turned onto the SX-70 by "Cool" Chris Veltri who runs Groove Merchant Records in S.F. I was a little skeptical at first, but quickly fell in love with the camera's unique charms. Even it's limitations have proven to be assets in taking remarkable pictures. For example, the main photographic limitation with the camera is how it performs in low light situations sans flash (by the way, flash bulbs are available if you want them). The exposure control automatically keeps the shutter open until the film has received enough light to process, but unless you've got it on a tripod (which you'll need an adapter for anyways), expect a ton of motion blur plus an oversaturation of whatever light sources exist within the frame. The upshot is that you can create some fantastic images in the process, like the self-portrait you see at left, the result of a bright neon sign and long exposure, plus tons of blur.

    The main drawback to the SX-70 is the cost of the special Time-Zero film that the camera requires. At least Polaroid still keeps it in production, but most places, you can expect to pay $15 for a 10-pack, and that's assuming you can even find it to begin with. Still, Polaroid's offer something that few cameras - save digitals - can offer: instant gratification and unlike digitals, the finished photo is instantly tangible from the second it spits out of the camera.

    IMPORTANT: If possible, try not to use outdated Time-Zero film (each pack should be stamped with an expiration date. I've used some that were about six months old and that was ok, but I recently bought 10 packs of film that were over a year old and it was a disaster. What happened to ALL of them was that the seams were cracked, allowing emulsion to leak out when the film was processed through the camera. The emulsion is corrosive and will not only eat through the photograph, but also your fingers. This can be accurately described as a very bad thing. It's not like your skin will begin to melt, but the emulsion will give you blisters. Bad, very bad. Just make sure if you buy Time-Zero off eBay or something that you ask what the exp. date is. If the film has been stored in a cool environment, then you may be able to gamble if it's less than a year past, but otherwise, I wouldn't risk it.

    In case you've never seen this: