My Polaroid Civil War

News, Photography / Saturday, January 7th, 2017

Polaroid cameras

I have too many Polaroid cameras. And I need to get rid of some. It’s not that I don’t like any of the cameras that I have, it’s just a matter of having more than I can practically shoot with at any point in time and the film that I purchase at considerable expense to enjoy shooting cameras that I don’t use that often. I’ve lined up my cameras on two sides: 1) those that I enjoy shooting and that fill a unique place in my instant photography inventory and 2) those that I enjoy shooting but don’t use that often because of redundant equipment in the first category or that seemed like a good idea at the time but were really part of my initial need to collect cameras regardless of how they might be used.

Some of my cameras are more frequently used because I find them cool and unique. I’ll be holding on to these cameras in the near term because I like using them and they seem to fit the most versatile of shooting conditions for my style of photography. They also share the same foldable form factor for the most part. I prefer crisp, closely-focused photos in bright and dim light conditions and often shoot with a documentary perspective using black and white or monochrome film.

  • MiNT Polaroid SX70
  • Impossible Project Polaroid SX70

These were the two cameras that got me addicted to Polaroid photography using Impossible Project Film. I was using pack film Polaroid cameras before these and had experimented a bit with Instax instant film but I was a little suspect of just how long the film might be available for the single source that is the Impossible Project and I didn’t want to invest in a camera or the expensive film at $24 for eight exposures. Once my wife bought me an Impossible SX70 as a Christmas gift, (which I accidentally dropped while shooting and sent for repair while purchasing the MiNT SX70 in the interim) all was lost as soon as I loaded a pack of film and witnessesed the magic of integral film development. I could finally stop chasing after the latest new camera body or lens, obsessively concerned with megapixels and the latest auto-focus technology, and simplify my concentration and art on getting the shot right and enjoying a one-of-a-kind, tangible, analog photo. The camera and film provided a unique and artistic outlet to take my photography in a new direction. But then I had to have more of these delightful cameras.

  • Polaroid SX70 Sonar
  • Polaroid SLR 690

These cameras share the folding form factor of the SX70s and provide some additional flexibility via sonar autofocusing that is quick and helps to guarantee a crisp shot in almost any lighting. The SLR690 has the additional benefit of an integrated flash and uses 600 speed film which is ideal for most indoor or dim light conditions. Although a bit longer than the SX70s, these are great take along cameras where I’m not sure if I’ll have enough light or don’t want to fuss with manual focusing.

  • MiNT SLR 670a
  • MiNT SLR 670s

These bad boys are at the top of the SX70 or folding SLR food chain. You get the classic form factor, glass lens, small aperture and fairly long exposure times in addition to revamped circuits and automatic metering that allows for spot on automatic shots using 600 film in the case of the 670a or manual control of shutter speed and ISO using 600 film with the 670s. Pop on an external flash and you’re ready for almost anything. I carry these two in a special bag along with a shutter release cable, mini tripod, and flash and consider them part of my ‘serious’ instant photography kit.

  • Impossible I-1

This is one of my newer cameras and represents the first all new Polaroid-style camera produced by any manufacturer since the early 2000’s. It uses 600 film, has an integrated ring flash, and offers a variety of manual controls via a Bluetooth phone application that allows you to control aperture and shutter speed. It has promise but my experience so far has been marred by poor standby battery life (you need to make sure it’s charged before each use), and I don’t care for the viewfinder attachment and parallax when trying to shoot subjects up close. It’s built well and the Bluetooth functionality brings it into the modern day but I have a hard time enjoying it as much as the SX70s and SLRs.

  • MiNT TL70
  • MiNT TL70 2.0
  • Lomography Instant
  • Fuji film Neo Classic 90

These are all cameras that use the Fujifilm Instax mini film format. This format is about half the size of a Polaroid and the resulting images are about the length and width of a business card. The film is also cheaper at around $20 for 20 exposures with the film often sold as two packs of ten exposures per pack. These cameras tend to be darker with more contrast than Impossible Project film but can also appear soft and not as focused.

TL70s: I bought the original MiNT camera when it was first released and upgraded it (the new version had a brighter viewfinder and magnifier and MiNT offered the option of sending in the old version for an upgrade to the new features) and after an accidental drop and thinking the camera was broken (yeah, another drop) I purchased the next version only to find that my original version was in perfect working order (battery contacts needed to be realigned). So now I have two. I may sell the original version since two just doesn’t make sense even though I love the camera. These cameras look like twin lens Roleiflex cameras and you shoot like you would any TLR by looking down into a waist high view finder where the image is reversed. You select your aperture and use a wheel on the side to focus with the help of a flip up magnifier if necessary. Exposure can be dialed up or down by a stop and an integrated flash is available along with a bulb mode for longer exposures. Apertures range from f/5.6 to f/22 and it’s truly one of the most versatile instant cameras available with looks that always attract some positive attention.

Fujifilm Neo Classic 90: An all around solid performer with easy controls and some control flexibility for consistent exposures and solid shots. It looks like a chunky version of an old range finder camera and less of a toy like other Fujifilm instant cameras and can be a bit more predictable than my TL70s but not as useful for more creative shots where I’m looking for depth or field or low light performance.

Lomography Instant: My latest acquisition which is the same as the Neo Classic 90 in some respects but not yet as predictable given my experience. It included some additional lenses (close up, fish eye, wide angle) and some colored gels that can be placed over the flash in addition to a cool lense cap that allow works as an infrared remote control. I like the hardware–it’s more industrial looking than the Neo and the feature set is a bit more diverse but I need to spend more time learning how to use the camera to get more consistent results. I think it will allow for greater creativity–not quite up to what the TL70 can do–but I’d also like creativity with consistency that matches the Neo 90.

So what I’m I getting rid of? The following cameras are either redundant given what I’m keeping or nice to have but really taking up space because I’m just not using them as much even though I thought I just had to have them at one point and time:

  • Polaroid SX70

Love this camera. I found it online and bought it along with an original Polaroid SX70 case which allows you to carry the camera, some film and a few accessories in a stylish, suitcase style, leather shoulder bag. It’s got the original brown leather over chrome looks that were what established the camera as premium device in the early 70s and is in perfect condition. It’s not a camera that has been refurbished like my other SX70 by MiNT and Impossible and I’m not sure how long the electronic eye will last for exposure control and I just have too many of the cameras already to justify keeping it. It sits on a shelf and would be better sold or given away as a gift to someone else who enjoys Polaroid photography. I struggle with getting rid of it because it looks so good.

  • Polaroid Spectra
  • Polaroid Spectra SE

One of these I found in an antique market while looking to score a Polaroid camera and the other I bought online as a result of making the score and really enjoying the camera and the film format. This camera is one of the last Polaroid style cameras produced by the Polaroid company before it stopped making film and cameras and features updated electronics, the accurate sonar focusing, consistent exposure control and a few other features in a collapsible, folding format. The film is wider than the traditional Polaroid film format and is popular given the larger image area. I find that I can’t focus as closely with the cameras and their smaller apertures requires that the flash be used more often that I’d like for my shooting. Like the SX70 that I bought online, the Spectra SE is in mint condition and came with a hard shell carrying case. Both need to go and I’m even more concerned about how long Impossible Project continues to manufacture Spectra film as I don’t believe these cameras are as plentiful as SX70s and 600 cameras–I could be wrong but either way, I’m not using the Spectras much.

  • Polaroid 600 SE
  • Polaroid 600 Sun

While getting used to using my SX70s and being a bit disappointed with their performance without a flash indoors with in dim light, I learned that 600 film was more sensitive to light and provided for some great indoor/low-light shooting. I also stumbled into actually using a 600 film camera while on a business trip and discovering that I’d forgotten to bring a camera with me and an evening activity offered the perfect opportunity to get some shots. I visited a local camera shop in the area and the only Polaroid camera they had available was a lightly used 600 Sun. I bought it along with two packs of 600 film and was hooked on the results I got while using the camera for an evening museum exhibit. That led to going online to buy a 600 SE that was in excellent quality. These cameras are the boxy, flip up type that were very popular in the 80’s. They’re built like tanks but not nearly as sleek and sexy as the SX70s. Given that I have two SX70 style cameras (SLR 670a and SLR670s) that use 600 film and offer more creative shooting flexibility, I’ll be reducing both of these cameras from my inventory.

So, five out of sixteen cameras to be sold off or otherwise disposed of. Eleven remaining instant film cameras is still a lot (and that doesn’t include two pack film cameras and four digital cameras) but some have sentimental value while others are too recently purchased to resell and accept a loss. I’m sure that thinking will pass in due time as I make future decisions about what to buy (Fuji square format camera due out Spring 2017) or sell but as always, the key for me is making the most of what I have and not just collecting cameras for the sake of ownership–I’m guilty of some of that, my NPC 195 is truly a collectible–but I also believe in using my photographic tools to create images that are better suited for admiring than simply admiring the cameras themselves.

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