The $5 Discovery: How a Polaroid SX-70 Ignited My Passion for Instant Photography 📸

During one Saturday morning adventure last summer, I stumbled upon a remarkable find at a garage sale. As a travel blogger, where photography plays such a crucial role in my storytelling, I have always been drawn to digital cameras.

Unboxing a Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

Unbeknownst to me, I came across a Polaroid camera that morning that would completely ignite a new passion using a format I have never worked with before: instant film photography.

For just $5, I was able to buy a used, but like-new, Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera. It came with a pack of (incompatible) original 1999 Polaroid Black and White 600 film.

Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera New in Box
Polaroid 600 Film from 1999

Still packed in its original box with the instruction manual, warranty card, and all, I was primarily drawn in by the rainbow logo resembling both Apple’s original brand colors as well as the gay pride rainbow. Of course, this box was neither. It was an original Polaroid camera from the 1970s.

Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Box
Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Warranty Card

I later discovered that $5 for this camera was a total steal because Polaroid sells them on their website for $389.99!

Inside the box, the camera was in great condition and blew me away with its premium-feeling design and intriguing engineering. It was unlike any camera I’d ever held in my entire life.

Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Unfolded

As a travel blogger, where photography plays such a crucial role in my storytelling, cameras play a huge role in my daily operations. I’ve always had a keen interest in them.

I love photography!

Being born in the 1990s, I lived through the mass transition from point-and-shoot film cameras to modern-day digital cameras. I’ve owned my fair share of both. However, I can’t say I have ever seen an actual Polaroid instant camera before this one.

Side profile shot of the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

Not fully grasping the treasure I held in my hands, I spent 10-15 minutes trying to cautiously open the camera without damaging it since I had no idea it popped open like an accordion! The opening mechanism is brilliant and not at all what you would expect.

Closed form of Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

I pressed the shutter button but, without having inserted any film in the camera, nothing happened. I went on Amazon and searched for Polaroid film. It was during that time that I learned about the company’s rough history:

  • Polaroid nearly ceasing to exist as a business
  • Having just one factory left on Earth
  • Nearly losing the secret intellectual property for making instant film

Through that process, I learned I would need to buy a film called Polaroid SX-70 film.

1999 expiration date on 600 film
How crazy is this: 10 shots of unused 600 film from 1999!

A Glimpse into History: The Polaroid SX-70

The Birth of Instant Photography

Shop Polaroid Store

Polaroid’s iconic innovations not only changed how people thought about photography but also made it accessible and immediate by capturing moments that could be shared instantly.

With film that develops within minutes right before your very eyes, the introduction of instant photography was an immediate hit.

My SX-70 Film Photo
Shot on SX-70 film with the Polaroid SX-70

Design and Aesthetics

With the SX-70’s folding SLR (single lens reflex) mechanism, it offered unparalleled portability, a feature that made it stand out when introduced to the market. The brushed chrome and genuine leather detailing made it not only a camera but a piece of art with timeless elegance: very Apple-esque to me.

SLR on the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

The body design created by Edward Land reflects optimism and the innovative spirit of the early 1970s, embodying the essence of technological advancement and stylistic evolution.

The Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera turned on

My Journey with the SX-70

I Couldn’t Figure Out the Magic

I was so enamored by this camera that I couldn’t bring myself to test it at first, even after the fresh film I ordered arrived. The camera was in such great condition that I was convinced it must work, you know? I could test it for confirmation but then I risked possibly breaking it if I did something wrong.

Although it is incredibly straightforward to operate, I did not know that as someone who has never shot a Polaroid camera before. I genuinely believed I was going to damage the camera while trying to test it.

The bottom of the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

Rediscovering Photography

In another post I wrote about 5 reasons to love instant film cameras, I told the story of how my fear of breaking my then-untested SX-70 led to me buying a Polaroid Now camera so I could get my feet wet with instant photography without the fear of breaking something precious.

Polaroid Now

Acquiring my Polaroid Now, and Polaroid I-2 soon after, really helped rekindle my love for photography. Of course, I doubt either of those purchases ever would have happened in the first place had I not gotten my hands on a vintage SX-70 to begin with.

Polaroid I-2

The Challenges and Rewards

If you’re wondering if my camera works, it turns out… it does! 🎆

Here’s the backstory of how I finally got around to testing this camera:

I reached out to a group of photographers I connected with through Brooklyn Film Camera PolaCon (Polaroid Convention). I asked a question about how to recycle used cartridges and while chatting, I mentioned how I had an untested SX-70 camera that I was afraid to use. 😅

My Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera is great for travel

A few members of the group graciously coached me through how to reload a spent pack of SX-70 film (a precaution against wasting usable film on a broken camera) to test it.

After spending 5 minutes trying to figure out how to pop open the camera, I refilled one spent pack, inserted that into my camera, and tried to take a photo. It made the shutter sound but no film ejected.

Figuring out how to open the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

The group then coached me through how to bend down a little arm within the camera that could get worn out over time causing it to slip over the film. This arm mechanism is responsible for ejecting the photo by helping push them out. Instead, I kept taking photo after photo in case the pieces were just stiff or rusty.

Eventually my brute force approach worked and a piece of film shot out from the bottom of the camera. Panic swept over me as I thought the camera was so jammed from taking photo after photo that the film sheet had no space left and actually ripped through the metal casing… 😱

Film ejects under the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

To my relief, it turns out that is actually where it’s supposed to eject from! Another brilliant element of the design, and something I certainly didn’t expect!

After cleaning some chemicals off the dirty rollers, my SX-70 was working good as new! 🥹

Rollers needed to be cleaned

The Legacy of the SX-70

A Resurgence of Interest

The experience of shooting Polaroids has added a new dimension to my travels. Now I find myself pondering whether to bring my Sony A7R V or my Polaroid I-2 on trips with me.

The lens on the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in analog photography. It’s a coincidence that my SX-70 discovery aligned so nicely with the cultural boom of film’s popularity, but I’m certainly glad to know other people can share in the enjoyment of this hobby.

It’s been wonderful to connect with other enthusiasts and professionals alike who are drawn into the Polaroid ecosystem. In particular, I’ve been thoroughly enjoy chatting with so many people on my new Polaroid Instagram account: The Polaroid Display.

The SX-70 Experience: Features and Functionality

The Magic of Instant Photography

Compared to my Polaroid Now and Polaroid I-2 which both use i-Type film, one of the most notable differences with using the SX-70 Land Camera is that it requires a special film called SX-70 film. SX-70 film includes a built-in battery that is used to power the camera, underscoring the SX-70 camera’s innovative design.

Batteries are included in SX-70 film

Featuring a more modular design where the power source is constantly replaced by inserting new film, you can see how so many of these cameras from the 1970s remain operational in circulation today.

Each individual film pack contains everything needed to capture and develop a one-of-a-kind photo all in one single, easy-to-use film cartridge.

Technological Marvels of the SX-70

The SX-70 as a camera touts a manual focus system that allows for precise control. This is a great feature that leads to the one gripe I have with my Polaroid I-2 that automatically focuses using LiDAR technology. Both cameras work in their own ways, but I’ve found I have fewer focus-related errors while shooting with my SX-70.

I love my Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

Its automatic exposure system adjusts the shutter speed and aperture making controllable results accessible to amateur photographers while still offering flexibility that professionals may seek. (Nowadays, there are also $400 modern modified versions of this camera for sale that grant even more control. I have an original, unmodified camera lacking these options. However, owning the customizable I-2 makes up for these shortcomings.)

This camera takes amazing photos and I would highly recommend it to others. In some cases, I even prefer it over my brand new (and more expensive) Polaroid I-2!

The Timeless Appeal of the SX-70

My journey after finding the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera has been full of self-discovery. An unexpected $5 Garage Sale bargain has led to an art project that I’m planning to complete over the span of an entire year. It also was a small initial investment that led to much larger expenses later on as I’d soon discover with the high recurring cost of fresh Polaroid film. Still, in an era dominated by digital technology, this camera stands in stark contrast.

The packaging the Polaroid SX-70 ships with

As I continue my journey through this life, I truly believe you’ll often find me with at least one Polaroid camera by my side.

Although it can be costly at times, there’s something to be said about spending money on things that spark joy. Photography is one of my favorite hobbies, right up alongside blogging and travel. It’s a fun quest to try to capture the world’s beauty through such a unique lens.

I am grateful for Polaroid’s reminder to slow down and appreciate the magic of a moment.

Comment Here:

The Rocky Safari