Polaroid SX-70 Sonar & My First Pack Of Polaroid Originals

I bumped into an old girlfriend a few weeks ago.

She asked me if I had any regrets. I told her I was really sorry I hadn’t shot more Kodachrome.

A few days later, pondering the look on her face, I realised that might not have been the answer she was looking for.

But as film photographers, regrets and disappointments are what we’ve come to expect. As well as Kodachrome, I really wish I’d shot a load more of Fuji’s Black & White pack film before it bit the dust in 2014. Kodak’s Panatomic X is another one, although that’s mainly because it sounds like something out of a 1950s sci-fi film. And not hiring someone to follow me round and document my entire life in wonderfully wobbly Super 8 was clearly a mistake.

The good news is that these days film photography is once again in the ascendancy. New emulsions are emerging and old ones resurrected. But the first such disappointment for me personally was when Polaroid stopped making instant film in 2008.

Just because my SX-70 lay dormant for over a decade, doesn’t mean I stopped buying Polaroid books.

Instand The Story Of Polaroid

Back In An Instant

Most people know the story by now. At its peak in the mid-70s, an estimated one billion Polaroids were being shot each year. Yet fast forward two decades and the instant photography market was being devastated by digital. By 2008 Polaroid had called time and stopped making film for its cameras.

Enter The Impossible Project. They bought the production machinery from Polaroid for $3 million and leased part of the former Polaroid plant in Holland. But with no raw materials and suppliers, they effectively had to reinvent the film from scratch.

I’d been a Polaroid shooter for many years and I remember being excited that I might be able to continue. But it soon became clear that the price was prohibitive, and the early iterations of the film were extremely flakey. My camera was relegated to the back of the cupboard, where it would spend the next ten plus years.

Back To The Future

This year I thought it might be time to take another look. I’d heard the film was much improved. The price is still a bit eye-watering though; £17 per pack, and where the old Polaroid had ten shots per pack, now you only get 8. That’s about two quid a pop. Ouch. Whatever, let’s go crazy, I thought. But would my camera still be working?

The Impossible Project has now rebranded to Polaroid Originals

Polaroid Originals Color SX-70 Film

Polaroid SX-70 Sonar

The original SX-70 is a work of genius. A manual focus SLR that produces instant film and folds flat. At some point Polaroid thought that the autofocus malarky other manufacturers were putting in their cameras might catch on. Thus the Polaroid SX-70 Sonar was born.

Polaroid SX-70 Sonar

It’s clear the bug-eyed autofocus component on top has just been grafted on to a standard SX-70. This has the disadvantage of making the folded camera an inch or so longer. But the autofocus itself is super-snappy, and the viewfinder large and bright. I’m assuming the focus works by chucking out sound waves until it hits something and measures the distance, although anyone who’s not a scientific moron may correct me on this. One thing I quickly realised was that if you attempt to shoot through a window the camera will focus on the glass. Fortunately, there’s a manual focus option.

I gave the rollers on the camera a quick clean and pushed in the film cartridge. Out came the dark slide with that familiar Polaroid whirrrr – a good sign.

Polaroid SX-70 Sonar

Like the original film, the battery is in the film pack rather than the camera. But unlike the original which had an ISO of 100, the new film is ISO 160. As there’s no direct way to adjust the ISO on the camera, I thought I’d have to use the lighter/ darker wheel to compensate. But no. As you’ll see, the exposures are spot on. However, you’re going to need a lot of light to get sharp hand-held shots as the maximum aperture is f/8. Shutters speeds range from 1/75 to ten seconds.

Each shot takes up to about 15 minutes to fully develop, and it really needs to do this out of direct light to stop it being washed out. I have a small tin that I immediately pop the photo in.

So here we have it, my first pack of polaroids in over ten years. One thing’s for sure; there will be more.

All photos Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film

Bertie at 11 weeks old, in a rare moment of stillness

polaroid puppy

A picnic in the park with my friend Delphine

Rosie and friend in amongst the dunes at West Wittering Beach

Coco dreaming of a future where she won’t get continually mugged by a puppy

‘Yes I know I’m cute, but try to take the ball and I’ll lick you to death’

Sleepy Watson

Abney Park Cemetery, London

Nikolay, Dmitry & Sergey are some of the guys I’ve been working with in Baku. Taken in the airport car park. Oh, the glamour.

Polaroid SX-70 Sonar Baku

15 comments on “Polaroid SX-70 Sonar & My First Pack Of Polaroid Originals

  1. Thanks for the best laugh I’ve had all day, and it was sorely needed. I live not far from the original Polaroid factory, and have several of the books pictured. I had several friends who worked there and were badly burned when the company went belly up. Mr Land was a prolific genius but a rather naughty man in private. I have a bunch of Polaroid cameras I will never part with and order film and shoot a bunch ever few years. I haven’t gotten a decent picture out of any of it in 20 years, so I have a lot of respect after seeing these pictures. I haven’t given up yet, but hope is running out.

  2. You made good use of the wonky color palette of this film. Probably the best I’ve seen. It’s a great reminder that with any film/camera combination you use, you’ll always get best results if you know what its strengths and weaknesses are and work well within them.

  3. They are sharper than I expected, but maybe I’m used to seeing the photographs from the newer Instax Mini cameras. I’d like to have an instant camera, but I don’t know what I would do with all the prints. Unless I only make photos of students and give the photos to them. Maybe I could cover a wall in instant prints. Not sure the missus would go for that . . . .

  4. I liked the few polaroids I did a long time ago, but I was always intimidated by the fact that pushing the button committed you irretrievably to the product of that moment. I was presented recently again with that dilemma when I inherited a box of photo junk which included a pristine SX-70. I decided to pass it on to a friend who has worked her way up the steep polaroid learning curve over the years. I was particularly impressed with the close-up capability of the camera as well as its compactness. Maybe I’ll hold onto the next one I come across.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Mike. Well, the film is certainly a lot better these days than the early incarnations of the Impossible Project Film.

      Funny enough, it’s the fact that it’s a one-off that attracts me to polaroids!

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