Today we take a look at a camera that is a Classic in all senses of the word, the Polaroid SX-70. It took a further 25 years since Polaroid’s release of it’s first instant camera, the Land Camera Model 95 to get to the SX-70. Previously instant cameras had relied upon complex techniques and instructions in order to obtain a usable ‘instant’ photograph but when Polaroid founder Edwin Land stepped up at annual company meeting in April 1972 with his new camera he was about to change the course of photographic history. He immediately proceeded to shoot and print 10 images in just five seconds much to the amazement of those present.
Land was known as a great marketer and in preparation of the launch at the Polaroid shareholders meeting he located and ordered 10,000 red Kees Nelis tulips from Holland to be available with the new demonstration SX-70 cameras. Unbeknownst to many this was a carefully articulated plan on the part of Land as he knew that the film for the SX-70 was far from perfected and could only best capture either red or yellow subjects.
To help market the innovative camera Polaroid employed the office of famous designers Charles and Ray Eames to create an ‘Orientation film’ with the help of composer Elmer Bernstein (create of movie scores for The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and many others). The video can be seen at the bottom of this article. Within two years Polaroid had sold 700,000 of the cameras at the then expensive price of $180. Many prominent artists and photographers also became fans of the new camera including Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Helmut Newton, and Walker Evans.
Looking at the design of the SX-70 we can see a number of innovations that helped it to achieve Legendary status. Aside from its stunningly cool looks it had a unique collapsible design containing three mirrors in order to construct the image in the viewfinder. The film combined both positive and negative reagents into one element and it also made do without batteries by cunningly moving the power source to the film pack. Land himself declared quite confidently that there were over 20,000 technological innovations present in the SX-70 although most people now agree that this figure may have been a touch optimistic.
In fact it might be said that the innovation in producing the camera caused many changes for Polaroid itself and may even have contributed to the company losing its way over time. Before the SX-70 Polaroid were only involved in the manufacturing side in a very small way. The company concentrated on the ‘positive’ part of the instant film leaving all camera production to Bell & Howell while partnering with Kodak on the ‘negative’ part of the instant film. However the technological advances required for the new camera meant that no other company could actually make what they needed and so it required Polaroid itself to become involved in film manufacture (integrating the negative and positive elements into one) as well as battery design and production. In fact Polaroid became the largest battery manufacturer in the USA at the time. Whether this shift from design-oriented to more of a manufacturer approach was the beginning of the end for Polaroid is hard to say but certainly it might have contributed.
The SX-70 emerged many times later in various cheaper plastic incarnations to appeal to a wider audience and in fact the $40 Model 1000 OneStep using SX-70 film eventually became the best-selling camera of the 1977 Christmas shopping season. Recently we managed to locate a limited supply of perfectly refurbished and tested Polaroid SX-70 cameras and are now offering them in the HolgaDirect store. We also have a number of kits adding film and even a newly designed flash made specifically for the camera.
Now sit back and relax and enjoy the 1972 Polaroid SX-70 Orientation Film….
The HolgaDirect Team
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