A precursor to today’s digital era, Polaroid’s iconic 1972 SX-70 Land Camera is notable not only for its achievements as the first folding and first SLR instant camera but also for its perfection in form, function, and beauty. The revolutionary camera ignited and defined the instant era, allowing a photographer to focus solely on capturing the moment at hand.
Partially because the camera’s technology was so radical at the time and partially because it came about during an era where people allowed themselves the luxury to understand how things function, the Office of Charles and Ray Eames produced a 10-minute-long video advertisement (more of a documentary, really) about the SX-70, which beautifully captures the camera in all of its glory. What’s most surprising (and rewarding) is the pacing and storytelling—something that lacks in today’s 30 second sound-bite, ADD, multitasking culture. Though parts of the video may feel slow, you will be completely rewarded for your patience.
As the brilliantly executed video demonstrates, the sleek leather and aluminum SX-70 “helps meet the universal need to do things well.” Designed so that the face perfectly fits into the device when looking through the viewfinder, the camera’s intelligible exterior conceals a complex internal structure—a system that perfectly illustrates Edwin Land‘s philosophy to only undertake a project that is manifestly important and “nearly impossible.”
The camera’s unique optical path (fully explained at 4:13 in the video) is a result of its folding capability. A four element lens collects and then bounces light off a permanent mirror onto a Fresnel surface. The light is bundled, bounced back again and then passed through two astigmatism-correcting slits before hitting an aspheric plastic mirror, creating an image which is then captured through the Fresnel and an elevated taking mirror. Flash bulbs and close up lenses were some of the additional equipment availale for this flexible camera.
The SX-70 film was the first instant film that was self-contained and didn’t require timing or peeling. The film developed in a few minutes but continued to set for a few days, allowing photographers of all skill levels to achieve previously unattainable effects by cooling or heating the film during that time.
The original SX-70 was replaced a few years later by the Model 2 and 3 versions, and ceased production in the 1980s. eBay often has several to choose from, and thanks to the Impossible Project you can still order SX-70 film. See above for a film about the Impossible Project film and how it’s made today.