Polaroid SX-70 Colour Film Review

The Only ISO 160 Colour Instant Film in Production

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Polaroid SX-70 colour film is the direct descendant of the original Polaroid Time Zero made for the SX-70 cameras. Quoted as the “world’s most chemically complex man-made thing,”* this emulsion is indeed very special. But the results aren’t perfect.

In this review, I will cover the history and a bit of science behind this film, share lots of high-res samples and talk about this film’s properties — including known issues, a few techniques for making better exposures, and scanning.

✱ — In a movie plot and on this blog.

Polaroid SX-70 film colours.

SX-70 film isn’t perfect. Below, you will learn that it can break down more often than other emulsions. It’s even less stable than the popular Fujifilm Instax instant film format. Yet there’s still something very special about this emulsion — the colours.

Polaroid SX-70 colour film (2021).

I still got a few Polaroid frames from the 1990s. It was a little sharper back then, and the colours looked truer to life. The film that today’s Polaroid produces is more “experimental.” But if you know what to expect, it may actually look a little more interesting than the earlier stuff.

The new Polaroid SX-70 film produces a warm palette with slight blue undertones in the shadows and a bit of pink in the highlights.

The colours remind me of the X-Pro filter on Instagram. But with this film, the effect is neither consistent nor flat — every image looks a little different, even if you photograph the same thing.

What you’re seeing develop inside the frames today is an improvement over the previous generation (Polaroid Originals) with a slightly better development time and deeper black point. If you’re interested, check out my comparison of the new Polaroid film vs. Polaroid Originals colour film for SX-70.

Me on the Polaroid colour film (1990s).

You’ll notice that the older version of this film from the 1990s also shows a lot of warmth — even with the flash on. This is in contrast to the cooler palette of the Fujifilm Instax frames.

But note that your new Polaroid SX-70 film’s colours depend significantly on how it was developed:

If you keep your frame in the sun right after you’ve exposed it, it’ll lose some contrast.

In the cold, Polaroid film will have cooler, less saturated colours with a noticeable light-blue cast in the shadows and highlights.

Under the heat, SX-70 film turns brown-ish.

Ideally, you want to keep your Polaroid film at around 13–28°C (55–82°F) in the shade (source) as soon as you take your picture.

Modern Polaroid SX-70 film is a polarising product. Some photographers swear by its expressive, warm tones that you can control via temperature, emulsion lifts, and other means of experimental expression. Others can’t stand its high price point and reliability issues.

Nevertheless, I revere it as an incredible medium that, with skill and a bit of luck, creates dreamy physical prints no other imaging medium can.

Polaroid SX-70 colour film with MiNT Flash Bar II + lime green filter.

Polaroid film development times.

Polaroid colour film takes a long time to develop: about 10 minutes.

For best results, you may want to keep your frame still, in the shade, at room temperature as it develops. Shaking it may make your image appear unnecessarily blurry.

Developed film storage tips below.

Polaroid SX-70 film’s contrast and dynamic range.

Polaroid film may not look like it has a lot of contrast at first glance. The blacks are a little hazy, and the whites aren’t that brilliant. But you may also notice that the dynamic range of this film is quite limited. The shadows get crushed easily, and the highlights blow quickly.

Polaroid SX-70 colour film reveals its high contrast (bottom-right) after some histogram equalization (defogging) in Photoshop.

If you crop your frame’s border after scanning and equalize its histogram (i.e. remove the fogging), it’ll look very contrasty — a sign of an emulsion with a narrow dynamic range.

You can do this easily in Photoshop by adding a Curves layer and moving the Input/Output sliders towards the outer edges of the histogram. This needs to be done individually for each colour channel. More info.

In practice, this means that Polaroid film is not forgiving of exposure mistakes, and it makes high-contrast scenes look unnaturally stark. Combined with SX-70s’ hard-to-predict autoexposure functionality, this is not an easy film to master. Essentially, you’re limited to bright, evenly lit environments or fill flash (you can use MiNT Flash Bar II for that).

This is not to say that high-contrast images can’t look beautiful — but if you want to preserve the most detail in your shots, look for softer light.

Polaroid SX-70 film’s grain, sharpness, and resolution.

Polaroid film is unique in showing no visible grain — even when scanned and enlarged. This is because of how the chemicals migrate across the layers as the emulsion develops. You won’t notice much grain on the Polaroid 600 film either.

But despite the film’s high contrast and virtually non-existent grain, Polaroid film is quite soft. Even with the excellent lens that sits inside SX-70 cameras and the relatively large image area, it’s difficult to see fine detail in Polaroid frame enlargements.

Polaroid SX-70 image area enlargement (no sharpening or colour correction) from Epson ET-M2170 flatbed scanner.

The detail may look better on a nicer scanner with anti-Newtown-ring glass with some sharpening applied digitally — but not by much.

Some improvements can be made via an emulsion lift. This process gets rid of the transparent plastic that covers the film layers.

However, this is not an easy job, and it best works on monochrome film; not to mention other kinds of distortions you’ll be introducing into your photograph:

Two Polaroid SX-70 B&W film frames lifted onto watercolour paper.

Polaroid film size.

You may have noticed that a pack of SX-70 film looks like 4×5 film or maybe print paper. The shapes certainly match: Polaroid is not a roll film.

Though not as large as the defacto large format frames, Polaroid film is significantly larger than typical medium format exposures.

The image area of Polaroid film is 7.9cm × 7.65cm or 3.11” × 3.01”.

Polaroid film is larger than Instax Wide (6.1cm × 9.91cm or 2.4” × 3.9”) and Instax Square (7.11cm × 8.64cm or 2.8” × 3.4”).

Scanning Polaroid film.

Polaroid film is both easy and hard to scan. Easy because it creates a large positive that you can take an “OK” picture of on your mobile device. The challenge would be to avoid the glare on the highly-reflective plastic layer. I’ve been angling my camera in a way that pushes the glare to the side or off the frame. I then fix the perspective slants in Photoshop.

On a flatbed scanner, you’ll get better results. However, newton rings are very likely to appear in your images — sometimes they are hard to notice, other times they’re plain and distracting. One solution is to create a small air gap between the scanner glass and the film, or you can try using a special anti-newton ring glass. I use Photoshop’s healing brush — although it has its limitations.

Polaroid SX-70 colour film scanned on a flatbed scanner.

Polaroid film storage.

You should keep your Polaroid film in a dark or dim place at room temperature. The colours will fade with time under direct sunlight.

Scrapbooking with Polaroid film.

Books and albums are ideal for storage and display — although they involve some work to put together. I found that the best-looking results come from books made for watercolour painting and sticky corners that you can mount your film with.

The generic plastic sleeves they sell for instant film aren’t as nice.

The SX-70 film frames are generally quite sturdy; they can handle more abuse than a paper print. Just keep them away from the sun and sharp objects that can scratch their plastic surface.

Your fresh Polaroid packs are best stored in a fridge (not a freezer!) When you are ready to shoot, give your film fifteen minutes at room temperature to avoid blue casts during development.

Recycling used polaroid film cartridges.

Polaroid film for SX-70 cameras comes with a plastic frame, a metal spring, and a non-rechargeable battery. After you finish your pack of film, you should break the plastic frame (⚠️ carefully, the plastic shards can be sharp!) and recycle the plastic, metal spring, and battery separately.

A complete guide for recycling Polaroid film with illustrations is available.

Known Polaroid film defects, issues, and ways to prevent them.

Polaroid film does not last well past its expiration date. If the development chemicals dry up, you may end up with a blank or a partially-developed image (see below).

As I’ve mentioned above, SX-70 film changes colours in cold or hot climates. In winter, I typically keep my freshly-exposed frames in my breast pocket.

Other than that, I haven’t had many issues with this film — other than struggling to find the right light such a contrasty emulsion.

You can certainly make great photos with your SX-70 as a beginner, but if you want to improve the quality and the consistency of your images, you may need to work a little harder and be ready to waste a few frames.

A failed Polaroid frame. Most likely, the result of the chemicals drying due to expiration. Nevertheless, there’s something appealing about this image precisely because it broke down.

Where to buy Polaroid SX-70 colour film.

As long as your film isn’t expired by months or years, you should be OK. There’s nothing to choose when buying colour film for your unmodified SX-70 camera. And so, if you’re planning to get one:

By the way: Please consider making your Polaroid SX-70 colour film purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!