Polaroid Land SX-70

A Definitive Guide, 2021 Edition

29 min read by Dmitri and Betty.
Polaroid SX-70 Alpha 1 is a beautiful fixed 116mm f/8 lens 3⅛² instant film foldable SLR camera.

SX-70 is hands-down the best-looking instant film camera, despite debuting all the way back in 1972. Throughout its nearly fifty-year history, it has influenced thousands of artists and the still-thriving instant film industry. To celebrate this genius invention and to support its modern use, I present to you my definitive guide to everything SX-70!

In this article, you’ll find an SX-70’s camera overview & specs, a user guide with special attention on modern Polaroid film (inc. external flash use), a section on how to produce special effects, an instant film explainer, plus an overview of popular hacks/mods and accessories. Also: repair and maintenance guide, Polaroid history, and a buying guide.

29-minute read. Download and keep this guide for your reference.

This article will take a while to read in full. I suggest you download it as a free printable PDF for easy digestion, offline access, and future reference.

➜ Free Download: Polaroid Land SX-70 Instant Camera Guide (PDF)

Polaroid SX-70 camera overview.

Along with film, SX-70 is one of the most technologically advanced products ever created. This is Polaroid’s finest offering; the world’s one and only foldable instant SLR.

The company that built it occupied a position of respect and commercial success similar to what Apple is enjoying today. It took Polaroid years of research to orchestrate multiple factories working in tandem, acting on a set of new chemical, mechanical, and optical inventions.

The camera features a four-element 116mm 𝑓8-𝒇74 custom glass lens that can focus as close as 10.4”/26.4cm. The shutter speeds are limited to 1/175th of a second for the fast action and up to 14 seconds for slow exposure. There is no bulb mode.

The body is made of a durable plastic compound that’s designed to look and feel like metal, minus the weight and the rust. The leather is real on the debut model, Alpha 1.

Due to the technical limitations of modern instant film, this camera tends to disappoint owners who lack knowledge and patience. SX-70 can be very challenging to operate in a way that doesn’t destroy film. It requires more insight than Instax, Polaroid i-Type, and 600-series products. To use it well you need a solid understanding of how to correctly expose narrow latitude film — outlined in the user guide section, below.

Originally, SX-70 accepted 10-frame packs of ISO 150 Time Zero film with an integrated battery for operation. Today you can feed Polaroid Originals ISO 160 film, colour or monochrome, with eight exposures. It is not cheap; the film also suffers from light and environmental degradation, so much so that there’s a “processor” tool being developed specifically to rectify some of these issues. The finicky chems aren’t all bad though as they are capable of creating beautiful, dreamy images that can’t be replicated in any other medium.

SX-70’s exposure is set automatically by the camera with an option to compensate via the wheel located on the opposite side of the red trigger button. This important feature is the most confusing and difficult one to control as it provides no standard measurement reference (i.e. stops of light) and resets every time you fold your camera closed.

Its unique foldable SLR mirror mechanism allows the lucky photographer to preview focus, framing, and depth of field exactly as it will appear on film. A split-prism aid is built-in to help find precise focus, which is manually controlled by a wheel located above the red trigger button. The distance scale is shown on a ring that surrounds the lens.

The quality of the optics undoubtedly sets SX-70 apart from most instant cameras which come with plastic lenses and can’t focus any closer than three feet. However, SX-70’s glass is somewhat limited by the film’s lack of acuity.

SX-70 is capable of producing beautiful bokeh. Its lens opens to a maximum aperture of 𝑓8, which may not sound like much until you learn that the large film plane, combined with a close focus distance can make for a very dramatic effect, better than 𝑓2 on 35mm/full-frame.

The lens does not usually produce sharply defined balls of light as most other glass does. Some photographers find this to be a highly desirable outcome, which pushed certain manufacturers to adopt apodization filters that create a similar effect.

The camera accepts flash units — its use with MiNT Flash Bar 2 is described below. Most Alpha 1 models prevent fill flash from firing, later versions of the camera have no problem firing it in the daylight.

In hand, the camera feels relatively light and easy to grasp with all of its controls placed in the right places. The viewfinder is a little tricky as it requires looking through it at a somewhat restricted angle, though I didn’t find that to be a problem after some practice. When folded, it fits nicely in most bags and purses though it’s not exactly pocketable.

I found SX-70 surprisingly well-suited for street photography in full daylight. Its shutter and ejection mechanisms are noisy but there’s no sound when you manually focus the lens — unless you got the autofocus variety. It’s great for intimate portraiture as well, I’ve tested it on light skin tones with fantastic results.

An unmodified copy is limited by its 𝑓8 aperture and 1/175 shutter speed which makes it best suited for bright-lit, limited-motion scenes. SX-70 is not a very versatile camera. I still love it though, it’s hard not to.

A *modern* Polaroid SX-70 user guide.

Though your SX-70 may be well older than you or your adult children, there are some modern-age specifics to consider before firing that first shot. Particularly the new Polaroid film, which is notably more finicky than the original Time Zero stuff.

I’ll start by briefly explaining how to fold/unfold your SX-70, load the film, and then move on to properly exposing your Polaroid film.

Unfolding SX-70 may get some time to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s very simple.

Essentially, you’re pulling the viewfinder cap until the camera snaps into position.

When I first got to hold my Land, it felt somewhat stuck, likely due to lack of mechanical exercise. I had to lightly snap the cover-support lock (4/A) into its place with my finger to prevent the camera from closing on its own. With time, the action became smoother and the need to adjust the lock ceased.

Folding the camera back involves pushing the cover-support lock back and letting SX-70 compress with a little bit of help.

You can fold your SX-70 with one hand if you’re feeling dangerous. To do this, hold the camera in your right hand with the fingers wrapped around its top (below the viewfinder) and the thumb resting on the cover-support lock. Turn the camera so that the lock is facing up and the lens angled up a bit as well. Pull the lock and gently and start gently flipping the camera belly-up as you wrap your fingers over the viewfinder cap and gently squeeze the Land into a closed position.

Loading the film is easy if you know what to look for: the yellow bar. You’ll need the camera unfolded for that.

The bar unlocks the film dor where you can insert your pack with the tab facing towards you and the dark slide facing up.

With Polaroid Originals film, you need to ensure that the film pack sits snugly in the camera. Pulling it out could be a bit of a challenge. To do so, you’ll need to tug on a flappy plastic tab that hangs from the cartridge. In my case, it had to be done with considerable force and control. Trust yourself and be careful; it can be done.

If the dark slide isn’t ejected immediately after you close the film door, try opening the door again, pushing the film in a little further and shutting it firmly.

If your SX-70 is in good condition, opening, closing and loading should feel swift and smooth.

Once you’re done with your film pack, carefully break apart its plastic frame and recycle it along with the metal spring. Make sure to keep the battery from the pack together with other disposable batteries for recycling as well.

With modern Polaroid film, you may want to turn the “L/D” wheel counter-clockwise by one notch to avoid over-exposure.

Exposing Polaroid film with SX-70. The camera will typically over-expose new Polaroid film in its default state — you can avoid it by rotating the “L/D” wheel ⃔ counter-clockwise by one notch. This will slightly decrease the camera’s exposure to suit the more sensitive modern chemicals. Unfortunately, you will need to ensure this every time you open the camera as the wheel resets into its original position every time you fold your SX-70. The “L/D” wheel can be found to the right of the camera lens.

The new Polaroid SX-70 film has a limited exposure latitude, meaning that it’s very easy to over- and under-expose — both colour and monochrome. Older or expired film packs may make taking well-lit photos more difficult due to colour shifts in the harsh light.

The camera’s metering system is prone to overcompensate if you shoot naturally bright objects, like a white tabletop. Thus whenever you adjust the exposure with the “L/D” wheel, you need to take special care estimating reflected light, not just the incidental or ambient illumination.

Most well-lit daylight scenes should fair well with the “L/D” set one notch to the dark side. However, if you’re looking to take a backlit photograph or adjust the lighting creatively you should prepare yourself for some expensive bracketing*. Each shot will cost you around $3, the “L/D” wheel’s notches represent approximately 2-3 stops of light, and there are no post-production adjustments for ready-made Polaroid photos.

*Bracketing: taking over- and under-exposed photographs of the same scene along with what you think is the correct exposure. With SX-70 you may need to spend extra time/frames experimenting in certain lighting conditions as the “L/D” wheel is a crude tool to fight the camera’s often unpredictable electronics. Over time, you will get used to your camera but don’t expect it to be quick and prepare to re-learn it if Polaroid decides to change their chemistry, which they did a few times already. On the positive side, you will see the results of your exposure within minutes, which is a lot faster than developing regular film.

This photograph was taken with about two notches towards the dark during an overcast afternoon. The colour emulsion interpreted the greys and shadows as purple/blue hues.

SX-70 will make your shutter painfully slow in the indoor lighting, adding likely unwanted motion blur with its shaky shutter if you don’t use a tripod. Adding flash will let you shoot in the dusk environments but the film’s latitude may still cause wrong exposures, thus more bracketing.

If this is your first time with your SX-70, I recommend you pick bright, evenly lit environments with limited motion with the “L/D” wheel one notch ⃔ counter-clockwise. As you get more familiar with the film and the camera, less ideal conditions can be attempted, but remember: Polaroid film is expensive and there’s no editing in post. Even if you did scan your photos, crushed blacks and blown highlights won’t give much.

 ☝︎Further reading: “A Beginner’s Guide to Film Photography” — if the words like “exposure” and “stops of light” confuse you, this is a great place to start learning about film photography.

Manual focusing on SX-70 cameras is easy. Whatever you see in your viewfinder is what’s going to be in focus on film. A split-prism circle in the middle of the frame is an aid that you can use for sharper results. When looking at vertical lines, such as a person’s eye, you should try and align them. Low light or fast motion is very likely to introduce blur into your image due to slow film and shutter speeds. Ample light will produce the best conditions for a crisper image.

When you frame your subject through the viewfinder you may find the image to be somewhat distorted, bulging out. This is a necessary limitation that had to be made in order to allow this complex system to fold as it does. Your exposed prints should not have this problem.

Fun fact: early models of SX-70 did not come with split-prism aid. Edward Land considered it obstructive to seeing the subject.

MiNT Flash Bar 2 with hot pink filter.

Shooting SX-70 with MiNT Flash Bar 2.

Polaroid’s original flash bars come with a set of ten disposable bulbs. Rather wasteful, though one could argue that not using them at all is even more so. In this article, I will instead focus on MiNT Flash Bar 2 — a modern solution that you can feed rechargeable batteries.

The flash is easy to attach to the camera — simply plug it into the slot above the lens. It comes with two colour filters: lime green and hot pink. It also has two brightness modes; for SX-70 you want the ◉ (the brightest setting). The ◑ (least-bright) setting is meant for Polaroid 600 film that you can use with this flash on your SX-70. After turning it on, wait for the blue light to turn green and you’re good to go.

With the flash attached, SX-70 will keep its shutter at the fastest setting, at 1/175s and moderate its aperture depending on the distance you set with the focus wheel.

Alas, as with daylight exposure, you will be forced to experiment with a very expensive film. Here are a few tips to consider while making your next flash exposure:

Consider using zone focusing (guestimating and dialling the distance) in really dark scenes — you may not be able to do a very good job with the viewfinder as it gets quite dark at night. Place your subjects at an equal distance from your flash; if they’re even a foot apart you’re risking over-exposing the closest and under-exposing the furthest ones. I’ve had good results at about 3 meters/9’10” away and the exposure dial set to one notch towards the light. Anywhere closer than that or more exposure compensation may yield bleached-out subjects.

A layered emulsion lift on watercolour paper.

How to create special effects with Polaroid film.

Polaroid film, specifically Polaroid Originals, gives its owners the unique freedom to create etchings, transparencies, emulsion lifts, and mosaics. Double-exposure, film soup, baking and other effects are also possible with the emulsion, but the above-mentioned four are unique to this particular medium.

Etching or film manipulation is one of the easier techniques that lets you create a unique look for your prints as soon as they come out of the camera.

The chemicals that form the image are malleable for a short while after being spread over the layers. During this time, typically within a few minutes of the exposure, you can take a dull pointy object to move them around.

I found it helpful to rub the front of the image with my hands to transfer some of the oil from my skin, creating a slippery surface for my tool to slide on. Sounds nasty but it works.

Film transparencies are more challenging. They are the result of peeling the layers just right, separating the positive from the white titanium dioxide paste, and the negative.

In my experience, transparencies are practically achievable only with the current monochrome batches of Polaroid Originals film. If done correctly, they look incredibly impressive and have a lot of creative display potential.

Polaroid emulsion lifts are perhaps the best known and most impressive technique when it comes to instant film. They create flowy distortions, add texture to the image, and let the author enlarge the exposure up to 1.5 times its original size. In some cases, they can even add more contrast and clarity to the photograph, and let the artist layer images as if they are taking double exposures.

As with transparencies, only certain film batches give way to create emulsion lifts. This effect used to be practised with Fuji peel-apart film when it was in production. Remarkably, it is also possible to achieve with certain digital prints.

 Free Download: Polaroid Emulsion Lifts and Transparencies (PDF)

Mosaics may not seem special at first but the instant nature of Polaroid film makes it possible to compare the results and adjust prints as they are being made. Even with digital camera equipment, one would have to assemble the images on a laptop to understand where things should go.

Perhaps the simplest trick in the book is peeling the white border away from the film. It can be achieved by slicing a thin sliver off the borders and lifting the frame. The result is a raw image with a black unexposed border. More details with illustrations on how to do this right are a part of the above-mentioned guide to emulsion lifts.

How Polaroid film works.

Instant film is an incredibly complex product. Peeling the frame apart will reveal many layers. The aluminum foil creates the white frame around the image, the black backing houses the negative, the white opaque layer of titanium dioxide, a positive image layer, an opacifier, and a plastic protective layer on the front. And that’s just what’s visible with the naked eye and separable by hand.

Instant film is the world’s most chemically complex man-made thing. There’s nothing in the modern age which can do what it can do. It is an entire science and an entire art form unto itself.

— Stephen Herchen, Polaroid Originals Chief Technology Advisor.

When the current owners of Polaroid, formerly known as The Impossible Project, had acquired the last remaining Polaroid factory they had no chemistry or suppliers. It took one year of runway for them to reinvent the film after that faithful event in October 2008.

The Impossible Project succeeded.

Their early tests suffered from the inability to fix the image, having it gradually fading into a brown hue. Some prototypes consistently got infected by fungus. It took over nine generations (the link does not mention the series which came out after the Polaroid acquisition) to get to the current state of “new” instant film. The packs sold in stores today are made with a different formula, different chemicals, under new management and have little in common with the original Time Zero formula. The company is still working on improving its current emulsion.

This is how the film works, in a nutshell: the light from the camera exposes the silver bromide compounds in the negative layers with dyes. The developer fluid, stored in the thick part of the frame, is spread over the film with camera rollers which creates a transport mechanism for the chemistry to migrate to the positive-forming layer. At the same time, an opacifier temporarily blocks all the light from entering the frame as the picture is ejected into the brightly lit world.

Note: The opacifier layer in Polaroid Originals does a great job blocking most of the light to create a safe environment for the chemistry to form an image. However, it is still recommended to shade your film from direct light as much as possible while it is developing. Keeping it in the dark ensures deeper blacks and better overall contrast. You should also store your developed polaroids away from bright light as they tend to turn brown and fade if you aren’t being careful.

From the book “Light and Film,” 1970. Pages 136-137.

Light and Film (Time-Life) highlights the unique property of instant film seldomly mentioned today — its lack of graininess. Due to the short distance between the layers, the molecules have little opportunity to clump into grain particles. This results in equally smooth images at ISO 100 and 3000.

Because of the layered nature of instant film, shaking the picture does nothing but interfere with a stable chemistry transfer. Resulting in less defined photographs that develop no faster than when held normally.

The path to the invention of this fragile medium was a long one. Just to add colour to the results, Edwin Land and Howard Rogers had to test over 5,000 compounds until the “magic molecule” was found.

The first instant film was a peel-apart type. It required the photographer to pull the frame out of the camera and carefully separate the negative and positive layers. The last batches of peel-apart film were produced by Fujifilm and discontinued in 2016. Today you can pre-order a variant called One Instant which comes with one shot per cartridge.

If you own a large or insanely large format camera, 8x10 and 20x24 instant film frames are available for you to try.

Available SX-70 accessories and modifications.

There are plenty. The flash unit described above, of which there are two MiNT variations, plus the original version with disposable bulbs. A variety of carrying cases, including the original leather bag and clever covers that fold and unfold with the camera. An underwater case, too. There are also telephoto and close-up lens clip-ons and colour filters, sold by MiNT (and others). A self-timer, wire trigger, tripod adaptors, and an ND filter for use with the ISO 600 film pack in an SX-70 camera.

The cheapest and, perhaps, the most useful mod/accessory for your SX-70 is a frog tongue. A flexible flap that keeps your film in the shade as it ejects from a dark environment into the blinding daylight. It’s known to yield slightly crispier images with deeper blacks.

Despite the complexity of SX-70, the camera’s legions of fans managed to take it apart, bit by bit, and create all sorts of upgrades. The best-known, commercially available mod is the SLR670 by MiNT Camera. Those machines are revamped to take control of shutter speeds, which are upgraded to go as fast as 1/2000th of a second and as slow as “bulb.”

While placing a neutral density (ND) filter over the film pack or the lens will let you shoot Polaroid Originals 600 film, there’s a way to modify your SX-70 electronically. You can do it yourself if you dare. Also, check out Analog Things’ video guide.

OpenSX70 is an open-source project that gives you the means to replace the original PCB board to gain full manual control over the camera and add faster shutter speeds, similar to what SLR670 offers. It also lets you create multiple exposures and pair an Android/iOS app remote. There’s a video guide on how to get started as well.

Another simple mod by Analog Things demonstrates how you can create double-exposures with an otherwise non-modified SX-70.

Finally, a report on converting a broken Land camera into a working digital camera is documented here. Please don’t do this to fully operational SX-70s.

Fixing and maintaining your SX-70.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have my camera in overall great shape. Other than gently wiping my rollers with small amounts of warm water on a cotton swap, there hasn’t yet been any need for repairs.

In many cases, a major improvement to image quality was due to using a fresh film pack and not letting the camera sit without use. There are still occasional smears in the middle of my instant frames, a small artifact which I’m willing to live with. If you have the same issue and would like to have it fixed, try wiping your rollers — if that doesn’t work you’ll need them replaced.

The camera and the film are meant to ideally operate at room temperature, with minimal moisture and dust around. Should you still have issues with your machine, consider the list of the resources I’ve assembled below.

One of the most common fixable problems is a broken coupler. The symptom is a jammed ejection mechanism. The fix involves taking the camera apart and replacing its bottom leather. The steps are illustrated here.

Brooklyn Film Camera is one of the most known repair services for SX-70s. Give them a try if you are in the area.

Polaroid Originals may also be able to fix your camera. They handle inquiries on a case-by-case basis.

MiNT Camera does repairs also. Give them a try if you’re located in Asia.

A complete repair manual PDF could be downloaded from this link.

The history and the cultural impact of the Polaroid brand.

The camera was to include revolutionary optics and a complete set of photonic controls, some of which had not yet been invented. Three Polaroid factories were being built simultaneously: a negative plant in New Bedford, a film assembly plant in Waltham, and the new camera assembly plant in Norwood…Each required process machinery that was yet to be conceived, built, and installed by Polaroid engineers. Many of the most important manufacturing issues had not been solved, since the specifications of the camera and film were still changing. The SX-70 program was so complex and so extended the boundaries of half a dozen technologies that those who worked on it had difficulty in stretching their faith and their optimism beyond the piece of the whole on which their own energies were concentrated. Land was virtually the only person in the company who knew in details all the difficulties that had to be surmounted. The rest of us could only guess.

— Peter C. Wensberg, Polaroid Executive.

SX-70 is a camera that took an incredible effort to build by a multi-billion dollar company. The research and development which went into this product are unprecedented.

In its heyday, Polaroid had a reputation similar to what Apple is enjoying today. In fact, Steve Jobs has met Edwin Land, the cofounder of Polaroid, and described the experience as “like visiting a shrine.”

The path to the uprise of the iconic company that built the camera began with young Edwin Land dropping out of school and developing the polarizer technology. This revolutionary invention filters partial light wavelengths, allowing the viewer or the camera to peer through reflective surfaces. Today it is used in many LCD display installations. It can also be bought as a screw-on filter for digital cameras to add contrast to the images and enable the photographer to take photographs through sparkling waves.

Several years after inventing the polarizer, Land Cameras began its production of instant film cameras. Catalyzed by Land’s daughter’s enquiry as to why a photograph couldn’t be seen right away?

SX-70, the first and only foldable SLR instant camera debuted in 1972. At the time, Polaroid had commissioned several factories dedicated to film and camera assembly, as well as chemical sourcing.

Its name, despite being suggested as a sexual innuendo by New York Times, came from Land’s military background. It stood for “secret experiment 70,” abbreviated in the same fashion as his classified work during the Second World War. Edwin’s experiment was his most ambitious project, virtually free of compromise and incredibly complex by nature. Up until the day of release, no one could be sure that it would be possible. Even for a multi-billion dollar company that Polaroid was at the time.

Once built, the product has created a truly unique experience, unparalleled even today. There is simply nothing out there that could produce prints of this quality in such an elegant construction.

The art world reacted instantly. The likes of Andy Warhol, Ansel Adams, Helmut Newton, and Walker Evans took it everywhere, creating art on the go. The camera became a fashion statement, an artist’s tool, and an expensive toy for the masses.

Tagged with $180, or approximately $800 US dollars today, it wasn’t cheap. Its release has unfortunately coincided with an economic recession, leading to sales that resulted in barely half of the expected million+ units. Alas, one of the greatest photography products in history marked the start of the company’s decline.

The company adapted by releasing progressively cheaper models with plastic glass and rigid bodies. Up until completely discontinuing the SX-70 line in 1981.

The eventual bankruptcy of Polaroid, however, was brought on by a brutal lawsuit with one of its former business partners. Kodak, Polaroid’s supplier of essential chemical components has infringed on Land’s copyrights by creating similar cameras to compete in the US market. The resulting legal battle took a year off Edwin’s schedule, loads of corporation’s resources, and a devastating blow at the overall morale.

Winning did not help. Soon after Land left the company, crippled by the setback, vulnerable to Fujifilm’s instant film invasion. Just over a decade later, the digital revolution came and kicked everyone’s ass.

Polaroid film got cut in 2005.

A Dutch company named Impossible Project bought the last remaining film factory in 2008. In 2017, they acquired what was left of Polaroid (name and IP) to become Polaroid Originals. In 2020, the company got rebranded back into Polaroid. We now have a new film producer, though SX-70s aren’t likely to be made again.

Buying guide: What you should know before purchasing your first SX-70.

Polaroid photography is expensive. Each frame will cost you about $3, which is comparable to large format photography. The camera itself can sell anywhere between $70 and $700, depending on condition, seller, and whether it’s been modified.

Most large format film cameras will deliver more detail and versatility in terms of how you could take the images. However, SX-70 comes with unparalleled portability as well as a large format-sized negative, positive, mounting frame, and instant developer chemicals. Keep in mind that today’s Polaroid-compatible film isn’t as reliable as it once was, thus you are bound to waste a percentage of your frames.

These cameras were made almost half-a-century years ago and are complex machines. Many of them have developed problems over time or became defunct. It may be a better idea for you to start with the new Polaroid Originals cameras which are typically cheaper and come with a warranty. None of them have glass lenses or are foldable like SX-70 but they shoot slightly cheaper film and come with a few modern features like Bluetooth remote, “manual” mode, and integrated flash.

If you do decide to finally get your glorious Land camera and are ready to spend top-dollar, have a look at the MiNT Camera store. They sell them fully serviced, with a warranty. Polaroid Originals also provide that service — the same as Brooklyn Film Camera.

If you live in an area that has markets or thrift stores that sell old cameras, you may be able to score a much better deal. It’s quite rare to find an SX-70 for less than $200 which is in good working condition but it is possible. With time, luck, and attention to detail you may be able to get one for less than $100. A viable option is to get a (working) beater and have it sent for CLA, spending around $200-300 in total.

When shopping for any older Polaroid camera in-person, bring an empty film cartridge with a working battery. If this is your first instant camera you can buy an empty cartridge or a special “tester” on eBay. What this will do is ensure that your SX-70 has a working reflex mirror, frame counter, and an ejection mechanism. You can ensure this by pressing the shutter button, listening for a mirror slap and observing a tester frame, which could be a piece of cardstock cut to size, eject. A mirror slap should sound like a dull flick of a leather belt; you should feel it shake the camera just a bit.

Your inspection checklist should also include: unfolding the camera, checking the lens, bellows, viewfinder, and its overall condition.

A working reflex mirror and ejection mechanism should typically indicate that the electronics are intact. Being able to fold and unfold SX-70 without problems or too much resistance ensures the structural integrity of the complex mechanics. The rubber bellows, a flexible thin skirt that ensures that no light enters the camera should have no holes and feel soft to the touch. Polaroid viewfinder is expected to distort the view a little bit, making it bulge evenly; other than that you should be able to see a bright, sharp image with a split-prism focus aid. Shine a light through the lens to ensure there is no fungus, a growth that would look like a web of organic-looking lines, cracks, or milky residue. A little dust is no problem.

eBay, Etsy, and other online marketplaces that sell these cameras may be a bit of a gamble. While there is no guarantee that your in-person fleamarket purchase will work even after a complete inspection, it’s even more difficult to gauge functionality via pictures alone. In this case, reviews, detailed descriptions with good photos, and prompt communication are the indicators to look for. Ask for additional photos through the viewfinder, close-up of the lens, and any parts that you feel would give you a better idea. Understand return policy, border taxes, shipping, and repair expenses should you end up with a broken or beat-up camera.

Whichever path you choose, unless you’re spending the big bucks at the above-mentioned refurbished camera retailers, be patient, diligent, and do your research.

Good luck and have fun with the amazing instant film!