Monday, September 20, 2010

Design Love for the SX-70

An ebay SX-70.

If you're not familiar, the SX-70 was Edin Land's crowning achievement. As this ad (by the Eames) tells us, it is "a compact, folding, electronically-controlled, motor-driven single lens reflex camera, capable of focusing from infinity down to 10 inches to exploit integral self-processing film units." An amazing bit of technical jargon masquerading as marketing that could never be unleashed on the public today. Or, in other words, the first modern Polaroid camera and film.

The SX-70 is a far cry from the plastic instant Polaroids those of my generation are familiar with. It's a beautiful piece of 1970s design. Folded down, one might mistake it for an oversized cigarette case. Popped up, it is, in fact, a fully-functional SLR camera with automatic exposure. SLR cameras are fairly complex things; I don't know of any other camera of this complexity which collapses as fully as the SX-70.

That's right...a Polaroid that focuses. Instead of a "fixed focus" lens, where a tiny aperture is used for large depth of field and the photographer just hopes that it comes out OK (in reality everything comes out a bit blurry) the SX-70 allows for proper focus. Many models even had an old-school split focusing circle to make manual focus easier.

Manual focus, but automatic exposure, adjustable by two stops in either direction. It's a photographer's Polaroid, and I'm dying to take pictures with it, using the new films from the Impossible Project.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work. The camera ejects the darkslide perfectly, with the motor running smoothly, but hitting the shutter button results in...nothing. And, as you might imagine, fitting a real camera into a package that folds makes working on them a bit fiddly. A brief look underneath the housing didn't show anything promising...I am afraid that I might need to go deeper. Sigh.
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