Further Thoughts on the SX-70

3 02 2014

There was going to be a write up on shooting infrared with the XA2 here, but technical issues meant that I gave up about 6 shots in. What I think the problem was, was having the flash set to ‘full’, which I’ve since read, is a manual setting, and so the inbuilt meter on the XA2 will set the shutter speed as if the flash weren’t attached. Not good in a very dark club. The flash fired for the shots, so I’m hopeful that with the lack of ambient light, there might be a kind of rear curtain flash effect to the shots, and not a total blur. But the experiment is now postponed until next weekend, when I’m at another gig in the same venue, so, we’ll see.

I’m a couple of weeks into shooting with the SX70 now, and I’m completely in love. I’ve stocked up on film, and bought a cable release for it aswell. I’ve had all sorts of ideas, and after kind of recklessly blowing through the first pack, I’m being a little more considerate with my shots now.


When I loaded up the first pack, I was too giddy about playing with it to remember to install the frog tongue which J also got for me. It’s a small piece of rolled back lightproof material, which you load into the front of the camera along with the film pack, providing protection from the light when the shot ejects. Although the more recent Impossible Project film has much improved with regards to sensitivity after exposure, it still takes a little while (30-40 minutes) to fully develop,and during this time, it’s really advisable to keep it out of the light. If I’m home, I slide it into a book or under my laptop. If I’m out and about, I try to remember to have a journal with me to slip it inside in my bag. Failing that, the backing material is just sturdy enough to be safe inside a pocket,if you’re careful.

As it turns out, it’s perfectly possible to install the frog tongue mid-pack, and if my first experience is representative, the only way you can use it. Once I had it installed, and after checking it over, I loaded a film cartridge into the camera, closed it, and waited for the dark slide to eject. Nope. The dark slide jammed halfway out, meaning some jimmying with a narrow screwdriver to slide it back enough to open up the camera again. After checking the positioning of the frog tongue, subsequent efforts yielded the same result. I can’t be certain though if it’s that the dark slide is too thick to eject correctly, or that I had the tongue installed badly to begin with and the second attempts were because the rear of the dark slide had become too mangled for the camera to shove it out. I ended up wasting a shot when I had to discard the dark slide, but beyond that, the tongue has been working very well.



On to the cable release.
I bought one from the Impossible Project, since I was ordering some film anyway. I’ve seen a few DIY tutorials, but at £16 it isn’t expensive, and my electronics skills really aren’t up to much.

It connects to the camera via the two tiny holes to the size of the shutter button. One end is a two pin connector, the other a simple plastic box housing a button, with two metres of cable inbetween.

The only real issue, if you’re using it for self portraits, is focussing correctly. Using flash, the aperture should be firing at around f22, so there’s a little margin for error. I placed a light stand in front to focus on, then positioned myself in its place to take the shot. It seems to have worked out fine.

Excuse the mop hair and owl pyjamas 🙂

Because I am a great lover of fiddling, changing and creating, I’ve since started experimenting with altering the image, in terms of emulsion manipulation, and adding alternative media. There’s something both nerve wracking but also exciting about changing an instant photograph in this way, similarly to the alteration of a negative. You can’t go back once you’ve changed it. Once it’s done, the original is destroyed, to make way for what is a completely new piece.




My ideas have begun to filter into specific project ideas now, and I’m hoping to start working towards my next self-published work, centred around instant film, within the next few weeks, so hopefully my vague experiments will start to take on a little more shape and meaning. The ‘lets try this and just see what happens’ approach is fun, but at around £2.50 per shot, not a sustainable way to work with this film!

For anyone interested, I’m posting my ongoing experiments and general instant shots on Tumblr at Blank Borders.


Impossible Project SX-70

19 01 2014

I’ve always had a huge soft spot for instant film. From back when you could buy Polaroid in twin packs from Asda for under £20, to the discovery in more recent years of Fuji’s peel apart version for Polaroid 100 series folders. There’s a little bit of a magical feel to it all, and that childlike wonder has never really gone away for me.

It was my birthday recently, and J bought me a camera I’ve lusted after for some time, but never actually used: an SX-70 folding SLR.

I’m a sucker for an innovative design, and the neat way in which Polaroid designed the SX-70 is nothing short of brilliant.

Here she is closed flat for storage.

And open for use, with a flash bar attached.


Bear in mind that this is an SLR camera; there’s a full mirror in that folding package, alongside a focussing mechanism, and good quality lens.

Onto the film. Of course, Polaroid closed shop a few years ago now, so any original film is both pricy, and at least 5 years out of date, so no guarantees even if you do get hold of some.

Happily, The Impossible Project took on the task of reproducing instant film for the SX-70, 600 and Spectra series of cameras a few years back, and are coming along in leaps and bounds.

After a shaky beginning, with unstable emulsion issues, the latest batches (the colour protect versions) seem to be very close to the quality and behaviour of the original films. The issue being, of course, that when Polaroid folded, (pun unintentional), a great deal of the equipment and information was destroyed. This has meant Impossible recreating the emulsions from near scratch, with trial and error. No mean feat, but they’ve done pretty impressively in my opinion.

The first thing I noticed about the SX-70 shots, compared with the 600 I’ve used, is that the image quality appears to be vastly better. I’m assuming that it’s largely due to a combination of much lower ISO sensitivity, flash type, and a better quality lens/camera (my 600 is one of the 90s style rounded box shapes, with the half clamshell front, and even in the early 00s when I bought it new, only cost in the region of £30, with a box of film included). But even the colour cast seems punchier and clearer than the 600, which with flash can lack tonal clarity.


Both those were shot with an original flash bar, the disposable magnesium sort, and you can see that the skin tones are very close to natural, with a lovely soft glow.

I’ve yet to shoot in daylight, flashless, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve got a new favourite camera.

Polaroid to Pinhole

6 05 2012

Some time ago, whilst researching the idea of building an instant pinhole camera, I saw a photograph of a Polaroid packfilm camera which had been gutted, and converted. Ever since, it’s been something I’ve wanted to try for myself, but the price of the cameras is often high, even for non-working models, and recently, they’ve been few and far between. Read the rest of this entry »

Lake District

5 06 2011

Finding ourselves without plans today, we got in the car and headed out towards the Lakes. We parked up in Windermere, which has some beautifully winding streets. I had a shot left of the black and white film pack, so I finished that up in one of the lanes.

After that, we headed to a little cafe, for Earl Grey tea (J) and ice-cream milkshake (me), in order to sit down, clean up my rollers and reload the camera with a colour pack.

It was a slightly overcast day, so I was dubious about the suitability of the weather for Polaroid shooting, but the slight greyness of the day gave a pleasing, subdued feel to the colour photographs. I did make a couple of efforts to get a close up of one of the swans, but I don’t think it liked the look of the camera/me.

Polaroid Flash Modification

28 05 2011

After my brief tests to make sure flash would work with the 320, I began thinking about how to attach a flash securely to the unit, thus avoiding the need to hold a flashgun in one hand and the camera in the other.

Ideally, I wanted to attach a ‘hotshoe’ (well, cold shoe, really, since it’s not actually doing anything other than holding the flash in place) to the camera somehow. Handily, whilst tidying up my room, I found an old hotshoe adapter on which the shoe itself was held on simply by four small screws. A few minutes later, and I had a shoe ready to attach.

Originally, I had intended to mount the shoe on the top edge of the camera, next to the viewfinder. But the strap lug placement meant that a flash wouldn’t sit there, unless it was extremely narrow. So I decided to try mounting it on the side instead. the problem with this was the method of mounting the shoe. On top, pull of gravity would be less of an issue, whereas on the side, the weight of the flash risked dislodging the glue.

Next step, Ebay, to locate an older model flashgun narrow enough for my purposes. I was lucky enough to find one for a few quid, which happily arrived pretty quickly.

I considered attempting to screw the shoe in place, but this risked not only splitting the plastic of the camera body, but also allowing light to leak in and ruin the shots. So, in the end, I used superglue to attach the shoe to the camera. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the superglue would hold properly, but so far, it seems to have bonded pretty solidly. (For reference, I used Loctite Precision brand glue).

A couple of points I’ve realised since attatching the shoe: 1. Make sure the shoe is mounted far enough back that the case will still click into place on the camera (luckily, despite not thinking about this, where I glued it is *just* far enough back for the case to still fit. Otherwise, I’d have had a ‘fun’ time trying to get the shoe off again to reposition). 2. Make sure you mark out the shoe placement whilst the flash is mounted on the shoe, to ensure there’s space enough between it and the rangefinder.

Blue Skies in Blackpool

9 05 2011

Today was spent wandering around Blackpool. We originally planned to walk into town to pick up this month’s copy of BJP, and when we first woke up (late in the morning on account of us staying up until 3am), the sky was looking distinctly overcast with wet streets. Right before we left the house, though, things looked to brighten up, so we both picked up our Polaroids on the off-chance that it stayed that way.

Result. By the time we got into town 15 minute later, the skies were bright, clear and blue, and we were both regretting the jackets we’d slung on.

I’ve been trying to get out of the mindset of ‘saving’ instant film, because although it’s obviously good to think a little bit about what you’re shooting (and that goes for whether you shoot digital or film, really), there’s no sense having a pile of film and never using it. So, I’m happy to report that I got through half a pack of film since loading my second pack on Saturday – one shot late Saturday afternoon, and five wandering around today.

I started to recover the negatives from the peel apart film, using bleach, which has worked nicely. I really need to give them another rinse, though, to get rid of some streaking, so that’s going to have to wait until a later date as it is presently 4:30am and I have to drive 120 miles home tomorrow (well, later today) afternoon, and go to work.

Polaroid 320 With Electronic Flash

30 04 2011

I’m becoming obsessed with this camera. It’s all the instant gratification of digital (actually, more, since there’s not the added step of waiting for the images to upload from a memory card) but with the bonus of providing me with a lasting print, plus a potential negative.

I’m still really having a play around, seeing what it can and can’t do – and let’s face it, it’s a 40 year old automatic point and shoot, so its capabilities are limited. However, since my first shot and my fifth, I’m certainly getting the hang of what little control there is. Obviously adjusting the exposure dial to darken by a stop compensates nicely for the slight film speed difference.

Todays experiment involved the use of flash. I noticed when the camera first arrived that it had a PC socket on the side, for old style flash bulbs, and wondered at the time whether it might be possible to connect an electronic flashgun successfully. After reading several discussions in the Flickr Land Camera group, and finding some extremely useful information on the Polaroid Land List, it turned out that yes, this was entirely possibly. I decided the best course of action would be to just have a go.

I’m using a Polaroid 320 Land Camera connected via sync lead to a Cobra Auto 210 flashgun (an old electronic model picked up from a charity shop for very little money). Of course, there’s no shoe to sit the flash on, so I handheld it out to the side, and possibly very slightly in front of the lens. Here’s a photo of J working on his own Polaroid 100.

Polaroid 320 with Cobra Flash

Te flash was directed straight at J, and there’s some overexposure on the wrist and hand area. I’d left the dial set to ‘darken’ one stop, mostly because I didn’t think to alter it, and I think it’s probably a good thing I did. I’m seeing some light falloff around the edges, but the centre all appears to be close enough in terms of exposure. I haven’t made any modifications to the camera, just plugged in the flash, switched it on, and taken the shot. No obvious issues with shutter synchronisation. Frankly, I’d have been happy to get any picture at all, so getting this was wonderful.

The second shot was taken at night, in the garden. Again, I’m getting a similar highlight around the subject, with drop off to the sides, so it seems pretty consistant.

Polaroid 320 With Flash

Pretty much all I need to do it work out some way of mounting the flash on the camera, so that I don’t have to hold it out at the side every time. I found a smaller flashgun in a charity shop today, so I plan to test that with the 320, and if it works in much the same way as the Cobra is doing, it might be easier to attach that one to the camera (even if it’s via the tried and tested gaffa tape method).

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