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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And open for use, with a flash bar attached.

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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.

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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.








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