Digital Camera

Design Friday. The Polaroid SX 70.

When I was younger I wanted a Polaroid SX 70. I thought these were the coolest cameras around, and even after I bought my first SLR I still wanted one. There was something about the look of the camera, the quality of the prints, and the fact you could manipulate the image during the development process by pressing and scratching the surface.

As it turned out, I never got one. By the time I actually got around to getting an SX 70 Polaroid had stopped making them, and I didn’t like the model they replaced the SX 70 with. Then the film became harder to get, and I simply moved on. And recently, as you might know Polaroid has gone under, instant film stopped being made, and all things Polaroid seemed to be over.

The good news is, the Impossible project started making Polaroid film, and Mint is now selling completely rebuilt SX 70’s which are available at Photojojo. Both of these things are good news to my ears, because now I can get one of the cameras, and there is film available for it if I do.

The Polaroid SX-70 had many sophisticated design elements for the time. It was a collapsible SLR that had a very complex light path for the view finder. The system required 3 mirrors, one with a Fresnel lens reflector. Each mirror featured unique aspheric shapes which were set at odd angles to needed create an image on both the film and in the viewfinder. The body featured precision parts and a body that was manufactured from glass-filled polysulfone, a rigid plastic which was plated with copper-nickel-chromium. This gave the SX 70 the look and feel of solid metal, but at a lower cost to manufacture. Later, models 2 and 3 switched to ABS plastic which was easier to crack and break. The film featured a flat, 6-volt “PolaPulse” battery to power the camera electronics, drive motor and flash.

The folding body had a ground breaking style that was unlike any other camera on the market at the time. Brushed chrome and genuine leather panels helped to elevate the finish of the camera and market it to high-end consumer market and photography enthusiasts. The camera came with an entire line of accessories including a macro lens with 1:1 resolution and a focus distance of as close as 5 inches, Tripod mount, electronic shutter release, the folded body became its own carrying case, later versions were available with a sonar based autofocus system. The SX 70 simply looked at felt upscale, not like a point and shoot instant camera.

There were a variety of SX 70 models starting with the original in 1972. All SX 70’s shared the same basic collapsible design and aesthetics. The first SX 70 model had a plain focusing screen. This was because Dr. Land wanted photographers to think they were looking at the subject rather than through a view finder, improving the shooting experience. When many users complained that focusing was difficult, especially in dim light, Polaroid introduced a split-image rangefinder prism. This feature became standard on all later manual focus models.The later SLR 680/690 models updated the basic design of the Sonar Onestep to more modern standards by incorporating support for newer 600 cartridges instead of SX-70 cartridges, and a built-in flash instead of the disposable Flashbar.

The original SX 70 film was introduced in 1972, and was a success despite problems Polaroid had early on with the integrated battery packs. Over the course of the next few years Polaroid continued to improve film quality, development speeds, and color quality. By 1980, Polaroid introduced Time-Zero Supercolor in which the layers in the film pack were altered to allow a much faster development time, richer, brighter colors than the original 1972 product. Along with the consumer grade film, Polaroid introduced professional quality film geared directly to the pro market as the SX 70 began to be used to proof studio shots.

The battery that was used in the consumer film was designed with a specific purpose. As long as film was in the camera, the battery would never be exhausted. This insured that the camera motors and exposure control, and other electronics would always work when you were shooting. The “Polapulse” battery was configured as a 6 volt thin flat battery, and used zinc-chloride chemistry to provide for the high pulse demand of the camera motors, and was years ahead of its time.

When you look at the SX 70 today, the design styling still seems fresh. Especially when you compare it to all of the retro-styled digital cameras that are released today. While the build quality might appear cheap in photos, the reality is that the original SX 70 was a solid, well-built camera that used high quality materials, design and manufacturing processes.

With so many iPhone and Android photo applications trying to emulate the look of vintage Polaroid photography, it’s tempting to get the original. This post is for my friend, and photographer David Biegelsen, a guy that appreciates what a good film camera can do.

All photos courtesy of Photojojo

Lytro. Makes Digital Imaging Magic.

This has been getting quite a bit of buzz around the internet lately, but I finally had time to sit down and go through the Lytro site and check out what all of the fuss is about.

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Like any new technology, this is pricey and not for the average consumer. Like all new technology, eventually it will be. It’s only a a matter of time before this ten thousand dollar camera drops in price, and the technology itself is licensed to other camera manufacturers.

Lytro has launched with some new, seriously amazing camera technology. The camera works by capturing all the information it possibly can about the field of light so that you can adjust the photo in any way during post production. This means you can re-focus, re-light, tilt-shift, correct for lens distortion, etc. all after the image has been shot.

This new technology that Lytro is introducing will be changing photography all together. It will allow you to make major corrections to shots that in the past would be unsalvageable. And when you see the online demo of images in their photo gallery, it shows major potential for interactivity, with things like “focus pulls” on a static shot. When I first saw this, I kept thinking of “Blade Runner” and the infinite zoom and enhance within digital images that they showed.

So, how much will it actually cost? One of the funding companies, NG, says anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. I bet it starts closer to the $10,000 range, and over time drops to less than $1,ooo. This is the kind of thing that consumers are going to want. Lytro knows it, the people funding them know it, and the manufactures of point and shoot cameras really know it.

If you really want to jump into the science of this, check out the Lytro Blog. There is a ton of information and demos on it.

Olympus EP1 PEN Hands on and First Impressions

The new PEN camera, with my older Lumix in the background.

The new PEN camera, with my older Lumix in the background.

Yesterday afternoon I received the new camera from Willoughby’s in New York. The Olympus EP1 PEN. I have to say that this is one of the sexiest looking cameras I have used in a long time. It has this amazing retro feel that makes me long for the old days of film and rugged cameras that were all metal with leather grips. Maybe part of my sentimentality stems from the fact that the first 35mm camera I ever owned was an Olympus OM1.

The revolutionary OM1 circa 1975

The revolutionary OM1 circa 1975

A revolutionary compact 35 mm camera with the most user friendly controls I have ever experienced. It was all manual, and shutter speed and aperture were located on two rings behind the lens mount. Pure genius, but I digress.

Lets talk about the EP1 Pen. I am not going to give a huge technical review here. Instead I am going to talk about my experience so far, 24 hours in to using it. My first impressions, likes and dislikes. As I use the camera more, and especially after the trip to South Africa with it I’ll post updates and sample pictures.

First a little background. The EP1 is the digital follow up to the PEN cameras from the late 50’s and early 60’s. It is a micro 4/3 camera which in very general terms means that it packs the features of an SLR into a more compact body that feels like a point and shoot. Yet it allows for interchangeable lenses. One caveat is that the reduced body size, and distance from lens to focal plane is about half of a standard SLR. Just 20mm, this has advantages and disadvantages. One plus though is an insane amount of depth of field can be achieved  in your shots. Olympus has been working hard under the hood in the development of this system. It has a 12.3 MP sensor that has had a bit of an upgrade to increase resolution and sharpness over other Olympus point and shoots – plus a few fixes that show they’ve been listening to their users. One nice feature is that image quality boost been achieved by the use of a lighter low pass filter and a powerful new TruePic V processor, which offers better moiré and screen removal and improved high level ISO performance In addition they have added the  ability to capture HD movie clips (720p). Otherwise the key feature list is pretty similar to Olympus’s latest DLSR offerings.

So here are the first impressions.

• It looks so sexy. The retro styling is just spot on.
• It feels great in the hand. The camera is a bit front heavy with the 14 to 42 lens though.
• The feature set rivals high end DSLR’s
• The range finder attachment could benefit from some sort of electronic input via the hot shoe. I’d like to change settings on the fly and get a visual
update in the range finder without having to look at the LCD on the back of the camera.
• The menu system seems a bit complex, but it could be I am just not used to it
• The shutter response time is great in continuous shooting mode.
• The external Flash is bright and controlled by the camera so it intensity is adjustable.
• From what I can tell so far all of my early test shots show amazing detail and tons of resolution.
• Excellent ISO performance up to ISO 3200
• The dual dial controls on the camera are intuitive and surprisingly functional.
• The auto focus can be a bit slow at times
• And I am kind missing an AF illuminator.

So my first impressions with the camera are this. Hats off to Olympus for getting so much right on the first Digital Micro 4/3 camera it has produced. The camera is stylish, and feels great in the hand. The construction is superb, almost all metal with limited use of plastic. The image quality is top notch and matches all the reviews I have read so far. Olympus has done an excellent job of squeezing a massive amount of features and functionality into a tiny form factor, with no compromise to  when it comes to handling, and camera operation. This camera is the kind that will appeal to serious photo geeks as well as the person looking for a solid point and shoot with more robust features. This camera isn’t perfect. It’s not a take it to the party and snap pics of all your friends kind of camera. It has a ton of features that will leave some confused about what all this camera can do. With that said, if you want to learn about photography this is a camera that will pave the way for anyone prepared to invest the time and effort needed to master it, and the end result will not disappoint.

For me this product has that rare ability to get an emotional response which is a salute to the folks at Olympus. A solid digital camera that makes me long for the days of film, and old school ways. As I use it more, look for updates in the future.

With the external Flash attachment installed.

With the external Flash attachment installed.