Polaroid

Oh Polaroid, What Are You Thinking?

Polaroid was an iconic brand that is now a fading giant. If you want a good read on Polaroid and what happened, I highly recommend “Instant: The Story of Polaroid“. It is a look into a corporate giant that lost it’s way and was ultimately devoured by it’s lack of vision and corporate culture after Dr. Land was removed from the company.

Today Polaroid is struggling to stay alive, and like Kodak trying to compete in a world dominated by smartphone cameras, and a different view on photography. I’m a huge fan of what Polaroid was. I think the original SX-70 is one of the most beautiful cameras ever manufactured, and there is a quality to the images that were produced by higher end Polaroid cameras that is unique. At this point though, I’m not sure what is going to happen to Polaroid.

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About a month ago, Polaroid released a new camera. The Polaroid Z 2300. It is a simple point and shoot camera that records images and video to a HDSC card an allows the user to print instant photos via zink ( zero ink) technology in a 2 by 3 inch form factor. The images come with a sticky back, and are ready in a few seconds. Polaroid is banking on the instant gratification, and physical sharability of the images to help sell the camera, and they might be on to something. My issues with the Z 2300 are its limited functionality, lack of connectivity, and the fact that it is an kind of an ugly piece of photo gear.

The Z 2300 is a 4.7 x 3x 1.4 inch black or white  box with a fairly basic 10-megapixel camera. It has the familiar Polaroid rainbow stripe with body styling and details that make this thing feel more like 1995 rather than 2013. It’s retro, but not quite, and that is a big miss for Polaroid. If they are going to pull on the retro vintage heartstrings, why not go all the way and pull a Fuji, or Olympus with solid retro styling like the X-100 or the OMD. I know for many people the physical design isn’t that big a deal, but when the novelty factor of instant printing wears off, Polaroid is going to need something to keep this camera alive.

The Z 2300 features 3-inch LCD that opens to reveal the space for the Zink printer paper, (the same technology that is used in PoGo instant printers). Unlike Polaroid Instant Film, there is no waiting for the picture to develop and it takes less than a minute to print a single photo. Printing can be set via the LCD to print every photo, or selected photos. The camera also lets you add frames or you can print with the classic Polaroid border. There are also color filters that can be added to enhance the retro feel.  Aside from that there isn’t much else. No advanced features to speak of, and no ability to share digital photos, a space Polaroid should probably want to play in.

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You would think that if you are expecting people to shell out more than 150 bucks for this camera, it would have built in WiFi so you could share your photos on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tadaa, Tumblr, Flickr, etc. It just makes sense to play in that space. The combination of a camera that prints instant images, plus shares them to every major social network is much more powerful, than an ugly point and shoot digital camera that lets you print small photos at a cost of about .50 cents a print. ($24.99 for a 50 image pack of Zink paper)

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If Polaroid had teamed up with Instagram, and produced a camera that not only printed instant prints, but shared directly to that service, this could be huge. Unfortunately if you want to share your Z 2300 photos on a social network, you’ll have to take the memory card out, load the photos to another device, and push them out. Not exactly a solid user experience. It’s to bad. I really love the polaroid brand. I really want them to make it another 25 years to the 100 year mark. In order to do that though, they are going to have to do some serious thinking about the state of digital imaging in the 21st century.

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

Polaroid Notes

Polaroid might be all but dead as a brand and a technology, but the idea of Polaroid lives on in these awesome note cards from Chronicle Books. What a great idea. Kudos to Chronicle.

These Polaroid-inspired note cards are made to look like the real thing! Using dreamy Polaroid images, the set comes with 20 different note cards and includes envelopes. Each is truly beautiful! Made by Chronicle Books. Box is 4.5”x 5.5”

Polaroid Notes

Note Card

Note Card