Former Instant Cameras

Eventually I hope to review some of my older cameras and DIY equipment for instant photography; in the meantime, here are some which I’ve parted with. They’re not necessarily bad cameras; they just either didn’t work or didn’t do what I wanted them to.

Every plastic box-type camera…

These are your basic instant cameras practically synonymous with the word “Polaroid”. Land designed them to be idiot-proof: push button, receive image – and there lies the problem, the camera controls you instead of vise-versa, which caused problems in low light. They were all-plastic (yet were fairly durable, I only had two fail on me), had a dismal aperture range and exposure duration, and usually couldn’t focus closer than a few feet (the sliding “close-up lens” was a joke). I peaked at owning about a dozen of them or so before I finally scored my third SX-70 and decided to sell them off in one lot – I think Impossible actually bought them and they went to their old NYC store.

The only ones I held onto were my dad’s Impulse (which has died on me, unfortunately), a blue Impulse which I got from a friend and was using in my Fiero as a prop before buying my SLR-680, my late-uncle’s OneStep BC, and my Sun 660; the last one, with sonar autofocusing, really makes a huge difference in image quality. I also kept my Spectras.

Of those I got rid of, however: I wish I kept one of the PhotoMagic System 2’s; basically an unmarked Job Pro masked by a plastic shell with some circular-openings designed to create a white vignette in the image. They were designed for the entertainment industry (amusement parks and whatnot) and I believe were part of a kit that would turn the images into pinback buttons. The system included a series of tacky graphic filters, which would be slipped over the film pack before inserting into the camera. Only used it once…

SX-70 Sonar OneStep

Let me first make it perfectly clear that I absolutely adore the folding SX-70 cameras, and felt the bonus ultrasonic autofocusing system (the first AF system available on an SLR, when it was released in 1978) made the camera just perfect as I could take it exploring and actually be able to focus in the dark. Unfortunately, I thought the two I went through were infested with gremlins and I ultimately re-sold them. My first one came from eBay and FUBAR’d before I could run film through it, so it went back for a refund. My second one came from a thrift store and suffered a similar fate, but I made a decent profit off re-selling it as a part donor.

I’ve since-learned that these sonar-equipped cameras absolutely need six-volts of juice to work, and that they have a slow current drain when left-open (a theory I later tested on my SLR-680). Once the battery dips below 6v the camera will seize mid-cycle; closing the shutter but refusing to raise the taking mirror to take a picture. The plastic Sonar Prontos (right) will just up and die on you when they hit that point, fortunately they don’t have the current drain of the folding cameras – nor can you fuck-around with the autofocusing, which also, obviously, wastes battery.

Oddly my second folder (pictured above) had this issue with fresh packs, too; but would “wake-up” after opening and closing it a few times. I think it was actually the only one which had actual problems, and ever since I got my 680 I’d love to have another.

UPDATE 2/5/15: I picked up another folding Sonar SX-70 and it, too had internal problems which prompted an immediate “toss on eBay”. Go-figure.

Reporter

The Reporter (and similar EE100/ProPack) was the first of the “second-generation” of folding packfilm Land Cameras, introduced after the SX-70 system made packfilm obsolete. Unfortunately these models, while still collapsible, took more features from the rigid-plastic Colorpack models (guess-focusing, notably) than the nicer 100-400 series cameras that preceded it. When I bought it off a co-worker, though, I didn’t care; I just was excited to have something which shot color, and had some flashcubes to boot.

Unfortunately it also had seriously-corroded batteries, which no matter how hard I scrubbed the terminals with vinegar and sandpaper they refused to get clean; so after working intermittently I gave up and eBay’d it after pulling the third or fouth unexposed shot. I had similar bad luck with a ProPack as well, which didn’t stick-around long enough for me to even photograph it.

My first SX-70

The one that started it all for me got through just a few shots before shitting the bed. I got it for a deal on eBay and arrived more beat than I thought it was – dent in the viewfinder blinds, crap in the lens, and the leather falling off. Even the serial number was missing so unlike my later cameras I never got to record its DOB. I got my first pack of PX-70 PUSH! film, took a drive out to Park City to shoot an Oldsmobile dealer sign, and the pick-arm which inches the image to the developing rollers miscaught. Super… so I had to take it home and transfer the film (in the dark) into my OneStep so it would eject through that camera and finally develop… whew.

After adjusting the pick-arm, I switched the film back and went for a walk around town and on the third shot or so the taking mirror froze in the up position, wasting a shot since the shutter also froze-open, so I had to walk back home without collapsing it to repeat the same process – leaving the pack in the OneStep this time. About a week or two later I bought my now-trusty Alpha 1 from a guy off Craigslist, so I declared this a loss and back on the ‘bay it went… I think Mint, out in Hong Kong, got it.

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