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Those patient souls out there who have been following this blog, will have seen my various postings about shooting instant film with Polaroid cameras. My feelings have generally been that the films have a unique quality about them that I really enjoy, but that the plastic box-type cameras I’ve been using until now are quite poor, with slow, plastic lenses.
This has been quite frustrating at times, but in particular now that the Impossible Project have really delivered – with their “Color Protection” formula – a film that can be used almost anywhere with little to no shielding and that provides gorgeous lasting colours. (I really should have written a post about it.) These cameras just don’t do this new film justice in my opinion, so I’ve been looking for something better for some time.

SX-70 Alpha1 SE

And here it is, a Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Alpha1 SE, according to the legend on the front plate. It is an earlier model of SX-70 (first produced in 1977 or so), with just a few improvements over the original SX-70 model. The SX-70 is a remarkable camera; a single lens reflex design that folds flat, and produced full colour prints within minutes with the original Polaroid integral film.

For me the SLR aspect is the greatest advantage over the box cameras – composition and focusing is done through the lens that takes the picture. Having used only the box cameras I was expecting a fairly small viewfinder image, but in reality it’s impressively large. The model I have adds a split prism focusing aid. The image is a little dark, mainly down to the lens being f/8 I think, but possibly it also needs a clean.

Focusing is easy and smooth, although I haven’t quite got used to the control layout yet, and the exposure compensation dial is simple and easy to use, to give a good deal more control over the exposure than you get with the box cameras.

Unfortunately I realised after it arrived that I had used up all my stocks of SX-70 type film (Impossible PX70 or PX100) and all I had was various editions of PX680. So just to test the camera I went for the Color Protection version, since my experience with that so far is that it is very reliable and consistent. In the absence of a suitable ND filter I set the exposure compensation all the way into the black and shot a few frames successfully. I then went for a walk before work the next day to my usual camera testing location and finished off the pack.

SX-70 Angel

Without any ND filter some of the shots in brighter light are overexposed, but they all show that the camera is in good working order. The better ones demonstrate that this camera is just what I wanted.
The visible detail is much finer than from the box cameras, and the faster lens provides a shallower depth of field, that is controlled by the excellent focus mechanism, that can get as close as about 25cm.
I have a very similar shot of the Hursley angel taken with my Spirit 600, which demonstrates not only the improvement in the PX680 film between the First Flush edition and the latest Color Protection, but also the difference between the cameras.


This second shot shows that the lens is capable of sharp detail, but with a nice separating depth of field with a lovely softness to the background. As a start I’m very happy with how these shots turned out, and I’m looking forward to using this camera a lot more than I ever did the two box cameras. I’m expecting some PX70 and PX100 film to arrive soon, so hopefully then I’ll get the full benefit of this camera.