Using Contrast Filters with Polaroid SX-70 Black and White Film

NOTE: You will find the YouTube video version of Using Contrast Filters with Polaroid SX-70 Black and White Film at the end of this post.

Polaroid Black and White integral film for SX-70 cameras has become a favourite of mine. I love the deep blacks and crisp whites of this contrasty film yet it still captures a good range of subtle mid-tones. As opposed to colour SX-70 films, which often have pink highlights among other odd tonal shifts, the black and white films have a consistent, reliable tone. Right out of the camera, the images have a neutral tone but, over several hours or days, the tones warm up. Not to an over-the-top sepia tone but a subtle warm quality that adds depth to the picture. Lastly, Polaroid monochrome films develop faster than their colour cousins; images can be evaluated in five minutes compared to fifteen minutes for colour. It just makes the Polaroid workflow that much more enjoyable.

Coming from a black and white film background, I am well-acquainted with the use of black and white filters to enhance the tonal rendition of monochrome negatives and prints. And that technique works equally well with Polaroid black and white integral films.

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On Location at Camp Morton for a Polaroid Project

My two year—and counting—foray into the wild world of Polaroid SX-70 photography has taken me in various directions. Recently, I have been working with Polaroid Black and White 600 film and this has led to my current project at Camp Morton Provincial Park in Manitoba. 

Established as a Fresh Air Camp in 1921, the site was once an escape for underprivileged children from nearby Winnipeg. Set on the banks of Lake Winnipeg, the eleventh largest fresh water lake on planet Earth, it would have been a happy place to swim, play, breath in fresh country air. The camp ceased operating in 1971 and has since been transformed into a Provincial Park. While many of the unique camp buildings have been retained, they are all in various stages of decay. In particular, lakefront stairs, retaining walls and other structures have been ravaged by the angry lake, which completely freezes over in winter.

It seemed a perfect subject for a black and white photo project.

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Fine Tuning SX-70 Exposures with a Variable Neutral Density Filter

Note: There is a video version of Using the Zone System with Polaroid SX-70 Film, Part 1 at the bottom of this post.

It would be nice to adjust exposures in ½ EV increments with my MiNT SLR670-S camera. Unfortunately, the camera can only make full shutter speed adjustments, one EV at a time; there is no ability to select in-between speeds. While most manually-controlled cameras allow f-stops to be set in half or third stop increments, the original SX-70 cameras that MiNT refurbishes have a ‘fixed’ f/8 aperture. 

All too often, I will take a meter reading only to find that the best exposure lies between two shutter speeds, for example between 1/125s and 1/250s at f/8. Because I can’t change the aperture, I’m forced to choose the lower shutter speed, which will result in a slight over-exposure, or the higher shutter speed, which might be darker than I wanted.

Because I’m shooting Polaroid SX-70 integral film, which has a very limited latitude, especially in the highlights, these seemingly minor compromises in exposure can have a major impact on the quality of the final photograph.

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Using the Zone System with Polaroid SX-70 Film, Part 2

Note: There is a video version of Using the Zone System with Polaroid SX-70 Film, Part 1 at the bottom of this post.

In Part 1, I explained the theory behind the Zone System, how I thought it might benefit today’s serious SX-70 photographer and I painstakingly outlined my process for taking the photos required to make a Zone Ruler. If you haven’t, I recommend you take a look at Part 1 before continuing with Part 2.

In Part 2, I analyze my set of “towel photos” taken with Polaroid Color 600 film, build a Zone Ruler, provide some practical tips for using the Zone Ruler in your own SX-70 photography and show a number of photos I’ve taken over the last six-plus months using my Zone Ruler.

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Using the Zone System with Polaroid SX-70 Film, Part 1

Note: There is a video version of Using the Zone System with Polaroid SX-70 Film, Part 1 at the bottom of this post.

SX-70 film is a remarkable feat of engineering. To think that the entire photographic process—taking a photo, developing the negative, printing the negative, developing the print, framing the print—is all done in one step: take the photo and a finished, framed print is ejected!

That magic comes with a few downsides, the most concerning being the limited latitude or dynamic range of the film. While most camera films might be expected to have a dynamic range of 8-9 f-stops between black and white with an extensive range of grey values in-between, SX-70 film has a much smaller dynamic range. Simply put, SX-70 film is extremely contrasty. The film loves low contrast scenes shot in overcast conditions but good luck capturing a bright sunny scene with deep shadows.

In an effort to gain some level of creative control over the SX-70 film’s limited latitude, it occurred to me that the Zone System might be worth exploring.

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