One of the frustrations of working with the Polaroid SX-70 camera is its fully automatic exposure system. As a well-seasoned photographer, I am accustomed to being in full control of setting aperture f-stops and shutter speeds to determine the correct exposure for my pictures. For Polaroid cameras—including the sophisticated folding SX-70 camera of the 1970s and 80s—the sole user control is the uncalibrated exposure compensation dial allowing the exposure to be adjusted lighter or darker by some unknown factor. Getting a good photo on the first try is unlikely and, on occasion, I have used an entire film pack to get one decently exposed image.
There is but one way to gain some semblance of exposure control on an SX-70 camera and that is to buy a specially modified version.
Enter MiNT Camera, a Hong Kong-based company that refurbishes vintage folding SX-70 cameras, installs new electronics and a new electric eye, reclads the camera with black or brown leather and adds a small exposure control module—something they call the Time Machine—that attaches to the camera’s flash socket. MiNT produces three versions of its camera: the SLR670m has the Time Machine, works with SX-70 and 600 films manually and with SX-70 in Auto mode or with the Time Machine detached; the SLR670-S adds an Auto mode for 600 film and the camera natively shoots Polaroid 600 film with the Time Machine detached; the SLR670-X adds external flash sync and metal cladding instead of the regular leather cladding. There is also a SLR670-S Classic model but it appears to use a pre-Alpha 1 version of the SX-70 camera and does not have a tripod socket—which I consider essential—or neck strap loops.
One of several limitations of the current crop of SX-70 films is their sensitivity to temperature. Taking a picture below 13°C could result in a dark, muddy image with a blue/green cast and lacking contrast. Technically, the developer “goo” that spreads across the image as it is ejected from the camera is, more likely than not, to spread unevenly, creating white splotches, spidery lines and/or a snowy field of white specks on the finished picture.
Which is a dilemma if you live in Winnipeg, Canada as I do, where the winter lasts at least ffive months and the temperatures can dip into the minus 20s and 30s Celsius for days on end.
Packing my beautiful Polaroid folding SX-70 camera in a camera bag and waiting for summer to return, is not an option. I need to find a way that allows me successfully make a Polaroid picture in the midst of a cold prairie winter.
What follows is a video outlining what works for me and a few pictures taken using my cold weather technique.
David Firman’s new photography book, From Our Windows, tells a personal story of life contained within the four walls of his Wolseley home. Set during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, David uses a vintage Polaroid SX-70 camera to explore the relationship of sanctuary to the now-viral world outside—two worlds separated, yet tantalizingly connected, by thin sheets of window glass.
From Our Windows is a self-published hardcover book available through the author’s website at www.firmangallery.com.
My Polaroid work of late has been entirely in colour, using the latest iteration of Polaroid SX-70 colour film. However, for some time I have coveted the opportunity to play with Polaroid’s Black and White SX-70 film. After all, I was a black and white film photographer for twenty-plus years leading up to my introduction to digital photography—and colour— at the turn of this century.
“A group of five grain elevators in Inglis in the Rural Municipality of Riding Mountain West is one of the last remaining examples of a once-common prairie icon. Now preserved as a national historic site and a provincial historic site, the Inglis site represents an important period in the development of Canada’s grain industry from 1900 to 1930.
It was a warm summer afternoon, a good opportunity to walk along the shoreline of Lake Winnipeg. Just up the eroded slope, Gail and Styxx (our greyhound) lounged in the yurt we had rented for a few days at Camp Morton Provincial Park. Down here, the lake was calm, gently lapping on the smooth stones at water’s edge. As I moved down the beach at a relaxed pace, out came the Polaroid for a short series of photos.
While I work to get the planned book for my From Our Windows project completed—and you will be hearing more about that progress soon—I have ventured outside with my SX-70 Polaroid camera in-hand. To start, here is a selection of instant photos taken a mere 100 metres from my front door along the banks of Omand’s Creek. It was already late fall and the leaves, for the most part, had changed colour and fallen. A few weeks later, I returned to the site where I had taken the photos and rephotographed the scene, this time capturing the original SX-70 photos as they fell from my limb to the forest floor. I hope you enjoy the photos and the short film at the end!
This is the final set of Polaroids in my From Our Windows project. I could continue of course. It’s not as if the pandemic has suddenly vanished. But I am comfortable with what I have captured over the past three months. When I lay out my eighty-plus little framed images, I can see a complete story emerging. The next step? Preparing the book for publication. Stay tuned.
This is the third and final series of Polaroid SX-70 pictures altered with alcohol inks. It has been a curious exercise. Although I apply the inks as a single, tiny dot, how it spreads across the glossy surface of the photo is totally unpredictable and uncontrollable. How appropriate!