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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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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The Polaroid Folding SX-70 on Steroids: A Review of MiNT Camera’s SLR670-S

The MiNT SLR670-S (right) and the original Polaroid Alpha 1 (left)

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.

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Cold Weather Photography with a Polaroid SX-70

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.  

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From Our Windows Book Launch

Winnipegger’s new book explores self-isolation through the lens of a Polaroid camera.

On December 10, 2020 at 7:00 PM CST, David Firman will hold a virtual book launch and reading via Zoom. The event is free but pre-registration is required. The registration form is here: https://www.firmangallery.com/BookLaunchRegistration.

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.

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First Snow in Black and White and Polaroid

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.

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Vintage Inglis Grain Elevators Meet Vintage Polaroids

“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.

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Polaroids On The Beach

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.

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