Several months ago I spoke to Paul Weston about the new Impossible PX films and what a cool idea the Polaroid Rennaisance was.
He happened to mention that he bought a vintage SX70 Land Camera from some bloke who used to shoot furniture with it – and the next thing I know is that he rbought it in for me to have a play. How exciting is that!
Let’s have a look under hood of this goodie, which happens to be only 5 years younger than I am.
Paul Giambarba Edition
For this test, I dug out a packet of original Polaroid TZ Artistic film material from the Photographer’s Gallery when it was still open.
8 shots for £20.99 means: EVERYTHING’S a “feature” and “there are no out-takes”. Great!
It’s a bit confusing actually because what The Impossible Project have done is buy the last remaining packets of original Polaroid material, put a funky sleeve around it and sell it for shedloads of cash. Er… well done I guess.
So the “original Polaroid Packet” reads: good until 09/2009, and the new Paul Giambarba sleeve says 12/2010. Reading between the lines it means “This material is at the end of its life span” – just the way I like it.
Paul Giambarba by the way was working for Polaroid many decades ago. He maintains several blogs and bitches about how terrible things got once they fired him. Bless him though, because he’s responsible for Polaroid’s Brand when they were still going strong.
The Original – and the best
Knowing full well that these were probably the final original Polaroids I was ever going to shoot, I thought about my shots carefully. I didn’t know what TZ Artistic meant, even though my guess was “we seriously don’t know how this stuff is going to come out”. Add to that a camera that hasn’t been used in a decade and I’m having fun already.
I took my first picture on a sunny day in Chiswick Park on my lunch break during a shift at IMG. It was a sunny day and I couldn’t wait.
I came to a rather spooky path that lead up to a clearing and took my first shot. It’s a tad tricky to focus on this camera, even though Paul’s Model 2 Land Camera has a split focussing aid in the viewfinder. I understand that earlier versions of the SX70 don’t have this feature and I wouldn’t know how to focus with those (I’m useless without my glasses you know, and framing with this camera through my glasses is very difficult).
Most of us associate Polaroid with “point-and-shoot” cameras for mughots of fairly low quality – but it doesn’t have to be this way. The SX70 is a proper SLR, and an absolute marvel of 40 year old engineering. Compared to the plastic “bread boxes” from the mid eighties the original SX70 is a very different toy altogether.
A little bit louder (and much heaver) that the 600 OneStep cameras, and without an integrated flash, it featrues exposure times between 1/175th and 10 seconds at f8 (or f22 when used with a flash bar) according to The Land List. That’s not bad, but let’s remember we’re dealing with 100 ISO film here so it’s badly needed too.
My First Shot
[ker-pfffwwwwt-ksh] and my first ever SX70 picture was ready to be explored. The dark grey image looks so different compared the deep blue of the Impossible PX material.
After a minute the first contours come out. Then it turns lemony-green within the next. I was sure the colours would change over the next few hours.
My next shot was through an empty frame with a description of Chiswick House. Clever idea – you can find these frames scattered all around Chiswick Park. If you hadn’t guessed, William Hogarth – owner of Chiswick House and Grounds – was a fellow artist, and rather an important figure to the copyright laws of today – but that’s for another time perhaps.
Anyway, I wandered back to work and felt a bit disappointed with my two pictures.
I thought I’d try a couple of shots indoors in badly lit conditions. Usually we know what pictures like that turn out to be, but I was pleasantly surprised in this case.
I took this picture of Dave in the new Premier League TV TX suite powered by Pebble Beach. I carefully balanced the camera on the desk and used my wallet as support, and about 6 seconds later this artistic portrait came out. I adjusted the lighter/darker control to make it slightly brighter.
Even though I can see “100 ISO characteristics”, it doesn’t look bad at all – and it retains the same colours as the outdoor shots. Interesting… shouldn’t this be much more yellow due to tungsten light?
Another shot I took was a hand-held one of Julia, hence the motion blur. We have daylight in the background and we get the same colours again. This is interesting material after all – and it’s “manipulable” too – meaning you can draw on it with a pencil to create rather spooky effects. I’m not into this so I didn’t test it.
Search for “manipulated polaroid” and you’ll find plenty of examples though.
I took the last three shots today with only a single one left in the pack. It’s sad to see this final pack of “Original Polaroid” go down, but I know I can’t keep Paul’s camera forever. I’m doing two shifts at MTV this week so I’ll have to give it back – can’t believe I nearly had it for 4 months already.
Over breakfast at McDonalds (as you do) I’ve noticed this stripy pattern image on the wall next to the booth we were sitting in. It reminded me of my most successful Light Painting called Stripes, and in hommage to it I thought maybe I’ll take a picture.
As always the universal rule of Plastic Photography applies:
Expect and you’ll get disappointed. Let go and you’ll be amazed. Or not. Depends.
Actually it’s rather cool to look at this picture in the scanned version, which always looks much better than the Polaroid. It’s something to keep in mind: you wouldn’t get too excited about an uncorrected negative either, which is essentially what any “instant photo” really is – just bigger and easier to look at.
The next couple of shots I’ve taken outside again, one of my bike and another one of Julia holding her bike. This was a day after the Mayor of London’s Skyride.
Even though a tad expensive (read: WAY overpriced) I really like the character of the TZ Artistic material. It turns everything into a blast from the past, with the look you’ve come to love when your Mum gets the photo album out.
Each image has a weird strangeness to it. Add to that the use of a 35 year old fold-out camera with manual TTL focussing and every photography lover would get excited.
I’m leaving the final image unexposed in Paul’s camera – see what you can do with it 😉
It’s been a pleasure playing with this Instant Art Machine, and even though SX70’s are going through the roof on eBay at the moment, I’m seriouslyconsidering to get one.
There’s a 24 karat Gold Plated one on auction right now… should I treat myself?