In 1948 the Polaroid Corporation released the world's first example of a commercially available instant camera. Since that time, the company has been extremely innovative in its camera designs and the development of photographic technology, and they now have a large presence in the digital camera market. However, many consumers still seek out and buy vintage Polaroid cameras, both for nostalgia purposes and because the high-quality cameras offer consistently excellent performance levels. As with buying any piece of technology, there are certain factors to consider to ensure that the right choice of Polaroid camera is made.
Vintage Polaroid Camera Models
Polaroid's status as a camera manufacturer of great innovation has meant that they have released many different products since the company was founded in 1937. Models that share similar technology and body shapes are categorised together into series, such as 20 Series, 30 Series, and 40 Series cameras. It should be noted when buying one of these vintage cameras that the Polaroid roll film that they use is now no longer produced. However, many of them can be converted to use pack film, which is widely available.
Other categories of vintage Polaroid cameras include 80 Series, 100 Series, 200 Series, 300 Series, 400 Series, and 600 Series<. Some of the models within these ranges are folding cameras, and some are non-folding. In addition, fans of single lens reflex (SLR) cameras can opt to buy one of Polaroid's SX-70 models. The original SX-70 was the first ever instant SLR camera. The fact that it offered through-the-lens imaging made it incredibly popular when it was first released, and it remains so with modern photography enthusiasts. Each vintage camera series in Polaroid's huge backlist offers something different in terms of technology and looks, and it is, therefore, important to thoroughly investigate each option before choosing a particular model to buy.
Series from the Sixties
Cameras in the 100 Series< and 200 Series were produced throughout the 1960s, with 300 Series and 400 Series models being made mostly in the 1970s. Over that time period certain advancements in technology were made, such as the widespread proliferation of colour film, and the introduction of better flash systems that were synchronised to the focusing operation of the camera.
SX-70 model vintage Polaroid cameras were produced throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and were available in various colours, such as white, black, and brown. Folding and non-folding versions were made, and shared some common features, such as an electronic shutter and programmed auto-exposure. Some models also had particularly useful extra features, for example autofocus and a warning within the viewfinder if the ambient light quality was insufficient.
Polaroid's 600 Series cameras were extremely popular throughout the 1980s, and included such features as a built-in automatic electronic flash. There were many different special editions produced in a range of colours. The bodywork of Series 600 cameras is plastic, as are the lenses. These cameras are very easy to use, as they produce and develop photographs virtually instantly, and at the touch of a button.
How Vintage Polaroid Cameras Work
The ways in which vintage Polaroid cameras work depends upon the specific model being used. Older models used roll film, which had to be manually pulled through rollers within the body of the camera in order to develop the photograph. Setting the exposure and focusing the lens was also done manually, although it should be noted that the level of control available is not anywhere near that which is found with other camera types. The process of taking a photograph is easier with cameras that use pack film. However, the film cannot be too cold or it will not develop properly. Later examples of vintage Polaroid cameras, such as 600 series and SX-70 models, offered automatic focusing and exposure settings, and the process of taking and developing a photograph was very quick.
Due to the fact that early vintage Polaroid cameras are the most complicated to use, they are arguably best suited to camera collectors and photography enthusiasts. Later models, with their automated features, made the process of taking photographs much easier, and as a result they are an attractive option for a much wider group of people.
Features to Look for in a Vintage Polaroid Camera
As stated previously, Polaroid produced a huge range of instant film cameras from 1948 until taking the decision to halt production in 2007, and as a result there are many classic vintage models to choose from. Some Polaroid cameras were designed and manufactured to a higher standard than others, with the differences in quality amounting largely to the types of materials used. As an example, some have a leather strap for carrying the camera, while others are made of nylon.
If possible, it is best to buy a vintage Polaroid camera with a metal body. These are naturally heavier than plastic alternatives, but they are also much more solidly constructed. Their longevity is, for this reason, superior. They are quite rare, as the vast majority of Polaroid cameras, and certainly the later models were made from plastic. It is also important to check if any camera which is being bought is folding or non-folding, as modern consumers will find some vintage Polaroid cameras to be quite large in comparison to digital compact cameras.
Another difference between certain Polaroid camera models is that some have glass lenses, while others are plastic. The glass lenses are more desirable, as they are of a higher quality, but the plastic lenses still allow perfectly good photographs to be taken. The viewfinder configuration will also vary between models, with some cameras offering only a viewfinder to work with, and others having both a viewfinder and a rangefinder.
Finally, the better-quality vintage Polaroid cameras offer up to six different aperture settings, while less expensive models offer only two. Some later models also have mechanical or electrical timers to ensure that photographs are not spoiled by users trying to remove the film from the camera too quickly. Features such as these simplify the process of using a vintage Polaroid camera, and are therefore highly desirable.
Film for Vintage Polaroid Cameras
Vintage Polaroid cameras, and all instant cameras for that matter, require instant film in order to function. Pack film quickly superseded roll film for use in instant cameras, as it made the process of spreading the necessary developing chemicals over the film much easier. Potential buyers of vintage Polaroid cameras should be aware that there are film types that are specific to certain cameras. It is essential, therefore, to find out the film that is required for a camera before making a purchase. There are some third-party films available for Polaroid cameras, particularly 100 Series, 600 Series, SX-70, and Spectra models<.
Checking the Condition of a Vintage Polaroid Camera
When buying a vintage Polaroid camera, it is essential to check the condition of the device. The models that were made from moulded plastic are relatively robust. However, it is possible for the camera casing to become cracked. Imperfections such as this will be superficial only, but it is nevertheless advisable to be aware of them before spending any money.
It is much more important to ensure that any vintage Polaroid camera works correctly before buying it. The film loading compartment should be in perfect working order, and the rollers should be clean and able to move freely. The lens and viewfinder must also be clean and free of dirt and debris, and it is crucial that the battery compartment, and particularly the battery terminals, are not corroded. Finally, if a camera has any auto features, such as focusing and exposure, these should still work flawlessly in order for the camera to represent a good purchase.
Buying a Vintage Polaroid Camera on eBay
The best place to buy a vintage Polaroid camera is the online marketplace eBay. The complete list of available models can be viewed by clicking on All Categories from the homepage, and then Cameras & Photography. The sub-category of Vintage Photography should then be clicked, followed by Vintage Cameras. Finally, selecting Polaroid< from the Brand menu on the left of the page will display hundreds of vintage Polaroid cameras, including many different models.
When Polaroid cameras were first released, they gave users a new and exciting way to produce photographs instantly. They have now largely been replaced by the convenient storage options provided by digital technology. However, there is still a large market for them, as can be seen by their popularity on eBay. There are many different models to choose from, and provided that they have been properly cared for these vintage cameras are still very desirable pieces of photography equipment.