Polaroids: Cameras That Changed Photography


This post is a brief history of Polaroid cameras, a revolutionary series of cameras that changed photography and have undergone somewhat of a revival. With digital cameras on our cell phones these days, and the ability to record and capture just about any event anywhere instantly, it’s easy to forget how special the Polaroids were. The SX-70 was an extremely popular camera despite being expensive, and it retains a cult following today.

Polaroid, a company founded by Edwin Land in 1937, became famous for its line of instant cameras. Rather than having to drop film off at a lab and wait for it to be processed, one could see the pictures right away. The first Polaroid Land camera, the Model 95, hit the market in 1948. By today’s standards they were big and bulky, but they were enormously popular.
The process involved taking a picture, then pulling the film firmly out of the camera between rollers, which would spread the developing chemicals over the photograph. The photo was covered by a protective layer that contained the chemicals; one had to wait 60 seconds before peeling away the layer to see the photograph. 
This clip from The Perry Como Show, with actor Don Ameche, demonstrates the Polaroid Model 95:


Polaroid followed up the Model 95 Land camera with the Swinger, an extremely popular camera produced between 1965 and 1970. 
The Swinger was one of the most popular models ever made, due to its low price and stylish design. The catchy ad campaign revolving around its name didn’t hurt, either.
This is a commercial for the Polaroid Swinger:


One of the disadvantages of the Model 95 and the Swinger was not only the necessity of having to manually pull the film out of the camera, but also getting film chemicals on the hands of the user. The next logical step was the SX-70, a revoluntionary camera that was a huge hit for Polaroid.

The SX-70 Land camera ejected the pictures automatically, and there was no top layer to peel off after waiting sixty seconds. After pushing the button, the picture would roll out of the front of the camera, and one could watch as the photo developed. Multiple pictures could be taken, impossible with previous Polaroid cameras.

Edwin Land introduced the SX-70 at an annual meeting, and the cameras hit the market in 1972.

The $180.00 price tag ($898.00 today) hampered demand somewhat, and the film packs, at $6.90 ($34.45 in today’s dollars) were expensive, but the camera was extremely popular, even being used by astronauts aboard the space station Skylab. It was a high end consumer electronic device, with brushed aluminum trim and leather accents. Edwin Land followed up the SX-70 with other improvements, coming out with the OneStep, which was the market’s first autofocus SLR camera.
This is a ten minute promotional training film produced by Polaroid about the SX-70 Land camera:

Below is actor Christopher Plummer in a Polaroid SX-70 commercial:


In the late 70s and early 80s, actors James Garner and Mariette Hartley starred in a series of very popular and well-received commercials for Polaroid cameras. Their on-screen chemistry brought a lot of attention (and sales) to Polaroid’s One-Step cameras.


Kodak and Polaroid fought each other in court over patents involved with instant photography, and with Polaroid the victor, Kodak left the instant camera business in 1986. In 2001, however, Polaroid declared bankruptcy.


Because of the following Polaroid has with its instant cameras, an endeavor called The Impossible Project was launched to provide film to owners of Polaroid instant cameras. So, the legacy of the instant Polaroid cameras lives on.

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