5 Polaroid Cameras Worth Owning, Shooting, and Collecting

5 Polaroid Cameras Worth Owning, Shooting, and Collecting

1280 853 James Tocchio

Polaroid cameras are a dime a dozen, and utterly fantastic. But some are more fantastic than others. While I love the ubiquitous 600-series machines for their ease of use and their ability to pull me right back to the ’80s, I can understand why some shooters and collectors regard them as a bit boring. These are the Polaroids for the masses that we’ve all seen a hundred times, and they’re all just about the same.

But not all Polaroid cameras are so run-of-the-mill. Under Edwin Land, Polaroid was an enterprise cut from the same high tech and innovative cloth as modern companies like Steve Jobs’ Apple. No surprise then that over the course of fifty-plus years, Polaroid would release a number of exciting and interesting machines that set the then-nascent tech world ablaze. Good news for us, many of these rarer Polaroid cameras can still be bought and used today.

For serious photo geeks and lovers of all things uncommon, here are five special Polaroid cameras and the reasons they’re worth you’re attention.

SX-70 Land Camera – 1972

I begin our list with my personal favorite. If you’re going to own only one Polaroid camera, this should be the one. The masterpiece product of famed inventor Edwin Land (second only to Thomas Edison when measured in number of registered patents), this camera changed the entire landscape of American camera culture. To think that this thing came out in 1972 – it must’ve been mind-blowing.

I love it for its remarkable design – when folded closed it’s an unbelievably compact and elegant assemblage of brushed chrome and leather, and when deployed for photo-taking it’s unlike any camera in the world. This visionary design is paired with equally impressive engineering, making the SX-70 a camera of many firsts. It was the first folding SLR. It was the first SLR instant camera. It was the first instant camera to use automatic-developing integral film (this meant no waste to clean up, as all process chemicals are permanently stored in the print). It was the first instant camera capable of shooting five photos in ten seconds.

Optical prowess follows – the SX-70 uses a 4-element 116mm F/8 glass lens that makes stunning images. A split-image rangefinder equipped viewfinder allows for manual focusing as close as 10.4 inches (26.4 cm). An advanced automatic exposure system is capable of shutter speeds ranging from 1/175 of a second to more than 10 seconds, and this exposure may be manually adjusted via an exposure compensation wheel on the front of the camera, putting quality photos in the hands of masters and beginners alike.

There are a number of models available, some in different colors, some with Sonar focusing. I hold the opinion that if you’re going to own an SX-70 you might as well own the original. Look for the brushed aluminum with tan leather and no tripod socket (accessories are available). And if you want one that’s completely refurbished with a warranty, look no further than my friends at Brooklyn Film Camera.

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Minolta Instant Pro – 1990

This next Polaroid isn’t quite a Polaroid at all – or rather, it’s a Polaroid in all but name. Manufactured in 1990, the Minolta Instant Pro was a rebranded Polaroid Spectra Pro. The same camera by any name, these are worthy machines by virtue of their being the most manually adjustable Polaroid cameras ever made. They also sport a high-quality coated glass lens that produces excellent images, and they produce larger prints than any other integral film Polaroid.

On the back of the camera we find a range of controls rare in instant cameras. With electronic adjustments for self-timer, built-in user-controlled flash, auto- and manual-focus, audio status signal, exposure compensation, timed exposures, back-lighting compensation, sequential exposure, multiple exposure mode… this thing has it all.

I mentioned larger prints – that’s because the Spectra series cameras are different from most Polaroid cameras in that the Spectra machines produce images that are larger and rectangular. The larger image area makes them an excellent choice for those who find the square format of 600 and SX-70 cameras limiting. But don’t worry – these larger shots still offer the iconic white framed border on every print – just make sure you buy Spectra film packs.

Users of the Minolta Instant Pro and Polaroid Spectra Pro will also enjoy a generally higher level of build and superior image quality compared to earlier non-folding SX-70 and 600 series cameras.

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600 and 600 SE – 1978

Here’s another Japanese and American blend Polaroid camera. The 600 and 600SE (lovingly called ‘the Goose’ by knowing photo geeks) are essentially Mamiya Press cameras fitted with Mamiya lenses and Polaroid pack film backs. This combination created incredibly sharp and high quality images that developed instantly with Polaroid’s peel-apart film. Unfortunately, this film went away. Fortunately, Fuji’s FP100C also works! Unfortunately, Fuji discontinued FP100C not very long ago. Fortunately (again!), Impossible Founder Florian Kaps is heading an effort to keep FP100C alive. Unfortunately- eh. Enough of that. FP100C will still be available for a few years, and the 600 and 600SE can be easily fitted with a 120 film back when the instant stuff runs out.

I could say a lot about this camera’s specs, capabilities, and various configurations – almost too much for a list of this type. Let’s just keep it simple. The 600 offers just one (outstanding) lens, while the 600SE allows the shooter to swap lenses. Both come standard with a 127mm F/4.7 lens that produces sharp, brilliant photos. They’re massive cameras, extremely well built, with manually controlled aperture and shutter speeds, and a bright, beautiful viewfinder.

If you’re looking for a serious machine to ride the last wave of FP100C instant film or to make the most of your 120 Ektar and Portra, pick the 600/600SE.

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SX-70 One-Step (Rainbow Stripe) – 1977

The original non-folding SX-70 camera was created to offer a lower-cost alternative to the previously-mentioned folding SX-70 masterpiece, and became quite an icon in its own right. Utterly simple in design and functionality, the SX-70 One-Step uses the same film packs as its more capable sibling, and requires the user to, remarkably, press just a single button to create an image.

I love it today for two reasons – it’s less valuable than the folding version, which helps ease my mind in less-than-delicate shooting environments (like when I hand it off to my twenty-month-old daughter), and because it’s an eye-catching conversation-starter. It’s a camera that people immediately recognize, and what’s more, it gets people excited. Bring one of these to your next beach day, cookout, or concert, and you’re going to make a lot of people very happy indeed.

The plastic lens isn’t the best Polaroid ever produced, but it does the job and renders images with that lovely vintage aesthetic that we’re all aching for. They’re still relatively inexpensive, and film is readily available.

Instant souvenirs, a stylish tech accessory, and that famous rainbow stripe? Yes, this is one Polaroid you should have in your collection.

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Integral 600 Series – 1980s, 1990s

I know in my intro I squawked about these being a bit too run-of-the-mill, but in all honesty you should own an integral 600 series camera for one very simple reason – they’re useful. While many of the other cameras on this list offer better optics, glorious design, or high functionality, the 600 series offers something the SX-70 film cameras don’t – a higher ISO film (600 versus 100 or 160).

What this means is that in certain shooting situations in which the SX-70 would shoot a prohibitively long exposure, the 600 series machines will not. The film is more sensitive, and will in certain instances produce sharper results than the higher-specced SX-70 cameras. Spectra cameras like the Minolta above have similarly sensitive film, so the 600 series can’t beat that machine in this regard, but they do trump the Pro in price. 600 series cameras can often be found at thrift shops, and even online, for under $20 (untested).

If you want something a bit more interesting, hunt out one of the innumerable 600 series special editions. Taz is ever popular, and if you’re into the Spice Girls we’ve got a Polaroid for you too.

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And that’s the list. If you’ve got a personal favorite Polaroid let us hear about it in the comments.

Don’t forget to buy film.

Buy Polaroid film on Amazon

Buy Polaroid Film on eBay

Buy Polaroid film on B&H Photo

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Merlin Marquardt January 7, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Very interesting article. Typographical error in first sentence of section on SX-70 One-Step (Rainbow Stripe) – 1977, “cose” should be “cost”.

    • James – Founder/Editor January 7, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks for the tip! Fixed.

    • You would be much better off recommending a Polaroid Image system camera plenty available at a cheap price, which will produce just as good results as the Minolta. The Minolta is way overpriced, hard to find and has a tendency to jam the film.

      As for the Polaroid 600 and 600se you’d be much better recommending the Mamiya universal as the 120 backs are more readily available. The 120 backs with the adapter are overpriced and hard to find. Also the FP-100c film is now excessively priced so it’s not a road I would even consider however i have a wine chiller full which I’m hesitant to use but use i must.

      Anyone starting out I’d recommend Spectra camera everytime as they give you the least problems imho.

  • ……and they are still going. The Polaroid Pop instant digital camera is due out soon (mid to late 2017). 3″ x 4″ prints using their Z-ink printer all in one with a digital 20MP camera. Pictures also saved to an SD card.

  • Mint in HK sells an improved SX70 called SLR670 (as it’s a kind of mix of the SX70 and the 600 series taking both kind of impossible films). Any thoughts about this version? Is it worth the (very high) price?

    • James – Founder/Editor January 7, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      I reviewed Mint’s fujfilm Instax camera and it was okay. Had some exposure issues. I haven’t tried Mint’s SX70 variants, but they seem really expensive to me when a standard SX70 works as intended. I know the Mint cameras offer full control and I do like what they’re doing over there, but that price is just really high.

  • Love all of these cameras, especially that Minolta that I know I’ll inevitably buy now. I just wish the Impossible film wasn’t so expensive!

  • All good cameras, the only one I think that’s missing is my personal favorite, the SLR 680 SE. Yes it’s longer when folded up like an SX-70, but you’ve got 600 type film, sonar if you want it, and a nice electronic flash you can turn on and off at will! All in SX-70 styling!

  • Thanks for your post. After reading your article
    I am interested in buying a spectra camera. Does anyone know why there are no films available on the website of Impossible anymore ?

    • As of this moment, Polaroid Originals is not selling Spectra film, as the film canisters were jamming certain Spectra cameras. I believe they are working on a solution to this, but I have no projected timeline on when Spectra film will again be available for sale. I will reach out and see what they say.

      • The technical support gave my the following answer: “Part of the reason we don’t have Spectra film in stock at the moment is that Spectra cameras seem to be ageing slightly worse than their 600-series cousins and it has become more of a challenge to make sure they work well with our film 100% of the time.
        At the moment, we do not have a specific production date for the next batch of Spectra film – only that we will be producing it again at some point soon. Promise.” I hope you could get more specific information about the time frame ?

  • dangerouschristian January 17, 2022 at 1:05 am

    I have the Polaroid Supercolor 635CL and it doesn’t die. This beast is a workhorse that started its life as a Board of Ed camera that later helped my wife and I win a court case. Now it’s one of two instant cameras I use.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio