I Love My $10 Polaroid SX-70 Sonar OneStep Camera

My meeting canceled the minute I arrived at the coffee shop and ordered my drink. Before going back to the office, I decided to finish the coffee and scan an estate sale app to see if any sales were close by. Fortunately there was a sale less than a mile from me. Why not check it out?

Upon entering the house, I noticed shelves covered in cameras and binoculars. I skimmed over the cameras – most were overpriced point and shoot models – when I noticed something lying flat on the end of the shelf. I could tell it was a Polaroid SX-70 by the long flat base. It was without a price tag but I picked it up and continued to shop.

I decided to buy a vintage Pioneer SX-434 receiver and brought the camera with me to the cashier. When I asked him how much for the camera, he laughed, “Oh that old thing, how about $10?” he replied. I tried not to smile too big.

This is my third SX-70 camera and the two previous cameras are broken and need repair. If the cashier had named an expensive price, I would have reconsidered. However, at only $10 I knew I could get in cheap enough for it to either work or I could resell for parts and get my money back.

Introduced in 1978, this model offers Sonar auto-focusing which is best described by Polaroid from their manual:

As you begin to press the shutter button, your camera releases sound waves to the central part of the scene. The frequencies are far beyond our range of hearing and travel at the speed of sound. The split second it takes for the sound to reach your subject and the echo to return is fed into a tiny computer inside the camera. The computer uses this time measurement to calculate the distance between the camera lens and your subject, then signals a motor to turn the lens until your subject is in sharp focus. This extraordinary chain of events takes place in less that 1/3 of a second.

My first photo with the camera was out of focus, as you will see below, because I was unaware of this feature. Once I understood how to use the focus option, I went crazy with it.

So, how did the photos turn out? 

My first shot was of our flower bed in the back yard. I impatiently loaded the film and hit the shutter button like I would on any regular Polaroid camera. I obviously did not take into account the auto focus option of the Sonar model and the shot came out blurry. However, it was a positive sign that the photo ejected and developed properly.

User error is to blame for this photo. One morning there was an intense fog in our neighborhood and I tried to capture the house across the street. Technically, that’s just what the camera did, however it captured more of the white fog than I anticipated.

This is the photo where I began to understand the power of the Sonar auto focus. I love how the tree in the foreground is in focus while the river and other trees in the background are blurry.

I continued to harness the auto focus power of the camera by focusing on the street lamp.

At this point, I’m obsessed with the auto focus feature and want to push the limits with what the camera can capture. The idea here is to capture the tree in focus with more of the background out of focus. I took this early one morning and I believe with more sunlight the background would have shown more color.

I love this little tree in our neighborhood. Again, it was an early morning shot and I think more sun would have resulted in brighter colors.

At this point you understand my obsession with the auto focus and I need not explain further. Understand I usually shoot with a Polaroid 600 model without any focusing options so the SX-70 Sonar is an upgrade in terms of focus.

I am excited that after 40 years, the camera works properly and I was able to shoot an entire pack of film. I look forward to using it as much as possible in the future!