Charles and Ray Eames Explain the Polaroid SX-70

Chris Higgins

Here's a tangentially related followup to the article on Polaroid photographer Jamie Livingston earlier this week. Some commenters asked about the quality of the photos -- many images seem to be better than what we think of as Polaroid snapshots. How did Livingston achieve advanced effects like changes in depth of field, double exposure, fixed-point focusing, and closeup photography with a Polaroid camera?

The answer (in addition to Livingston's skill as a photographer) is his Polaroid SX-70 camera. It was an extremely complex SLR camera developed by Edwin Land's team in the late 1960s and early 1970s, released in 1972. The SX-70 folded into a pocket-sized form factor -- assuming your pockets were huge. Employing a number of amazing technologies (it was the first Land camera to use the now-famous Polaroid film packs), later models included a sonar autofocus system -- the first autofocus capability available in a mass market camera. The camera also supported clip-on wide angle and telephoto lenses.

The SX-70 was a remarkable camera, so much so that Charles and Ray Eames produced an eleven-minute advertisement/explainer film for it in 1972. The film starts with a discussion of Polaroid's history and goes into a surprisingly technical description of the camera's operation and even its manufacturing process. Have a look: