Shooting with a vintage Polaroid camera brings the best of two worlds together; shooting with film and the instant gratification we’ve grown to love with digital. Being able to review your photos instantly.
After years of shooting with vintage film cameras, the most frustrating part of the experience has been the wait. I would shoot incredible photos and get the film scanned weeks later. By the time I would get my scans I lost all the excitement over that shoot.
Wanting to continue shooting with film, but also having the instant gratification of reviewing the photos I decided to explore old Polaroid cameras. After trying countless different old vintage Polaroid cameras, I put together a buying guide. I hope this helps anyone looking to buy their first Polaroid camera!
Before we get into what vintage Polaroid cameras are best, let’s cover some common questions you might have about these old instant cameras.
Types of vintage Polaroid cameras
There are thirteen different types of instant cameras developed by Polaroid between 1948 and the present day. The different types of instant cameras are defined by the type of Polaroid camera film format they use. Of these thirteen types of cameras, only five types are still supported. Three of these five would be considered vintage by today’s standards.
These types of vintage Polaroid cameras that are still supported are cameras that use SX-70, 600, and 8×10 Integral Film. Modern films are the Go Film and i-Type films.
For the sake of this article, we will primarily focus on the integral SX-70 film and 600 film type of vintage Polaroid cameras. These two types of old Polaroid camera models use the most advanced vintage film that produces quality photos that are long-lasting. They are also some of the most accessible with readily available film.
How do vintage Polaroid cameras work?
When a picture is taken, the film is rolled in front of the lens. A roller will apply pressure to a pouch in the film that contains a chemical that will travel across the image layer, timing layer, acid layer and regent to develop the film.
In this instance, the image layer consists of three emulsion layers with three primary colors, red, green and blue. Beneath these layers, are three more layers of complementary colors, cyan, magenta and yellow.
Do vintage Polaroid cameras need batteries?
Vintage Polaroid cameras do not need additional batteries for the cameras to function. Instead, the battery is found in the film pack, and it has enough power to operate the camera for ten shots. There is a good chance that if your camera is not working after inserting a film pack, it is because the battery is dead.
Can old Polaroid cameras use new film?
Older Polaroid instant cameras cannot use new film due to the absence of a battery in the film pack. So newer i-Type films are only usable in newer instant cameras that support the i-Type film packs. However, the newer cameras can use the older 600 film packs.
Can you use expired instant film in your vintage Polaroid camera?
Instant Polaroid film has a shelf life of 12 months after its production dates. The film should be used in that time frame to capture the best results. You can find the production date stamped at the bottom of each film package.
How long do old Polaroids take to develop?
Typically it takes between 10 to 15 minutes for the vintage instant film to fully develop. You should allow them to further develop and settle for 30 days before storing Polaroid photos. Keep them laid flat and out of the direct sun or UV light.
Does shaking a Polaroid do anything?
You should in fact not shake a Polaroid picture. Polaroid film is a complex mixture of chemicals and dyes that are layered together to produce the image. Shaking the polaroid can cause unwanted effects on the final image such as bubbling and other marks.
The practice of shaking a Polaroid picture comes from much older Polaroid cameras that used a peel-apart film. Many people shook this film as it helped speed up the drying of the chemicals that produced those pictures. This is not required for the Integral Film which is used by 600 film or SX-70 film vintage Polaroid cameras.
How to use a vintage Polaroid camera?
Using a vintage Polaroid camera can be fairly simple and straightforward once you get the hang of it. First and foremost you must make sure to get the right type of film for the camera you have. Depending on the type of camera you buy – as covered in the above section, you will need to match it with the correct film.
So f you are shooting with a 600-style camera, you will need Polaroid 600 film.
Once you have the right type of film, it’s time to get started:
- Load your film pack through the film door, darkslide facing up
- Charge your camera flash if it does not automatically charge by pressing the trigger halfway down
- Adjust your exposure if needed (usually, it’s not needed)
- Look through the viewfinder and adjust your framing and composition
- Press the trigger button and voila!
- Shield the new instant photo from any light for a few minutes
Where to buy vintage Polaroid cameras
You can buy vintage Polaroid cameras in many locations, both online and offline. They can be found anywhere where you would buy vintage lenses or vintage cameras.
Places to buy vintage Polaroid cameras would include:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Speciality camera stores
- Online camera retailers (ie. B&H, Keh, Adorama)
- Thrift stores
- Garage sales
Additionally, you can also purchase refurbished vintage Polaroid cameras directly from the Polaroid website. This could possibly be the best place to buy your vintage Polaroid 600 and Polaroid SX-70 cameras. These certified cameras are sold at a premium but are guaranteed to be functional.
Best vintage Polaroid camera for beginners
Polaroid Sun 660 Autofocus Instant Camera
The Polaroid Sun 660 Autofocus Instant Camera is one of the friendliest cameras for beginners. With a reasonable price of around $50 – $60 USD on eBay, this camera requires minimal investment.
The camera comes with beginner-friendly features such as an automatic flash with override and the Sonar Autofocus system. This autofocus feature sends out high-frequency sound waves that help it establish the distance to the subject and adjust focus. This results in sharper images.
Cheapest vintage Polaroid cameras
Polaroid 600 Square Instant Camera
The Polaroid 600 Square Instant Camera is one of the cheapest vintage Polaroid cameras on the market today. It is also the cheapest one that you can buy refurbished directly from Polaroid for $119.99. Alternatively, you can spin the camera roulette on eBay for the same camera at around $10 – $20 before shipping.
This old Polaroid instant film camera was developed in the 80s and is simple to use as a film point-and-shoot camera. Unlike the close-up variant of this camera, this has a focus range of 4ft to infinity and an effective flash range between 2 – 10ft. The camera can only use the 600 film packs made for Polaroid cameras, and the film is sold separately.
Best Polaroid 600 vintage camera
Polaroid Supercolor 670 AF vintage camera
The vintage Polarpod 600 cameras offered a more versatile shooting experience by offering a higher ISO film of 600 – versus 100 or 160. This propelled their popularity even further than their previous generations.
Using this more flexible vintage 600 Polaroid film, the Polaroid Supercolor AF vintage camera is one of the best Polaroid 600 cameras produced. Resembling the Polaroid Supercolor 635 the 670 AF improved upon those models with its ultrasonic focusing module that allows for focusing from 60cm to infinity.
The closer focusing distance of 60cm (vs 120cm on most cameras) makes the camera more suitable for close vintage portrait photography.
This camera also features the same Lightmixer system that is found in the 635. This system mixes ambient light and light from the on-camera flash for better exposure.
Best Polaroid SX-70 vintage camera
Polaroid SX-70 SLR Land camera Sonar Autofocus
The SX-70 cameras became incredibly popular with photographers such as Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Helmut Newton, and Walker Evans praising and using the SX-70.
The Polaroid SX-70 SLR camera with Sonar Autofocus is probably one of the best vintage Polaroid cameras of all time. Using a single-lens reflex system this camera allowed for accurate composition.
Unlike most vintage Polaroid cameras which use autofocus, the SX-70 lens has a manual focusing capability. This helps with creative freedom. The lens also has a maximum aperture of f/8 allowing for a shallower depth of field and great bokeh. This is significantly higher than the 600 film cameras with their f/14 maximum aperture.
Best vintage Polaroid camera
Polaroid 600 SLR 690 Folding Instant Film Camera
This legendary vintage Polaroid camera is regarded as one of the best if not the best vintage Polaroid camera ever created. Sporting a price between $1,000 – $1,500, depending on where you buy it from, this can be a significant investment for any photographer.
The Polaroid 690 benefits from some of the best characteristics of many different cameras. This set it apart from other models across the SX-70 and 600 film camera lineups.
The outstanding features of the 690 are:
- Sonar autofocus
- Camera controls
- Lens sharpness
These features rival its best-in-class competitors.
For example, the Polaroid 600 OneStep Close Up is known to be one of the sharpest cameras in the lineup. The 690 outperforms this model by having the sharpest vintage lens found on a old Polaroid camera. This further propels the camera’s feature set to make the 690 stand out from the rest as the best vintage Polaroid camera.
Similarly, its autofocus rivals the performance of the Polaroid 600 Impulse Autofocus, which is known to be one of the best-performing cameras when it comes to autofocus systems
Most importantly unlike the box-style Polaroid cameras, the Polaroid 690 takes advantage of its SLR build allowing you to see through the lens and accurately compose your images.
Coolest vintage Polaroid camera
SX-70 One-Step (Rainbow Stripe)
Let’s be honest. One of the great reasons to own an old Polaroid vintage camera is for the cool retro vibes. In my mind, when I think of Polaroid cameras, I think of the iconic rainbow stripe on a white body. The One-Step is a non-folding version of the SX-70 camera. Due to how expensive the folding SX-70 was, this version was created to offer a lower-cost alternative.
Vintage Polaroid Film
Regardless of what camera you end up buying, you will need to get yourself some Polaroid film to match your camera. Buying actual old vintage Polaroid film is very expensive and rare to find, not to mention expired.
Luckily Polaroid has resumed the manufacturing of its vintage Polaroid film packs and sell the 600 and SX-70 Polaroid film to this day.Purchasing these films can be as easy as ordering on Amazon, with one-day free delivery or directly from the Polaroid website.