Guide

Everything you need to know about buying vintage Polaroid Cameras

Are you looking at buying a used or vintage Polarid camera, but not quite sure where to start? Well, you’ve come to the right place as we wrote this article specifically for you.

In this piece, we’ll give you a quick history of the Polaroid camera, break down the subtle differences between the various vintage Polaroid cameras on the market as well as guide you through some basic tips and tricks so you can figure out if the instant camera that you want to buy actually still works and how to fix some common issues. And of course we’ve got some buying recommendations as well .

Main types of Vintage Polaroid Cameras

The main 3 types of vintage Polaroid cameras that you will most commonly encounter are the Polaroid SX-70 (also known and the Polaroid Land Camera), the Polaroid 600 and the Polaroid Spectra. These of course aren’t the only types of Polaroid Cameras out there – Polaroid made over 15 different series which resulted in roughly 300 different models – but they are the most commonly found series.

Polaroid SX-70

Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera vintage

The Polaroid SX 70 is the granddaddy of the vintage polaroid market. It wasn’t the first instant camera on the market, , but when it was introduced in 1972, it was the first instant camera that would automatically eject and and quickly develop photographs without the aid of photographer and without leaving any chemical residue behind. The Polaroid SX-70 also had a reflex viewfinder, which meant that when you looked through the viewfinder you would see exactly what the lens sees.

The Polaroid SX-70, as well as the Polaroid OneStep uses Polaroid SX-70 Film which was specifically designed for the camera. Interestingly enough – the SX-70 Polaroid Film pack came with a built in 6v battery which powered the camera. Almost all polaroid cameras from this point didn’t have any internal batteries and were powered solely by the film pack.

The Polaroid SX-70 was produced in a variety of models until 1981. They all essentially retained their form factor, pleasing folding mechanism, and only had minor technical variatons over their life span. The various SX-70 models are:

SX-70 Model 2 – which swapped out the metal frame for a plastic one.

SX-70 Model 3 – which kept the plastic frame of the Model 2 and replaced the reflex viewfinder with a simple viewfinder.

SX-70 Sonar – which was essentially the same as the Model 3, but included a sonar autofocus system.

The SX-70 has just one shutter button on the front, and right opposite of it is the manual focus dial. Below the manual focus dial is the light sensor which measures the light and adjusts the exposure accordingly. A common mishap for new users is to cover this sensor with their finger(s) while taking a photo, which then ends up ruining their photo.

There are two holes on the side of the SX-70 which are meant for a cable release – though this is nearly impossible to come by these days. The top of the SX-70 has no built in flash, but it does have a small thin socket at the top which lets you attach a so called Polaroid Flashbar.

These were only good for about 10 shots and then were disposed of. There are a few companies which offer new remakes of these which run off AAA batteries and last far longer than just 10 shots (more on that in the Polaroid Accessories section).

Polaroid 600 Series

polaroid 636 camera vintage

By the 1980s, Polaroid introduced a new camera series – the Polaroid 600 and a new film type – the aptly named 600.

The Polaroid 600 series was produced between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, and brought Polaroid photography to the masses. Theres a staggering amount of model variation, but in the end – the cameras produced in the 80s are essentially (and functionally) the same as the ones from the 90s.

The vintage Polaroid 600 series cameras look a bit different throughout the production lineup, but there are only very few functions that differentiate them.

Polaroid basically made two different 600 camera models. They had a model with a fixed focus and a model with an autofocus. The fixed focus model could focus everything from roughly 4 feet (1.2 meters) until infinity. The autofocus model has different zones for focusing – and you could go as close as 23 inches (60cm).

Polaroid also made a fixed focus model with a close up lens which you can slide in front of the regular lens and then you can go take pictures of something close up between 2 and 4 feet (60cm and 1.2 meters).

Almost all of the 600 series Polaroid cameras come equipped with a built in flash (I think there are only 2 models which done have one) so theres no need to worry about buying a third party accessory.

Unlike its SX-70 counterpart, all of the Polaroid 600 Series (there is a notable exception which is explained further down) come with non reflex viewfinders which means you see through the viewfinder is essentially an approximation of what the lens is seeing.

Polaroid Spectra

polaroid spectra se vintage camera

The Polaroid Spectra series was introduced in the early 1980s along with a brand new film type – the Spectra Film – also known as “Image” film outside of the North American market. The Polaroid Spectra Series also ran under different names, such as Image, Spectra, and type 1200 but they are all the same camera type.

The Polaroid Spectra series came equipped with a better lens – and most models utilised an arc-shaped range of focusing lenses inside the body that swung across the exterior lens element to provide correct focusing, rather than adjusting the distance between internal lens elements.

This new system coupled with a better lens, higher build quality and better picture quality made it attractive for more professional photographers.

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Polaroid Film Types

polaroid film compatability

While almost all Polaroid film kind of look the same, there are subtle and important differences that you should be aware of. Polaroid went bankrupt in 2001 and the brand (and its assests) was sold off. Ironically the new Polaroid company went bankrupt in 2008. At the same time, a company called the Impossible Project bought up the old film machinery to keep on producing Instant Film.

In 2017 the Impossible Project bought the Branding and intellectual property of the former Polaroid Corporation and has since renamed its to Polaroid and continues to produce instant film and Cameras to this day.

If you are unsure which Film Type your Polaroid camera takes, simply open the film cartridge door. All vintage Polaroid cameras have a sticker inside indicating which film type your Polaroid uses.

SX-70 Type Polaroid Film

SX-70 Polaroid FilmSpecs
Film formatSX-70
Film size4.233 x 3.483 inches
Image Size3.108 × 3.024 inches
Film speed160
Battery6v Polapulse cell
Original Film Capacity10 Shots
New Film Capacity8 Shots
New Film Color VariationsColor, Black and White
AvailabilityIn Production

It is extremely difficult and expensive to get a hold of the original pre-bankruptcy SX-70 type film. Polaroid produces new SX-70 Type film, both in Color and Black and White, and retails for $18.99.

While Polaroid says that you can only use SX-70 Type film in the Polaroid SX-70 (and its successors) – you can actually use SX-70 in a Polaroid 600 camera. BUT a Polaroid 600 will struggle properly expose the image (as you are using an ISO160 Film in an ISO 600 Camera).

600 Type Polaroid Film

600 Type Polaroid FilmSpecs
Film format600
Film size4.233 x 3.483 inches
Image Size3.108 × 3.024 inches
Film speed640
Battery6v Polapulse cell
Original Film Capacity10 Shots
New Film Capacity8 Shots
New Film Color VariationsColor, Black and White, Black and Yellow, Color Frames
AvailabilityIn Production

Finding original 600 Type Polaroid Film, compared to SX-70 is slightly easier, but also seems to depend on your location. Occasionally troves of expired Type 600 film find their way on ebay – and somewhat ironically end up being cheaper than the “new” 600 Polaroid film. The new Polaroid 600 Type Film comes in a variety of colors and colorful frames and retails for $18.99

Type 600 polaroid film is slightly more universal in its use as it can be used in the new i-Type Polaroid cameras, as well as the vintage 600 Polaroid camera. Despite what Polaroid says, Type 600 Film can be used in the vintage SX-70 Polaroid Camera.

On its own, a SX-70 with a 600 Film will overexpose, but you can use a Neutral Density Filter in front of the lens. The most convenient solution though is to buy a ND Filter which slides ontop of the 600 film cartridge and changes how much light the film receives.

Spectra Polaroid Film

Spectra Polaroid FilmSpecs
Film formatSpectra / 1200 / Image
Film size4.06 x 3.98 inches
Image Size3.54 x 2.87 inches
Film speed640
Battery6v Polapulse cell
Original Film Capacity10 Shots
New Film Capacity8 Shots
New Film Color VariationsColor
AvailabilityDiscontinued

The Spectra Polaroid film is the most difficult film to find out of the four popular formats. Introduced back in 1986 with the Polaroid Spectra camera system – it shares all the same features as the 600 Type film – aside from its form factor. While the 600 type film is square, the Spectra Type film has a rectangular shape.

Like all other Polaroid Films, production stopped with the bankruptcy of Polaroid, then picked up again after its acquisition, then stopped again after the successor company went bankrupt as well.

When the Impossible Project (now officially called Polaroid) acquired the original Polaroid tools and patents, they started producing Polaroid Spectra film again. In 2019, Polaroid announced that they will stop production of the Spectra Film by the end of the year (2019) due to the unreliability of the Spectra cameras.

Production has since ceased but there is still leftover (new) film stock on the market, which can be found on eBay, Amazon and B&H for reasonable prices – but once that stock is gone, its gone.

i-Type Polaroid Film

i-Type Polaroid FilmSpecs
Film formati-Type
Film size4.233 x 3.483 inches
Image Size3.108 × 3.024 inches
Film speed640
Battery6v Lithium Metal battery
Film Capacity8 Shots
Film Color VariationsColor, Black and White, Color Frames, various special editions
AvailabilityIn Production

Polaroid introduced the i-Type Film (the i stands for incredible) back in 2017 with the new Polaroid OneStep 2 camera. The OneStep 2 was created as the successor of the famous Polaroid OneStep (released in 1983).

Polaroid decided to take the step equip the new Polaroid i-Type cameras with a rechargeable batteries, and removing the need for them from the i-Type film packs. While ecologically friendly – this means that i-Type films cannot be used in Vintage Polaroid Cameras as they lack the battery to power the camera.

The i-Type films are available in Black and White and Color varieties for $16 per 8-pack, and in various color frame and special editions.

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What to look out for when buying a vintage Polaroid camera

So you’ve decided that you want to buy a Vintage Polaroid Camera. Great! Lets go over a few points which should help you avoid any potential pitfalls (like buying a vintage polaroid camera that doesn’t work) and what features to look out for.

Appearance

The bulk of this advice – while slanted towards the Polaroid 600 Series – is universal. The Polaroid 600 Series (produced from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) has the largest selection and variety out of all the Polaroid Models and its popularity has endured over the years.

The thing is that in the end, they are virtually all the same. The majority of them only differ in appearance (the older models are more boxy, while newer models are more round and have that 90s feeling), and only very few have one or two added functions.

The newer models tend to be more reliable, but there isn’t that much of a difference between them. Even the image quality between the older and newer vintage polaroid cameras is pretty much the same.

Lens and Autofocus

Apart from looking for a model that you like design wise, there are a few features to look out for. Polaroid made two different cameras. A model with a fixed focus and a model with an autofocus.

The fixed focus model essentially put everything from 2 feet (1.2 meters) until infinity in focus. The autofocus model has different zones for focusing – you let you focus in on subject as close as 24 inches (60cm).

polaroid 636 close up flash vintage camera

Polaroid also made a fixed focus model with a close up lens. You can easily slide the lens in front of the regular lens and now you can take photos of subjects/objects that are as close as 2 to 4 feet (60cm to 1.2 meters).

If you’re looking at various Vintage 600 Polaroid models, then make sure to avoid the fixed focus ones. The close up lens does have practical value, and the autofocus option is a great feature. Neither these two features make a real difference in price.

You can easily recognise the autofocus model either by the name – such as 636 AF – AF standing for autofocus, or by the golden circle which is actually a sonar. The Polaroid Camera will send out sonar waves and is able to measure the distance between the object you are trying to photograph and the camera.

polaroid spectra sonar module vintage camera

Flash

What’s also important is that if you buy a Vintage Polaroid type camera (especially if its a Spectra or 600 Series), make sure that it has a flash. There are a few models that don’t have a flash, but those are best and easily avoided. The price difference isn’t huge (if theres one at all), but having a flash makes a big difference. Certain models like the SX-70 never had a dedicated flash – but flashbars and flash accessories. Modern flashbars can be purchased and have a longer and more reliable lifespan than their vintage counterparts.

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Finding out if your Vintage Polaroid Camera works

Unless you buy your vintage Polaroid Camera directly from the Polaroid website (where you will will pay a 10x markup) or a reliable and trustworthy camera store, its always hard to tell if the vintage Polaroid Camera that you are buying actually still works – especially if you are buying it online.

The fact that Polaroid cameras don’t have a battery makes checking them for functionality especially difficult. But there is a simple trick that can help you – at least if you are looking at a Polaroid Camera in person – to check if its still in working condition.

To do these checks you WILL need an empty (or full) ‘Original’ Polaroid Film pack. i-Type film packs wont work.

A good way to find out of if the polaroid you want to buy actually is working, is by grabbing an empty film pack. If you don’t have one at hand, you can often find them for sale for a few dollars on eBay/Craigslist. They shouldn’t be too old though as otherwise the internal battery will have expired. You can use a full polaroid film pack as well, but you will use up at least 1 (or 2) Photos in the process.

Unlike i-Type Polaroid Cameras, Vintage Polaroid Cameras don’t have an internal battery – the battery is actually located in the film cartridge. If you flip the cartridge, you can see the battery contacts on the back.

If you have the vintage polaroid that you want to test at hand, you can easily just insert the empty Polaroid film pack into the camera – and if it starts cycling and making noises, then theres a good chance the Polaroid Camera still functions. This of course doesn’t guarantee that the camera doesn’t have some other defect.

If you want to go one step further – you can also insert an old polaroid photo and the so called darkslide (the little black plastic thats ejected wehen you insert a fresh film pack in your Polaroid) into the empty polaroid film pack. If you then insert the film pack into the camera, the camera should then eject the darkslide like it does with a new Polaroid film pack.

You can then test the various shutter buttons. The Polaroid type 600 camera has two different shutter buttons – one for without flash, and one with flash. By pressing the one without flash first, the camera should eject the already exposed photo without any problems.

You also get a chance to examine the shutter itself and can see if it opens and closes accordingly. Then test the shutter button with flash. If the flash fires, you instantly know that it still works properly.

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How to maintain your Polaroid Camera

Cleaning and maintaining your polaroid camera probably isn’t one of the things thats crossed your mind before – especially since Polaroids tend to be such uncomplicated cameras. Two very common issues – poor photo quality and the failure to eject a photo can be solved and prevented with a little maintenance.

Open the film cartridge door and wipe the rollers with a soft cloth or tissue and some rubbing alcohol. This helps remove chemical buildup over time, and also fixes some photo issues such as uneven development.

If your vintage Polaroid camera has issued ejecting its photos, this is probably due to a a bent pic arm. This can be found in the back of the cartridge holder inside the camera. In the top left corner is a little arm that helps push the film out through the rollers of the camera. You can get something thin and long and bend it down again a little bit and the issue should be resolved.

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Vintage Polaroid Accessories

Mint Flash Bar 2

A reusable flash bar with batteries – an essential accessory for Polaroid SX-70 film cameras.

ND Filter for Polaroid SX‑70 Cameras

This ND Filter lets you take correctly exposed photos with 600 Type film in your Polaroid SX-70

SX-70 "Frog Tongue"

Shields your Photo for a few seconds from the light so it can develop in optimal conditions

Front Lens SX-70 ND Filter

A Front Lens ND Filter lets you take correctly exposed photos with 600 Type film in your Polaroid SX-70
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What is the best Polaroid Camera to buy?

So now that we’ve gone through the most popular vintage polaroid camera models, looked at the different polaroid film types and gone through how to see if a Polaroid camera still works – let’s figure out what the best polaroid camera is.

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Best Vintage Polaroid Camera for Beginners

Polaroid 660 Autofocus

polaroid 660 autofocus camera

The Polaroid 660 Autofocus has be one of our favorite Polaroid Cameras from the 600 Series. It feels like Polaroid produced thousands of variations from a Spice Girls to Hello Kitty themed one – but the Polaroid 660 combines all the features we are looking for in a simple and easy to use package.

There’s still an abundance of them out there, and depending how much money you want to spend – you can pick them up for as low as $25 (and as high as $150 for refurbished ones).

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Best Vintage Polaroid Camera for Professionals

Polaroid SLR 680/690

polaroid slr 680 camera vintage

Polaroid dubs the SLR 680 as the greatest camera they ever made – and if money isn’t an issue – this is probably the best and most professional SLR you can buy. Like its cousin the SX-70, its an SLR but it comes equipped with Polaroid Sonar Autofocus system and has a built in flash. Unlike the SX-70 series – this one takes the more suitable 600 Type film. Not only are these pricey – fully refurbished ones clock in at over $600, they are also rare fleamarket finds. If you want a Polaroid SLR 680, you best look at online / brick and mortar camera stores – which will also occasionally give you a full warranty as well.

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Best Vintage Polaroid Camera for Collectors

Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera vintage

The original Polaroid. When it comes to design, nothing beats the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera. This remarkable camera was the first SLR instant camera, the first folding SLR camera, and the first instant camera to use the now iconic automatic developing integral films. Since its introduction in 1972, several variations of the SX-70 have hit the market – but nothing beats that classic tanned leather and aluminum look.

While they lack the autofocus and built in flash, its a fantastic camera. Polaroid SX-70s in good condition are getting a bit harder to find, but there are still plenty enough of them out there. A Polaroid SX-70 in average condition can be had for about $80, while completely refurbished Land Cameras can fetch prices from $390 upwards.

Can you use 600 Type film in a SX-70 Polaroid Camera?

Yes, you can use 600 Type Polaroid film in an SX-70 camera – but you will need to use a ND Filter on either the film pack or on the lens to ensure that the camera does not overexpose the photo.

Can you interchange Polaroid film?

Yes, you can interchange different types of Polaroid Film but with varying degrees of success. You can swap between 600 Type film and SX-70 type film, but you will need to compensate for over and under exposure.

Can you still buy film for old Polaroid cameras?

Yes, of course you can still buy film for old polaroid cameras. You can either buy old expired stock polaroid film – or you can buy newly produced Polaroid Film from Polaroid directly.

What is the best vintage Polaroid camera to buy?

Depending on your budget and taste, we really love the original SX-70 Land Camera. It’s got a fantastic design and is made of aluminum and leather. An instant classic.

Do they still sell Polaroid 600 film?

Yes, they still sell both expired Polaroid 600 Film as well as newly produced Polaroid 600 Film.

Does a Polaroid 600 take batteries?

No. A Polaroid 600 Series camera (in fact all vintage Polaroid cameras) do not have batteries. The 6v batteries are included (and built) in the polaroid film pack.

How long does Polaroid 600 battery last?

The batteries in the Polaroid 600 Type film last for about 12 months.

Should I shake Polaroid pictures?

No, you should not shake polaroid pictures. Shaking a Polaroid picture does nothing to help speed up its development. Polaroids are actually a little sensitive when they are first ejected from the camera, and are best laid face down on something or kept in the dark. After a minute or so, they are safe to pick up and inspect (and you can watch them develop).

Did you know that we also have the following helpful buying guides? How to Pick the Right Camera BagThe SD Card Buyers GuideThe Tripod Buyers GuideThe Ring Light Buyers Guide

  1. Just wanted to say thanks for this article – found it super helpful!

    • Hi Jake! Really happy that you found this piece to be helpful. If you do have any questions that we might have not answered, feel free to reach out.

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