Polaroid SX-70 SLR instant camera, $3.

The Polaroid SX-70 profile is one that you must know. Plenty of these old cameras are out there, and nice examples routinely sell on eBay for well over $100. Of equal importance is the film that these old instant cameras used. Scarce nowadays, it can sell for more than $25 per box on eBay. Learn the camera, learn the film, and make some cash!

The SX-70 embodied a few 'firsts' in the camera industry when it was introduced way back in 1972.

First of all, it folded up, which meant that it was much more convenient to carry around in handbags and backpacks than the big, clunky instant cameras of the day. A fascinating thing about the SX-70 camera is that most of its millions of users never had any idea of the complexity of the design, or of the hurdles that Polaroid had to overcome to make it all work right - and work dependably. This may be one reason for the incredibly strong collectability factor that the SX-70 enjoys today - it represented a quantum jump in photographic technology.

Second, the SX-70 used an integrated film pack - with the battery actually built right into the film pack - and required no operator intervention at all. You clicked the shutter, the motor pushed the film out the front and you just waited for the photo to develop. This was a far cry from earlier versions of Polaroid cameras, where each exposed shot had to be manually yanked out of the camera, pulled apart, and then smeared with a protective coating.

Third, the SX-70 was the first collapsible SLR - or single lens reflex - camera. 'SLR' refers to the fact that the camera uses a prism and mirror system that allows the operator to view his subject right through the camera's lens, instead of through a peep hole next to the lens. SLR was - and still is - the viewing system used on high-end cameras, and making such a camera in a collapsible format was a damned impressive feat of engineering.

Hold on... I guess I should mention here that there is one model of the SX-70, called the Model 3, which is not an SLR. On the Model 3, the operator looks right through a viewing lens mounted atop the camera (see the photos above.) The model 3 was introduced late in the SX-70's life, and sold for under $100 new.

Here's a quick rundown on some of the models of SX-70 cameras you're likely to encounter.

The SX-70 was the original camera, is the most sought-after, and can be spotted by its brushed chrome and tan leather. A very small number of these cameras were made in gold color, instead of the usual silver, and sell for many hundreds on eBay today.

There was a sub-version of this camera called the 'Alpha 1,' which had a couple of minor variations over the standard model (fill-flash capability, tripod socket and neck strap lugs,). The Alpha 1 models are easy to spot because they say so right on the very front of the camera.

The SX-70 Model 2 is plastic, and is normally white in color with a tan 'Porvair' vinyl covering. The Alpha 1 version of the Model 2 is black plastic with an unusual black pebbled vinyl covering.

The SX-70 Model 3 is easy to distinguish from other models because it's usually black in color and is the only SX-70 that's not an SLR. Check out that huge chunk of plastic lens sticking out the front!

The SX-70 Time Zero Sonar, usually black with black Porvair, employs autofocus and is a bit more than an inch longer than the regular SX-70. The 'SE' model, as well as a model with the designation 'BC,' were sold through K-Mart stores. Something unusual here is that although the Sonar doesn't (currently) sell as well as other SX-70 models, the Polaroid 680, which closely resembles the Sonar, can sell for more than the SX-70. I cover the Polaroid 680 in another Gallery entry.

As you should be aware, collectors overseas in places like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia are ardent collectors of vintage americana, and the SX-70, because of its landmark design and pioneering technology, is a prime target of these collectors. They'll also go after any SX-70 peripherals, like leather cases, parts, accessories, literature, boxes and film. As you can imagine, the more complete a 'package' you can provide your bidders, the more money you'll likely get for a camera.

Polaroid discontinued production of film for the SX-70 in 2006, which means that existing supplies can only get more expensive. The film pack shown in the photo below actually expired way in 1987, but someone would still gladly buy it on eBay today. Although certain SX-70 users have been able to use Polaroid's more recent 600 film in their SX-70 cameras by making a few modifications, they still prefer the real thing when they can get it.

Now, how the heck do you tell if a particular camera even works? Well, since the battery that runs the whole show is located right inside the film pack itself, you can't test it if there's no film in the camera. Another problem you may encounter, even if there is film in the camera, is the possibility that the battery has died from old age. Remember, that film may have been sitting in the camera for twenty or more years! The bottom line here is that in most cases, you'll simply have to limit your eBay description to the camera's physical condition. Your eBay bidders will understand perfectly, too, because you can bet they know just how hard it is to come across an old SX-70 camera nowadays with working film still in it.

While we're on the topic of Sx-70 cameras, there's another very interesting facet of the SX-70 I'd like to introduce you to, called image manipulation. When an SX-70 photograph is snapped, the photo is pushed out of the camera through a pair of rollers, which squeeze the emulsion evenly across the surface of the print. Some creative photographers have taken to actually manipulating the image by physically moving the emulsion around on the back side of the photo with a toothpick, stiff brush, or similar instrument. Do an internet search for 'SX-70 image manipulation' and you'll see the fantastic results some folks are able to get, which results in an unusual, almost impressionistic, version of the original photo.

Photo of Polaroid SX-70 Alpha 1 model 2 and 3 instant camera film