Appareils Polaroid vintage

5 points to check when you purchase a Polaroid

Polaroid devices are coming back strong thanks to the Impossible films, which allow you to continue to use them. These old devices are still available on second-hand markets, garage sales, flea markets or on private sales websites. If you are about to fall in love with a vintage Polaroid device, here are a few points to check to make sure that they work properly before purchasing them.

First of all, you should know that Polaroid produced rather sturdy devices. They are relatively simple to use and generally offer few advanced controls, so they are unlikely to fail on you. That’s why it’s not uncommon for them to work without any problems for decades. Nevertheless, there are a few things to know to get an idea of their condition.

External appearance

On all 600, 1000, 2000 series devices…

Check that the rubber eyepiece is still attached to the viewfinder. This piece is where your eye comes to rest when aiming. On some older devices, it may have fallen off. It is not essential for the proper functioning of the device, but it is important for your comfort and the aesthetics of the camera. However, its absence may provide you with an extra argument to negotiate a lower price.

SX-70 type devices (foldable)

Open the device or ask the person who’s selling it to do it for you. Inspect the folding parts and make sure that there are no holes or protrusions in them. The rubber membrane guarantees that light doesn’t penetrate the darkroom. Any light leakage would ruin the performance of the camera.

Tests with an empty cartridge

Ideally, you should have an empty cartridge at hand. In fact, Polaroid cameras are powered by batteries contained in the film refills. Open the film compartment and load the cartridge (the tab should be facing you and at the bottom). Close the compartment. The device must react immediately and an engine sound should be heard. The camera should also react with a characteristic noise and the clear impression of taking a picture when you trigger.
If the device presented to you already contains a cartridge, but does not react when you remove it and insert it again, do not worry: the cartridge battery may be out of charge.
The cartridge batteries also allow the built-in flash (when available) to be turned on. On devices of the 600 series, for example, LEDs will light up. The green LED indicates that it is ready to operate, and if you press the shutter release button, it will also trigger the flash. The red LED then lights up for a short time to let you know that the flash is recharging.
If the camera you’re about to buy is sold with a separate, independent flash (such as a Polatronic flash for example), open its battery compartment to see if there are any traces of corrosion. It is common, with old camera accessories, to find degraded batteries in their compartment. It’s up to you to evaluate the extent of the damage, and how it may affect the operation of accessory.

The rollers

Open the film compartment and check the rollers’ condition. Rollers apply uniform pressure to the entire exposed surface of the image to ensure that chemicals are evenly distributed. Rollers also help the picture to eject outward. They are therefore in direct contact with the film and if they are altered, show concretions, rust, or irreparable defects, there will be negative consequences on your pictures. All pictures taken with this camera will be impacted. If the rollers are just dirty, a thorough cleaning with a piece of cloth should solve the problem.
Also, try to rotate the rollers with your fingers. The movement should be fluid and the rollers should rotate without any resistance.

Open the film compartment to inspect the rollers.

Open the film compartment to inspect the rollers.

Mirror Mirror on the wall

When you open the compartment that allows you to insert a film cartridge, look through the opening. You should see a square mirror at the bottom of the camera. Make sure that it has a smooth surface, without scratches, cracks or breaks. The mirror is essential for the proper functioning of the camera, and if it shows irregularities, your camera will be unable to produce good pictures.

The price

Last important point: the price. If possible, you should have done a small market research prior to your purchase. Not all Polaroid models are equal. Some are more efficient and more complete than others in terms of functionality. The look is not everything and if you choose a camera only for its vintage charm, you may well be disappointed when you start using it.

The most common Polaroid devices are often sold for a few dozen euros. If you are afraid of making a mistake and prefer to buy a device in perfect condition, you could buy a refurbished device sold by the Impossible Project, but I think the devices you’ll find there are overpriced (a few hundred euros). For the same price, you could buy several second-hand cameras, and could therefore take the risk of running into a device that does not work properly. The price difference gives you a comfortable margin for error…which will always put you on the winning side.