The Digital Polaroid SX-70

What do you do if you own an iconic and unusual camera from decades past? Do you love it and cherish it, buy small quantities of its expensive remanufactured film and take arty photographs? Or do you rip it apart and remake it as a modern-day digital camera in a retro enclosure? If you’re [Joshua Gross], you do the latter.

The Polaroid SX-70 is an iconic emblem of 1970s consumer technology chic. A true design classic, it’s a single-lens reflex design using a Polaroid instant film cartridge, and its party trick is that it’s a folding camera which collapses down to roughly the size of a pack of 1970s cigars. It was an expensive luxury camera when it was launched in 1972, and today it commands high prices as a collector’s item.

[Joshua]’s build is therefore likely to cause weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth among vintage camera enthusiasts, but what exactly has he done? In the first instance, he’s performed a teardown of the SX-70 which should be of interest to many readers in itself. He’s removed the mirror and lens, mounted a Raspberry Pi camera behind the lens mount, and a small LCD monitor where the mirror would be.

A new plastic lens in the original lens housing completes the optics, and the electronics come courtesy of a Pi Zero, battery, and USB hub in the space where the Polaroid film cartridge would otherwise be. Some new graphics and a fresh leather cover complete the  build, giving what we’d say is a very tidy electronic Polaroid. On the software side there is a filter to correct for fisheye distortion, and the final photos have a slightly Lomographic quality from the plastic lens.

We like what he’s created with his SX-70 even if we can’t help wincing that he did it to an SX-70 in the first place. Maybe it’s less controversial when someone gives the Pi treatment to a more mundane Polaroid camera.