I wrote about this topic a few years ago, but since one of the most common questions I still receive is from people who are interested in selling their cameras and are wondering what they are worth, I’d thought I’d revisit it with some more experience under my belt.
The easiest and best way to find this out is to simply look up the camera on eBay and look at what it’s gone for in recent auctions. That’s what I do and it’s really the only way to find the market value of something. Stuff is only worth how much people are willing to pay for it.
That said, here is a general guide to follow in case your camera isn’t listed or you’re in a country where eBay isn’t terribly reliable or accessible.
Keep in mind I’m only going to cover Polaroid cameras here. If you have a Kodak instant film camera it is essentially worthless, as Kodak lost a major legal fight with Polaroid that caused it to lose the right to produce instant film decades ago.
The Gold Standard: Folding-Type SLR Polaroid Cameras
Really the only Polaroid cameras worth any serious money are the folding SLR series of cameras. This was the premium, amazingly innovative design that Edwin Land is famous for, and there were many variations of the camera made over the years. They all look very similar, so it’s pretty easy to tell if a camera is a folding SLR. It might look like a flat brick when folded up, but in shooting mode it should look pretty much like the camera in the photo above.
Folding SLR cameras are delicate creatures, so there is a chance the camera may not work. Because these cameras can fetch up to a few hundred US dollars each, it can be worth it to test it out with a fresh battery first (see ‘how to tell if the camera works’ below).
If your camera isn’t a folding SLR camera, it’s probably not going to be worth all that much. Which brings us to…
Mostly Everything Else: Box Cameras
The most common Polaroid instant camera is the cheap, plastic box-type cameras Polaroid produced from the late 80s onward. They were cheap in their day, and even over a decade after the last one rolled out of a factory they’re still plentiful. There are a seemingly infinite amount of these cameras out there with a thousand different names, but they all have the same rudimentary features. These cameras typically don’t fetch a whole lot, and most people don’t even bother to test them before selling.
I’ve gotten box type cameras for as cheap as 5 USD per camera, but as the Impossible Project becomes more mainstream the cameras have generally risen in value, although not terribly much.
Peel Apart Film Cameras
There are still a surprising amount of peel-apart Polaroid film cameras floating around out there. These are for the most part extremely old, but amazingly, Fuji still produces film that they can use. A peel-apart film camera is a fantastic piece of equipment, but unfortunately the battery technology inside of them largely renders them useless (and worthless to the average consumer).
Most peel-apart Polaroid cameras aren’t worth anything, but if you’re an entrepreneurial type, you can adapt the battery compartment to use modern day batteries and sell the adapted camera. This camera will actually be worth something to shooters, but you’re still not looking at a fortune.
Update August 2016: Fuji has officially discontinued creating peel-apart film, rendering even working versions of these cameras almost useless. Even the Impossible Project is currently unable to make peel-apart Polaroid film, and the prospects of Fuji sharing their technology doesn’t look great.
Iconic Cameras, Oddities and Packaging
There are some Polaroid cameras that are more recognizable than others. Also, you might have some crazy specific Polaroid products that are novel. If you have the packaging this might attract the attention of antiques dealers, which is a different species than the vintage photographers who are generally looking for working cameras. The Swinger, crazy police-branded models, even solid gold Spectra System cameras… there are all sorts of novelties in the Polaroid world. As to their value, I cannot tell you, but there might be somebody out there who is very interested. You’re on your own here.
How to Tell if the Camera Works
Polaroid cameras will not work at all unless they have a cartridge of film inside them with a working battery. Generally any expired Polaroid film that might still be inside will have a dead battery, so even a camera with a pack of film inside it will seem like it’s not working. The only way to test the camera is usually to use a pack of Impossible Project film. Generally, most people will not check if the camera works (or will lie), which is why trusted refurbishers like the Impossible Project camera store can charge a dramatic premium for the same camera.
Good luck and happy selling!