February 2020 Update: If you’re looking at picking up a Polaroid camera, Polaroid Originals currently has a huge sale on several of the models mentioned below, including the Impulse AF, SX-70 Sonar, and more. After you read this article, check it out!
January 2020 Update: After a wild 2018 that saw Polaroid Originals release the brand new OneStep+ and Fuji the SQ6, 2019 was a relatively quiet year for instant film photography. Not a ton has changed beyond Polaroid Originals discontinuing Spectra, which I have removed from this guide. The real news is that I finally created a companion video for this article! Check it out above! Also, if you want to see many of these cameras in action, I’ve put together the ultimate instant film shootout where I test a wide swath of Polaroid cameras to see how they compare in landscape, outdoor, and portrait scenarios. Finally, if you want to learn more about Fuji Instax, I have a guide for Fujifilm’s take on instant film photography too.
Looking to get a used Polaroid camera and don’t know where to start? Want to know what the best vintage Polaroid camera is out there for your instant photography project? Wondering how these newfangled Polaroid Originals cameras stack up to the old ones? Never fear! I’ve drawn up this guide to help you in your quest to find the perfect Polaroid camera for you (or whoever you’re buying it for).
First, Some Background Information…
First, if you’re unfamiliar with the state of vintage Polaroid cameras these days, here’s a quick rundown. In 2008 Polaroid discontinued producing new instant film. Millions of cameras started collecting dust in attics all across the country. Unhappy with this sad state of affairs, a group calling themselves the Impossible Project purchased an old Polaroid factory and began development on new films that could be used in the older cameras. In 2017, the Impossible Project rebranded itself with the blessing of Polaroid as ‘Polaroid Originals.’ The Polaroid Originals film is a bit different from original Polaroid of yore, but it’s still fantastic. With all the new films (and cameras!) being released, it’s never been a better time to hop into the world of instant film!
However, with instant film heating up again, Polaroid cameras that were once considered worthless are an increasingly hot commodity. So it’s good to know what you’re looking for before you spend your cash on a used or refurbished camera.
It’s worth noting that Fujifilm makes their own line of Fuji Instax instant film cameras, and you’ve probably seen them out there if you’re interested in instant photography. Fuji’s cameras use a different kind of film than Polaroid. While I love Polaroid cameras and Polaroid Originals film for artistic purposes, Fuji Instax’s cheap and plentiful film is often a perfect fit for events like parties and weddings. If you’re interested in checking them out, I have a guide for those cameras as well.
The Main Classes of Polaroid Cameras
The primary three types of vintage Polaroid cameras out in the wild are SX-70, 600, and 1200/Image/Spectra.
Both SX-70 and 600 are pretty similar, and the ones you’re probably most familiar with. They feature the classic square frame that we know and love, but SX-70 cameras tend to be older and use a lower ISO film, while 600 cameras are newer and are more sensitive to light. In my experience, 600 type cameras are much more dependable since they’ve had less time to age and get damaged, and benefit from newer technologies.
Polaroid also made a line of cameras directed at professional industries. It’s been called Image, Spectra, and type 1200, but it’s all the same thing. The film in image cameras is slightly wider and has the same sensitivity as 600. Due to problems with these cameras, Polaroid Originals has officially stopped making film for Spectra, so I’ve removed those cameras from this guide.
When in doubt, cheap box-type Polaroid 600 cameras are usually the way to go for most people. SX-70 cameras tend to be far more finicky and difficult to use, and don’t react well to anything but bright sunlight. While there are older Polaroid cameras that use peel apart-film and even large format Polaroid backs, we’re going to keep this simple and focus on SX-70 and 600.
Finally, with Polaroid Originals getting into the game, there’s now a new ‘I-Type’ class of film. This is essentially the same as Polaroid 600, except it can only be used in Polaroid Originals cameras that have their own battery. It won’t work in any vintage cameras.
What to Look for When Buying a Used Camera
Buying Polaroid cameras can be tricky, because it’s often difficult for the seller to be able to tell if the camera works or not. Polaroid cameras themselves do not have batteries; the film cartridge itself powers the whole unit. So without a relatively expensive pack of film, it’s impossible to tell if the camera works or not. Often a seller will think a perfectly good camera doesn’t work because an expired film cartridge doesn’t have a charge anymore.
I bring an empty cartridge with a good battery to test cameras if I’m buying from somebody in person, but on the internet you’re just going to have to trust your instincts. I’ve had fairly good luck on eBay, but you never know for sure until you get it in your hands. Generally, you’re going to have a lot more luck with newer cameras than older ones. Once you get your camera, it’s a good idea to test it out using this guide.
The exception are new ‘I-Type’ cameras that Polaroid Originals sells. Currently, the only three I-Type cameras are the Impossible I-1, OneStep 2, and OneStep+.
Where to Buy Cameras
eBay is one of the easiest and cheapest places to find used Polaroid cameras. Since you can buy them directly from other people, you can often find deals on eBay you won’t be able to find elsewhere. Even better than eBay, but requiring a bit more legwork, are flea markets, used stores, and basements.
If you don’t want to mess with the trials and tribulations of seeking out your own used camera and have money to spare, Polaroid Originals sells refurbished vintage Polaroid cameras that are guaranteed to work. You will pay a very high premium, but it can be worth it to know what you’re getting is going to actually spit out a picture. These cameras are sold through Polaroid Originals’ own site primarily, as well as through Amazon and B&H.
Polaroid Originals is also selling their own new Polaroid cameras called the OneStep 2 and OneStep+. They have the similar retro styling as old-school Polaroid, and uses the same film, but is brand spankin’ new. You can buy both directly from Polaroid Originals. These cameras are called ‘I-Type,’ and can use both traditional 600 type film and ‘I-Type,’ which is pretty much the same thing.
Specific Camera Recommendations
Now that I got you all confused, here are a few simple recommendations organized by price point and the type of photographer its intended for. Honestly, almost any Polaroid camera will do the job, but I thought I’d give a few specific suggestions to help get you started. Keep in mind that Polaroid liked to make countless variants of their cameras with only the slightest differences in color and features, so you’ll see all sorts of different names, colors, and branding in the wild.
Clicking on any of the eBay, Amazon, Polaroid Originals, or B&H links below will take you directly to a search for that specific kind of camera. These affiliate links cost you nothing and helps me keep this site online, so it’s always much appreciated if you use any of them!
If you have a camera in hand and you’re wondering what to do next, never fear, I have a new guide for those who are just starting from the beginning in the world of instant film!
Best Camera for Instant Film Beginners – Polaroid Originals OneStep 2
Buying a camera for somebody who is brand new to the world of Polaroid? Polaroid Originals has a new no-fuss camera called the OneStep 2. Complete with a style that evokes the iconic OneStep Classic, the OneStep 2 is extremely easy to use and doesn’t have any of the issues that can sometimes plague old cameras. Those who are a bit more experienced, or already have Polaroid cameras can probably benefit from something a bit more advanced, but for beginners it doesn’t get better than this. This camera can use both Polaroid 600 type film, as well as the identical but more affordable ‘I-Type’ films. Read my full review here. Find the OneStep 2 at Polaroid Originals, Amazon, and B&H.
Best Budget Camera for the Beginner Photographer – Polaroid OneStep Close-Up 600
The Polaroid OneStep Closeup is a workhorse of a camera that just keeps going. It’s also quite cheap and readily available on both used sites and refurbished. Despite its fixed focus lens and slightly bulky size, I use this camera constantly just because I know I can always rely on it. This camera also works great with Polaroid Originals films and makes a great addition to a serious photographer’s collection. While I’m singling out the OneStep Closeup, there are tons of other similar variants of this kind of fixed-focus 600 type camera that are often referred to as ‘box cameras’ due to their shape and plastic-y design. These cameras are all pretty much equally good as the OneStep Closeup. My full review. Find the Polaroid OneStep Closeup Camera on eBay. Find refurbished at B&H. Find used on Amazon.
Best Budget Camera for Experienced Photographers – Polaroid Impulse AF
The Polaroid Impulse AF isn’t the prettiest camera on the block, but it gets the job done and done very well. Despite the cheap body, the camera is sturdy and features a fantastic sonar autofocus system that ensures your images are always in focus. Because it’s not fixed-focus like the CloseUp, images are slightly sharper. The best part of the Impulse AF is that it has one of the brightest viewfinders of any 600 type camera. The Impulse AF is a great camera to start out on (it was my first camera) and grows with the photographer if they decide to get serious about instant film photography. It also has the brightest viewfinder I’ve found on any rangefinder type 600 Polaroid camera. My full review. Find the Polaroid Impulse AF on eBay.
Best Camera for the Collector – Polaroid OneStep Classic Land Camera
If you have somebody who just wants something cool for their vintage collection, you can’t beat the iconic rainbow-striped SX-70 Polaroid OneStep. They’re not the most robust cameras in the world, but they’re plentiful and instantly recognizable. They’re also a lot of fun… if they work. Chances are, you’re going to run into a lot of duds when it comes to old SX-70 plastic cameras, but the low price tends to make up for that. If it works, the controls are ultra simple, and even a non-photographer will be able to use the camera with ease. Just make sure they shoot outside because SX-70 film needs a ton of light and this camera doesn’t have a flash built into it. My full review. Find the Polaroid OneStep on eBay.
Best Option for the Luxury Camera Collector – SX-70 Land Camera
The silver SX-70 Land Camera is quite possibly one of the most beautiful cameras ever made. The SLR series was Edwin Land’s signature design, and made no compromises. If somebody wants an amazing camera to put on the shelf and admire, this is the one. Cheaper than the SLR 680 I recommend for serious professionals, this camera is pure eye candy. As a camera, it can be slightly temperamental and prone to break, but it responds well to some TLC. Since it’s an SLR, this camera makes it easy to frame your shot and ensure your focus. Quite simply, it’s a blast to use. The picture above is the sonar variant, and I reviewed a plastic version, but the metal non-autofocus models are the true beauties. My full review of a similar model. Find the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera on eBay. Find a refurbished original SX-70 at B&H.
Best Camera for the Selfie Photographer – Polaroid OneStep+
Shopping for a selfie fanatic? The OneStep+ is a new, improved version of the OneStep 2 that adds the ability to control the camera remotely with a smartphone. It also features a close focus lens that works great, so the camera is perfect for those who want to shoot from arm’s length. The smartphone allows for remote shutter, manual controls, and more, making it also great for putting it on a tripod and pointing it at yourself. You can buy the OneStep+ new from Polaroid Originals.
Best Camera for the Serious Photographer at Any Price – Polaroid SLR 680/690
The Polaroid SLR 680 or 690 is the big daddy of Polaroid cameras and the tool of choice for many of the biggest professional analog photographers working today. A robust design perfected from Edwin Land’s original folding camera, it features a fantastic sonar autofocus system. Best of all, since it’s an SLR you can accurately compose your image and even manually focus. You just get can’t better than this in the instant film world. My full review of the Polaroid 680. Find the Polaroid SLR 680 Camera on eBay.
If you’re interested in working with SX-70 film instead of 600, the Polaroid SX-70 OneStep Sonar Land Camera is the precursor to the 680 and is also an excellent SLR camera with autofocus capabilities – just no built-in flash. I recommend going with the 680/690 if money is no object simply because 600 film works far, far works in most lighting conditions. It’s wise to invest in a flashbar with any SX-70 camera. My full review of the SX-70 OneStep Sonar Land Camera. Find the Polaroid OneStep Sonar Camera on eBay.
Find the SX-70 Sonar refurbished at B&H.
Purchasing Film for Used and New Polaroid Cameras
You can buy all the Polaroid cameras in the world, but without film they’re nothing more than pretty paperweights. These days vintage Polaroid film is all but nonexistent, and even if you can find it, it costs a fortune and has a high rate of failure. That’s where Polaroid Originals comes in to save the day.
Polaroid Originals makes color and monochrome films for I-type, 600, and SX-70 cameras. As long as you know what kind of camera you have, you’ll be able to find some film for it. Have a camera and don’t know what kind of film you need? I have a whole article to help you figure that out. I recommend getting a pack of the newest generation color film to test out a new camera, as expired Polaroid and older Polaroid Originals (or Impossible Project) film can often spaz out and fail.
Good luck and happy shooting (and gifting)!
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