Update September 2017: The Impossible Project has renamed itself ‘Polaroid Originals’ as part of a major rebranding effort. The film itself is still the same, so for our purposes in this article the Impossible Project and Polaroid Originals are the same. To clarify,
‘Polaroid Originals’ are the films and cameras developed by the Impossible Project, while just ‘Polaroid’ refers to the original instant film line that was discontinued in 2008.
There are many different kinds of Polaroid cameras floating around out there, all of them spanning decades of production and millions of units. When you dust off an old instant camera in an attic somewhere, how are you supposed to find film for it? Does it even exist anymore? If it does, what kind does it take?
Luckily, there’s a pretty easy way to answer all these questions. You’re in luck! For most Polaroid cameras, the Impossible Project now makes film that works in those cameras. And it’s great! However, you still need to figure out just what kind of film your camera takes specifically.
Before we dive in, you may be wondering why the camera won’t ‘turn on.’ Most Polaroid cameras don’t have batteries in the camera itself; rather, they’re in the film cartridge. If you’re lucky enough to find a camera that still has film in it, the battery is likely long dead, so the camera can’t do anything. In order to test a camera, you have to have new film to put in it.
To figure out what kind of film you need to use, see which of the following categories your camera falls under.
Polaroid 600 Type
This is one of the most common types of Polaroid camera out there. Polaroid 600 type film is the trademark ‘square’ shape that most people associate with Polaroid cameras. Polaroid 600 type cameras were most commonly plastic box-type viewfinder cameras, but there were a small handful of folding SLRs as well.
To see if your camera is a 600 type, open the slot in the front of the camera where film is loaded through. There will be a sticker on it that says if the camera is 600, SX-70, or Spectra/1200. If it says 600, then you have a 600 camera.
Polaroid 600 cameras were one of the newest generations of Polaroid cameras, and was widespread in the 90s. It traditionally used Polaroid 600 type film, which had a much higher sensitivity that made it easier to shoot indoors and in low light.
Polaroid completely shut down production of Polaroid 600 film in 2008, and sold off the last of its stock over the next few years. The last remaining packs out there are extremely expensive and likely have dead batteries in them.
The Impossible Project now makes awesome film that works in Polaroid 600 cameras. Any of their ‘for 600’ lines of film will work in Polaroid 600 cameras. This includes Color for 600 and Black and White for 600, among many others.
Polaroid SX-70 film has the same shape as Polaroid 600, but is an older form that was much less sensitive to light. It only had an ISO/ASA of 70, which made it tremendously difficult to shoot without an ultra bright flash.
Polaroid SX-70 cameras are also numerous, but tend to be older since their heyday was in the 70s and 80s. Many of these cameras are also cheap plastic box-types. The original folding SLR designs that were Edwin Land’s pride and joy also used SX-70, which is one of the main reasons to use SX-70 film instead of 600.
SX-70 type cameras have far less amenities than 600 type cameras. Most of them do not feature flash, and are with few exceptions manual or fixed-focus. If you get one, I highly recommend picking up a flash bar from the Impossible Project. Old flash bars were disposable rows of bulbs that exploded one-by-one, so the IP reusable one is a far better solution.
You can check if your camera is SX-70 type by looking in the flap of the film slot, just like with the Polaroid 600 type camera.
Polaroid SX-70 has been long discontinued by Polaroid, but the Impossible Project now makes film for SX-70 cameras. Any film that is ‘for SX-70’ will work. You can technically use 600 type film with a specialized ND filter, but it’s far, far better to just use the right film in the first place.
The Polaroid Spectra/Image/1200 was an offshoot of Polaroid 600 that has a slightly larger frame. It was primarily focused on professional markets, and is a bit harder to find than 600/SX-70 cameras.
Polaroid Spectra cameras are typically a bit wider than SX-70 or 600 cameras because of the wider format, but like those cameras, you can find out exactly what it is by opening the film cartridge slot.
The only confusing thing about this format is that is went by a bunch of different names while it was on the market. Spectra, Image, and type 1200 all mean exactly the same thing.
The Impossible Project also makes film for these cameras, which they put under the ‘…for Spectra’ category. Since Spectra/Image/Type 1200 has nearly the same ISO/ASA as 600 type, the film chemistry itself tends to very similar.
Because of the great cameras that tend to be fairly cheap, and the high sensitivity of the film, this is one of my favorite formats to shoot in. Examples of this kind of camera include the Polaroid Spectra System and the Spectra AF.
Before the ‘modern’ Polaroid formats arrived, there was peel-apart. These cameras are many decades old, but there are still quite a few out there.
The biggest issue with these cameras is that they do not use modern battery types. Unlike Polaroid SX-70, 600, and Spectra, the batteries are not in the cartridge themselves, rather, they’re in the camera like a traditional 35mm camera.
To use a peel-apart camera today, you must first either re-wire the battery compartment or find a custom battery that works for the camera. That’s also assuming that nobody left and old battery inside the camera when it was stored away. Battery acid has claimed all of the peel-apart cameras that I’ve found, damaging the wires and battery compartment beyond simple repair.
However, if you can get one of these cameras working, they do produce awesome results.
Up until very recently, film was still made for these cameras. And of all places, it came from Fujfilm. Old stocks of FP-100c are still floating around out there, and as of July 2017, could still be found on Amazon and B and H.
With the discontinuation of Fuji’s peel-apart films, a new company called New55 has stepped up to resume production. I have not personally used any of their films yet, but I’m excited to see what they’ll do over the next few years.
An example of this camera is the Polaroid 340.
Polaroid Large Format
It may come as a surprise, but there is a robust large format Polaroid presence out there. I’ve had the fortune of being able to play with these cameras, and they’re a blast, though very difficult and expensive to use.
Polaroid made film for 8×10 backs, and had specific development tools that went with it.
Luckily for those who invested in that equipment, the Impossible Project makes modern 8×10 film that works with these cameras and processors.
You generally won’t find any large format Polaroid cameras lying around. Large format simply used specific backs that attached to existing large format cameras. If you do somehow happen upon a Polaroid large format back or developer, there are people who are actively looking for them. These are exceedingly rare, however, compared to all other Polaroid formats.
Kodak Instant Film Cameras
For a few years, Kodak produced instant film cameras, and you’ll still see quite a few floating around in thrift shops. They’re worthless, and they’ve been worthless for a long time.
In one of the biggest patent trials in US history, Polaroid won a lawsuit brought against Kodak for infringing upon instant film patents. Kodak was required to stop selling instant film and cameras, and overnight thousands of cameras were rendered useless.
There is no film made for these Kodak instant film cameras, and it’s been so long that none is still available even in secondhand markets.
Reselling Polaroid Cameras
Many times when people dig up old cameras, the first question they ask is how much its worth, rather than how to shoot with it. I go over this in how much is my vintage Polaroid camera worth article, but generally if it is not a folding-SLR type, it’s not going to be worth a whole lot. However, there are people who will take it off your hands for a few bucks.
Shooting With Polaroid
Got a camera and film and wondering where to start? I have a beginner’s guide to using box-type Polaroid cameras. Also, if you’re looking to get your own, or you’re curious about one of the other formats listed above, check out my Polaroid camera buying guide.