POLAROID SX-70 with Impossible film material

While testing the POLAROID SX-70 LAND CAMERA SONAR AutoFocus I used film material from The Impossible Project. They develop instant film material for Polaroid cameras in both color and black & white. The film material is made in a former Polaroid factory in Enschede (Netherlands) which they bought in 2008. They basically had to reinvent new instant film material because it was already a dead technology and original color dyes were no longer available. Since their first new instant film in 2010 they constantly improved the quality of the material and the time it takes for the pictures to develop.

What might be of particular interest, is the film speed of the new Impossible instant material. The film for my SX-70, the Impossible SX-70 is described with ASA 160. The original film material from Polaroid was ASA 150. With these material unavailable since Polaroid stopped the production in 2005, many have modified their Polaroid cameras to use newer Polaroid material with film speeds up to ASA 640. They often used ND filters to correct for the wrong exposure time since the film is more then 2 times faster. ND Filters are also available by The Impossible Project if one wants to use their 600 series film material.


Although this does not seem to be necessary anymore with their SX-70 film, the difference between ASA 150 and ASA 160 is still noticeable. This can be addressed by setting the exposure dial on the camera to “darken”.


Unfortunately, by doing this, one looses the ability to adjust the exposure since all other setting lead to bad results. From left to right I tried “lighten”, “normal” and “darken”. Only with the “darken” dial set to maximum, I could create a more satisfying image.


Impossible Instant Lab – The App Let’s You Scan Instant Photos

When I tried The Impossible Instant Lab, I used the corresponding iOS app to choose the digital images I wanted to create instant photos from as well as the exposure time for the instant film material I used.


The app let’s me create analog images with the instant lab, which basically is just a housing case for the instant film cartridge and the iPhone while exposing and is manually operated.


But the app also works the other way around. It features a scanner functionality, so one can digitise the instant photos to save them in a digital picture gallery.

One just takes a picture from an angle with no reflections from the instant photo’s surface and selects the corners of the picture’s frame in order to cut and straighten the image to right format. Since The Impossible Project offers film material for the Polaroid 600 & SX-70 series as well as Spectra the app can be adjusted to the correct setting.

I am not sure why anyone would need this feature, but it is a nice gimmick. It somewhat foils the purpose of The Impossible Project and does not provide any decent results but still, it is an easy way to keep a digital memory of your analog instant photos.

Impossible Instant Lab – instant photos made with my iPhone

I recently tried The Impossible Instant Lab at the Apple store in Hamburg during their creative workshop tour around Europe (recently being February 2014, but I didn’t get around to writing anything about it).

Here are some instant photos I created on that day:

They look quite nice and the image quality totally surprised me, since I clearly remember many not so decent photos from my childhood.

Impossible Instant Lab – instant photos from digital images

Impossible Lab

In 2012 the kickstarter project for the instant lab got funded. It let’s you create instant photos from digital images on smartphones and was developed by The Impossible Project. They develop new instant film material for Polaroid cameras since 2008 and basically saved Polaroid instant film from extinction.

“Some images are just too good to be buried somewhere on your mobile phone. With the Impossible Instant Lab you can now transform any digital image into a real, one-of-a-kind analog instant photo via your iPhone or iPod touch. Select a picture, place your iPhone on the Instant Lab and within seconds it ejects your analog instant photo, ready to develop in the palm of your hand. It doesn’t matter whether your digital image was shot with your phone or created in Adobe Photoshop – any image on your phone’s display can be turned into a real analog instant photo.”

Source: The Impossible Instant Lab – https://www.the-impossible-project.com/instantlab/ – May 4 2014

The instant lab was introduced at a price of 259 € and was prominently presented at Apple stores and various other points of sale. With a reduced price of 159 € since March 2013 it finally becomes more attractive.

It can be used with iPhone 4/4S/5/5S and iPod Touch and works with any Impossible made instant film. The pictures are chosen within the Impossible App for iOS and exposure time is set according to the film material used. It basically works like this:

Impossible Instant Lab from Photojojo loves you on Vimeo.

Happy Birthday Edwin Land

Don’t do anything that someone else can do. Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.

“The Vindication of Edwin Land”, Forbes magazine, Vol. 139 (4 May 1987) p. 83

Edwin Land

Happy Birthday Edwin Land, today is as good a time as any to take a look at his life and appreciate his vision about the Polaroid instant camera. Not only did he co-found the Polaroid Corporation, he invented in-camera instant photography.

POLAROID sonar focussing

With sonar focussing, Polaroid introduced an instant auto focus system for their SX-70 instant film cameras. It is described in the user manual as follows:

“As you begin to press the shutter button, your camera releases sound waves to the central part of the scene. The frequencies are far beyond your range of hearing and travel at the speed of sound. The split second it takes for the sound to reach your subject and the echo to return is fed into a tiny electronic computer inside the camera. The computer uses this time measurement to calculate the distance between the camera lens and your subject, then signals a motor to turn the lens until your subject is in sharp focus. This extraordinary chain of events take place in less than 1/3 of a second”

Source: Polaroid SX-70 Manual PX1492 7/78, Printed in U.S.A.

I really like the descriptive nature of the manual. Not that I am into reading manuals at all, but compered to current manuals for anything, this is quite nice to read. One has to consider that this new technology was a breakthrough feature and new to anyone using it.


Source: Polaroid SX-70 Manual PX1492 7/78, Printed in U.S.A.

Since sound waves behave the same all day, the system can be used in the dark. The use case of focusing in low light situations is not that relevant to me, since I am not about to try flash bars with my Polaroid camera any time soon. The instant film available today has better photoresponse than pervious material from Polaroid, but still is not suitable for any real low light situations in my (somewhat limited) experience.

Although sonar focussing was a very innovative in the 1970ies, active auto focussing systems have some disadvantages one should be aware of. They can obviously not focus through windows, since the sound waves can not pass through glass.

After some tests with my SX-70 I can attest that the focus system is also not very precise and fails to focus subject close to the camera entirely. So one might end up using manual focus after all.

On a personal note: the sonar focussing module can not be removed from the SX-70, which is quite a downside, since it does not fit the pleasing aesthetics of the camera’s body.



I started testing a Polaroid SX-70 instant film camera with sonar focusing, which Polaroid advertised as the ultimate in one-step photography.

Polaroid implemented an active autofocus system into the instant film camera with ultrasonic sound waves. The distance to the object is calculated by measuring the delay between emission and reflection of sound waves. Therefor this system can also be used in darkness. To my knowledge, it was the first consumer autofocus SLR system.

Various SX-70 models were available between 1972 and 1981. The POLAROID SX-70 LAND CAMERA SONAR AutoFocus is a model from 1978 (according to the manual at least) and was quite popular at the time. Since instant film received quite some attention over the past years, the SX-70 is still high in demand today.

Instant film for the SX-70 camera is available by The Impossible Project. Founded in 2008 they bought the last Polaroid factory in Enschede (Netherlands) and started developing new instant films in both color and black & white for various Polaroid models. They also provide refurbished Polaroid cameras for anyone in need of one. If you are just interested in the picture format, you can transform your digital images into analog instant photos with their instant lab.

Although the films have become faster over the last few years, a color picture still takes about 30-40 minutes to develop. Monochrome pictures are done in about 5-6 minutes. They promise to improve the film even further, so maybe in time it will take us back to the experience of anxiously watching the image to reveal itself.

I really like that a “dead technology” can be resurrected and even be pushed forward. It is not only a homage to Edwin H. Land (co-founder of Polaroid, inventor of the Polaroid instant film camera and subsequently the SX-70 camera model) but the preservation on an art form.