A comprehensive list of all the issues Polaroid SX-70’s and SLR680’s had

por | 24/04/2023

A comprehensive list of all the issues Polaroid SX-70’s and SLR680’s had

A personal introduction

Before we dive into the article, I thought I’d introduce myself so you know who it’s coming from. My name is Dennis, and I’m based in the UK where I run Chromatic Parts. We’re just like you, sharing the same passion for instant photography and we specialize in repairing, refurbishing, and modifying SX-70, SLR680, and SLR690 cameras.

For me, there’s nothing quite like the Polaroid SX-70, and I absolutely adore these cameras. Over the past few years, I’ve spent countless hours learning everything there is to know about them. I’ve developed new repair techniques, created products that people thought were impossible to make, and done my best to help the community learn and grow.

Lots of my clients have asked me to share my knowledge, and I’ve been thinking about writing something for a while now. There just aren’t enough good resources out there, and I want to help fill that gap.


And introduction with a brief history

One of the best instant film cameras ever made, the SX-70, was revolutionary for a multitude of reasons and has been covered extensively by a variety of sources already, so that’s not what I’m here to do; my focus is to educate and uncover some truths that few ever hear about. This article will be taking a dive into the SX-70 and SLR680’s myriad of issues that the end user experienced straight off the factory floor, the causes and what can be done about them and how these problems have been significantly magnified over their 40-50 year lifespan. A final word on their distant cousin: The SLR690, the repairs, modifications and refurbishments of all these cameras and how to get the best out of your shooting.

Edwin Land was a true pioneer with the SX-70 being one of his most important pieces of work in instant photography. This idea: for a folding reflex camera that could fit in a coat pocket, spitting out an image that you could watch develop was an astronomical goal in the 1940’s. Yes! That is when the project started! Considering this being such a huge goal, the amount of research and development required was extensive. Over the years, Polaroid spent around 1 billion USD for the whole project which ended up hitting shelves in late 1972 but this still wasn’t enough time. The shareholders were putting more and more pressure on Polaroid to release the camera and start bringing money into the company instead of it constantly flowing out. This led to a rushed final product with a whole host of problems going into production in 1972.

Polaroid ended up having large repair divisions over the USA due to the forced release and it took them years to iron out most of the SX-70’s problems through design and production changes with some issues still never being address or new issues arising due to cost cutting measures.

When reading through this article, please keep in mind that I will be aiming to be comprehensive but without going into every granular detail.

The issues:

This will contain issues the cameras came with from factory as well as the main issues that have arose from being up to 50 years old as opposed to every possible issue the camera could have.

The SX-70 and SLR680

The shutter assembly:

  • The focus wheel retention mechanism on earlier models wasn’t very effective, being an E clip that could pop off the shallow post and falling off causing jams on the inside the assembly
  • Focus wheel factory defect has it catching shortly after moving off from infinity focus (or at any other point)
  • Latter generation cameras had a poor tolerance of the focusing element housing threads leading to more resistance on the focus wheel
  • Focusing element of the lens lubricant could seep onto the shutter blades causing sticky blades
  • Shutter blades getting caught on the guide pins of the electric eye lens causing a “hang” over exposing or underexposing photos
  • Improper spring tension and retention of the focus wheel idler gear causing increased focus wheel tension on some plastic body housing shutters
  • Ineffective return mechanism of the early generation lighten/darken (LD) wheel
  • An anti-static coating was used on the shutter blades as it was believed to prevent static however it only caused the blades to gum up and stick, overexposing shots or never opening. The blades never caused enough static to be of any issue in the first place
    • The metal lens cell surfaces that made contact with the blades suffered from a similar issue of gumming up. It’s extremely prevalent today as the metal hasn’t aged as well as the plastic blades.
  • Sticky cam follower due to the choice of metal they opted for in earlier generation cameras
  • Broken plastic pins holding the lens cell in place from regular use due to the switch from screws. Leads to a “shake” in the viewfinder when rapidly focusing or slightly out of focus photos as the lens cell sags. This issue affects predominantly alpha and sonar cameras.
  • Fungus and dirt getting in between the rear 2 elements of the lens cell and it is not easily accessible
  • Lens board coming detached through normal use for early model 1’s due to the poor hinge design
    • General failure of hinge pins for later generations
  • Breakdown of Teflon coated surfaced causing sticking at various points
  • Paint flaking off and being imprinted on the shutter housing from the film door
  • Shutter and flash design sometimes leads to underexposed photos
    • Most commonly occurs when the subject is at around 1-1.5m from the camera
  • Poor seal from humidity causing the electric eye to fail
  • Defective screw holes
  • Shutter housing prone to random cracking at about the 6 o’clock position.
    • Black bodies are more susceptible than chrome
  • Internal flash contacts breaking off through normal use of a flash bar

The ECM: (The name Polaroid gave their PCB assembly)

  • Fairchild (F) ECM’s used in 1972-1973 employed a chip on board (COB) system which suffered from low reliability compared to the integrated circuit (IC) design Texas Instruments (TI) used. Due to cost and reliability issues, Polaroid went with TI and phased out F ECMs only a few months after the release.
    • The Fairchild board could have an in-depth article all by itself due to the numerous issues it had. Motor noise being one of the largest issues requiring capacitors and other modifications being made to the camera in order for it to properly function. A term called “mid cycle shutdown” was coined with the camera ceasing operation in the midst of a cycle that both ECM manufacturers suffered from this, F being the worst.
    • Sometimes mid cycle shut down and the other problems of a similar nature can be solved by adding capacitors to various parts of the circuity however this requires testing and a deep knowledge of the camera to properly perform.
    • F ECM’s won’t work at certain (normal) voltages
  • Corrosion of the electric eye causing overexposed photos
  • Corrosion of the electric eye legs causing an open or poorly connected circuit
  • Poorly soldered joints from factory or a real lack of solder causing a poor connections leading to intermittency or a total cease of function
  • Model 2’s had a bad run of logic and power chips that caused early failure of the ECM
  • Blades stay closed at the end of the cycle due to faulty IC
  • Some alpha spec cameras have an overexposure issue when flash is used due to being improperly calibrated at factory
  • Alpha ECM can have an erratic problem where the shutter blades function incorrectly

The Body:

  • The process of coating the SX-70 in a chrome created an internal tension causing weakness around the hinges and erection arm leading to seemingly random breakages. The no coating plastic bodied cameras still suffered from the breakage issue but significantly less.
  • Corrosion of various switches on the camera leading to it being totally bricked, intermittent or showing sporadic behaviour
  • Brittle arm responsible for moving the counter snapping leading the camera to never get out of the darkslide cycle
  • Faulty counter switches leading to erratic or improper behaviour
  • The counter being sticky and not returning to blank due to dust, debris or the introduction of certain fluids
  • The motor
    • Corrosion can lead to absolutely no motor movement, very slow movement or enough movement to complete an empty cycle but not enough to push a photo out
    • Noise can cause sporadic camera behaviour
    • Poorly wound coils causing shorts, resulting in sporadic camera behaviour or blowing motor control chips (MCC)
    • A run of bad motors with dusty and brittle carbon brushes led to excessive deposits on the commutator
      • And some brushes were snapping off totally or partially
    • Defective MCM chips causing issues that appear to be like a slow motor
  • Motor couplers are tiny pieces of ABS plastic which connect the gear train to the motor that snap and cause a motor to run indefinitely
  • Gear train axle slip due to poor design
  • Gear train random breakage or stripping of gears from normal use
    • Most common are the reduction gear and re-cock idler gear
  • Fresnel assembly not returning to the bottom or being let go of due to poor design of the catch system in early generation cameras causing a darker and distorted viewfinder
  • Fresnel assembly getting caught on the camera body due to an improperly designed and secured light baffle leading to the camera not completing the cycle without a violent shake of the camera
  • Fresnel screen
    • Defects due to factory issues or the camera being left in excessive heat leading to a warped view
    • The split circle being either fully or partially dark due to factory defects
    • Fungus growth leading to dark spots in the viewfinder
  • Viewfinder mirror either partial or full detachment from the body panel due to the cheaper silicone Polaroid opted for. This is an issue on 99% of SLR680’s.
    • Partial detachment may lead to a warped look down the viewfinder
    • A totally black viewfinder when fully detached, you can hear the mirror jingling about inside the camera
      • Scratched Fresnel screen due to this
    • Pierced bellows due to mirror smashing when falling off or from the force of the fresnel carrier slapping the mirror during a cycle
  • Rough opening of the camera due to improper spacing between the erection arm guide and the body
    • This can be caused by either poor factory moulds, a missing spacer or exposing the camera to heat, causing shrinkage of the body
  • Porvair leather flaking off over time causing a dust build up inside the camera predominantly causing a non-optimal viewfinder experience, specs on the taking mirror resulting in dark specs on photos and possible camera jams
  • Front cover and inner frame cause scratches on the mylar cover
  • Light leaks due to poor design of black body casings (chrome didn’t have this issue)
  • Poor stiffness of non-chrome plated body causing the opening and closing of the camera to be out of spec, also causing bowing and additional stress to joints
  • Shorting of contacts and switches due to improper design and lack of insulation around various parts of the chrome-coated bodied cameras
  • Weak film door latch prone to breaking
  • Fresnel carriers having taking mirrors randomly fall off
  • Random breakage of the fresnel assembly at the sides leading to light leaks
  • Model 3 light leaks due to poor design

Sonar AF and SLR680 Flash System:

  • Pick off sensor failure due to bad emitter or receiver leading the AF to not focus properly
  • Weak switch contacts for the park sensor which can either cause the camera’s lens to infinitely stutter at infinity or not work at all
    • The weak contact can also result in a prong falling off a nub on a timing gear leading to the same issue
  • Flash capacitor failure
  • Flash bulb burned out
  • IC general failure leading to an AF which will work incorrectly or not at all
  • Poorly soldered flash flex joints leading to intermittency or no AF at all but the camera will function in a manual fashion
  • Poorly designed sonar housing leading to the AF/Manual switch not working/jamming and or breaking

The Viewfinder:

  • Sticky viewfinder blades
  • Parabolic mirror
    • Defects due to factory issues or the camera being left in excessive heat leading to a warped view
    • Fungus growth leading to dark spots in the viewfinder
  • Improper factory tolerances or exposure to excessive heat causing the guides of the viewfinder lens to stick
  • Poor plastic quality and dirt causes excessive friction of the parabolic mirror guides and pins over time making the viewfinder sticky to push down or bring up
  • Poor choice of glue to hold the parabolic mirror in its housing leading it to fall off

The Film Door:

  • – Rollers (falling) out of alignment due to poor tolerances causing jams
  • – Dirty or greasy rollers causing jams
  • – Debris, dried developer or rust on the rollers causing consistently spaced white spots or lines on your photos

A quick note on the model 3: This camera essentially exists due to the mound of defective parts that Polaroid accumulated. Every model 3 has some sort of defective internal mirror or fresnel. This was a good way of Polaroid using their defective stock. I haven’t included many model 3 specific issues due to it being a very unpopular camera nor have I included their rather obscure problems that will be exceptionally rare to come across

The SLR690

As similar as it may look to an SLR680, this camera is closer to a cousin than a brother to the SX-70 or SLR680. It was manufactured in Japan and totally redesigned electronically. Even though Japan is generally thought to be a country which values and outputs high quality items, this camera didn’t fall under that umbrella. One huge issue with this camera is the unreliability of the IC’s and the body flex.

They employed a design which requires the body flex to sit at very harsh angles and at the same time articulate, which eventually leads to failure – this being the more common issue of these cameras. A repair involves full disassembly of the camera, which includes over 100 solder joints. It is an extremely difficult job and very time consuming with no guarantee of it working. This is frequently why repair men will charge a minimum fee regardless of success.

In regard to the general repairability of this camera, it was unfortunately never made to be repaired like the others. Once something fails, the camera is destined to be a paperweight unless you’re able to accurately diagnose and source some working parts from another known good SLR690. The problem comes from the largely proprietary IC’s and other components that were used for the electronic function of this camera and accurate diagnosis will frequently involve the use of an oscilloscope and/or extensive knowledge and experience of these cameras which very few in the world have.

Repairs, modifications and refurbishments

What your options are

What you have read above are 99% of the problems that these cameras came with either from the factory or issues that have developed due to their age. This isn’t even the list of issues it could have. Many of these can be fixed while others can’t and just need a working replacement. I can only hope that this has allowed you to appreciate the delicacy and complexity of these cameras, and the vast amount areas that all need to work in perfect unison to get that perfect photo.

From my time in this industry, repairing, modifying and refurbishing cameras, I have met a lot of individual repairmen, businesses and clients who all have unique views and opinions. What I’d like to try and do is lay them all out here for you to make your decision.

But firstly, I would like to start with some advice on choosing a quality service. Due to the unique nature and niche of this field; having only around 20 competent people in this world, finding a high-quality repairer is not an easy task. Since there are so few to choose from, each situation may as well be a case study.

You have self-taught repair men:

And when I say this, I do not mean someone who can solder in a new motor and remove a broken motor coupler, but a competent person who is fully aware of the camera’s every function, knows the sequence inside and out, is aware of all the issues listed above, aware of the official Polaroid repair procedures and is able to perform most, if not all of them. These are individuals who have had no official training but have spent the time gathering information from various sources, putting it together, training themselves and perfecting their techniques over time. They may continue to operate as a sole individual or develop a business from this, however I’d still put them into this category as that’s where they started.

Polaroid Trained Repair Men:

These are your last remaining official Polaroid repair technicians who have been taught “by the book” at official Polaroid repair centres. They should be competent in all repair procedures and now work for themselves.


These are larger business who repair these cameras, some may have been trained by official Polaroid technicians, some haven’t. Due to the very small amount of overall people in the world who can perform this job, there is no standardised way these cameras get repaired/refurbished. Some businesses have a production line style set up where 1 person is responsible for 1 specific job and then it moves onto the next part of the line while others have 1 technician that stays with the camera from start to finish.

Misc: Non-specialists:

This may be your mom-and-pop camera store which don’t have any in-house technician that specialises in these cameras. This will be the only time where I strongly recommend you stay away from an option. The uniqueness of these cameras means you absolutely need a specialist. However, if this camera store works with and outsources the work to a specialist, then it is totally acceptable and may even be a great option due to it being more local.

Misc: Polaroid Refurbished Cameras:

Polaroid, after being brought back from the dead, refurbished and sold cameras for a short period of time (the cameras will endlessly be “out of stock” on their website). They outsourced these jobs to unnamed parties and sometimes had old Polaroid technicians teach certain businesses the techniques and steps necessary to do certain jobs. The parties responsible for the work changed with time and with what work was needed however it’s hard to comment on this accurately due to the lack of transparency. But what I can confirm is that if you buy a Polaroid refurbished camera, it wasn’t refurbished by Polaroid themselves.

Limited capabilities

Something to keep aware of is that certain options, or more specifically people, can’t offer certain repairs while others can. A few examples:

  • Hinge repairs – Polaroid used proprietary rivets which not all options either have a hold of or have found suitable replacements
  • Original leather removal and reuse – Some options will not be able to reuse the original leather. For the cameras that used real leather (chrome bodied cameras) as opposed to porvair (any other) can be reused. Some repair technicians don’t know or simply don’t reuse original leather while others can alongside a caveat of it not being perfect and finally very few can remove and reuse the skin alongside the metal sheet with absolutely 0 damage (this technique was created by myself and is now done by only 1 other repairman to my knowledge).
  • Taking mirror replacements – The majority will replace the fresnel carrier assembly however very few can replace just the taking mirror
  • SLR690 repairs – this is generally a game of who has the most parts stocked up. Sometimes the bigger businesses have more parts than smaller or individuals

Now come the 2 most important questions, which option do I choose and why?

This is where it gets a little bit difficult. It’s worth doing a combination of research, review searching and just having a chat with the potential options.

In regard to reviews, it’s really important to take into account how many returns or issues people are having with certain repair men or businesses. An occasional problem arising is inevitable however if you hear about issues cropping up time and time again, then they are definitely ones to keep away from as that’s a reflection of the quality of their work, practices or lack of knowledge (or their inability to admit it).

Next, are you more interested and resonate with someone who has worked from the ground up, putting in the effort to learn about these cameras or would you prefer someone who has been officially trained for Polaroid repair by an official technician? Do you prefer someone who’s pioneered techniques in the field or someone who’s been repairing these for 10+ years at a store? One thing that I’d like to mention on the subject of experience; just because someone has a lot of it doesn’t mean they’re instantly good at it, it just gives them a better chance to become good at it.

Finally, it’s always worth sending whoever is on your shortlist a message or email. Have a talk to them, try gauge how passionate they are about what they do and if you feel confident in sending them your camera! Depending on the business, you may never talk to the technician themselves or you may be conversing directly with them, it’s your decision with how important that is to you.

The aspect of cost of course comes into it too. Naturally we seek the best service for the cheapest price. You generally find the individual repair men are cheaper than the bigger businesses but this area is a bit of a minefield to navigate. Some repair men may charge a similar price or even higher than the larger shops. If this may seem odd to you, it’s worth querying it and learning more about why they charge what they do. You may find that they put extra effort into the cameras that come across their workbench and treat each one as if it were their own, on the other hand they may not offer any better of a service than a cheaper option. Finally, the cost of shipping, taxes and any other fees. Make sure you ask whoever is on your shortlist of any possible additional costs, return postage and any recommendations they may have to keep them lower. One thing I’d like to add is don’t be afraid of sending your camera off internationally, there may not be any taxes or fees to pay depending on the business’ or repair man’s structure, and the turnaround time, inclusive of shipping times, could be quicker than a domestic option.

Do you just get a camera repaired (and modified) or get it refurbished (and modified)?

This is where you’ll have a split of opinions among repairmen and businesses. Some will refuse to offer just a repair or modification and only offer them alongside a full refurbishment while others do. I will be offering arguments and views from both sides so you can get a better overall understanding.

But lets first define the two. A repair is bringing a camera back to a working condition by focusing on an isolated problem, it’s as simple as that, however it gets more complex for a refurbishment. Each technician and business seem to have a varying view and equally perform slightly different jobs however in general, the aim is to thoroughly check functionality, repair all known faults and reasonable pre-emptive repair of all potential faults listed above. Cosmetically, new leather may be fitted or the original reused, visual rust and scuffs on panels may or may not be attended to.

Why wouldn’t they offer just a repair or modification?

The main reason will be the contents of this article. The complexity and vast list of issues that these cameras have from factory and age means even with a repair, the camera will be a ticking time bomb. Let’s say that you have a model 1 camera that is overexposing photos which you want fixed and 600 converted. The tech receives the camera and has found that the main culprit for the issue is a corroded electric eye. They can clean this, perform the necessary steps for the 600 modification, check exposures have been fixed and send the camera on its way. But let’s consider the complexity of the shutter system and the main serviceable components involved in a correct exposure. The shutter on the SX-70 is like no other. The aperture, shutter speed and exposure system are all combined and interlinked with just 2 shutter blades. This leaves a lot of room for issues to occur unlike if the systems were all separate.

  • The electric eye responsible for taking in light and telling the camera how long it should expose for
  • Proper capacitor and resistor function which is linked to the electric eye
  • The shutter blades which are frequently coated in an antistatic layer (and/or dust and dirt from being 50 years old) that causes excessive friction, naturally leading to the camera’s shutter system to move incorrectly
  • Poorly soldered joints on the electric eye can cause inconsistencies in exposure in different temperature and humidity ranges
  • When flash is involved, you have the consideration of the cam follower which may be binding due to a factory defect or dirt
  • Flash solenoid may be out of spec
  • The focus wheel may be defective and causing binding or be dirty
  • The shutter solenoid is unlikely to be perfectly clean or even partially corroded at this point meaning the speeds it moves at will be insufficient for perfect exposures. There may also be additional tuning requirements for a 600 conversion since the camera is asked to perform considerably faster than initially designed for
  • The walking arm connecting both shutter blades may be dirty causing varying degrees of binding at the blade pins

With so many areas to go wrong, some feel like it’s a disservice to offer anything but a full refurbishment, others may not want issues to crop up in the future as a customer could use the camera for a week and the same symptoms of overexposed photos may crop up, causing a problem where the customer feels like the shop didn’t perform the job correctly when in fact it’s a totally different part of the exposure system that has failed. You also have the situation where a camera may need to be fully torn down anyway to fix a certain issue so it’s almost a waste to not refurbish it. It costs time in labour to get to such a stage and normally, the repair technicians or business don’t charge “twice” for the labour so the extra work is a much smaller sum.

Being able to fully rely on a piece of 50-year-old optical equipment for consistent photos is not possible without a well done, full refurbishment performed by a competent technician. Consider that you’re asking shutter blades to move at fractions of a second, the internal gears and the motor to run smoothly, have all switches perform as intended without corrosion sapping power, circuits all having a good connection, optics to be clear and factory defects ironed out. You might get away with using an unrefurbished camera for a little while but it will be far below the experience of what this camera can offer. They don’t want your experience to be soured when they know it’s totally preventable.

Should I go for just a repair or modification?

For the options which do offer just a repair or modification, they will hopefully inform you that the camera would really benefit from a refurbishment and at least give the client some indication as to why that is, however if you’ve read this far, you’re now more informed than most.

What you have to consider is what you want out of the camera. Are you happy for it to just work for a period of time or do you need something better? If your needs are lower and you have budget constraints, a repair (or modification) may be your better option however be conscious that the camera may fail in an area that has never been worked on.

As long as the client is fully informed, they should be free to choose whatever option they feel suits them best. Repairs usually have a lower cost and may keep the camera running for longer before it need attention again. They equally have a quicker turnaround time. This is subjective to the party you decide to send it to however that is usually the case.

Sometimes a repair or modification can be used as a good tactic to temporarily have a functional camera (or one with a particular mod like i-Type compatibility or an f8 flash mod) that needs to be back to the owner quickly. This is generally used in conjunction with sending the camera back in at a later date to have any other work completed and doing this can help spread the cost.

Conclusion and shooting tips:

Take from this what you will and use this information to better equip yourself when making a decision. I hope I’ve been able to help educate on some of the issues that these cameras have and what to do when looking at getting a repair, modification and refurbishment.

The best shooting tip I can give you is getting your camera properly refurbished. Until a camera is working in the way it was intended, you’ll find inconsistencies in between shots of the same lighting conditions. Always pay attention to the rollers and the back of the film when it comes out, if you have developer on either, wipe it off with some isopropyl alcohol and a lint free rag, or if in the field and you don’t have any, a damp cloth will do! Try your best to limit sand getting inside the camera as it can really wreak havoc. I’ve seen teeth round, autofocus systems jam, lens blades get stuck and fresnel screens get new indentations from cycling while sand gets crushed between it and the viewfinder mirror. For model 1 and model 2 cameras, you must hold down the shutter button until at least the fresnel carrier makes the slap sound at the back of the camera, or ideally until the photo comes out. Failing to hold the shutter button long enough can cause the camera to freeze and may only be reset by reinserting the film pack if pressing the shutter button again doesn’t work.

Thanks for reading and have an awesome time shooting!


Thank you to Jake from The Instant Camera Guy for reading over this and supplying more accurate information for the Misc: Polaroid Refurbished Camera section as well as suggesting some additional content and clarification in the Now come the 2 most… and the Do you just get a camera repaired… sections.

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