Legend has it that when Edwin Land designed the folding SX-70 camera, he wanted the user's fingers to touch something pleasant, something other than the cold chrome exterior on the camera body. Thus, the camera received its crown jewel: a chestnut brown leather covering, still considered iconic decades later.
Here at Retrospekt, we’ve been up close and personal with thousands of SX-70 skins, and we're ready to answer the most common questions we get about them.
Q: I want to send in my camera for repairs, but I really like the way the leather looks. Can you keep it?
A: We make this answer with a heavy heart: no. We have two things going against us here. First, the access point to get into the guts of the camera is hidden beneath the largest leather piece on the bottom. This piece must come off to disassemble the camera properly. Secondly, the original leather skins are layered with aluminum and some seemingly space-age glue that cannot possibly be legal to use today. When you peel up the leather, the whole mess gets curled and folded into oblivion, and will never return to its original shape.
Q: Why is the leather on my camera disintegrating?
A: Cracked and disintegrating leather skins usually means one thing — your camera was made with a product called Porvair. Porvair is a synthetic material that does not age well. It takes extra effort and time to remove it because it doesn’t come off as one piece. Instead, we chisel it off, chunk by chunk, until it’s completely removed from the camera. The good news is this deterioration does not spread to the camera body, and we are able to remove it and replace it with actual leather skins that age much better.
Q: Do you have anything other than black and tan leather?
A: At this time, no, we only have tan and black as leather replacement options. Keeping it classic! If you really want to spice it up, we enjoy the leather made by Hugo Studio, who has a wide variety of options, including vegan leather! If you're taking advantage of one of our repair services and you send in special leather with your camera, we can apply it for you.
Q: I want to take the leather off my camera, how do you do it?
A: Full disclosure, we use the lingo “deskinning” in house to refer to taking off the skins (shudder.) While sort of a grotesque term, the process is a bit.... involved. By the way, we do this ourselves for every customer repair, but if you want to take a DIY approach, this guide is for you. The stakes are high for both your safety and your camera’s safety, so buckle up and go slow. We'll give you all our tips, but we take no responsibly for damage or injury. This is how to remove original leather skins, not Porvair skins (those are a whole different - and much more complicated - animal).
The recommended tools are something small and pointy (we use tweezers), a chisel and a needle nose pliers. The only chemical component you need is Naphtha (along with a rag), which can be purchased at most hardware stores. I cannot recommend this enough (despite what you see in these photos which admittedly are very staged) -- wear gloves (grippy work gloves work great!) and safety glasses. The last thing you want is some 1970s shard of dried up glue in your eye. Use your small pointy object to lift a corner of your leather. Remember how we said that original Polaroid leather is backed with aluminum? Make sure you’re getting underneath that layer too, with ONE IMPORTANT CAVEAT!
One Important caveat: on the film door piece, there is something called an “ejection plate” that looks suspiciously similar to the aluminum backing. It is imperative that you only lift the aluminum backing of the leather and *not* the ejection plate, or else you will ruin your camera. Study these pictures carefully before attempting on your own.
Once you get a little corner up, grip the corner with your needle nose pliers and start twisting it around the pliers. You’re essentially lifting the leather by rolling it up in a little burrito. You’ll be leaving lots of residue behind, but we will worry about that later. Go slow, and be gentle. The back of the leather will look gold, this is a combination of the aluminum backing and yellow glue.
Once the leather pieces are removed, it’s time for the clean up work. We remove every last piece of gunk from our cameras before putting new skins on them to avoid little bumps of debris showing through beneath the new leather. This is where the chisel comes in. Slowly and deliberately chisel away any dried glue. Just like in preschool, stay inside the lines! Chisel away from the edges in short, intentional strokes to avoid gouging up the visible parts of your camera. Go slow! You are just one slip away from making a permanent gouge in your camera’s delicate metal casing.
If you have a chrome camera, you might have issues with the metal coating flaking up. When this happens, the goal is to keep it in an isolated area where the leather will hide the bald spots. Cut it with a razor blade if necessary so it doesn’t keep peeling towards the edges.
You can put some naphtha on a rag and wipe it onto the glue remnants, it will help to break down the material and make it easier to scrape off. Naphtha performs way better than rubbing alcohol, as it seemingly has no affect on plastic or the chrome coating, whereas isopropyl can be too harsh on the delicate cameras. Although tempting, we do not recommend adhesive removers as they can be damaging to the camera body and also tend to seep into the cracks of the cameras, which runs the risk of permanently destroying electrical components.
Q: How do I care for the leather on my camera?
A: If it’s Porvair, you’re S-O-L (see above). It needs to come off and get replaced. But if you have genuine leather skins on your camera, you can probably get by wiping them down with a damp rag. The leathers gain a certain lived-in quality as they age and soak up the oil from your hands (what? It’s gross but true) but if that's not quite what you're looking for, you can polish them with a little saddle soap.
That’s probably more than you’ve ever needed to know about the leather on folding cameras, but if you still have questions and concerns, we always welcome inquiries at email@example.com.
Until then, may your fingers be touching pleasant things.
By Kori Fuerst
Co-Owner | Retrospekt
Kori started Retrospekt with her husband Adam many a year ago when a casual fascination with haunting thrift stores for vintage Polaroid products blossomed into a full-blown obsession with all things retro tech. She likes green furniture and thinks you're going to need to desaturate that last photo you took just a little bit.