A frequent issue new (and sometimes seasoned) users of SX-70 folding cameras encounter is a camera that stops in the middle of a cycle. This can be quite upsetting, as it’s not only frustrating to miss the shot, but it can also lead to ruined exposures. Luckily, the most common causes of a mid-cycle failure are largely preventable and/or fixable.
1. Press and hold — Beat The Button Jab
The most common cause of a mid-cycle failure, on both freshly serviced cameras and vintage-condition units, is when a user quickly jabs the shutter button. Polaroid recognized this potential issue even in the original production era of these cameras. The following caution is listed in the original user manual from the 70s:
“In some rare cases, the camera may stop in the middle of an operating cycle. When this happens, you may not be able to close the camera fully. Never try to force it shut.*
There are two reasons why the camera may stop. One is jabbing at the shutter button instead of holding it until the film comes out. The remedy is simple - squeeze the button again and hold it. If the camera still doesn’t complete the cycle: open the film door in dim light, pull the pack out about an inch, push it in again and close the door. The counter will reset to “10”. The camera should complete its cycle, ejecting the top piece of film, which will have been exposed.
The other reason is that the battery in the film pack is weak**. Test this by inserting an empty pack if possible, or a new one.”
*If you have heard the fresnel carrier (the internal focusing screen/taking mirror assembly) spring to the up position DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLOSE THE CAMERA. Doing so can damage the fresnel carrier, or kink the camera’s bellows in such a way that the camera will never close flat again.
**Use your film within one year of its production date to ensure its batteries and film chemicals are in prime condition. Film more than a year old — or film that’s been improperly stored — may show defects in development and could cause camera issues.
This jabbing motion may be even more common today as an artifact of our digital age, where taking a picture on your smartphone requires only a slight tap on the screen. The SX-70 folding camera comes from a different age - there is an internal switch behind that iconic red button that has to make good electrical contact in order for the camera to complete its cycle. Quickly jabbing the button can cause an insufficient signal, and repeatedly jabbing the button in this manner can cause the camera to lock up to protect itself from damage.
The solution is simple - always remember to press and hold the shutter button at least until the picture has started to eject from the camera. This adjustment in technique can have the additional benefit of avoiding camera shake in those lower light situations.
2. Long Exposures in Low Light
It is important to note that some users confuse a long exposure for a mid-cycle failure. In such cases the cycle has not stopped; what is actually happening is the camera is waiting for the light sensor to receive enough light to make an image and complete the cycle. To some, this time between when the button is pressed and the picture is ejected can make it feel like the camera has stopped working. The SX-70 requires a lot of light to make a proper exposure - if you are taking pictures indoors in dim light, the camera will need to keep the shutter open for longer (up to several seconds) to make the proper exposure.
Applying our learning from section one above, if you hear your camera start to cycle after pressing the shutter button but then it goes quiet, continue to hold the button down for several seconds — even if you suspect a cycle failure — to see if the cycle will continue and eject a photo.
3. Mechanical Issues
Now that we have the main (and simple to fix) causes out of the way, let’s quickly look at what might make for a more serious case. Especially in vintage units that have not been serviced in recent years — if ever — buildup of oxidation or carbon on various switch contacts inside the camera can result in a loss of power that causes the camera to stop working. The basic folding Polaroid camera has 9 main switches in its construction, communicating everything from whether the camera is opened or closed, the fresnel carrier is up or down, and if there is a flashbar inserted. All of these switches need to be functioning for the camera to work properly. A failure in any one of these switches could cause erratic behavior, including a mid-cycle failure.
If you find your camera still locks up even while shooting in good light and pressing/holding the shutter button, it’s almost certainly a mechanical issue and the camera may need service. We offer full repair and refurbishment for all folding Polaroid cameras, as well as the plastic body 600, SX-70, and packfilm cameras!
By Bryan Rieth
Head of Repairs | Retrospekt
Bryan learned how to repair instant cameras directly from lifelong Polaroid technicians, imported from the Netherlands. He can resuscitate even the most difficult camera or cassette player. It’s quite possible he’s repaired more TPS-L2s than anyone in the world.