Friday, January 6, 2017

“Tested and Working” – Balance and Clarity Pt. 2

The moment we've all been waiting for – Happy New Year! And a week late too! In fact, my last post was about four months ago which was just before I got up and left my day job to pursue my 15 year long desire of financial struggle and becoming self-employed doing some kind of trade skill work or whatever. In my case, and I’m totally making this job title up but it sounds killer when introducing myself to people at parties, I’m an “independent industrial design consultant and specialized analog photo technician”. Rolls right off the tongue. People think I make millions of dollars or they think I stay home and play video games all day.

Overall it’s been a good year, personally. My family is healthy (pops had a heart scare but thankfully he pulled through), The lovely Dubbs and I had our first-year anniversary, and we're on a new schedule with my kids so we all get a lot more time together. Unfortunately, with the aftermath of 2016, there’s a lot of sad things happening. I could go on about how much 2016 sucked politically and civilly (like royally sucked butt), and how we lost loved actors, actresses and singers, but I think a lot of us are already aware and I don’t want to turn this post into debate. Trump stabbed and ate the last remaining fluffy unicorn kitten? Fine, I’ll probably hear about it on Facebook and he's a dick for doing so.

I’m visual. I like picture books and repair manuals. So, those that follow 2nd Shot social media may have noticed I spend about 95% of my time on Instagram. I like it there. It has a very chill and professional atmosphere (depending on whom you follow – @drunkpeopledoingthings doesn’t count. Funny though.) and some amazing photographers, artists, people, and families simply sharing pictures. In the meantime I'll still check in here from time to time.

Ok this isn’t supposed to completely be a journal entry but rather a quick follow up to one of my previous posts from last year about finding balance and clarity. Actually, it looks like this may become an essay so grab a cool beverage, scotch and soda or maybe even a tall glass of wine spritzer... Constant Comment perhaps?.. and read on.

It’s been scary leaving the security of a paycheck and a desk job after 15 years but who knows, I might end back up at another job like that if the opportunity pops up. As long as the great folks at Impossible keep making their films (c'mon guys... where's the new news?!), I'm keeping the shop open. Finally being productive on a daily basis and in control of what I do feels incredibly liberating. And because of this feeling I’m beginning to see that it wasn’t the job itself that I didn’t like but more of my attitude toward my job. Great Platoon reference right? Instead of my job, it was an inner war? See… Elias… my job is the war and we… we’re fighting eachoth. Nevermind. That fulfills my wanting clarity at least for now. For 2017 and on I’ll still be adjusting the balance as I'm sure billions of others are doing. I’ve been busy since I left my other job which is a fantastic relief to know there's work out there so now is a good time to focus on balance. No resolutions this year because, well, I don’t have anything to resolve haha! I’ll stick to my goals.


I want to kick off 2017 with a positive vibe and share some tips and hints when purchasing an old used SX70 or SLR680/690. These past four months I did a lot of business. I’m not bragging but just pointing out that I got a lot of cameras to repair in the shop and I got a better idea of where these cameras are coming from. Guess where most of them came from!!!... Go ahead guess! THAT’S RIGHT! yaBe (say it backwards). Guess what yaBe is. THAT’S RIGHT! The Wild West of e-commerce! Anything goes folks and the guns are still firing in the air. I’ve been on there since 1998 which is a long time and long enough to spot a hot pile of flies-buzzing-around-it moose poop. It’s not all bad though. The site can also be a great tool but, I’ve seen a lot of posts, sales, and purchased items that make me look around and ask, “Really? Does anyone find this acceptable?”.

I’m mainly focusing on this whole “minty”,  "like new", and “tested and working” thing. Let’s say an estate sale buyer finds and old SX70. It looks great after 40 years and they bring it back to the shop. They pop in an older film pack or maybe has one they purchased for testing. The camera runs and the darkslide ejects. They see an image in the viewfinder, close it back up, and list it. First off there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and I'm not bashing anyone. In fact, I would rather someone do this than list an item as “tested and working” without even dusting it off. And some sellers are completely innocent in doing so. Simply writing “tested and working” is a very subjective thing to say. But you, the buyer’s reaction, needs to be “well, how well was it tested and how well does it work?”. I’m going to follow up this post with a list of link of sellers (both on yaBe and elsewhere) that I would trust purchasing from or to send to for repairs. You may pay a little more than what you would spend on yaBe but I’ve seen auctions and BINs go for triple the market value of an actual working camera simply because it says “tested and working”. Plus these guys are dedicated and passionate about what they do... that's pretty rock n roll if I may say so. Here’s my top 10 things to look/ask for when purchasing an SX70 680/690 in no particular order:

    1.     Crack is Whack…
Be sure to check, or ask the seller to check, the rear hinges just under the rear cover plate. If the one on the right rear (facing camera) is broken. The camera won’t power up. The “wake up” S6 switch is molded to this hinge and is often a hidden malfunction since it's tucked away. This is one of the more involved repairs to perform since full body disassembly is needed and the only way to properly fix this is a replacement rear cover assembly. You could glue it but chances are you’ll be regluing it again in a few days. So much glue!

    2.     Hi Mr. Seller… Is this really an Alpha 1?
There’s more and more people advertising tan and chrome SX70s as “Alpha 1”. Early SX70s were not called “Alpha 1s” but rather original SX70 or “Model 1”. Don’t let the film door be your guide either for paying a premium on what may be an innocent mistake by the seller. Are there strap lugs and a tripod mount? Might be an Alpha. Pop a spent flashbar in the flash port or an electronic flash not powered up yet. If nothing happens after you press the shutter, it’s likely an Alpha (later ECMs and Alphas were programmed to prevent film loss due to a malfunctioning flash bar or device. Also, Check the serial numbers. Alphas were manufactured from ‘76 and up. Actually, early Alpha 1 ECMs (shutter circuit boards – the brains of the camera) have been found on cameras from late ’75 but it’s best to be on the safe side. The third digit of the serial number is the last number of the date the camera was built (for 1970s models). So, serial number 5K714143582 is a camera that was built in 1977. SHE’S AN ALPHA!

    3.    Check your mirrors! Shake n tap…
All Model 1s and especially SLR680s are notorious for having loose internal viewing mirrors. Here’s my theory on this... Original brushed chrome plated models have a very thin type of protective clear coat to protect the brushed finish. This finish is also found on the inner mounts the mirror adheres to on the rear cover body plate (most likely a manufacturing necessity – It would cost too much to mask the underside of the rear cover plate that guards the mirror and keep the coating from getting on the mounts so instead Polaroid just hit it with black spray paint). I think over time this coating acts as a resist to the adhesive. Combine that with old age and it loses its grip. 680s just used a generic clear silicone that over time weakens and older plastics naturally leech out toxic softeners (Yay 80s!) that could act as a resist. If you find the camera of your dreams, even in mint condition, shake it. If it doesn’t rattle than no mirrors are broken. Give the back a tap like you’re burping your camera (make sure nobody's looking). If you hear a hollow thunk then you’re most likely ok. If it sounds like a bouncing metal plate then the mirror is loose. 8 times out of 10 at least one of the three mounts is loose. On some 680s I can simply pull the mirror off without any effort. I don't workout either.

    4.    Is there fungus among us?
Mushrooms on your camera is a killer. It’ll eat away at lens coatings, fog up optics, and eats away at the Fresnel screens and mirrors. Parts need to be replaced and a lot of disassembly is required. Does your camera smell like an old and wet basement or a sponge that was left in the sink too long? It was most likely stored in a wet basement.

    5.    You say it runs… does it sound like a vacuum cleaner or a dying squirrel?
The motor is the heart of the SX70. If the motor RPMS sound strong, consistent, and doesn’t smell like burning carbon, you’re in good shape. Here’s a biggie, and this goes back to my post about motor couplers - If your camera is pre-1975, there’s a great chance the camera uses a motor coupler to link the motor driveshaft to the gear train. This coupler becomes very brittle (I’ve seen some made from polypropylene that are bit stronger) after time. Once it breaks, the gear train won’t engage and you’re left with a 40 year old noisemaker.

    6.    Old or new Model 1?
First full year runs of Model 1s used electronics supplied by the company Fairchild Semiconductor. They went through about a dozen designs for the camera’s ECM brains. They worked ok at first but it wasn’t until Texas Instruments took over and did a few rounds of designs before coming up with a stable circuit board, the 706431. I don’t see these boards fail that often and if they do they’re easy to replace. Eventually later Model 2,3, Alpha and Sonar models used even more improved designs based off of this ECM. Which is better is subjective though. I've have seen and used some older Fairchild models that work just fine but most that I get in are a pain in the butt to diagnose and repair. Another thing to note is that later model ECMs are less prone to photodiode corrosion. It occasionally happens due to age and poor storage but is easier cleaned off than early models. Corroded photodiodes screw with the light meter causing overexposed shots. It’s a simple rule… the later model the camera the more improvements engineers and designers put into them. This is why Alpha 1s are so popular. Better parts, better ingredients, better pizza. Scotch is finally kicking in.

    7.    Focus pocus
This applies to all Sonar and 680/690 models. There’s a little autofocus time bomb implanted in these models called an opto sensor or “pickoff”. This part goes bad over time and needs to be replaced. “How do I know if the sensor is ok Matt?”… Glad you asked, friend! Try focusing your camera in AF mode. If it only focuses between 3-5 feet at all subject distances, your pickoff went aloha. Other AF killers are solder bridges on the sonar circuit board causing no focus response, focuses only to 10.4, incorrect distance readings, or spilt beer at Aunt Connie's 3rd wedding back in '79.

    8.    Oopsie Poopsie!
Try to avoid a camera that has cracks or chips. Ask or check to see if the camera has been dropped or look for signs or damage or abuse. Most often these cameras land on the viewfinder cap, back lower and front lower corners. Look for dents or cracks along the base of the viewfinder hood too. These are caused by someone forcing the camera open or good ol plastic fatigue. Cracks on the faceplate, rear hinge (as mentioned), film door corners, and bottom plate cover are common. If you find a crack in one spot, there’s most likely more in other spots you can’t see, especially underneath plated parts. Keep your camera strapped when you get it!

    9.    Flash dance
This pretty much applies to Model 1s 1972-1975. If you can, ask the seller to pop in a flash bar or electronic flash device. Then focus all the way to macro at 10.4”. Cover the flash (as to not blind the living shit out of yourself) and observe what the shutter blades do. The aperture should be at it’s f22 limit and immediately open right back up. If the blades remain closed than the (say it with me) cam follower intercept bar spring (located in the shutter) is weak and can't return to its closed position thus preventing the shutter blades to return to their open position. If you don’t use a flash then we're all done here.

    10.    Check the obvious...
When testing a camera, bring an old film pack with you. Make 100% sure your film pack is at least at 4.8 volts. Even more so for 680s. Anything under 5V can cause very inaccurate results, slow motors, inaccurate AF, no shutter response, etc.

So there it is. My top 10ish things to look for and avoid when buying an SX70. Ask these questions to everyone selling these. Heck even ask me! Even if you find an unused MINTY FRESH Model 1 "NEW IN SEALED BOX" on yaBe, chances are it’s going to need looked at. Ask tons of questions to sellers that “only offer the finest”, “best cameras” or “film tested by a pro”. They're probably legit but if they're not the ones fixing the camera then you might want to look elsewhere. With that said, here’s a list of some of the fine people I’ve dealt with or know that I would trust with my own cameras. I don’t mind sharing the love here and I won’t be offended or hurt if you, the reader, decides to wander from our 2nd Shot relationship to find love in another’s sellers arms. Ok, it got weird.

Love for 2017. I mean it…. That’s my quest for balance this year and a lifelong goal. I hope it spreads like wildfire.

Julien, Kyle, and the pros at Brooklyn Film Camera -

Roger (fastcat99) at eBay –

Todd at Shutter+Light -

Cory at Rare Meduim -

Jake at Filmneverdie -

Nate at Instant Options -

Erfan at Revival Studios London -

Matt at 2nd Shot (hahahaha had to slip that one right in there) -

Let's not forget the heavy hitters at


  1. Awesome writeup, Matt! Excellent advice & entertaining to read. Also - many thanks for including me in the list of contacts. I look forward to continued collaboration with you & working to keep Polaroid photography alive!! Cheers, Roger

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