Since I started using an SX-70 camera, I’ve found one thing particularly frustrating: the flash situation. SX-70s were designed to use disposable Flashbars, which are long out of production. If you want to shoot indoors, you have three choices: (a) find vintage Flashbars, probably on eBay, for something like $10 apiece once you factor in shipping; (b) use the electronic flashes designed by various manufacturers back in the seventies, which are almost all bulky and rob the folding camera of its portability, or (c) skip the flash, use a tripod, and have people sit still, like you’re making daguerreotypes. All have their obvious drawbacks.

Patent drawing for Polaroid's Strobar, 1976.

Since the seventies, however, electronic strobes have become much smaller. It has seemed to me that someone ought to build a unit no larger than the old Flashbar, with the right fitting and circuitry to mate with the SX-70’s port. I even took a few steps in this direction once, trying to hack one out of the flash from a disposable camera. My electronics skills weren’t up to the job, and the capacitor gave me a severe shock, after which point I put the parts in a box and backed slowly away, never to return to the project. (Still have them, however.) I have idly thought, a few times, that I should get an electrical engineer to design one, have it made somewhere in the Far East, and offer it for sale online to the small but enthusiastic Polaroid crowd. Polaroid itself even patented such a thing, to be called a Strobar, though it appears that only prototypes were produced.

Turns out that a Hong Kong company called Mint, working with The Impossible Project, had more initiative than I did. Yesterday, Impossible (via Twitter) gave us a quick look at the product, and it is exactly what I had been trying to build myself.

Front view. (That's Frank Love, Impossible's camera guru, holding it.)

 

Rear view, with slightly less of Frank.

 

 

Better, in fact, because it has an intensity-adjustment slide switch on the back. Web reports say it’s going to be about $100, which is a lot but not crazy.

If they took preorders, I’d have placed one today. I’m actually a little giddy over this.  There’s nothing like wanting a very specific piece of equipment that does not exist, and then discovering that someone else went and designed exactly what you had in mind. Whee!

Update: It went on sale a couple of hours after this post went up. Buy here.

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3 Responses to Flashes of Brilliance: It’s Like They’re In My Head

  1. Jeff McCrum says:

    I actually have a non-Polaroid flash put out by Acme-Lite that was developed for the SX-70. It has a bracket that screws into the tripod mount and then
    the flash screws into the side of the bracket. A cable then runs into the flashbar mount.

    The lack of integrated flash is wheat sent me down the road of the 680 a few years back, so this looks interesting enough to bring me back towards the 70 again…

  2. admin says:

    Jeff: That’s exactly the same experience I had. Until now, I ‘ve been using the SX-70 outdoors, and a 680 when I need the flash. (I like the 680 well enough, but it’s not as sturdy as the earlier model, and it doesn’t fit in a pocket.)

    I have Polaroid’s own flash, the Polatronic 2350, which sounds a lot like that Acme-Lite model you have. (I wonder if they’re the same one, and Polaroid was rebranding it.) Works fine, but it’s really too big to tote around.

  3. ITT made one as well. Santa (my Mom) got me the Impossible/Mint flash. It is amazing, but only useful with good (IE Duracell) batteries. I made the mistake Christmas Eve of shooting with inexpensive Radio Shack batteries, which rendered shots 2-3 stops underexposed. Nothing but Duracell from now on. Love the blog, and am reading your book now. -Arthur

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