Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Re-skinning and restoring a Polaroid SX-70

I've always considered the Polaroid SX-70 camera one of the more beautiful examples of analog photography. It took a brilliant mind to conceive and produce it, and it has its own, unique, form-follows-function design with a beauty that is its alone.

Rummaging around in an old cabinet the other day, I came upon an old SK-70 Model 3 that must have been stuffed away in there for well over twenty-five years. The faux leather on it was all moldy, cracked, and falling apart. I put a pack of film in it and found that is was working fine, even a flash bar I found worked. Not too much can go wrong with these cameras, which is a positive thing that can be said about their design. The battery for operating the camera is contained within the film pack. That eliminates one method of corrosive damage over time. The mechanics of the camera are free from energy reliance until you snap the shutter.

So all it needed was a good cleaning inside and out, and, of course, a complete replacement of the skin. Some camera skins were made of original leather. This one was not, which is why it was crumbling apart.

Replacement camera skins are readily available on the internet, and can be had in a variety of colors and textures, and even in wood veneers. I found the skin I wanted at a place called Hugo Studio,  HugoStudio, where I bought a real leather tan skin set for $20. It was a close match the original Polaroid color.

The first task was to get the old skin off of the camera -- -- not an easy task if it is made of fake leather. I used two painting knives and some Bestine solvent. Painting knives are very flexible and not overly sharp so it wasn't difficult to work them under the covering and slide them in. Bestine is a solvent used by artists for removing old, dried rubber cement. It worked perfectly here.  I suppose that Goo Gone might also have served the same purpose.

Once I  had a start of picking up the skin, I would spread some Bestine along the seam and continue working the skin off with the painting knives. While not fun, it wasn't too difficult and didn't take more than an hour to get all the skins off.

After the skins were off, I cleaned the plastic with alcohol and then used Novus Plastic Polish to remove the scratches on the plastic and then polish it. Novus comes in three strengths: 3 is like a compound and good for removing the scratches; 2 gives a finer shine to the surface; and 1 is a final, gloss-like coat. 

At this time, I also cleaned the inside of the camera in the front, where the film pack is inserted. The rollers in here are usually coated with some gunk from the processing chemicals. I cleaned them off using alcohol and Q-Tips, and then sprayed the whole camera, in and out, with a dust can. 

Next I ordered a set of genuine tan leather skins from a place called Hugo Studio. They have many other colors, textures, and materials available. When re-skinning, it's best to start with the bottom two and then proceed to the top three, saving the one on the viewfinder for last. When positioning the skins, you can make them more pliable to move around if you coat the surface of the plastic with alcohol or non-moisturizing Purell. Both methods worked, but the Purell didn't evaporate as fast as the alcohol and gave me more time to work the skin into the form. It was not very difficult.  Just start at one side, anchor two corners, and work it slowly into place from the anchored bottom to the other side. Don't lay it all down at once. If you do get some bubbles that you can't work out, a tiny pin-prick will let the air out so they will lie flat.

So, here is the finished camera -- cleaned, restored, and ready to do battle as long as someone keeps producing film for it. The cell phone camera has replaced the spontaneity of instant image capture, but it doesn't provide the tangible result of a print -- something you can hold, pass around, or hang up as a daily reminder of an event. There is something private about a print. It is unique, whereas a mobile image is one in an environment of millions.  Plus, you can say anything you want about Polaroid cameras, the bottom line is the SK-70 camera is truly an amazing invention and sure is fun to use.

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