Remember the magic of shaking that old Polaroid film photo and watching the image develop right before your eyes? Vintage Polaroid cameras still have value today - both as decorative pieces that channel the good old days and as actual functioning cameras you can use to snap photos of your friends, family, and surroundings. Polaroid photos have a unique look that adds a ton of magic and nostalgic appeal you simply can't get with any other camera.
Film isn't available for every model of Polaroid, and there are some little tricks to choosing a great camera to collect or shoot. With a few basics, though, you can identify which cameras are worth the investment and how to know what these old beauties of yesteryear are worth today.
How to Identify Your Vintage Polaroid Camera
Legend has it that Polaroid founder Edwin Land was spending a fun afternoon photographing with his young daughter when she asked a question that changed photographic history: why couldn't she see the photos he took right away? He founded Polaroid in 1937, and the company started making instant film cameras in the late 1940s. Over the years, they made millions of cameras, and you can still find many of them on the used market today.
Identifying a Polaroid is fairly simple. Look for the Polaroid name on the front of the camera or the words "Polaroid Land Camera." In many cases, the specific model number or name is also printed on the camera body. This can be a series of letters and numbers or a name like "Pathfinder" or "Highlander."
Depending on the model, Polaroid cameras can look quite different from each other. Some fold and have bellows for focusing, while others are self-contained point-and-shoot units. They also take different kinds of film, including roll film and pack film.
Factors Affecting Vintage Polaroid Values
Whether a vintage Polaroid is worth anything (beyond a ton of nostalgic value) depends on several factors. These cameras can be worth as little as $10 or $20, but they can also be worth hundreds. If you spot a vintage camera in a thrift store or are considering buying one online, take a look at these factors to get a specific idea for what it might be worth.
A lot of the value of Polaroids (and any vintage camera) has to do with usability. Does the camera really work? Is it reliable? If someone is going to be paying money for film for these, they want to know they aren't wasting that money with a broken camera.
- Tested Polaroid cameras are worth more than untested examples. An untested camera may not work at all, so people don't pay as much for it. If you're thinking about selling a vintage Polaroid, it's worth running some film through it so you can say you tested it.
- A camera with a recent CLA ("clean, lube, and adjust" in case you don't automatically speak the lingo) is worth more than one that hasn't been serviced in a while.
- Details and accessories like the original box and manual can add to the value, all other things being equal.
- Cosmetic condition matters too. A beat-up camera, even if it functions, is worth less than a working camera that looks pretty.
Basically, condition is a huge thing to consider when it comes to value. For example, a Polaroid Spectra 2 AF that was tested and was in pristine, totally functional condition sold for about $90, while the same camera model in untested condition sold for only about $13.
Polaroid Model Rarity and Desirability
Rare Polaroid models are worth more than common examples, just like with most things. Still, it's not always about how many were made initially. These cameras got hard use, and they weren't always made to withstand that. If they are hard to find in good shape or there just aren't that many still out there, they can be worth more. These are some models to watch for.
- SX-70 Land Camera - This folding Polaroid is an icon of design, and some are available with the coveted brown leather and chrome body. If you can find one in great condition, it's worth a lot. A tested SX-70 Land Camera in excellent shape sold for almost $600.
- Polaroid 690 - Although these aren't rare, they are hard to find in mint condition. If you can find one still in the original box and in pristine shape, it could be valuable. A tested Polaroid 690 with original box, strap, and manual sold for over $1,000.
- Model 100 Land Camera - The oldest models can be worth a lot, especially if there weren't many made. The Model 100 Land Camera is a great example and is hard to find in working condition. A tested Model 100 sold for about $1,000.
- Polaroid 600 in rare colors - Although the Model 600 isn't rare, there are certain colors that are way less common. Look for special editions or pretty shades that you don't see every day. For example, a pair of tested Polaroid 600s in party green and party blue sold for about $450.
Although really cute vintage Polaroid cameras have value just as decorative objects (imagine how charming they look on a bookshelf), the most valuable models are ones that you can actually use to take photos. In order to do that, you need to be able to get film for them. Fortunately, several types of Polaroid film are on the market. Expect to pay about $20 for a pack that has eight shots, though prices can vary by model and whether the film is black and white or color.
You can buy Polaroid film for vintage cameras directly from the manufacturer or from photo specialty sources like Freestyle Photo.
Some cameras, such as the SX-70, require film with a battery that powers the camera's meter and other systems. It's always a good idea to confirm that the film pack is fresh because the battery's functionality is important.
Nostalgic Charm of Retro Instant Cameras
One of the biggest appeals of vintage Polaroid cameras is the unique, retro aesthetic they give to photographs. These vintage treasures produce instant prints that have a totally distinctive look and feel that is impossible to replicate with modern digital cameras or even other film cameras. Polaroids have a soft, dreamy quality that everyone loves for capturing memories or creating art. The Polaroid models on the used market make it easy to get that charming nostalgic look or give a vintage gift everyone will love. Who wouldn't go crazy for a vintage Polaroid and a pack of film?