Polaroid SX-70 Leather Replacement Project
There’s something quite beautiful about a Polaroid SX-70 photograph. The focus is slightly soft, the colours muted, and I’ve always loved them. It’s a bit of magic in your hand.
In the late 1970s, my aunt gave me a Polaroid SX-70 which she no longer wanted. I used the camera off and on over the years and in the age before instant digital feedback, it was wonderful to see your results so quickly. It allowed you to reframe and reshoot something that hadn’t quite worked the way you wanted it to.
Then, catastrophe. Polaroid was bankrupt and the film disappeared until the Impossible Project resurrected a new generation film in about 2010. I like it and it’s getting better with each version, but it has a slightly different look from the original film. However, at least I could make photographs with my SX-70 and I would buy film packs from time to time. The black and white version is fun to play with.
And then, another set-back. My camera, which by now was over 40 years old, had started to fall apart. More specifically, the fake leather skin on the body started to crumble. It quickly got worse and to the point where you could simply scrape it off with your fingernail.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it until I discovered Cory Verellen’s Rare Medium website. He specializes in repairing and restoring old Land Cameras, and he also sells new skins for old SX-70s.
So I bought a set, and then had to figure out how to remove the old ones. What follows is a description of how I did it – hopefully it will help you if you have the same problem.
My camera is a Model 2 which has a black plastic body. Some versions are metal. I started by very carefully shaving the old skin off with a razor blade window scraper.
What I discovered is that the old skin has several layers. The outer layer is the actual ‘leather’ (I’m not sure what it’s made of – it’s some sort of plastic) which is glued to a thin cellophane-type layer. Basically, it’s a double-sided packing tape with a heavy-duty adhesive on both sides. One side bonds to the ‘leather’ and the other side bonds to the camera body.
Using the blade on a very shallow angle, I kept shaving small sections off bit by bit.
Once I got most of the outer layer removed, I found that Goo Gone was a very helpful cleaner both to remove the final bits of the outer layer, and to loosen the adhesive from the body. I applied it using a cotton rag in small amounts to dissolve everything. Just don’t get carried away with using too much Goo Gone. As it soaks in, it starts to loosen everything up.
Working in small patches with the rag and Goo Gone, eventually I got down to what I called the cellophane adhesive layer. Again, working very slowly and carefully, I started scraping it with the razor blade. I tried to work back and forth across the section and remove the ‘tape’ completely.
After everything was off, I did a final clean-up using a little Goo Gone and a clean rag. Just keep rubbing and cleaning until the entire surface is back to its base plastic (or metal in the case of other SX-70 models). Again, don’t use too much Goo Gone – I found a little would go a long way.
At this point, it’s time to install the new skins. They come with a couple of alcohol wipes to completely clean the body in preparation for the installation. After the final cleaning, peel the skin off its backing and carefully line up one edge into the body. Try to place it down in a rolling fashion, rather than dropping it down flat and all at once – you might get air bubbles trapped underneath if you do it that way. I had a couple of small air bubbles, but I just kept squeezing them and working the toward the nearest edge.
One other caution: when you are shaving off the old outer layer, remember that it crumbles to dust very easily. Keep the camera body in its closed position as much as possible to avoid getting dust inside. Despite my best efforts, I ended up with dust on the focusing screen which I hope is not going to go deeper inside and eventually interfere with the actual photographs.
Here are some images of the final product. It looks like a new camera.