The Polaroid Spectra camera was the first model in the Polaroid’s Spectra System line. In Europe and Asia it was also marketed as a Minolta Image Pro. The original model was released in 1986. It wasn’t a cheap camera at the time. During it’s period of production, 8 different models were produced. However, nowadays I would limit my interest to Polaroid Spectra AF, Polaroid Spectra Pro, Polaroid Spectra System and Polaroid Spectra Onyx. Although there was a cool Macro version, the others lacked some of the features. Of course, the macro version had a different lens.
Sonar from the 70’s
While it used the same sonar system as the late 70’s SX-70, the similarity ended there. The film was new, producing rectangular images. 9.2 x 7.3cm as opposed to the square images that were 7.9 x 7.9cm. However, other than that, it was pretty much identical to 600 series film. The sonar info was used to adjust the 125mm f/10 lens and takes a reading from the integrated light meter to calculate exposure.
To activate the lens, the switch underneath the handstrap must be pulled. Once open, a lever on the opposite side of the camera can be pressed to open the film door for loading and unloading. Most of the Spectra’s controls are on the back as a series of switches next to the viewfinder. These changed very slightly from model to model, but were pretty self explanatory. The units setting in, meters or feet, were displayed within the viewfinder. The second switch enables or disables beeps from the camera. Next a self-timer. Very cool was an autofocus override for shooting through glass, and other situations where sonar autofocusing wouldn’t do. Then is the manual flash override,…probably the most used switch. Then the exposure compensation slider. The flash cycle indicator light or lights and a frame counter. The shutter button is on the top plate of the camera.
The 125mm Lens
All Spectra models, except the Macro SLRs and the ProCam, featured 125mm lenses which gave a field of view equivalent to 46mm on a 35mm film camera. The Spectra use the Quintic lens system. This is essentially a three lens set-up designed to be compact, but at the same time to provide for a sharper image quality from very small distances to infinity. The actual specification for the lens is f10/125mm with focus range specified at 2 feet to infinity and shutter speed at 1/245th – 2.8 second. Although other models did vary slightly.
The film for the Polaroid Spectra allowed the flexibility in selecting whether the subject would be better framed in a portrait or landscape configuration. (as opposed to the formerly square format) Both a loved and hated improvement. The flash can be turned on or off giving the photographer better control over lighting conditions and is probably the single most advancement. Of course, no more flash cubes. Plus the camera displays a symbol in the viewfinder telling the photographer if the subject is too close or too far away for flash use.
Polaroid Spectra Camera vs SX-70 Camera
The Spectra also has a tripod mounting hole. Unlike other Polaroid cameras, there is no need for brackets or accessories to mount the Spectra onto a tripod. The build quality is very solid. While the Polaroid SX-70 cameras take awesome pictures, and has a lovely feel and look of leather and steel, the bellows can get punctured or wear. No biggie to fix, but the Spectra looks and feels like a pro camera in every sense. Most people tend to not ‘baby’ the camera. No need. The last thing I should mention is the Spectra is now dirt cheap. The Polaroid SX-70,…not so much.
The Polaroid Spectra camera has a 12 second self-timer. I don’t actually use self-timers, but this one is pretty advanced. For 10 seconds it beeps, then a red light flashes for the last 2 seconds before shutter release. So, selfies and group shots are almost idiot proof. (almost) Also, there is a remote shutter release cable socket. Plus eBay has wireless remote shutter controls for the Spectra.
But when asked, most photographers love the multiple exposure abilities of the camera. I don’t think Polaroid designed this into the camera, but when using the self-timer, the photo isn’t ejected from the camera until you turn it off! So, taking multiple exposures on the film is doable. Actually, the Spectra Pro model has an built-in function that allows you to take up to five multiple exposures. The Pro is also the only model to support time lapse photography.
So, is the Polaroid Spectra camera “ultimate Polaroid” that you can still get Spectra film for? Well, I guess a case can be made for Polaroids 8×10 film, but as easy to use, professionally built instant cameras go, (with ejected images), I’d say it’ll give any instant a run for the money.