Polaroid’s SX-70 camera may have been inventor Edwin Land’s crowning instant-photography achievement, but it was mighty expensive. To bring the joy of SX-70-style instant photography to everyone, Polaroid needed to introduce a less-expensive camera. The Pronto! was that camera.
The Pronto! offered an electronic shutter and full autoexposure, plus a three-element, 116mm f/9.4 plastic lens. For indoor photos, you could clip a flashbar into a socket on the top. The Pronto! is a guess-focus camera – you turn the ring around the lens to set the distance to the subject. But otherwise everything about this camera is point-and-shoot simple. And at $66 at its 1976 introduction (about $270 in 2014 dollars), it was about one third the price of the SX-70.
$66 must not have been the magic price, however, because in 1977 Polaroid introduced the $39.95 OneStep. If you were around at all in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you saw this camera endlessly advertised on TV. It used the Pronto! body, but was white with the signature Polaroid rainbow stripe. It was decontented to reach that price, offering fixed focus and a single-element 103mm f/14.6 lens.
The Pronto! body was also adapted into the top-of-the-line rigid-bodied camera for SX-70 film, the Pronto Sonar OneStep. It sold for $99.95 upon introduction in 1978. This was the second most fully featured Polaroid camera available, after a variant of the SX-70 that shared this camera’s innovative sonar autofocus system. See that big golden panel next to the lens? When you press the shutter button halfway, the camera makes some sounds you can’t hear. They bounce off the subject and back onto the big golden panel, which lets the camera calculate distance and turn a motor to focus the lens.
Apparently you can also set focus manually if you want, but I can’t figure out how. The Pronto Sonar OneStep also features a tripod socket and a cable-release socket not present on the plainer Pronto! My Pronto Sonar OneStep comes with the Polatronic 2 electronic flash (model 2209). It clips on and off the camera and connects to the flashbar socket.
You can still get film for these cameras from The Impossible Project; buy some here. I bought some when I shot my SX-70 last year, but I wasn’t that impressed with the results. Given that the SX-70 has a better lens than either of these cameras and that film costs upwards of $25, I’m not likely ever to use these cameras.