Cameras

Polaroid Pronto! and Polaroid Pronto Sonar OneStep

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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.

Polaroid Pronto!

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.

Polaroid Pronto Sonar OneStep with Polatronic 2209 Flash

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.

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14 thoughts on “Polaroid Pronto! and Polaroid Pronto Sonar OneStep

  1. Steve Miller says:

    I may have mentioned this before, but in the days when studio photography was still shot on 4 x 5 transparencies, Polaroid was an absolute God-send. There’s some trick of the mind that you will KNOW everything is properly positioned, well-lit with no obscuring shadows, no blinding highlights (and all the model’s tattoos covered, though a more rare problem way back when, admittedly) only to find after processing that one or more problems had occurred.

    But with a Polaroid print, you could find the errors and get them corrected before striking the set. I still film rules for quality, but you can see the attraction for digital. Cheaper! Faster! And ‘shopped!

    Today, Polaroid is just a sad, sad name, available for license by just about anyone, though instant photography was pretty miraculous. But Land’s first invention was also pretty useful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polaroid_(polarizer).

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    • Steve, it occurs to me that digital not only killed the Polaroid print, it killed the print. Who prints photos anymore? The use cases there seem to be all around things we want to display specially or keep for the ages. Otherwise, forget it. Photographic images are like the autumn leaves: colorful and beautiful, but soon swept away.

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  2. John Smith says:

    I really, really want to like Polaroid cameras. I have a minty SX-70 that I have only used a few times and a pack film camera that lost it’s luster after a few days. I have so much respect for Ed Land and I want to like his cameras, I really do!

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    • Yeah, I feel the same way. I did have good enough luck with one of his cameras recently. I can do better work any day of the week with any of my SLRs, but this one camera strikes the right balance for me of giving good enough image quality and not costing three arms and two legs to put film into it. Post upcoming.

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  3. Amirul says:

    Hi. I just wanna ask. about how to set distance with Polaroid. I give an example. Ok, What does it mean by 5 meters on the lens? Is that it means 5m and above will be focus? and something that under 5m will be blurred? That was what my friend said. So, is that if I’m going to shoot infinity using 5m setting it will be in focused? I’m just curious because I don’t want to waste my money coz the film is too expensive.

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    • Generally when you set a camera like this to 5 feet, you get an “in focus” range of several feet, where that 5-foot mark is somewhere in the middle. You have to experiment with cameras like this to discover the “in focus” range.

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  4. Gray says:

    Hello! I just wanted to ask if you know where the regular pronto’s battery would be located? I’m not all that sure how to use this Polaroid. I discovered it in my house and it’s a beauty! Please help! Thank you!

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  5. Hi! I just found my mom’s old Sonar One-Step. On top, just behind the lens, the he camera can be set to either auto or manual focus. Setting it to “manual” uncovers the red focus wheel. If you shop around online you should be able to find an old pocket rangefinder to aid in choosing the proper focus distance. I’m thinking of trying the color film that produces a round image.

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  6. Micheal T Kiraly says:

    Great article my brother who was born in 75 for whatever reason sent me a Craig list ad for this type of camera so i dugout Dads Polaroid Pronto. I tried to take a pic but I think the last time dad bought a cartridge was in the late 70s so i guess the film’s no good, i believe the battery was in the film cartridge so i was impressed that it put out the film.

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