So you discovered a vintage Polaroid in your grandpa's attic. Or you purchased one at a garage sale or Ebay for a give-away price. What now?
If you want to know what it's worth, check out the value page.
If you want to know whether it's usable, a good starting point would be to determine whether it is a roll or pack film camera. Check out the Polaroid camera chart to determine what kind of camera you own.
If you own a roll film camera, it's a great camera to look at and play with, but since Polaroid no longer makes roll film, it's only useful in a collection (unless it has been converted to pack film)
If you own a pack film camera, you're in luck! You can still purchase film and batteries for this camera. Refer back to the chart to figure out what kind of batteries and flash bulbs it uses.
If you own an SX-70 camera, Since Polaroid discontinued SX-70 film in early 2006, you won't find any that is usable. The Impossible Project makes PX-70 film which is their first attempt at producing instant film. You may have trouble finding flashbars for this camera, since they are no longer made though. Since the battery is in the film pack, you don't have to worry about that.
If you own a 600 series camera, since Polaroid discontinued 600 fiml in early 2009, it will be hard to find usable 600 film. Again, the impossible project is producing PX-600 film which will work in this type of camera. These cameras generally have a flash built in, and the battery is in the film pack.
If you have a camera with a bellows, extend the bellows, open the back, remove any old film packs (assuming they're empty!), and look towards the lens while the camera is pointed towards a light source. Try to determine whether there are any light leaks in the bellows. If there is, the camera will leak light and pictures will appear fogged or have light streaks on them.
If you want to determine whether your pack camera works, make sure the battery is good, and try cocking the shutter, putting your finger over the electric eye (beside the lens), and pressing and holding down the shutter release. If you hear 2 distinct clicks around 2 - 10 seconds apart, the shutter works fine. You will need to purchase film and try it out to see whether the exposure system works properly.
If your battery is completely dead, refer to the chart, or find your camera on the left, to see what kind of battery you need. If you need a No. 531 or 532 battery, you can order it directly from Polaroid by calling their 800 number (1-800-343-5000) and requesting a battery, letting them know what kind of camera you have. They normally charge around $7.00 plus shipping for a battery. If you want to try making your own No. 532 (3.0 volt) battery, look at how I made a No. 532 replacement battery.
If you want to use the film indoors, you will need an artificial light source. Check out the chart to see what kind of flash bulbs/cubes your camera uses. If your camera uses a flash blub, you'll probably need the No. 238 flash bulb holder. If it uses a high power flash cube, you'll need the focused flash unit. You'll also need to find a source for your flash bulbs/cubes. They are no longer manufactured, so you'll need to look in places like garage sales, swap meets, or ebay.
Open the back of the camera and insert the film. Close the back and pull the big black tab all the way out.
Set the camera to use the type of film you are using. On lower end cameras, there are only two settings accessible by a switch on top: colour and black and white. On higher end cameras, there are 4 settings accessible by a dial on the bottom: 75, 150, 300, and 3000. Use 75 for colour film, or 3000 for black and white film.
If your camera has a bellows, extend the bellows and cock the shutter by pressing it down until it clicks and stays down.
On higher end cameras, choose your aperture setting. When using colour film, you have a choice between outdoors only (larger depth of field) or indoors with flash/outdoors (smaller depth of field). With black and white film, you have a choice between indoors without flash (small depth of field), or indoors with flash/outdoors (large depth of field).
If you are taking a picture with a flash, mount the flash unit on the camera, plug the flash cable into the receptical on the lens body, and insert an unused(!) flash bulb or cube into the flash unit.
Look through the rangefinder or image sizer and focus by either lining up the two images or pointing the to number of feet you are away from the subject. Focusing is accomplished by moving the scissor type levers back and forth or in the case of plastic bodied cameras, turning the lens to the correct focus range.
Hold the camera steady and slowly press the shutter release to take the picture.
Pull the white tab out, then the larger yellow tab and time the development of the picture, then peel it apart. Check out How to use the film for more details and pictures.