My Polaroid Sun 660 LMS Autofocus, freshly purchased at a local thrift shop, shares its basic features with most of the cameras in the long line of the 600s:
A plastic 116mm 𝒇11 lens with autofocus and auto-exposure, a simple viewfinder with a minimum focus distance of 1m/3’ and shutter speeds of 1/4s to 1/200s.
The Sun 600 flash fires in all light conditions, though it’s easy to bypass by pulling on the “sleeve” portion of the trigger button. The bulb takes about ten seconds to recharge; it’s very bright.
All of this to produce 3.11” × 3.01” images (plus frame) — on the spot.
But there’s more to this camera than its specs, bulky design, and the ‘90s appeal. In this review, I will explain why it exists and all the ways you can take advantage of this fantastic coconut-sized plastic camera.
A brief history of the Polaroid 600 film cameras.
In the ‘90s, Polaroid 600-series cameras were all the rage for casual photography. My parents owned one — and we lived in Russia!
☝︎Further reading: “Polaroid Introduces New Camera And Film” — The New York Times.
Built upon the technological legacy of the incredible Polaroid SX-70 camera, the 600-series made shooting instant film even easier — with a faster film speed, auto-everything, and an integrated flash. They were (and still are) considerably cheaper than the SX-70.
While the 600-series cameras sold today are the used working copies, thankfully averting landfills, the film that they use is brand new. It’s still made by Polaroid, but it’s not the same company that made the cameras.
The original Polaroid shut down its last factory in 2008 due to pressures of a lawsuit, followed by a long series of unfortunate events.
However, a small team of passionate entrepreneurs, The Impossible Project, managed to purchase the last factory. With great effort, they restored the process of making film for Polaroid 600 (and many other) instant film cameras.
Impossible Project’s product is not the same as the instant film that was produced en-masse back in the ‘90s. Some of the chemical stability, development speed, and colour accuracy got lost in the process. They still introduce incremental improvements every couple of years, though the results are still not the same as they used to be.
Nevertheless, Polaroid 600 film can be bought today new for your Polaroid Sun 660 LMS Autofocus and many other instant film cameras. Which I think is a great outcome.
Lens and image quality.
Polaroid film isn’t particularly sharp. Even in ISO 160 for SX-70 cameras and their glass lens, it doesn’t show much detail when enlarged to fit on a large monitor. Though I still think that this film is worth scanning as acuity isn’t the only thing that matters in an emulsion.
In-person, Polaroid 600 photos look fairly sharp; you’d need a loupe or a very discerning eye to determine soft focus. The plastic lens is enough to take advantage of the film’s resolution and print size. But because of its small aperture, don’t expect any bokeh in your photos — though you can get plenty of it with an SX-70 camera.
Combined with the film, expect results that look somewhat stylized. The film produces various slight tints that depend on the temperature and the inherent randomness of the chemical reactions. For the most part, it works as expected, although it is known to occasionally fail. Sometimes, such failures are still worth keeping.
Autoexposure and autofocus.
⚠️ The camera has an exposure compensation notch, which has to be slid about a third of the way towards the dark side. This is because the new Polaroid film is slightly more sensitive than the original stuff from the ‘90s.
Another thing you should know about the new Polaroid 600 film is that it has a very limited dynamic range. Essentially, this means that evenly-lit scenes look better with this camera, whereas lots of contrast may cause your images to lose detail in the shadows or the highlights.
Sonar focusing mechanism. All Polaroid 600 cameras use sound to estimate the distance to the subject. They emit humanly-inaudible waves and measure the time it takes for them to bounce off whatever’s in front of the lens. Further-away objects take longer to return the echo, whereas something up-close will be very fast.
The downside to the sonar system is that the sound can bounce off transparent objects like glass. So if you’re trying to take a picture from inside the car or your house, make sure to open the window.
Sonar is an unusual application of autofocus, even in older film cameras. Most were like Minolta TC-1, Konica Big Mini, and Olympus Mju — using infrared light instead of sound that had no problem travelling through glass.
The built-in flash on all Polaroid 600 cameras is quite good, easy to use, and easy to disable.
The camera is able to calculate exposures with flash fairly well. In my experience, my artificially-lit scenes looked even with no undue over-exposure. There’s nothing that you need to do for the flash to work other than to wait for the light to turn green once it has enough charge to fire.
I recommend that you continue using flash with your Sun 660 in the daytime as it helps alleviate the problems caused by the narrow dynamic range of the Polaroid film. Having your flash on for backlit subjects and while photographing scenes with lots of contrast softens the shadows and adds details.
However, if you don’t want flash, it’s easy to bypass. Simply pull on the “jacket” around the shutter button on the right side of the camera instead of the main protruding button.
Camera build quality, handling, and ergonomics.
The 600 was not an expensive camera when it was first sold — neither does it feel like one. It’s rather bulky and weighs nearly a pound, but you could tell that these cameras could withstand a decent amount of abuse before breaking. I had one that had to be recycled, and let me tell you, forcefully separating the plastic bits of its shell was very difficult.
Many of these cameras remain fully functional forty years since production. This is better than a lot of the modern technology we buy and make today.
Polaroid Sun 660 LMS’s graspable size and simple design make them easy to use. These cameras are certainly not fidgety, and there are only a few controls.
Opening the camera is intuitive — pulling and rotating the foldable bit with the flash does the trick. Closing Sun 660 is just as easy. Some models may have their “lid” click into position and stay there fixed fairly tightly. Don’t be afraid to use a little extra force on your Polaroid camera — but no more than you’d apply to a door handle.
The shutter button is located in a slightly unusual spot (on the right with the camera lens pointing away from you) and works like a pull trigger. You’ll notice that there’s a “jacket” that you can pull on behind the main shutter button, which will take a photo without flash.
To load film, turn the camera’s lens towards yourself and pull on the black tab on the left of the camera. The bottom lip should rotate open, and there would be space to insert your Polaroid cartridge with its colourful plastic tab facing you and the dark slide (a black piece of paper on top of the cartridge) facing up. Make sure that the pack fits snugly all the way in and close the bottom lip. This should activate your camera and spit the dark slide out. You’re ready to shoot!
Note that modern Polaroid film cartridges have only 8 frames, whereas all Polaroid 600 cameras count the remaining frames down from 10. The frame counter is at the back of the camera. Watch it until it shows 3 — that is your last frame. When the counter shows 2, you are out of film.
Where to buy your Polaroid Sun 660 camera.
There were lots of Polaroid Sun 660 LMS and other 600-series cameras produced back in the day. They all have a slightly different design, but the functionality is mostly identical. The lenses are also more or less the same.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to find one at a thrift store — although there usually is no guarantee that it’ll work. And since the film prices are very real, you should test your camera first before loading a fresh pack in to avoid disappointment.
As usual, the internet makes things a little more convenient. If you don’t have any shops selling those cameras locally, the next best thing is to get your Polaroid Sun 660 LMS online. As with any other used good, check the photos for cracks, dings, and anything out-of-place. Trusted sellers with lots of ratings and a good return policy selling cameras as “working” are usually the best bet.
This article was last edited on July 14th, 2022. At this time, Polaroid Sun 660 LMS cameras are selling on average for $50 plus taxes and shipping. They may go for up to $150 when sold refurbished or more when they still have the original packaging.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Polaroid Sun 660 camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!