My Sun 660 LMS, 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 one meter and a shutter with 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.
Sun 660 autofocus and autoexposure.
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.
It may take some time to get the right exposure with this camera since the film is very finicky about the light; the slider could be counter-intuitive at times. This guide for the SX-70 comes with detailed instructions on how to master the light, and it applies to 660 just the same.
Sonar focusing mechanism. The camera’s peculiar focusing system uses sound, inaudible to the human ear, to determine the distance to the subject. Once calculated, one of the internal “template” lenses slides in behind the main one to “correct the vision.” Due to the mechanics of this apparatus, shooting out of the window does not work. The sound waves reflect off the glass, giving the camera a false sense of distance.
Sun 660 in use.
The 600 isn’t a particularly expensive camera — neither does it feel like one. It’s rather bulky, about the size of a small watermelon when closed, weighing just about a pound. As you could imagine, a large plastic box with lots of air inside does not yield a feel of a quality product. Nevertheless, this Polaroid is very sturdy.
Despite its toy-like appearance, it can produce good quality images; many copies remain flawlessly functional, three decades after making.
The new film being sold and produced for these cameras is a continued re-innovation. It does not come close in colour accuracy and dynamic range to the stuff produced by the former giant. It does not work well in harsh light, and it gets colour shifts in the dusk. Even in perfect conditions, it may not come out looking right. It takes effort and experience to get it to work, which isn’t cheap, considering how much a pack of film costs. Despite all that, I still love using it.
I found that shooting in daytime shadows gives it the best balance of light and contrast. The 600 camera requires some distance from your subject, at least a meter, and its flash will not correctly light your scene if you’re more than seven meters away. On top of that, it takes over ten minutes to fully develop your exposures, which you should not shake, hide from the sun, and keep at room temperature.
Thankfully, other than picking a good light for this camera, there’s isn’t much you need to do to make wonderful pictures.
Polaroid 600 vs. SX-70 and Instax.
At first, it may seem that the 600 is the bottommost choice of the trio. Instax uses stable chemicals, which are cheaper and easier to work with; SX-70 is an unmatched legend of instant photography. But in practice, picking the right camera may not be so obvious.
Polaroid SX-70 folds into a compact shape, it feels and looks great, and comes with a glass lens and SLR viewfinder that can be manually focused as close as 10.4”/26.4cm. It also costs significantly more than the 600.
Despite its superior construction, SX-70 uses the same film technology as the 600 and is prone to similar drawbacks when it comes to getting a good exposure. SX-70’s lens is sharper, though unless you are taking close-up shots with lots of bokeh, the end results may look fairly similar. This is because you are looking at a relatively small frame. Besides, plastic lenses aren’t as bad as they say, and the large exposure area of the negative is able to correct a lot of the optics’ shortcomings. Also, SX-70 does not carry a built-in flash, and the film it uses is two stops slower, making it tougher to shoot in low-light situations.
Instax Mini 90 is how I got started with instant film. This system is the most popular camera produced by Fujifilm; it’s sold everywhere. It’s cheap, and the film works very well. There are a variety of cameras for the Instax format, including one made by Leica and even a TLR made by MiNT. Still, it’s missing a few things.
Despite its imperfections, Polaroid film feels special. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia for those of us who shot the original Polaroids back in the day. Or the fact that it’s been saved by an underdog. Its “experimental” nature adds an element of surprise, and when it does get distorted, it feels warm and organic. The possibility of emulsion lifts alone is a reason enough to shoot this incredible format.
In the end, the choice depends on the type of photos you’d like to take, whether the cost is an issue, and how much you care about the camera itself.
A brief history of the 600x cameras.
In its heyday, Polaroid used to be regarded as highly as Apple Inc. Unfortunately, an extensive lawsuit against Kodak caused immense drainage of innovation, morale, and talent within. The company continued to lose its ground in the years that followed until it shut down the last factory in 2008 and remained as a shell of a brand. A small team of passionate photographers did manage to revive what was left of Polaroid, including the film line. However, they were not able to salvage all of the formulae and tooling.
☝︎Further reading: “Polaroid Introduces New Camera And Film” — The New York Times.
Polaroid 600-series cameras come in a vast variety of designs thanks to their high demand and easy malleability since the first production day in 1981. All plastic bodies retain the same basic structure: a flip cover that hosts the flash and a base with integral electronics, a plastic lens, and a film ejection mechanism. The finish and colours, however, may defy practical limitations. The cameras sport a range of designs, from retro-modern to insane, some shaped like cartoon characters, French fries, or lego bricks.
❤ 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!