Unwanted cameras sometimes make their way into my hands. Not long ago, a Polaroid One600 became a permanent resident at the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.
Polaroid introduced 600-series film and cameras in 1981. One of Polaroid’s signature moves was to create a whole line of cameras out of a basic body by varying features – one model might have a close-up lens, another model might have a self-timer, a series of models would have autofocus, several models would have a built-in flash, and so on. Polaroid created five or six basic 600 bodies over a 30-year period. The last basic body was introduced in about 2001 – which was the year Polaroid Corporation went bankrupt. The One600 uses this final body; it might be considered Polaroid’s last gasp.
At least the body was cleverly designed. When you press a square button on the back, the camera opens up. The fixed-focus 100 mm lens, which is almost certainly made of plastic, is on the wide side. The built-in flash is common to all cameras with this body.
Around back the One600 has a feature not seen before this body: an electronic frame counter. It’s the little LCD window next to the viewfinder. It shows the number of shots left in the film pack.
This One600 came with four packs of 600 film. They all expired in 2006, but I was glad to get them. The post-bankruptcy Polaroid Corporation stopped making film in 2008. You can buy expired 600 film on eBay, but it’s not cheap. You can buy new films for 600-series cameras from the Impossible Project, but they too are expensive and are quirky to use.
Each 600 film pack contains a battery that powers the camera, a great Polaroid idea meant to ensure that their cameras never ran out of juice. Of course, Polaroid Corporation didn’t count on going out of business. Unused batteries fade away with time. It won’t be long before all expired Polaroid integral films will be useless, and our only option for shooting these cameras will be to buy from the Impossible Project.
Expired film can yield good images for years if it’s refrigerated. Unfortunately, this expired film was stored in a closet, and it delivered poor results. The colors all tended toward brown, and the photo-sensitive material had pulled away from each print’s upper corners. Fortunately, the software that came with my scanner worked wonders on these images, bringing out truer-to-life colors. It couldn’t do anything about the corners, though. It also couldn’t overcome the softness of the One600’s lens, although I suppose I could improve that a little in Photoshop Elements.
I was surprised to find that the One600 is cumbersome to use. The viewfinder throws a fisheyed image that left me feeling disoriented. And with the camera at my face the shutter button is right next to my cheek, making it awkward to press and making it necessary to steady the camera entirely with my left hand. So I tended to just get the shooting over with as quickly as possible, leading to a whole bunch of poorly composed photographs. This, sadly, was the best photo of the two packs I shot.
But the point of Polaroid cameras is not fine art but fun snapshots. Even with its weird usability, this camera would be fun at a party. I showed it to my sons and they were as wowed in 2012 to see the picture shoot out of the camera and develop before their eyes as I was when Polaroid’s first integral-film cameras came out in the early 1970s. My older son thought it was so cool that he had to try it for himself. I just wish he had chosen something other than a sink full of dishes as a backdrop!
I still have two packs of this expired film left – and I have a much older 600-series camera I haven’t tried yet. So stay tuned!
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!