TagImpossible Project instant Film

The Polaroid SLR 680 and the Land Cameras/Rare Medium repair experience

shoot-242Polaroid gave the 600 film short shrift, I think.

They introduced it as an evolution of the original Time Zero SX-70 film, with greater light sensitivity. But unlike the SX-70 film, they primarily churned out plastic, inexpensive, point and shoot style cameras to use it in. What was arguably their best film could only be used in their worst cameras. This was not the only bad business decision they would make.

The SLR 680 was a means to address this decision. It was an evolution of the original SX-70 camera from the 1970s, also using the Sonar focus system that was added to that camera. There were two other models: the SLR 690, a Japanese version of the camera with different exposure electronics, and the SLR 680 SE, which had a different trim level. They all shared the 116mm F8 glass lens, the only cameras to shoot 600 film that had one. It’s a marvelous lens.

The Sonar Focus system is, without a doubt, the best auto focus system I have ever used. Admittedly, I no longer use auto focus cameras aside from this one. The SLR 680 does not hunt in low light the way the dSLRS I used to use did. It performs better than the auto focus system of cameras ten times its price. Not too shabby for 30 year old technology.

I bought mine in my lot buying days. In fact, the Kodak Star 335 plastic camera I reviewed here came in that same lot. I paid $50 or so for these two and some other useless APS cameras I have since disposed of. It was a gamble that paid off. The 680 worked, even if the leather was tatty and the ejecting motor wheezed after the shutter fired. I went on and shot with that camera for a few years before it began to have a problem ejecting shots. I figured it was the pick arm, a common issue I had read about on the internet and sat the camera aside until I could fiddle with it.

shoot-241After a while I began to look around to see if there was anyone who worked on Polaroid cameras to renew it. Via the recommendation of Shelly Sometimes, photographer extraordinaire in Denver, and Jana Obscura, a pinhole photographer who had a broken camera worked on, I contacted Landcameras.com/Rare Medium to work on my 680. Rare Medium is in Seattle, WA and refurbishes Polaroid cameras. I’ve never been to the shop in person, but it looks the sort of place that living near it would cost me a fortune. Cory, the repair person I dealt with, gives first rate customer service, and my camera is beautiful. He tuned it up, fixed the feed issue, put new rollers on it, and covered it in new black leather. All for a very reasonable price, far less than what a new refurbished one would cost.

I’ve done some good work with this camera in the past, had at least one shot I took with it exhibited internationally. Thanks to Cory, I look forward to years more to come.


A persistant instant- My sole Polaroid survivor: a One Step

shoot-134The strangest things stay with me. I’ve managed to lose some cameras over the years. I once even killed an F3. No small task, given their epic reliability and dependability. Alas, they don’t like being submerged in water. But this thing has stuck with me for a couple decades now.

This is one of two cameras I’ve managed to hold on to for years. I’m not even sure why I bought it. It was the early 90s, and I was freshly out of college. I picked this camera up at a drug store in Green Hills, a suburb of Nashville, TN. I think it was a bit of an impulse buy. I bought it and a couple packs of color film, and chucked it in the back of the Chevy I drove at the time and kind of forgot about it. I shot with it on occasion, but I don’t seem to have saved much that I did with it.

When Polaroid stopped making film I held on to it. I’d move it around on a shelf or in a closet and think “They don’t even make film for that anymore. I should get rid of it.” But I never did. It moved around the country with me, sitting on shelves in several states.

When Impossible Project started making film again, I waited for 600 packs eagerly, like the rest of the world. It came at an interesting time in my life. I’d just left a horrible relationship, I was looking at my first bit of touring on a bicycle, things were changing. It was a time of rebirth for me. It was also a time of rebirth for old Polaroid cameras.

The One Step is pretty basic. There’s a lighten/darken slider, just like every Polaroid camera since the beginning. It has a “close up” lens that’s merely another piece of plastic you can slide over the plastic lens to try and get a little closer to what you are shooting. Predictably, this doesn’t do anything good for your already mediocre image quality. The shutter button has two ways to trip it. If you push the main plunger, it fires the shutter and the flash simultaneously. If you use the smaller lever attached to the collar of the button, it merely fires the shutter. That’s the whole of the input you get for the images this camera captures. shoot-135

These cameras are the most common Polaroid I’ve seen. Even more so than the rainbow One Steps from the 70s, I think.  People modify them all the time, some making them pinholes. They’re worth about $15, unless you buy from one of the trendy shops like American Outfitters. They’ll soak you for almost ten times that for one. It’s an OK camera, but it’s not that OK.

I think I’ll keep mine, though. As long as it’s hung around, they’ll probably have to bury me with it.