Update April 2020: Polaroid Originals has rebranded as Polaroid, but remains the same company despite the slight name change.
It’s no secret that the Polaroid SLR 680 is my favorite instant film camera. Heck, it’s one of my favorite cameras, period. Based on Edwin Land’s groundbreaking original design, then updated over the decades to add in autofocus and flash, the SLR 680 is the pinnacle of instant film technology.
The Polaroid SLR 680 was also released as the 690 during the 90s. The 690 is almost exactly the same camera, just a bit newer with some slight cosmetic and internal differences. For the purposes of this guide, consider the 680 and 690 interchangeable. Earlier Polaroid SLRs like the Model 2 and SX-70 Sonar have some different controls, and will be covered in other guides in the future.
Wondering how to use the SLR 680 for yourself? The Polaroid 680 folds flat, so when you first see it, it’ll probably resemble a little elongated brick. In this guide, I’ll go over how to unfold the camera, identify the controls, and shoot with it.
Let’s dive in!
What does the Polaroid SLR 680 use?
Before we get started, we need to make sure you have the film you’ll need for the camera. The Polaroid SLR 680 uses 600 type Polaroid film, which is a version of the classic ‘square’ Polaroid frame.
Polaroid discontinued 600 type film way back in 2008, but a company called the Impossible Project rose up and started making new film for the camera. In 2017, the Impossible Project renamed itself ‘Polaroid Originals,’ and continues making new film for vintage Polaroid cameras.
Polaroid Originals film for 600 cameras is what you’ll need to run the camera. The Polaroid SLR 680 is powered by a small battery in the film cartridge itself, so it won’t even turn on until you load a new pack of film. I’ll go over how to load the camera below, but before we get started, make sure you have a fresh pack of film on hand.
Fuji Instax film, and Polaroid Originals film for iType, SX-70, and Spectra will not work with this camera. Also, old packs of vintage Polaroid film will likely have a dead battery. The film is still good, but you’ll need to do a battery transfer, and are still going to need a fresh pack of film to do so.
Unfolding and Turning the Camera On
The Polaroid SLR 680 doesn’t look like much when it’s closed. Flattened down, it is a simple, featureless rectangle with the flash and focus unit noticeably grafted onto the front.
To open the camera, grip the the little protrusion on the top of the camera.
First the protrusion will pop up slightly with a little pressure. Keep your grip, and pull directly upwards to completely unfold the camera.
It takes considerable effort to open the camera, so may feel a bit nerve wracking at first.
To make sure the camera stays open, you’ll have to make sure the metal bar on the side is locked in place. If it doesn’t click into place, the camera will simply fold back up when you let go.
If you can see anything through the viewfinder (it will likely be out of focus, which is fine), you successfully unfolded the camera! When there’s a pack of film loaded, opening the camera essentially ‘turns it on.’
When you want to close the camera, press in the direction of the arrow on the little metal bar on the side of the camera. This will let the camera collapse into it self. Unlike unfolding, it will do most of the work itself.
Once it’s folded up, push down the top portion and click it into place. The camera is off and good to be stored.
When Edwin Land originally designed the folding Polaroid SLR, the camera folded up into a compact size small enough to fit in a large coat pocket. Unfortunately, the giant autofocus and flashbar that was grafted onto the later era SLR 680 causes it to fold into a elongated and fragile shape that makes it difficult to store and carry. For this reason, I highly recommend buying a dedicated case like the one Polaroid Originals sells. It’s expensive, but so is the SLR 680, and it’s worth it to protect your investment.
Identifying Parts of the Camera
Below are all the main controls and buttons on the front of an unfolded SLR 680. The flash on/off button is on the back of the flash unit, and not show in this picture.
To load film into the SLR 680, first unfold the camera. Once it’s unfolded, press down on the yellow latch on the side to open the film compartment.
Remove the old pack of film (if there is one) by pulling it out by the tab attached to the cartridge.
Insert a new pack of film by pushing it in through the same slot. The ‘wide’ end with the plastic lip should face out, with the darkslide facing up and the metal contacts facing down.
Once the film is fully inserted, you’ll be able to shut the film compartment. As soon as it locks into place, the camera should eject a darkslide out the front. This lets you know that the film pack works, and the camera is ready to go.
Now you’re set to take your first picture!
Setting Exposure and Flash
You control exposure and flash through two switches. On the back of the flash unit, facing the person taking the picture, is a simple on/off switch for the flash unit. Unless you’re in extremely bright sunlight, or controlled studio conditions, always leave the flash on.
If you’re looking straight on to the front of the camera, there is a small wheel to the right of the lens that is black on one side and white on the other. To adjust exposure compensation, turn it to white to make the image brighter, or turn it to black to make it darker.
Every time you close and reopen the camera, the exposure compensation will be set back to its default middle position. It’ll also reset the camera to autofocus if it’s been switched to manual focus, which I’ll discuss further below.
Framing and Focus
The primary reason why the Polaroid SLR 680 is great is that it is an SLR type camera. SLR stands for ‘single lens reflex,’ which essentially means that when you look through the viewfinder, you’re looking through the same lens that will be taking the picture. Cheaper plastic box-type Polaroid cameras are rangefinders, which means that you’re looking through a little window next to the actual lens.
SLRs are much, much more accurate to frame a composition with, and you can also tell exactly whether or not your subject is in focus. DSLRs and many interchangeable lens 35mm cameras are all SLRs.
Looking through the viewfinder, press down halfway on the shutter to focus. You’ll feel the lens lurch as it finds focus, and be able to see exactly whether or not its in focus.
If you let go, the lens will go back to its default position, and likely the image will go out of focus.
You can also manually focus if you wish. Simply press down on the lever above the wheel to the left of the lens (when looking at the camera straight on). Once manual focus is switched on, you’ll be able to see a bit of red on the switch. The wheel below is what you’ll use to adjust focus, which you can see through the viewfinder.
When you close the camera, the camera will automatically switch back into autofocus mode. You can also flip the manual focus switch to return to autofocus.
Shooting a Picture
After you have your image in focus by pressing down halfway on the shutter button, press down all the way to snap the picture.
The viewfinder will briefly go blank as the mirror flips up, and the picture will be ejected out of the front.
When the image initially pops out of the camera, it will be slightly sensitive to light. Especially when outside, place the image in a dark pocket or face down as quickly as possible.
If you’re using old Impossible Project film, or are shooting in extremely bright daylight, it’s not a bad idea to use a frog tongue adapter or to take a darkslide over the eject slot to shade the film when it first pops out. This keeps the picture from being blown out by sunlight that penetrates the opacifier, and will make sure you get maximum contrast out of your film.
Common Troubleshooting for the Polaroid SLR 680
The Polaroid SLR 680 can be a relatively delicate instrument, so you’ll likely run into a few hiccups every once in a while. I’ve found that it’s slightly less cranky than the similar SLR SX-70 Sonar, but it is likely that at some point you will be doing a bit of troubleshooting.
If you’re using the camera for the first time, and are wondering why it isn’t working, my guide to Polaroid camera troubleshooting is a good place to start. I’m going to assume that you’ve at least shot one pack of film successfully before encountering the problems below.
Click the shutter, no picture comes out, and viewfinder remains dark
If this happens, it means that the mirror flipped up, but it didn’t go back down. I run into this mostly when there’s not enough light and I didn’t switch flash on. Do not try to close the camera, as it cannot when the shutter is engaged. Wait a few seconds, turn the flash on, and try the shutter again. Often the shutter will flip back down, and the camera will eject a terribly overexposed image. You’ll lose a picture, but at least your camera will continue working! Make sure you keep the flash on if this has happened.
Can’t get the camera to stay open without folding back up
Make sure the little lever on the side of the camera is locked into place when you open it. Push on it in the opposite direction as the arrow on the lever to lock it into place. Sometimes the camera just needs a helping hand to stay in place.
Autofocus isn’t working
Make sure manual focus hasn’t been engaged by accident. You can flip the lever back down, or fold the camera up and unfold it again to reset everything. Also, note that autofocus will not work if there is no film in the camera. The autofocus also needs to use the battery in the film cartridge in order to work. This is why many cameras will seem ‘dead’ at first until a fresh pack of film is inserted.
Camera is simply broken
Most of the time, I recommend people to simply move on from a broken Polaroid camera. Box types are all cheap, and there’s no reason not to move on to one that works without wasting more expensive film. However, Polaroid SLR devices are expensive, rare, and great to shoot with, so it may be worth it to you to try to repair your camera. I haven’t used them before, but you can try a place like Second Shot in New York. If you go with them, let me know what your experience is like and I’ll update this space.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully used the Polaroid 680 to take a picture. Now you can scan those images to share them online and print them in larger sizes.
The Polaroid SLR 680 is a difficult camera to transport because of how long and fragile it is folded up, so I recommend picking up a dedicated case if you’re planning on shooting anywhere outside of a controlled studio. The case I use is expensive, but it’s worth it to protect an expensive and rare camera.
Also, if you’re interested in digging in further, you can check out my glossary on instant film defects to see all the cool things you can do with Polaroid.
Good luck and happy shooting!
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