Update April 2020: Polaroid Originals has rebranded to just ‘Polaroid,’ and in the process, the company has discontinued producing new film for Spectra/Image cameras. Unfortunately, without new film, these cameras are now essentially unable to operate and should not be purchased. Sadly, this page must now be treated as an artifact of recent history. RIP Spectra System, you were one of my favorites.
The absolute best place to find Polaroid cameras like the Sun 600 for cheap (besides your parents’ attic) is through eBay. Please use the following link when purchasing, it helps me keep writing and costs you nothing. Thanks!
The Polaroid 1200i is very similar to the Polaroid Spectra System, except slightly newer and with less controls. It feels much more plastic-y, but remains very sturdy.
The 1200i uses Type 1200 Polaroid film, which has also been called Spectra and Image to make sure you stay confused. This format is slightly wider than traditional SX-70 and 600 films, and was marketed towards professionals rather than traditional consumers. Because there are far fewer type 1200 cameras floating out there, there is still a significant amount of genuine Polaroid film available for it. The Impossible Project still even sells packs of different types of Image films. The Impossible Project is also developing excellent new film in this format.
If you’re looking for a camera to use Image/1200 type film, I would seek out a camera with more manual controls rather than this one. However, if you stumble upon one in the wild, it’s more than worth it to pick it up.
The biggest difference between Polaroid cameras is how much control the user has. Most Polaroid cameras tried to make everything as automatic as possible for the grandparents and moms of the world. The only options are often whether or not one is going to push down the shutter and some slight exposure compensation.
Unfortunately, this camera follows suit. The back only has a single switch to lighten or darken the image. I appreciate the words ‘lighten’ and ‘darken’ actually being written out though, as I’ve had times where I’ve second guessed myself on what the symbols mean. Other than that, there is a ready light and a exposure counter.
There are also no readouts in the viewfinder to let you know your focus distance. Like most 600 cameras, you’re just going to have to hope for the best.
The shutter button is nice and fat, and extremely tempting to press constantly. It’s weird to talk about the shutter in terms of fun, but I have to say I really like pressing it. If you’re like me, just fold the camera closed and you can press away to your heart’s content.
Lens, Autofocus, and Metering
According to the front of the camera, the lens is a ‘Quintic Lens’ (whatever that means) that’s 125mm/f10. I don’t know what that converts to in 35mm speak, but it seems about the same as a 40mm, maybe a bit wider. The depth of field is big, but is possible to throw the background out of focus a bit if you focus on something very close. There is extremely little distortion; straight lines stay straight in case you’re shooting a door or something.
Autofocus is fast and decent. It uses a sonar thingy, so sometimes it has trouble focusing on things that are far away. Unlike some cheaper Polaroid cameras, meter adjustments aren’t made by sliding a darker piece of plastic in front of the reader.
This is an extremely sturdy camera. When I was out testing the camera rain didn’t phase it one bit. There’s a giant plastic handle on the side that replaces the fabric one of the older Spectra System. It has Velcro to give the illusion of adjustability, but don’t be fooled, that hard plastic isn’t going anywhere. The viewfinder’s plastic viewfinder is also an improvement over the Spectra System, as my glasses don’t get caught up with any loose rubber when I look through it.
When not in use, the 1200i folds up exactly like the Spectra System. This is always a big plus, as folding cameras take less room and won’t get damaged as easily in transport.
One weird side effect of the handle is that it makes the camera much bigger than it is. I have no problem putting my Spectra System camera in my Think Tank bag, but this one refuses to fit. Unfortunately there’s no way to take the handle off short of using a machete.
If you’re thinking about getting a Type 1200/Image/Spectra system camera, I would go for something like the Spectra System instead. However, this is still an excellent camera, and if you find one for cheap you should absolutely pick it up.
Also, if you’re going to use Impossible Project film, be sure to tape a dark slide just above where the photos are ejected to protect them from light for the first few seconds of development. Otherwise, all your photos will simply be blown out by the sun. The first five seconds of development are the most crucial.
You’re probably not going to run into one of these at a garage sale, but it’s worth seeking out at least one Polaroid Type 1200 camera on eBay if you plan on using expired Polaroid or Impossible Project films seriously. I found mine at Jack’s Camera Shop, and since these cameras aren’t in high demand you’ll likely to get a good deal and a low cost entry into the Spectra world.
Good luck and happy shooting!