Update September 2017: The Impossible Project has renamed itself ‘Polaroid Originals’ as part of a major rebranding effort. The film itself is still the same, so for our purposes in this article the Impossible Project and Polaroid Originals are the same. To clarify, ‘Polaroid Originals’ are the films and cameras developed by the Impossible Project, while just ‘Polaroid’ refers to the original instant film line that was discontinued in 2008.
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!
From the eighties onward Polaroid sold millions of consumer 600 cameras. As a result, if you’re digging around garage sales, eBay, or your parents’ garage, the majority of the cameras you will encounter will be plastic-y Polaroid 600 cameras like this Polaroid OneStep Express camera. The Express is one of the newer models floating out there, so you’ll probably have more luck getting one to work than an ancient SX-70 type camera.
This 600 camera is fixed focus (although it tricked me for some time) and has control over flash. Since Polaroid likes to reuse names, be careful not to confuse this 600 camera with the iconic SX-70 Polaroid OneStep that was produced decades before.
The Polaroid OneStep express is a tough, plastic-y camera. It has some nice features, such as being able to shut the front side to protect the lens when not in use and a sturdy handle on the side. It even has the incompetent ‘closeup’ lens of the OneStep Closeup.
This camera features the familiar exposure compensation dial just below the lens. It’s kind of awkward how it’s placed, but I guess it fits in with the ultra curvy design aesthetic. The shutter is on the side and is can be confused with a switch that opens up the film compartment. It works fine, just mash it down and take a picture. There’s no holding it down halfway to focus. There is, however, a weird little black shutter right below the yellow one that allows the camera to fire without flash. It’s not nearly as user friendly as a switch, but it’s a welcome addition. I much prefer switches, which is why I go out of my way to find cameras like the Polaroid Spectra System.
The viewfinder is typical of Polaroid 600 cameras. It’s quite a bit off from what you’re actually going to get from the lens in the middle, and it is small and dim. There are no readouts in the viewfinder.
Lens, Autofocus, and Metering
The lens on this camera is perfectly serviceable, but don’t even bother with the ‘closeup’ lens feature. If you slide over the focusing dial to close up, a piece of plastic will appear in front of your lens. Unless you want everything to be blurry, this plastic is useless. Just keep the focus over to the mountain side and don’t bother with macro with this camera.
This camera is not autofocus, but as long as you’re approximately over four feet away things appear in focus. Generally, photos are not as sharp as autofocus models that have sonar built in.
Metering seems fine, but the exposure compensation operates by covering up the meter with different amounts of opaque plastic. This is fairly standard among cheap Polaroid cameras.
This camera is even tougher than the already durable OneStep Closeup which it replaced. A giant handle on the side is welcome addition and actually fits my hand. The handle does make the camera quite a bit larger, since it won’t collapse when put into a case. I’ve had some problems stuffing this in the Think Tank case I normally use.
The gigantic front flashbar front folds up and down, and is awkwardly huge when left open after use. I’m not sure why its so big, other than to keep the whole curve thing going on this camera. Speaking of curves, you get a nice big plastic Polaroid logo right on the front of the flash bar.
The Polaroid OneStep Closeup is a perfectly acceptable type 600 camera that benefits from being quite a bit younger than other cameras roaming out in the wild. If you find one of these on eBay or garage sale, be sure to check for film inside, because it’ll often be new enough to still work. I got lucky when I picked mine up and got three pictures out of a half used roll. With Polaroid film so extremely rare these days, I’ll take it where I can get it.
Don’t worry about getting this camera over any other type 600 camera, they all take pretty much the exact same photos. This particular model gets points for being able to turn off flash, but loses them for not having any autofocus ability.
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.
It’s always a good idea to have multiple cameras if you’re working with consumer grade 600 type Polaroid cameras. The rollers gum up quickly, and many just call it quits. The OneStep Closeup was my replacement for my parents’ Polaroid Impulse AF that had a bad roller, and my OneStep Express is now my new backup camera. These cameras are so cheap and plentiful these days that you should be able to grab at least four or for the price of a single pack of Impossible Project film.
Good luck and happy shooting.