Guest Reviews Instant Cameras

Polaroid 690 – A Guest Review by Adam Laws

polariod 690

I know what you’re thinking. A Polaroid article on 35mmc, whatever next. I did have to twist Hamish’s arm to get this included. However before you reach for the flaming torch and pitchfork let me attempt to convince you why I believe these cameras, in this instance a Polaroid 690 should be included, and how they share the similar attributes to the other cameras we love to read about on this very site.

  • It uses film
  • It’s a foldable/collapsible camera making it somewhat compact
  • This Polaroid weighs in at 780grams. In comparison my Leica M7 weighs 610grams without a lens, when added it weighs in at a bloated pie consuming 1020grams
  • Finally, it is fully automatic with autofocus. The only manual controls is a primitive exposure compensation dial, and the ability to turn the flash on and off.

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The Polaroid 690

The camera itself is a Japanese variant of the SLR680, which was discontinued in 1987. It was released in 1996 with updated electronics and was predominately sold in Asia. The Polaroid 690 has an 116mm, f8-f90, fully coated 4-element glass lens. Minimum focus distance is 26cm, which allows for a shallow DOF when you take into consideration the larger film format.

Autofocus is carried out by a miniature bat that lives – I like to think – happily within the camera. On half push of the shutter, the bat awakens and launches high-frequency inaudible sound waves. The length of time these waves take to travel back to the miniature bat (His name is Bernard if you were wondering) is calculated and the corresponding distance to the subject is ascertained. In practice focus is achieved quickly and more impressively is always accurate in my experience. Poor lighting or low contrast is no issue for Bernard, who outperforms my digital camera in low lighting conditions every time, so much so you can focus this camera in pitch black without any difficulties.

The flash on this camera automatically adjusts its angle depending on the distance away from the subject, which is ideal for fill flash for portraiture. You can’t adjust the brightness or compensate for redeye but it works pretty well all things considered.

If you’re after a stealthy street camera, this is not it. There are so many motors whirring you will make more noise than a Tyrannosaurus with a throat infection trying to sing a Tina Turner tribute. Even worse if you decide to get close into the action, it is likely you will twat the subject in-between the eyes when the picture is automatically ejected into their disconcerting face.

Aberrations and lens flare. It has them all, they are to be embraced when shooting a vintage Polaroid. Trying to nullify them is a worthless pursuit.

Exposure compensation is carried out by the dial on the front of the camera. I generally have it set 1/3 darker in good lighting conditions. This is due to the Impossible Project film being rated a little higher than the 600 speed intended for the camera, which I will now lead on too.

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Can you still get film for that Mr?

Most of you I’m sure are aware of the film situation with Polaroid cameras however with this being the first Polaroid review on this site I guess I should elaborate.

When I am shooting with my old Polaroid camera in public, I am often asked ‘can you still get film for that?’ In this modern age of digital photography, the practicalities of owning and shooting a Polaroid camera is somewhat harder than it was when analogue photography was at its peak production in the early nineties. This was exacerbated when the ‘new’ Polaroid Company ceased production of analogue/instant film in 2008.

There are generally two types of Polaroid cameras. Packfilm cameras use a peel-apart film which was used in the older Polaroid Land cameras (named after the founder Edwin Land), and various medium format film backs (which I will not go into in this article to avoid confusion). Sadly Fujifilm ceased production of the last remaining film stock earlier this year.

The most common type of Polaroid cameras use integral film packs, which are used in cameras like the Polaroid SX-70, a design that is reported to have greatly influenced Steve Jobs. The integral film packs has a battery pack within it, which subsequently runs the motors situated that moves the film through the rollers.

Integral film packs are now created by a company called Impossible Project who procured the old Polaroid factory and had to reverse engineer the chemistry situated within the film. Impossible Project are now on the third iteration of film with colour images appearing in two minutes and fully developing in around half an hour. Black and white film is considerably quicker, fully developing in around five minutes. Depending on the camera you have there are various packs available. SX-70 cameras are designed to use 100 speed film, while the majority of other cameras are “600 type”, which use 600 speed film.

Please, whatever you do never shake it like a Polaroid picture. This is usually the first thing I have to say when I pass someone a picture. Shaking the image can distort the developing process by mixing up the chemicals within the film.

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Why I shoot Polaroids

I started incorporating Polaroid images into my shoots after being given an old Polaroid camera by a former colleague. I thought it would be a good way for the models to show their agency what we were shooting whilst I was editing the digital images, or developing the film shots. As well as giving them a small memento to say thanks.

I started to appreciate the low-fi aesthetic of Polaroid images over some of the digital and film shots I was producing. I now scan all my Polaroids immediately after my shoots and included them in my submissions. I use a general flatbed scanner and apart from some dust removal, I don’t do any further post production to the shots.

Polaroids in their pure form are one-of-a-kind, tangible memories, instantly produced to be passed around at gatherings or be gifted to friends and family. There is a certain magic waiting for the image to develop in the palm of your hands. They do not reside on a computer hidden in a folder with thousands of other images. Or wait to be brought into life from a small negative image. This is the beauty of instant photography.

Polaroid images have their own unique aesthetic, the colours twist and turn depending on variables like temperature and exposure to light when developing. The results are often surprising and as varied as the memories they capture. Shooting with a Polaroid is not an exact science especially with minimal manual controls, but in my opinion that just adds to the enjoyment, and ultimately it’s fun. If you’ve not shot instant film before I can’t recommend it enough.

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A little about the shots

All shots were taken on the third and latest iteration of Impossible Film over the course of this year. Images consist of some personal images and a couple I had taken at the Natural History Museum in London where I work during the course of the day. The majority of these images were taken for editorial work, or for test shoots for various model agencies.

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Credits

The gracious models include: Hannah Conaboy, Eski, Victoria Lindsay Coutts, Sophie Young, Kim Lysette, Madie White, Wiktoria Kozlowska, Karla Kuhlmann, Zoe Barker

MUAs: Danielle Lauren, Hannah Schell

All the links to the various models, agencies, and MUAs can be found on my Instagram account including my latest work: www.instagram.com/adamlawsphotography

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Dan James
    January 7, 2017 at 9:05 am

    No complaints here Adam, I’d much rather read about a Polaroid than see yet another Leica post! : )

    • Reply
      Adam Laws
      January 9, 2017 at 11:38 am

      Thank you Dan, Well I do like Leica’s but variety is the spice of life.

  • Reply
    George Appletree
    January 7, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Nice review. Inspiring photographs… nostalgia spiced
    Even Leica has recently launched a Polaroid device.
    How do you get black or color frames?, a new idea for impossible (digitals guess)

    • Reply
      Adam Laws
      January 9, 2017 at 11:49 am

      Morning George, thank you for you kind words.

      The Lecia Soffort is quite an interesting proposition. I’m quite interested to see if they expand on the concept especially as Fuji are releasing a larger square frame film later in the year.

      Impossible Project has a variety of different colour frames available. My personal preference is the black frames especially with B&W images.

    • Reply
      Dexter
      January 9, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      The Leica Sofort is essentially a Fuji instax machine in a fancy case – no difference between them apart from the badge and the price!

      • Reply
        Adam Laws
        January 10, 2017 at 11:48 am

        Not having played with one I couldn’t comment but it does appear so. Personally I think the Instax Mini format is a little too small for my use (Although still great fun). I do wonder if we will be seeing an Instax Wide variant as the Fuji cameras are gargantuan and not very ergonomic, and possibly an Instax Square variant in the future for the new film.

  • Reply
    Nigel
    January 8, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Very interesting, Thankyou. I might just have to pick up a polaroid, just for a bit of fun.

  • Reply
    Daniel Fjäll
    January 8, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I think while trying achieve perfection in normal image making – shooting Polaroids is a very liberating way of taking a break from just that. Great images in this post.

    • Reply
      Adam Laws
      January 9, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Thank you Daniel, I couldn’t concur more with you.

  • Reply
    Excalibor
    January 9, 2017 at 8:17 am

    Great entry! I have very fond memories of my father’s Polaroid SX-70 and the excitement waiting for some minutes while the picture developed before your eyes, in the palm of your own hand! They were always prohibitively expensive to use as a general rule, but Instant Film photography is basically the only chemical one that’s still actively developed and advertised and sold (Lomography efforts aside, but also included), thus it still has its attraction… The included pictures are beautiful, oh so much envy! Thanks! 🙂

    • Reply
      Adam Laws
      January 9, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      Indeed, this is the attraction and magic of instant photography. Thank you for your kind words.

  • Reply
    Russell
    January 10, 2017 at 2:49 am

    I hope they make pack film again… I just scanned some of my uncles Polaroids from a 1960’s Land Camera and they still look great! I remember when he got the SX70, and I have some Polaroids that he shot on that camera; They don’t look as good as the Land Camera ones.

  • Reply
    joby
    January 10, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    I just acquired a Polariod 600. I bought 6 packs of out of date film from Impossible. Some of it was a bargain and some of it not! It’s an expensive hobby at about £2 a shot for full price…..

  • Reply
    joby
    January 11, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Check out the Ralph Steadman Paranoids……

    http://alex-hurst-final.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/ralph-steadman.html

    There are better ones but these are a start

  • Reply
    Andrew Chang
    January 22, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    Nice article Adam! I got introduced to polaroids last year and since then, its been a real addiction. With your 690, do you find that the exposure is pretty much good out of the camera? At the moment I’m shooting with the a mint sx-70 and I find metering and getting the settings right probably the post time consuming aspect.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Reply
      Adam Laws
      January 23, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      I generally have it set the exposure wheel a 1/3 darker in good lighting conditions. Exposures can vary between shots. I’m more inclined to believe its due to slightly inconsistant chemisty of the film (however much better than the first two iterations).

      • Reply
        Andrew Chang
        January 23, 2017 at 9:23 pm

        Cheers, I’ll keep my eyes our for 690 or a sonar based cam.

  • Reply
    Victor Reynolds
    March 14, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Good article Adam. I currently shoot the SX-70 Sonar and plan to get the Mint flash bar so I can have lighting and also use 600 film. Great pictures too.

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