Polaroid 600 SE
A Multi-Format Monster Page 2
As a Polaroid pack-film camera, it's a little hard to understand. Yes, it's beautifully made, with a superb range/viewfinder, and almost indestructible, but it's extremely limited. I'd far rather have a brand-new $750 NPC 195, a reincarnation of the legendary Polaroid 195, also with fully manual focus, shutter speeds, and aperture settings. It's true that the NPC has a fixed lens, while you can put a superb 75mm f/5.6 on the front of the 600 SE. Then again, a good 75mm f/5.6 with finder is likely to cost you about the same as a second NPC 195. But the rangefinder and viewfinder are separate on the NPC, and combined on the 600. The NPC is much smaller and lighter, and collapsible... Yer pays yer money, yer takes yer choice.
The third lens option, a 150mm f/5.6, is much less sought after because it is so close to the standard lens. The equivalents in 35mm terms are very roughly 28mm (75mm), 45mm (127mm), and 55mm (150mm); precise equivalents are impossible because of the different format shapes.
Add Those Accessories
Once you start adding accessories the camera starts to make more sense. The first accessory is from NPC, the MF-35. This allows you to use 4x5" Polaroid pack films and also "wet" films in Kodak Readyload and Fuji Quickload envelopes. The image size is 80x100mm--not the full 90x120mm of 4x5", it's true, but at 8000 sq mm a useful 20 percent bigger than the pack film, and (better still) you don't have to process the film on the spot. You have to use your imagination slightly with the viewfinder, or you can just compose very, very tightly and let the extra film area take care of the margins. Since the 600 was discontinued these are made only to special order, and they are several hundred dollars, but they greatly increase the versatility of the camera. For rather less, NPC will sell you a conversion kit to allow you to adapt your own 545i Polaroid back to the 600.
Arguably even more useful are the rollfilm adapters that allow you to use Mamiya RB rollfilm holders (G-series) and Mamiya Press rollfilm holders (M-series) on the back of the 600 SE. I've never seen the former, but I do have an M-series adapter and two backs, an early 6x9cm and a (less reliable) late 6x7cm.
There's no interlock, of course: you have to cock the shutter and wind the film separately. This is a slight nuisance, but let's be honest: if you want fast-action reportage, this is unlikely to be your first choice. For gorgeous landscapes, cityscapes, interiors, travel, and many other applications, this is a wonderful camera. On 6x9cm the lenses equate to 32mm (75mm), 54mm (127mm), and 64mm (150mm); precise comparisons are possible because 35mm and 6x9cm are the same shape. I use a Tewe zoom finder set to a good approximation to 54mm for the 127mm, and to 35mm (because it won't go any wider) for 75mm.
On 6x7cm we are back to approximations again: call it 35mm (75mm), 60mm (127mm), and 72mm (150mm). By a happy coincidence, though, 75mm on 6x7cm equates almost exactly to 127mm on quarter-plate Polaroid, so if you have the 75mm lens and a 6x7cm back, you can use the built-in 127mm finder. Or with a 6x9cm back you can mentally add on a bit both sides.
Mamiya Press backs aren't expensive, when you can find them, and the flatness with which they hold the film is legendary. Adapters typically run $100-$200, but they are only slightly more common than hens' teeth. I haven't even been able to find a guess at a price for the G adapter.
4x5 And 6x12cm Adapters
But my old friend Tony Sansone offers yet another way to use these cameras, with a 4x5" adapter that lets you use almost any 4x5" film holder (including Polaroid and rollfilm adapters) on the 600 SE. It doesn't give the full 4x5" "wet" film area but apparently it does give the 87x114mm of full frame Polaroid 4x5--about 3-5mm shorter on the short side, and about 6mm shorter on the long side. It exists only in prototype form at the moment, because of government-imposed delays: Tony has been recalled to military service in AFSOC, and his machinist has apparently also been working on military contracts. Even so, it is definitely in the pipeline, as is another version of the 545i back.
I only discovered all this when I was working on this article, and now, I can't wait to get my hands on one of Tony's 4x5 backs, too: not so much for 4x5", as for my 6x12cm Horseman rollfilm holder. As I said, the 600 is a seriously versatile camera. Tony also rebuilds these cameras; has an extensive stock of spares, rescued when Polaroid dropped the camera; and tries to keep G and M adapters and other accessories in stock. He's also an expert on, and dealer in, Mamiya Press cameras.
Drawbacks? Well, I've already named several. It's huge and heavy. It costs a fortune--the outfit shown would top a couple of grand. When used with roll film it has separate film wind and shutter cocking. The shutter release could be smoother: my Graflex XL is better, despite being 20 or 30 years older. But then you look at that big, beautiful 6x9cm image, and at the prints made from them, and all is forgiven.
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