The 600SE was the crème de la creme of Polaroid cameras in its day. Marketed towards professional photographers, its modular design was based off the Mamiya Press; almost identical in design.
Naturally, the Press and 600SE are often compared. Since there are many more lens choices, accessories and versions of the Mamiya Press, it’s said to be slightly superior of the two. I leaned towards the 600SE because I found it cheaper at the time, but recent trends have reversed the perceived value today.
I never knew why they called the Polaroid 600SE the Goose. After owning this camera for several years, I finally saw the light:
600SE = GOOSE
With the revelation behind us, onto my mini-review.
Profile of the Polaroid 600SE
Coming in at over 3.5lbs the Goose is not for the limp wristed. It is a full manual range finder camera without any electrical components whatsoever. Unlike the Polaroid 600, the SE has the option of interchangeable lenses, of which three options available (made by Mamiya), all of which have leaf shutters with speeds up to 1/500th second. They are the:
- Mamiya Sekor 127mm f/4.7 (normal lens)
- Mamiya Sekor 75mm f/5.6 (wide angle lens)
- Mamiya Sekor 150mm f/5.6 (portrait lens)
Commonly known for its use with the Polaroid pack film back for proofing, the Goose can also support Mamiya 120/220 roll film backs (with an adapter), an integral CB-70 instant back, the (impossible to find) Lomography Belair Instax wide back, single load 4×5 Polaroid backs and so many more accessories with proper adapters.
You can even find attachments (some even 3d printed) to shoot 4×5 film although you’d come just a tad short of covering the entire sheet.
Pack it in
As a Polaroid addict, I gravitated towards the 600SE intending purely to shoot 3.25 x 4.25 peel apart instant film. I got mine on eBay with the Mamiya Sekor 127mm f/4.7 lens and a little wear and tear for about $280 a couple of years ago.
It had a little fungus in the lens (which I treated with commercial ultraviolet light) and it never affected my pictures. Since then, I’ve only used this camera with pack film. More specifically, 3.25x 4.25 peel apart Polaroid 665, 669, 664, 690, Fujifilm FP-100B, FP-100C, and FP-3000B.
Each emulsion, just like 35mm, and 120mm film has its own characteristics and works with the Goose. All these films are discontinued by both manufacturers and are getting not only harder to find, but very expensive.
Currently, there is a pack film revival in the works where a group of passionate people have salvaged leftover Polaroid materials and created a Kickstarter for funding. It’s called One Instant. And it’s literally one-sheet-per-pack film being assembled by hand.
The goose in use
With every camera, like a car, there will be quirks and idiosyncrasies based on the driver. One may have his/her own preferences to whip appeal, functionality, purpose and ease of use. For someone like me, who mostly shoots people, has medium size hands, doesn’t rely on TTL or autopilot functions, doesn’t have perfect vision (but can drive without glasses) here are a few.
The SE is rather bulky and heavy. It’s built like a Hummer and (if dropped) can easily break a toe. Sure, you can walk around with it, but you’ll hardly be discreet. The Mamiya Sekor 127mm f/4.7 is not the fastest lens out there but the four elements (in three groups) glass is very sharp in comparison to the Polaroid 195’s Tominon f/3.8. Also, the minimum focusing of the 127mm is 3.5 feet. With this lens, you can’t get a tight head and shoulders shot on your normal subject if you are wanting to shoot a portrait.
Again, the camera is fully manual. It will fire if the dark slide is still in and will fire over and over again on the same frame if you don’t advance your film to the next, or pull out the exposed sheet for the next one. Sadly, I committed both errors when shooting in ROOKIE mode. (I’ll never forget the time I shot through a whole pack of peel-apart film WITH THE DARKSLIDE IN.)
Also, worth mentioning is the grip and trigger are on the left which may be an adjustment if you’re used to driving on the right (pardon the driving analogies). Speaking on ergonomics, the shutter lever is very close to shutter speed ring. You’ll need to be careful not to change the speed when cocking the shutter.
Moreover, the viewfinder is bright but the two moons needed to eclipse for focusing are not IMO. The area guides, for the 127/150 are clearly visible but they are only guides. They are not precise since it’s a rangefinder camera. Lastly, with all classic cameras without a hotshoe or internal flash, those dang PC-syncs are not always reliable. Misfires may and probably will happen.
The success of your “Polaroids” other than exposure depends on greatly on the film itself. The age, how it’s been stored and how it holds up passing through the rollers are amongst the biggest variables. The paper-thin lead tab can rip before the polaroid is pulled all the way through the rollers. Older expired peel apart film can clump together over time and cause difficulty when pulling through the rollers. Others dry up within the cassette and have no chance at life at all. Also with older pack film, the chemicals may not always spread evenly, causing uneven or no development. Sometimes this can give a cool artistic effect and sometimes you just want to pull your head off.
Shooting the Goose with pack film may not be for everyone. The process is slow, expensive and not always guaranteed. But, for those who embrace the analog way of instant gratification, there is certainly something special about this process
It’s ironic how this professional camera was once used as a proofing tool with Polaroids before shooting many rolls of film. And today, in the Instagram generation of 42MP smartphones and 100MP digital cameras smaller than this beast, it’s almost become the other way around.
With a finite world supply of instant peel apart, photographers will “Polaroid proof” with their digital cameras to check lighting and settings, and then shoot their precious pack film.
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