• Mike

An overview of the Polaroid J66 Land Camera.



The Polaroid J66 Land Camera was made between 1961-1963 and it uses Type-40 instant roll film. Unfortunately that film type hasn't been produced since 1991. I hacked mine to use Fuji Instax film to review it and the results are...pretty bleak. Nevertheless lets look at the Polaroid J66 and admire what it was, because it's honestly really cool.



The J66 was made between 1961-1963 and is an early step towards automatic cameras for the masses. The big solar panel looking thing beside the lens is actually the selenium cell that determines the shutter speed. Mated to a pneumatic rotary shutter that operates from 1/15 to 1/1000 the light meter is able to tell the camera what the ambient light level is so that it can hopefully get the correct exposure for the black and white 3000 speed film the camera was designed to work with. However, people were able to still use this camera with the newer color films when they came out. The camera has a mediocre lens, it's a plastic meniscus lens, f/19, no exposure controls either, it's all reliant on the electronics/selenium cell to get metering right. The camera is heavy and built like a brick. The body is all metal and feels like it could be used as a weapon if you run out of film.



The viewfinder in this camera is superb with extremely sharp glass and a very generously sized view through it. There is no focusing in the viewfinder however, it's just a square reference for you to use when aiming.




Being older than the Polaroid Land Model 250 that we reviewed, this camera also uses an older type of film making it even harder to find film for it. The J66 uses 40-series films which is nearly a show-stopper because there is no one in the world that has film stock for this camera that wouldn't barely work after all these years past expiration. However, I persevered.



You can shoot Fujifilm Instax in this camera.




The process for shooting Instax in this camera has appeal because if one could shoot instant film in it then one could see what the camera would produce. The process is daunting and requires an Instax camera, Instax film, a darkroom or changing bag, steady hands, and lots of patience. At about $0.60 a sheet for Instax film it's about the best deal you can get, it's also a major pain. The result was over-exposed images that were blurry, Instax film is only 800 ISO versus the 3000 ISO of the film this camera was designed for. To handle this I had to tape an ND filter over the lens.


What you must do is simple in theory but a real pain in practice. You must do the whole process in the dark. In a darkroom remove a single Instax photo from the Instax cartridge. Then open the camera back and tape the Instax film to the back plate where the roll film went, black side facing the lens of the camera on the and then shoot your single photo with the camera. You must then return to a darkroom and unload the film from the J66 and then carefully reinsert it into the Instax cartridge. You must then insert the Instax cartridge into an Instax camera and with the lens covered with something to prevent light leaking in, take a photo. The film will then run through the rollers on the Instax camera and spread the developer over your film and hopefully you will have a greatly over-exposed image like this. Congrats, you did...something.


Your photos will be slightly blurry and washed out. Detail is impossible to make out even with the high-resolution of the film thanks to the crappy lens in this camera. You have to understand though that this sort of thing was revolutionary back when the camera came out. But today this process is such a monumental pain to try and get working that you have to ask yourself why you want to put so much energy into something so mediocre.






Photoshop can be your friend and it can help you a bit with cleaning up the bad exposure but it can't fix what isn't fixable under any conditions. Over-exposure can't be fixed. And thus is the fate of this camera, it's obsolete. On the other hand it looks cool on a shelf and so that's probably where it's going to stay forever. It's a cool piece of history but not much else.



The bellows style lens is very cool looking and it's fun to appreciate how much they did without the ease of plastic. This camera is fun to examine and poke around.


The luxurious case is really cool too. I even have the old box that it came in. But unfortunately this camera hasn't stood the test of time. It's just too obsolete, too clunky, and too hard to get to shoot film. It's just not going to be able to be used for anything besides decoration. The old Brownie cameras that are nearly twice as old can still be shot, this thing can't.



One last interesting note is the comparison between the J66 and the generation newer Automatic 250 camera. You can really see the leap forward between the two cameras when they are placed side by side. Both share the same lineage but one is definitely superior. Polaroid made some really interesting and revolutionary stuff and it's neat to be able to see it up close. If you want your own J66 you can find them for around $20-$30 on Ebay. These are definitely not going to become collectors items, they are obsolete and useless, but they are a really interesting piece of history.



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