Let’s see what develops

Last summer, I posted about my fascination with the company that is attempting to revitalize Polaroid instant photography. In that post, I said that I was definitely not in the market for one of their new cameras, which would be a ridiculous and unsupportable expense.

Well, guess what arrived today?

I am at the same time thrilled and guilty. The camera itself wasn’t bad — $139, which is $20 less than the list price at the manufacturer’s site. It’s the film that’s expensive, so I’ll only be using this on special occasions, and I’ll have to retrain myself to the old ways of making every single shot count.

The original Polaroid, founded by Edwin Land, created the field of instant photography. In 1943, Land was on vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his 3-year-old daughter. He took photos and she, with her 3-year-old wonder and curiosity, wanted to know why she couldn’t see them right away. Land, a chemist who had already created the Polaroid company to sell a filter for polarizing light, was prompted to develop an instant photography system. The first peel-apart Polaroid cameras were developed in the late 40s, and then in the 70s came a new system which produced a dry photograph with no peeling or waste. An epic patent battle ensued when Kodak introduced its own instant photography system violating some of Polaroid’s patents. Polaroid won that case, but soon both Polaroid and Kodak would be shadows of their former selves, as a new form of photography — digital photography — took the forefront.

Even so, there were, and are, still devoted Polaroid users. In 2008, when Polaroid announced it would no longer produce instant film, a Dutch engineer who had worked for Polaroid decided he was going to keep the system alive. He and a couple of partners founded a company called The Impossible Project. They bought some of Polaroid’s old equipment and facilities but still had to reverse-engineer some of their own chemistry.

The Impossible Project tapped into the core of Polaroid devotees, and they sold film. Then they started refurbishing old Polaroid cameras and selling those, too. They eventually introduced their own new instant camera, which got mixed reviews.

A year ago, the primary stockholder in The Impossible Project ended up buying what was left of the Polaroid trademark and intellectual property. So The Impossible Project has changed its name to Polaroid Originals, even though it’s not technically the same company that Edwin Land founded. Polaroid Originals has introduced two new cameras, which have been more warmly received than the Impossible Project’s camera.

Did I say “new” cameras? Well, they are, although the name — OneStep — and the basic appearance of the camera is a nod to Polaroid history.

The OneStep2 was introduced first and is still available. The OneStep+, which is the model I bought, adds some extra features and functionality. It has two sets of optics — one for closeup portraits, the other for everything farther away. It also has Bluetooth integration. You can pair the OneStep+ with your smartphone and use your smartphone to control the camera. For example, you can use your phone as a remote shutter button, or you can tweak some of the camera’s exposure settings. There is no digital sensor in the camera, so the app does NOT let you upload your photos onto your phone. But if you want to use your phone to manually make a photo of your Polaroid print, the app will help you get everything lined up and framed properly.

The new film is a little bit prissier than the old Polaroid film. It takes longer to develop, and they recommend that you shield it from the light — if only by leaving it face-down — while it develops. Half the fun of the old photos was gazing at them as they gradually emerged from the haze.

They recommend that you store your film in the fridge, which has long been favored by professional photographers. When my film (which I had ordered separately from the camera) arrived yesterday, I threw it into the fridge. But you’re supposed to let it come back to room temperature before actually loading it and shooting anything with it, and I failed to do that. I think that was what was wrong with my first two test photos. I have decided to let my first pack of film be a learning experience, and I will use it up before I take the camera to Warmth In Winter this weekend.

Polaroid Originals makes film for both its new cameras and classic Polaroid cameras. The film made for the old cameras is more expensive because it must include a battery pack. The old Polaroid cameras did not have a battery in the camera; each pack of film had a battery with enough power to shoot and spit out that number of exposures. The new cameras have an internal rechargeable battery (you plug it up to a USB port or USB charger), which means they can leave the battery out of the film pack, reducing the cost of the film by a little bit.

The new cameras can either use i-Type film (which is designed for them, and which comes without battery pack) or 600 film (which is designed for some of the older cameras and therefore includes the battery). Since 600 is the same film, only more expensive, you probably wouldn’t buy it on purpose. But if you picked some up on sale, or by mistake, the cartridges are interchangeable and you could use it without any ill effects.

The older cameras, however, can’t use the i-Type film because it doesn’t have a battery.

I think this will be a fun camera to have for special occasions like birthdays or holidays or Warmth In Winter or Youth 2019. It won’t be that much of an expense to buy a couple packs of film and use it judiciously.