Nine years ago, Polaroid was going to through bankruptcy, and it seemed like its iconic instant film and cameras would vanish into the ether. Death by digital photos would’ve been inscribed on its tombstone.
By some sheer miracle, a startup called the Impossible Project swooped in to save both the cameras and film. But it wasn’t as easy as picking up Polaroid’s remains. The company’s instant film factories were destroyed and Impossible Project basically had to start from scratch to recreate the instant-developing chemistry before it could even sell a single pack of film.
Now, nearly a decade later, Impossible Project is the sole maker of Polaroid 600 instant film — you’ve probably seen them sold in hipster places like Urban Outfitters — and now they’re taking the next big leap. Impossible is rebranding as Polaroid Originals, a logical move that embraces Polaroid’s rich photographic heritage, and also coincides with the brand’s 80th anniversary.
To mark the triumphant return of Polaroid (the instant film and cameras, not the licensed brand of cheapo gadgets), Polaroid Originals is launching the OneStep 2, a $99.99 instant camera that shoots that shoots re-engineered classic Type-600 Polaroid photos.
What better moment than now, when instant photography is at a feverish pitch, to rekindle the joy of Polaroid and remind everyone about its rich role in American visual history?
The OneStep 2 is actually the company’s second instant camera. The I-1 launched last year under the Impossible Project brand. There was a great deal of excitement for its fusing of analog and digital (it connected to an app), but ultimately was panned for being confusing to operate and expensive at $300.
For this new camera, PO embrace what Polaroid’s true essence: a pure analog experience. The OneStep 2 doesn’t have any digital connectivity and it’s a better product because of it.
Omitting any kind of smartphone connectivity (we hear Instagram is like really huge these days) would be a terrible decision if not for the Polaroid’s analog legacy.
The camera’s been in development for about a year and a half and PO drew inspiration from the original OneStep instant camera. It honed in on what made it so popular. Namely, it’s compact and easy to use, Oskar Smolokowski, the company’s CEO told me over the phone back in August.
The OneStep 2 easily achieves both of these features. There’s no pop-up hinge, and the buttons are nice, large, and easily understandable. On the back is a large yellow on/off switch. On the front is a big red shutter button. Opposite it is a yellow switch for adjusting exposure; you can set it to brighten or darken a photo before you take it.
Polaroid’s are known for their fuzzy, washed out look. And you can still take those, but the OneStep 2’s got a few improvements to sharpen things up. For example, the flash bounces downward so there’s less glare when shooting reflective things like people wearing glasses.
And because selfies are life (don’t you lie to yourself), there’s a timer setting (up to 8 seconds) and the camera focuses at a distance of 2-feet (it’s like 3-4 feet on old Polaroid cameras). The viewfinder’s also larger for framing shots.
The OneStep 2 is a lot of fun to shot with.
The camera’s a colorful, plasticky affair, but it still feels like a Polaroid, which is what makes it so much fun to shoot with. It’ll be available in white and gray models.
The OneStep isn’t completely devoid of modern touches, though. The rechargeable battery is built-in and non-removable, and charges through a Micro USB cable.
Oskar says they designed it to last a “very long time,” whether it’s being used for continuous daily shooting or sporadic cases. I’m told it’ll last you through 20-25 packs of film for serious usage and around 10 packs if you shoot on and off during a 60-day period.
The camera’s the big announcement, but the Polaroid Type-600 film that PO has been developing for nearly a decade is also now significantly better.
Because the company had to reverse engineer Polaroid’s original film chemistry, Impossible’s Type-600 film has been somewhat inferior when it came to picture quality and development speed.
The first Impossible film took up to 40 minutes to fully develop. Its most recent film takes up to 20 minutes. But the new film can develop in as fast as 10-15 minutes, with the first outlines appearing in 1.5 minutes versus 5 minutes on the older film.
Hitting the $99.99 price was also a top priority for Oskar and the team. You can buy an instant camera that uses the very popular Fujifilm Instax Mini format film for around $60-80, but vintage Type-600 Polaroid cameras sometimes fetch more than $100 unless you manage to snag a sweet deal at a flea market. (When I was in Berlin last month, I passed by a small shop selling old electronics and discovered two mint condition OneSteps and the shopkeeper wanted about $150 for them. I didn’t end up buying it.)
Sure, the affordable price means the camera’s made in China (the film’s still made in The Netherlands), but what mass-market gadget isn’t these days?
As an instant photo fanatic, I jumped at the chance to try out the new OneStep 2 when PO offered to lend the world’s first pre-production model to me for a few days.
I’ve used every single Instax format instant camera, but none of them compares to using a real Polaroid camera. From selecting the types of border frames (there’s a new Keith Haring one that’s to die for) to the suspense of waiting for your photo to develop, the entire analog experience entrances.
I felt like a carefree child floating around the Mashable office shooting portraits of everyone as I channeled my inner Terry Richardson.
Sharing a photo — and the uncontainable joyous social experience as photographer and receiver await for a shot to develop — is something all the thirsty likes in the world can’t match. It’s worth the pricey film (it’s a lot cheaper than previous film), which comes with 8 shots per pack, and cost $15.99. That’s $2 a shot!
(And for the record, you should never shake a Polaroid picture and you should immediately place it face-down as soon as it comes out of the camera. Exposing it to light will ruin its outcome.)
Polaroid OneStep 2 instant camera
Low price for a Polaroid type 600 camera • Self-timer • Exposure compensation switch • Better close-range focusing
Film is still kinda pricey at $2 per shot
The Bottom Line
The OneStep is the best instant camera to get if you want to shoot original Polaroid film.