Polaroids new Now instant film camera delivers a classic, punishing experience

 theverge.com  03/26/2020 13:00:00   Cameron Faulkner

The Polaroid brand has been through a lot in the past 10 years. After the company announced that it was abandoning its instant film format, Impossible Project resurrected it in 2011 and sold reverse-engineered film alongside the Polaroid Spirit 600 camera at Urban Outfitters. Later in 2017, Impossible Project brought the brand back in the form of Polaroid Originals with a camera called the OneStep 2, followed by the OneStep Plus in 2018.

Weve now come full circle: Polaroid Originals has reclaimed the classic Polaroid brand. And to celebrate, its releasing a new $99 camera called the Polaroid Now. Like the OneStep 2 and the OneStep Plus, this model works with I-Type film (the type of film that the Impossible Project reverse-engineered from Polaroids factory and continues to make). And if youre willing to pay a premium, itll work with the classic, battery-operated 600 format packs, too.

Unlike the companys more recent cameras, the Polaroid Now doesnt fuss with multiple lenses or superfluous connectivity features. Instead, it has an autofocus system that detects the subject, then cleverly slides in a 35mm or 40mm lens based on how far the subject is from the camera. Polaroid claims that, this way, the camera can home in on the correct subject, be it a portrait or a landscape shot.

As you might expect, this camera has a viewfinder to peer through. It also features a more accurate flash than previous Polaroid Classic models. Polaroid says that the camera takes lighting conditions into consideration to adjust the hue of the flash. If you dont want to use the flash, theres a button next to the yellow power button that disables it for each shot. For continuous shooting without flash, you just tap that button twice.

In terms of other notable features, the Polaroid Now has a self-timer mode and a double exposure mode. Theyre both activated with the same button; you tap it twice to activate double exposure. The camera is rechargeable via a Micro USB port on its side, and the company claims that it can last up to 15 packs of film, each of which contains eight sheets of instant film. To insert a pack, you just open the film door by pressing a button on the side of the camera.

Polaroid lent me a review unit of the Polaroid Now camera, along with two packs of film to shoot with: a color I-Type pack and a black-and-white pack. As simple as this camera is to use, it didnt play nicely with the shots I wanted to take. Whether I shot in natural light or in my relatively dim basement studio apartment, the prints always came out looking blurry. It was as if the autofocus system just wasnt working, and whether the flash was on didnt make a difference in the outcome of the photo.

A few of the photos that I took have that signature warm, nostalgic look I was aiming to capture with Polaroids instant film format. But most of them look like a faded, blurry memory (even though I just took the pictures), and the film takes quite a while to process (around 10 to 15 minutes). In Polaroids defense, shooting with analog film is something that takes practice, and I dont have a ton of experience with it. And the costly trial-and-error process is part of what makes it fun and rewarding.

That said, I put it through paces that Id put any camera through, although since the cost per shot was about $2, I thought twice and thrice before committing to taking a picture. I took shots in low light with and without flash, shots that tried to test the different zoom levels, and tricky compositions, like shooting at night through a chain-link fence. A Polaroid representative shared a few reasons why, perhaps, some of my photos didnt turn out as I intended them to.

They said that this camera delivers the best results indoors with the flash on; otherwise, the long exposure to compensate for a lack of light can lead to blurry photos if you arent perfectly still. As for why the photo of the chain-link fence below has a chemical splotch on the side, its because I didnt pull the camera away from the fence quickly enough, so the photo got slightly bent on its way out. These were beginner mistakes, and I got better with the camera as I took more pictures with it. But after 16 photos, I had burned through about $30 worth of film with only a few Id consider to be keepers.

  • Despite aiming at the dimly-lit street lamp through the chain link fence, the autofocus prioritized the fence instead. Despite aiming at the dimly-lit street lamp through the chain link fence, the autofocus prioritized the fence instead. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge
  • Its tough to tell, but this is actually a double exposure taken in a room with plenty of natural light. It didnt turn out well. Its tough to tell, but this is actually a double exposure taken in a room with plenty of natural light. It didnt turn out well. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge
  • This might be the best photo, but it has a strange pink hue. This might be the best photo, but it has a strange pink hue. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge
  • I was just a few inches away from my cat in a sun-soaked room for this picture. Despite this, its super blurry. I was just a few inches away from my cat in a sun-soaked room for this picture. Despite this, its super blurry. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge
  • Taken with the I-Type black and white film, this one looks like its from the 1800s. You may not notice that theres a washed-out toddler in the middle of the photo. Taken with the I-Type black and white film, this one looks like its from the 1800s. You may not notice that theres a washed-out toddler in the middle of the photo. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge
  • The colors look nice here, but its rather blurry. The colors look nice here, but its rather blurry. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Poor results aside, this camera just isnt as ambitious as the OneStep Plus, the model from 2018. In the current model, Polaroid has stripped away the useful Bluetooth function that let you use your phone as a remote shutter through a companion app. The new Polaroid Now does have a self-timer, but it might not give you enough time to set up the perfect selfie. Whats more, the older model let you handle double exposure through the app, whereas the newer model relies on a series of button presses that arent clearly laid out in the instruction manual. Im not saying that having those features would have led to me taking better pictures, but they certainly would have helped.

If youre looking for an instant film camera, Polaroid has some work to do if it wants to be among the ones that we recommend. Fujifilms Instax lineup of cameras dominate our buying guide on instant film cameras, and some of its models cost far less than the Polaroid Now and seem to produce better-looking photos.

Then again, maybe I just need to practice more.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

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