Polaroid 300 Instant Camera
November 28, 2011 by staff
That’s how I’ve felt testing the Polaroid 300, the new instant camera from Polaroid Corp. What ensued was a digital existential crisis.
For years, Polaroid made its name by offering football-sized cameras that went well with fanny packs and and spat out square snapshots that developed instantly (or, at least, what passed for instant back then).
Ironically, Polaroid became a victim of instant gratification, filing for bankruptcy in 2008 asanlog instant photography had become irrelevant in the digital age. The cult of Polaroidians mourned – online, ironically enough — and visual and written eulogies, some angry, poured in when the company announced it would no longer produce its iconic square film.
Polaroid fans weren’t left empty-handed for long: late last year, Fujifilm launched its own Polaroid-esque camera, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7. Now, Polaroid has partnered with Fujifilm to rebrand that camera (with a few design tweaks) as a genuine Polaroid, with a new, business-card size version of the company’s signature film, which can be used interchangeably with the Instax Mini. (A Dutch group called the Impossible Project has separately begun manufacturing film that will work with old Polaroid cameras).
The Polaroid 300 retails for $89.99 and comes in red, blue or black. It’s currently available online and at Bloomingdale’s and J & R stores, for pre-order on Polaroid.com and will roll out to national retailers in July.
This camera is smaller than its grandparents, but larger than today’s svelte digital counterparts. It’s conspicuously chunky and looks straight-up Fisher-Price. It’s about as durable as a kid camera, too, surviving a week in my bag and two stumbles down concrete stairs with only minor scratching.
The camera is simple enough for a kid to use too: you yank out the lens to turn it on, and it only has four settings–indoor, cloudy, fine and clear. (Although I can’t tell you what the difference between “fine” and “clear” is.) There’s no zoom.
The wee photos spring from the top, tickling your brow seconds after you click the shutter and developing within a minute or so. Photos are small enough to tuck in a wallet and still have a tab for Sharpie labeling. Loading film is easy, shots are easily counted by number in the lower right-hand corner and the lens is simple enough to get the job done.
Polaroid’s vice president of marketing, David Miller, is the first to admit that for most people, the Polaroid 300 is a “secondary camera.”
And for good reason: the film is a precious commodity. Each pack of film costs $9.99, so it’s a $1 a photo. As someone with thousands of photos on my hard drive, the changing economics turned me into a more cautious, neurotic photographer. What if my photo turned out blurry? What if I loved a photo and wanted to email, TwitPic or Flickr it? What if I lost the business-card-sized Polaroid printout? My memory would be gone forever.
The designers of the Polaroid 300 were smart to avoid reinventing the Polaroid 300 as something it isn’t: a high-resolution digital camera. The gadget is delightfully illogical: photos are expensive, it weighs down a tote bag and the photo resolution pales in comparison to even the first digital I bought in 2004. The Polaroid had fun and frustrating surprises like mysterious blotches, over exposure, and washed-out faces.
“People actually like the soft focus and graininess of colors,” Mr. Miller told me, after I asked him about whether we’d ever see a higher resolution Polaroid. “That’s part of the nostalgia.”
When I took the camera with me to Baltimore to cover a kinetic sculpture race, the snapshots turned out darker than the bright digital shots and the weight in my bag was not welcome after 12 hours on my feet. I found that the Polaroid 300 worked best in daylight, like old-school cameras.
Action shots will be blurry – a photo of me doing a cartwheel blurred, making me look like a breakdancer. Not what I intended, but still looked kind of cool. Since the photos are always going to be tiny, I didn’t bother trying to shoot landscapes, but found the camera was best for shooting portraits of friends. It’s the high-heels of photography: poised for parties, but awkward if I was trying to do anything remotely active.
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