It’s been a long time since an announcement from Polaroid has lit the photography world on fire. But that’s what happened Wednesday when the long-dormant inventor of instant cameras unveiled a new brand, a new camera, and new film, all wrapped up in the shiny packaging of a stunning new website. You’d think that would be enough to make photo geeks everywhere shed a tear of joy. But you’d be wrong.
While plenty of shooters voiced their happiness on social media and congratulated both Polaroid and Impossible Project on this next, big step, just as many commenters complained. The camera isn’t exciting enough, the film isn’t good enough, the prices aren’t low enough. While these complaints have dogged Impossible for years, and have been at times and by degrees warranted, I struggle to understand the mindset that leaves anyone displeased with what we saw, read, and heard on Wednesday.
So the guys and I here at CP thought we should talk about it. Here’s what Wednesday’s announcements mean, why we think it matters, and why you should probably be excited.
Why the brand matters
The least important part of the whole conversation is the behind-the-scenes corporate stuff. But we’ll talk about it briefly.
For those who don’t know, Impossible Project is the company that kept the torch of Polaroid instant photography lit when Polaroid’s last remaining factory went up for sale in 2008 (after two rounds of bankruptcy). Much has been written about this tale of resilience and determination in the face of overwhelming skepticism, so we won’t dive too deep here. The key things to know are that Polaroid the brand is now owned by the former owners of Impossible, Impossible is no more, and Polaroid Originals is the new arm of Polaroid that will handle all things instant photography.
Headed by Oskar Smolokowsi (former CEO of Impossible Project) and operated by those people who’ve been running Impossible Project since 2008, Polaroid Originals promises to put all their energy and commitment into the new brand, and the track record of continual improvement and growth at Impossible shows that this isn’t just marketing cool-talk. And it’s also why we should be excited for the future of Polaroid.
Here we have a small group of investors and passionate individuals who single-handedly kept Polaroid fans shooting the machines they love for the past ten years, launching out on a new venture. I suppose if you don’t love a Polaroid machine then that won’t matter to you, but there are plenty of people for whom Polaroid cameras mean a great deal. If this new development signals that Polaroid will continue on the path of their long comeback, well, that’s something we can’t help but be happy about.
Why the Camera Matters
The new camera is similar to the I-1 machine developed and built by Impossible back in 2016, with a serious design nod to the legendary One Step made by Polaroid in 1977. That’s the famous white camera with the rainbow stripe, aped by Instagram for their pre-rainbow logo. It’s famous. Look it up.
While we’ve yet to get hands-on with the One Step 2 (rest assured we’ll be among the first to test it) the new machine has already raised some eyebrows. Impossible’s I-1 cost $299 when it released. That’s not cheap. The new One Step 2 costs a third that, $99. This sub-hundred-dollar price-point lands a camera like this exactly where it needs to be, and signals Polaroid Originals’ intent to make an instant camera for everyone.
Its design is, at first glance, stunning. It’s equal parts modern and classic, blending the past with the present in a way that only the best retro-inspired machines can manage. It just looks cool, and we can’t wait to get our hands on it.
But what’s even more enticing is the promise of improved photos and performance. The new camera uses an aspheric lens, and includes a built-in battery that reportedly lasts 60 days between charges. That’s fantastic. This new camera shoots I-type and 600 series film made by and sold as Polaroid Originals film (packs for older SX-70 and 600 series machines will also be sold under this new name), and this film has reportedly seen a bump in performance as well.
Why the film matters
The loudest and most ubiquitous complaint that’s dogged Impossible since its inception has always centered around image quality. Early batches of Impossible film was, to be frank, pretty lousy. Development time was long, contrast and saturation were poor, and in some cases, film just failed to develop. And this early reputation for sub-standard results has really hampered the brand, even as their chemistry, production, and final product has improved year after year. Though their current black-and-white film is fantastic and their color packs lag only slightly behind, many photo geeks are reticent to spend their money on a product they don’t trust, especially those older photogs who remember the glory days of Polaroid’s incredible chemistry.
But with this week’s announcement comes news that the new Polaroid Originals color film has improved over Impossible’s recent offerings. The new brand says that their color film is sharper and brighter than any Impossible film before it, and that development time is now down to 10-15 minutes. Their I-Type film is reportedly improved as well, and since these film packs don’t require a built-in battery, it costs less.
And that’s the second reason we’re so excited about the new film. Across the board we’re seeing a reduction in price. Older 600 and SX-70 series film packs have dropped in price from approximately $24 to $19, and the new I-Type format drops from $20 to $16. No matter how you look at that, this is good news. We’re getting higher quality film for less money under the new brand.
All of this is great stuff, and when we break it down, it sounds even better. Wednesday brought us news of the resurrection of a brand that was once the heart and soul of the American camera industry, a new and enticing camera with a stunning design, and better, cheaper film. How can we possibly complain about this? I don’t know. But what’s baffling is that some people have still found reason to.
For us here at CP, the simple fact that the hard-working and passionate people at Impossible are now directly connected with Polaroid, a brand whose modern products have long been nearly irrelevant for photo geeks, is cause for optimism. The idea that these guys are bringing to market a new instant camera with the Polaroid name on it is a reason to celebrate. And when we sit back and think about what the future of this brand could hold, well, that’s when we really get excited. Only time will tell if the camera, film, and brand are successful. Until then, we’re wishing Polaroid Originals nothing but the best.
Stay tuned for our full review of the new Polaroid Originals film and One Step 2, coming in just a few of weeks. Until then, why not read up on our other favorite Polaroids, and get excited. There’s really no excuse not to be.
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