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Polaroid’s new Now instant film camera delivers a classic, punishing experience

The Polaroid brand has experienced a lot in the past 10 years. After the company announced it was discontinuing its instant film format, Impossible Project revived it in 2011 and sold the 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.

We’re Completely Round Now: Polaroid Originals Reclaimed The Classic Polaroid Brand. And to celebrate that, a new $ 99 camera is coming out, the Polaroid Now. Like the OneStep 2 and OneStep Plus, this model works with I-Type film (the type of film that the Impossible Project reverse engineered and continues to make from the Polaroid factory). And if you’re willing to pay a premium, it also works with the classic battery-powered 600 format packs.

Unlike the company’s more recent cameras, the Polaroid Now has no hassle with multiple lenses or unnecessary connectivity features. Instead, it has an autofocus system that detects the subject and then cleverly slides into a 35mm or 40mm lens based on how far the subject is from the camera. Polaroid claims that the camera can recognize the right subject in this way, be it a portrait or a landscape photo.

As you’d expect, this camera has a viewfinder to look through. It also features a more accurate flash than previous Polaroid Classic models. Polaroid says the camera takes into account the lighting conditions to adjust the hue of the flash. If you don’t want to use the flash, there’s a button next to the yellow power button that turns it off for every shot. For continuous shooting without a flash, just tap that button twice.

In terms of other notable features, the Polaroid Now has a self-timer mode and a double exposure mode. They are both activated with the same button; you tap it twice to activate double exposure. The camera is rechargeable via a micro-USB port on the side, and the company claims it can hold up to 15 film packs, each containing eight sheets of instant film. To place a pack, simply open the movie 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 film packs to shoot with: a color I-Type pack and a black and white pack. As simple as this camera is to use, it didn’t play well with the photos I wanted to take. Whether I shot in natural light or in my relatively weak studio apartment in the basement, the prints always came out blurry. It was as if the autofocus system just didn’t work, and whether the flash was on made no difference to the outcome of the photo.

A few of the photos I took have that signature warm, nostalgic look I wanted to capture with Polaroid’s instant film format. But most of them look like a faded, blurry memory (even though I just took the photos), and it takes a while for the movie to process (about 10 to 15 minutes). In Polaroid’s defense, shooting with analog film is something that takes practice, and I don’t have much experience with it. And the costly trial and error process is part of what makes it fun and rewarding.

That said, I tried everything I would do with a camera, although since the cost per shot was about $ 2, I thought twice before committing to taking a photo. I took photos in low light with and without a flash, photos 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 some of my photos may not have turned out the way I intended them to.

They said this camera delivers the best indoor results with the flash on; otherwise, the long exposure to compensate for a lack of light can lead to blurry photos if you’re not completely still. As for why the photo of the fence below has a chemical stain on the side, it’s because I didn’t pull the camera away from the fence fast enough so the photo got slightly bent on the way out. These were beginner mistakes and I got better at the camera the more pictures I took with it. But after 16 photos, I’d burned for about $ 30 worth of film with just a few I’d consider goalkeepers.

Aside from the poor results, this camera just isn’t as ambitious as the OneStep Plus, the 2018 model. In the current model, Polaroid has removed the handy Bluetooth feature that allows you to use your phone as an external shutter via an accompanying app. The new Polaroid Now does have a self-timer, but it may not give you enough time to take the perfect selfie. In addition, the older model allows you to handle double exposure via the app, while the newer model relies on a series of button presses that are not clearly outlined in the instruction manual. I’m not saying that having those features would have made me take better photos, but they certainly would have helped.

If you’re looking for an instant film camera, Polaroid has some work to do if it’s one of the cameras we recommend. Fujifilm’s Instax series of cameras dominates our instant film camera buying guide, and some models cost much less than the Polaroid Now and seem to produce better looking photos.

But maybe I should just practice more.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

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