The night that Polaroid announced its first all-new instant camera since the mid-aughts, there was a party in the Bowery. A small gallery space was filled with sweaty art school types, and a row Polaroid cameras lined one wall showcasing a timeline of the company’s design. The famous Polaroid photographer Ryan McGinley announced the new camera: the OneStep 2, the heir apparent to the original OneStep camera that inspired the Instagram logo.
I’ve been using the $100 OneStep 2 for a couple weeks. It sucks. But it sucks in that charming Polaroid way. The photos look awful in the way that your parents’ (or grandparents’) snapshots from decades past look. The user experience feels like a mean trick, since the only thing you can really do is turn the camera on and dangerously press a red button to snap a photo. Even the design is awkward, as it pays tribute to the odd boxy shape of the original OneStep with its shutter button on the front which forces you to twist your wrist in an unnatural direction.
The OneStep 2 sucks, but you know what? I kind of like it.
Part of what I like about the Polaroid camera, I’ll admit, is the history that led to its creation. This didn’t come from going to the event and seeing all of the old cameras, though. It’s something I’ve actually been following for quite some time.
In 2008, the year that Polaroid ceased production of its instant film, a company called the Impossible Project leased Polaroid’s production facilities and bought a bunch of its old equipment. Recognizing the lingering demand for Polaroid instant film—much of which came from the same sort of art school types that I’d later see at the party in the Bowery—the Impossible Project started making the stuff again. And it sold a ton of it. The company later developed its own hardware like the Instant Lab, a Kickstarter-funded device that let you expose iPhone photos on Polaroid film, and the Impossible I-1, an expensive instant camera that used a new type of very Polaroid-like film called I-Type film. You can buy it at Urban Outfitters.
Fast forward to May of this year, and the Impossible Project is such a success that its largest shareholder bought the Polaroid brand and the company’s intellectual property. At that Bowery party, the company announced that the Impossible Project would now be called Polaroid Originals.
The first Polaroid Original product, of course, is the OneStep 2. As mentioned above, the instant camera looks a lot like the original Polaroid OneStep from 1977. It’s got the same sloped back with a cutout for the viewfinder on the side, a very recognizable shape that screams Polaroid and makes me thing of dormer windows. There’s also a slot of a Micro-USB cable that you’ll need to charge the camera, approximately twice a year. The front features that recognizable red shutter button, a timer button, and a little yellow switch to adjust the power of the flash. On top, there are eight little lights in two rows that show you how many photos you have left in the cartridge. That’s it!
The simplicity of the OneStep 2 contrasts with the complexity of the $300 Impossible I-1. That alien thing features a ring flash and can connect to a smartphone app for adding creative effects. The OneStep 2 just takes photos. Point, shoot, Polaroid spits out the front. That idiot-proof scenario, I’d argue, is the best thing about the camera, too. My dog could take photos with this thing.
The problem is that the photos look like garbage. I went through three cartridges of film (one color, two black-and-white) and honestly swear I walked away with two decent photos, one of which I didn’t take. This is me admitting that I might be a major part of the problem, but the performance of the OneStep 2 as well as the film stands alone in certain regards. The color photos, for instance, are washed out, like they’ve been sitting in a drawer since the Carter administration. Some of the black-and-white photos look like a failed chemistry experiment, after the development process left parts of the image under or overexposed creating an almost smoky effect.
Some people love this. The unpredictable and basically shitty quality of Polaroid photos is a big part of why Instagram filters exist today. Thanks to people like Ryan McGinley, even the most accidental-seeming images look arty thanks to that Polaroid effect. Now that our world is dominated by too-good digital photography, that effect is both nostalgic and somehow new to an entire generation that probably remember seeing these crappy kinds of photos in old family albums. I’m a part of that generation, though I do actually remember life before digital cameras.
It’s fun to reminisce sometimes, but this camera is not for me, I’m afraid. The Polaroid OneStep 2 will entertain the hell out of a younger generation that missed cumbersome days of analog photography and want to play pretend. The throwback appeals is neat at first, but one of the great inconveniences of the old days is simple: film is expensive. Polaroid film is very expensive—especially the new stuff. A cartridge of i-Type color film costs $16 for eight photos. That’s $2 a shot. That’s also after you drop $100 on the camera itself.
This is not to say that instant photography is a bad idea completely. There are just better, cheaper options out there. Fujifilm, for instance, sells an instant camera called the Instax Mini 9 for about $70. I owned one long before I tested out the OnePlus 2, and even after, I prefer the Instax. If you buy a value pack, you can get the film for about 50-cents per shot, and frankly, I think they look a hell of a lot better than the Polaroids. They’re about half the size, though I view that as a feature not a flaw.
At the end of the day, photography is a hobby that costs money. The more you spend, in the case of instant cameras, the more photos you get. If we’re talking raw numbers here, you can take four Instax photos for every one Polaroid photo. In the case of digital photography, you can invest that money in better equipment and do all the Instagram filter crap with a computer. Which path you take is entirely up to you. If you’re a Polaroid fanatic, you might not think $2 for one terrible-looking photo is a bad deal. I do.
- Super simple Polaroid goodness for $100.
- But the film expensive at $2 per shot.
- Cute design that references Polaroid’s glory days.
- Photos look pretty, pretty bad in that classic Polaroid way.