The instant camera market that looked dead just 15 years ago is enjoying renewed success in the digital era
To celebrate Polaroid’s 80th anniversary, the iconic camera company is offering an instant camera set to delight fans of analog film. And photographers are gleaming with joy. Ten years after Polaroid stopped making instant film cameras and nine years after it stopped making the film those cameras use, the Polaroid instant camera is back. And lovers of analog film can’t seem to have enough of it. Polaroid largely exists now as a brand, so the new $99 Polaroid OneStep 2 is being made by the Impossible Project, a company that spawned out of the groundswell and is making all efforts to preserve Polaroid’s film in the first place. It’s an instant film camera like many before it and has modern-day technological comforts: there’s a timer, a flash and you can charge it over USB.
The camera is the first in a new line aiming to ride the nostalgia wave back to some of the brand’s most iconic models. There has already been a revival of analog in recent years, hence the firm’s decision to revive its original camera. The OneStep was released 40 years back and it played a big part in democratising the Polaroid camera. The biggest change to the model this time around is the camera’s shape which favours a lighter, more practical form, while retaining all the most obvious design features of its predecessor, including that big red button. Staying true to its original model, the camera won’t have any fancy frills like an image stabiliser or a social media connection. Almost 100% old-school, the only modern adaptation is that its AA batteries have been swapped for a USB connection.
With consumers attracted first by digital cameras and then, from 2007, by smartphones offering increasingly sophisticated camera technology, interest in “old” film technology waned. But the interest has now been revived. It seems that a whole new generation of photographers is falling in love with the instant camera. It’s a remarkable turnaround, especially in a marketplace where digital-camera sales are in a state of freefall. The roots of instant photography can be traced to the 1940s when scientist Edwin Land went on holiday with his family. He was taking a few snaps of his children for the photo album, as most fathers do, when his daughter posed an interesting question: she wondered why the photos were not available to view instantaneously. For Land, this moment of temporary bafflement acted as an inspirational spark. His work resulted in the release of the first Polaroid camera, the Land Model 95, in 1948.
Fujifilm is also partially responsible for instant film cameras making a comeback in recent years. The manufacturer’s Instax Mini 8, for instance, has become a bestseller on Amazon, and one of the reasons is its low cost. Then there is the Square SQ10, a hybrid digital instant camera that offers the best of both worlds at a premium. Compared to the Instax Mini 8, the SQ10 is a little chunky, but that’s to be expected, given that this model has a built-in screen and a large metal ring around the lens that acts as the power button. The good thing about its bulkiness is that it makes it feel like an actual camera, rather than a toy. The Japanese firm estimates that it sold five million of its instant cameras in the fiscal year ending March 31, nearly four times the 1.4 million digital alternatives it estimates it sold during the same period.
It would be unwise to write off the new wave of instant photography as a passing teenage craze. Rather serious photographers and even professional ones are embracing the retro appeal and physicality of this medium. The recent resurgence of instant photography and the success of manufacturers offering instant cameras prove that what once seemed old can suddenly reappear.