I can’t be arsed to do one of those pointless unboxing videos that litter YouTube on an hourly basis, but although late to the party, I recently got sucked into the hype of the “new” “Polaroid” cameras floating around and picked up a OneStep+ iType Camera.
Boom. How very hipster of me. That said, it took me a while to make the purchase, not just because I already own a small collection of working vintage Polaroid cameras (as attached below), but to get to where we are now with this current purchase took a bit longer than I was expecting.
Vintage Polaroid camera p0rn out of the way, let’s go back a bit.
Now you may have noticed at the start that I put Polaroid in the quotation marks because it’s not quite Polaroid as we know it, but a firm operating out of the Netherlands under the name ‘Polaroid Originals’, which many of us in the world of instant film preservation will know as ‘The Impossible Project’. This lot came about when the original Polaroid company announced that they were going to stop making film back in 2008 and everyone lost their shit. I’d been shooting the odd Polaroid since 2003 (I think) on an run-of-the-mill 600 camera (until I upgraded to an older SX-70 camera, for which the original pack film was no longer made), then latterly I’d been shooting peel-apart film.
Here’s the Polaroid 600 film format that everyone knew. I shot these frames between 2008-2012 on an SX-70. As original film stocks began to dwindle, you had to end up paying for expired film if you wanted to keep shooting, which often resulted in some funky colour casts.
Peel-apart film was a little less common, a slightly different process, but just as fun to experiment with. I shot most peel-apart film with a Hasselblad 500CM and Polaroid film back (though earlier shots were with a Holga).
Eventually, film stocks in all formats dwindled to the point of no return and rendering many cameras unusable (yet I continued to purchase more Polaroid cameras… hilarity ensues). The Impossible Project decided to take over the old film production at the original Polaroid film factory site, with the intention of saving the pack film format everyone knew, but it meant starting from scratch, even down to the chemicals used in the films. It was a lot of risk for an uncertain reward, and although Impossible were able to sort the mechanics of actually getting some kind of pack film out there with all the packaging and whatnot that was actually the easy bit; the film chemistry took a long while to get right.
I don’t even know how much I spent on the very ‘First Flush’ of Impossible film, but it was pretty expensive and, well, underwhelming (even for a black and white film). It was delicate as anything, you had to shield the print from light almost immediately (which was a bit difficult at the time as we were just so used to the frames just popping out and then having it in your hand for all to see and change in front of your very eyes) and the worst part was that you didn’t know if you even had a useable shot because it would take the better part of half an hour to develop (if it developed at all), which is complete opposite of the pack film I knew.
I don’t know how many shots of that stuff I wasted, but yeah… it was a lot.
Still, I kept throwing money at the seemingly aptly named Impossible Project for a whole decade because like many other instant film fans out there, I wanted to believe we could keep this Polaroid thing going. Sure, we can leave it all to the Japanese and Fujifilm, the chemical stability and the kawaii-ness of the Instax brand, but where’s the fun in that?
I mean… the Square Instax format is just a bit meh compared to an actual Polaroid:
I sold that Instax SQ6 after running just one pack of film through it. No joke. The Fujifilm Instax film chemistry is great and predictable, but almost too predictable. And the Instax Square format is just too small a format to think it can compete with its wider counterpart or even a standard Polaroid.
So, as I mentioned, I was one of those people that kept throwing money at the Impossible, hoping for better things. And I suppose the better things came along, slowly but surely. More and more versions of whatever chemical composition they had at the time came out, along with other types of film packs, like the wider film format for Spectra cameras. In 2012-13, I remember there being colour film becoming available for SX-70 cameras from Impossible, and although still incredibly washed out and unpredictable, at least it meant there was a stable-ish supply of some kind of film that was somewhat useable and for people to keep using their cameras.
The black and white film however came on leaps and bounds, and one of my favourite shots to come out of the Impossible black and white film was shot on an SX-70 Sonar (refurbished by Impossible) in 2015 when I was catching a ride on the old Rail Adhesion Train on the Metropolitan line:
Impossible also released something called the Instant Lab, a device you could recharge with a USB cable, where you could take your iPhone and expose an image from it onto instant film via a dedicated app that worked out the exposure time, then eject it from the device to have an exposed print. The film got better and more responsive around this time, with packs also being sold without the batteries inside as a result of having a rechargeable device that could eject the film without using power from the film pack, as was the old way. Believe it or not, the next frame isn't from a live-at-the-scene Polaroid camera, but it was an old picture on my iPhone 5S exposed onto film in the Instant Lab device (albeit expired Impossible film.
This whole thing of having a rechargeable device meant cheaper, battery-free film. From this came the Impossible I-1 camera, which could also connect to an iPhone app for additional functions via Bluetooth. I didn’t quite like the design, so I never bought that camera in the end to add to my collection.
The Impossible Project then rebranded into Polaroid Originals. And here we are with the OneStep+ (having already had the “new” OneStep and the OneStep2) and some pack film that has come on leaps and bounds from what seemed like a truly impossible project back in 2008.
I love the design of the quick start guide – it’s almost like a vintage poster:
The unboxing experience was good and so far, without even having used the camera, I feel like I’ve got something useable and up-to-date, but still keeping faithful to what once was. The app is pretty slick too. I can’t wait to get to use it this summer and I’ve even order myself a new neck strap for it from Artisan&Artist in Japan (in keeping with my other A&A camera straps that I already own for some of my other cameras, like my Fujifilm X-Pro2).
It’s going to be nice shooting with an instant camera that doesn’t make me look like I’m trying to x-ray people (yeah – I had that with the SX-70 Sonar), but I guess, for me, this was more than just the purchase of a camera riding off the back of a retro design. It was a community that quietly came together to save a creative process and medium from being resigned to a mere design museum exhibit and lyrics to a song by OutKast.