Polaroid is back with a brand-new instant film camera. Good stuff! But wait, what year is it? Did we slip backwards through a wormhole? Did the space-time continuum rip itself to shreds? Does anyone have Christopher Lloyd’s phone number?
Okay, relax. It’s 2015, alright, and a quick glance out the window shows no sign of our planet being devoured by a black hole. Yes, indeed, Polaroid instant cameras really do exist here in 2015. And what’s even more exciting than time travel is the possibility that Polaroid’s latest camera may be one of the brand’s most promising creations yet.
The camera in question is the Polaroid Snap, and it looks to combine the best of yesteryear’s Polaroid with the convenience and capability of a modern point-and-shoot digital camera. With a 10 Megapixel sensor, MicroSD card slot, and ultra-minimalist design, could this be the Polaroid we’ve all been waiting for?
After a week with the Snap, we’ve got the scoop. Check it out, and see if this new Polaroid is your kind of camera.
First impressions are important, and mostly based on looks. Luckily, the Snap’s designers nailed the aesthetics. This new Polaroid is inviting, approachable, and fun. The look of the camera reminds us of the computers that Apple was making in the late 1990s. And while the Snap isn’t going to compete with more “serious” cameras the way Apple’s computers ran against their competitor’s machines, it at least shares those early Macs’ aesthetic playfulness.
And that’s a good thing. Instead of trying to emulate the look of a classic, serious camera, the Snap embraces its modern and casual identity. It’s a whimsical device with soft edges, colorful buttons, and a super-simple interface. It looks new, and young, and it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. The Snap never takes itself too seriously, which stands as a useful reminder that cameras exist only to bring happiness and make us feel good.
This refreshingly minimal and joyful take on the camera is not limited to aesthetics, but also carried over to the Snap’s functionality. Much like Polaroids of yesteryear, this thing is simplicity itself. The Snap eschews needless complications, and lets nothing get in the way of having fun.
All controls are logically placed on the top of the camera. These include the power button (which is integrated into the pop-up viewfinder), shutter-release button, buttons for switching shooting modes between black-and-white, color, and “vintage”, self-timer button and photo-booth mode button, and a button to add the classic Polaroid border to prints. These toggle-style buttons operate as easily as can be; push them ON, push them OFF. Each selector features an LED to indicate its current status. Couldn’t be simpler.
The back of the camera is similarly sparse, featuring nothing more than status lights, a switch, and a film door that’s opened by said switch. The front of the camera houses the lens (naturally) as well as the automatically-activated flash. The underside of the camera features tiny feet to keep the machine stable and upright. And here we also find a standard tripod mount socket, which further bolsters the Snap’s usability in its self-timer and photo-booth mode.
The universal succinctness of the camera’s design speaks to the clarity of purpose and attention to detail employed by the Snap’s designers. There’s nothing included in this camera that doesn’t need to be there, and the elements that are included are done so in an intelligent and thoughtful way.
Our point is well-illustrated by one of the camera’s most basic, yet entirely necessary components; the lens cap. It’s magnetic, and it snaps readily into place as soon as it’s brought within a few millimeters of the lens. Not only does it fit perfectly, protect the lens, and look pretty slick, it also immediately orients itself so that the Polaroid logo is nice and level. This rather minor detail is simply a touch of genius that’s never failed to impress all who’ve played around with our review camera. Call us simpletons, but we just can’t help loving the little things.
In the hands, the Snap feels pretty great. Certain allowances can be made on account of the camera’s $99 price tag; one can’t expect the solidity of a metal body or the density of a modern, digital point-and-shoot. The entire shell is made of plastic, and that’s obvious from the first. Even so, the Snap never feels cheap. Its component parts fit together nicely, and there’s no substantial flex or squeaking when undue force is applied.
If there’s a weakness in the design it must surely be the flip-up viewfinder and film door. In the wrong hands, we’re afraid these two components may be problematic. They’re both just a bit too frail to inspire real confidence, and close inspection shows that each is held together by only a few millimeters of plastic. Scary stuff, especially when one considers the likelihood that the Snap will be eagerly pawed by young humans who’ve spent very little time amassing money, and have yet to appreciate the work required to do so. Optimistically ignoring these hypothetical damage points, what we get with the Snap is an instant camera that’s of perfectly acceptable build level.
Just don’t drop it. Oh, and it’s not waterproof. And it’s not water-resistant. So while not impervious to the elements, it is incredibly portable, and the reality of its compactness is made more impressive by the fact that there’s just so much stuff crammed into this little shell.
We’re not engineers, but we’re pretty sure that there’s an image sensor, a Micro SD card reader, a space for film, an entire printer, and maybe some kind of espresso machine, all contained in a unit that’s approximately 4.5” x 3” x 1”. Weight comes in at an astoundingly light 7.5oz (215 grams). That’s pretty impressive, especially when viewed through the eyes of long-time photo geeks who may fondly remember lugging around the “portable” Polaroids of the olden days. Ah, good times…
Out in the wild, the Snap is a real joy. Its simplicity of operation is a big departure from the machines that most photo geeks shoot, and it brings us right back to the heart of what made Polaroid popular to begin with.
We’re out there having fun. We’re not worrying about exposure, focus, depth-of-field, or any of that mumbo-jumbo. In fact, we’re barely even worrying about composition on account of the laughably small viewfinder. We’re honestly and truly just pointing and shooting, and it feels really good.
This run-and-gun style of photography is helped along by the wide-standard lens, advertised upon the bezel as a 3.4mm F/2.8 fixed focal length lens. Without knowing the sensor size it’s essentially a guess as to the equivalent focal length in a full frame camera, for reference. We can say that we’re seeing about the same field of view in shots taken with the Snap as those taken with our iPhone 5s (which has an equivalent focal length of around 30mm in the full frame format). With such a wide lens, it’s easy to make sweeping captures and arm-length selfies. For times when zoom is necessary, you’ll have to use your legs.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we can shoot anything we’re going to need to install either a MicroSD card, Polaroid’s Zink paper, or both. If a MicroSD card is installed without Zink paper, the camera will simply save the digital shots to the card. If Zink paper is installed without a card, the camera will simply print out your photos. And if there’s both Zink paper and a card installed, the camera will (you guessed it) both save the digital shots and print a photo.
In years past, when you were running a Polaroid and exhausted your film, that was it. Fun over. Not so with the Snap. Finish your film and you’ve still got a useful camera on account of the MicroSD card. That’s good news, as with a camera like this you’re going to want to keep shooting.
As for the lens’ optical performance, things are good, not great. There’s some distortion, some chromatic aberration, and some minimal ghosting when shot into bright sunlight. These optical aberrations are very forgivable, and perhaps even expected given the toy-camera price.
Does the less-than-stellar optical fidelity (something we rail against when reviewing many cameras) hurt the Snap? We aren’t so sure. Many Polaroid fans swear by the retro, lo-fi look that the old instant cameras tend to produce, and the fact that this new Polaroid harkens back to the much-loved style may, in fact, be an asset. Whether or not this is the case will rest solely with the individual.
The camera performs quite well as a digital point-and-shoot. Digital files transferred to a computer or smart phone show really strong image quality. Shots are quite detailed in the best of shooting conditions, and even in challenging situations things are still acceptable.
The camera’s flash works best when illuminating up-close subjects indoors. While its efficacy is limited to quite a short range, it’s better than nothing, and about comparable to a smartphone flash. Flashing subjects straight-on sometimes results in a washed-out bloom in the center of the frame.
All this taken into consideration, we’re not seeing anything we didn’t expect. Consumer-level Polaroids have always been on the weaker side of the image quality curve. But shot within its limits and with appropriate expectations, the Snap makes great photos. On account of the digital files, post-processing can go a long way toward making super-stylish shots to share online. Instagram hipster points!
Alright, so the Snap is a capable digital point-and-shoot. But we all know that’s not why we’re here. Nope, we’re all here for the magic trick; the instant print miracle that Polaroid is known for. Luckily, the Snap does not disappoint, and it’s when we embrace the joy of instant print photography that the Snap’s star really begins to rise.
With Polaroid’s Zink paper loaded, the camera spits out a 2″ x 3″ print of your shot in just under fifteen seconds. There’s no development time, and the ink-less nature of the process means that prints are instantly smudge-proof, dry, and ready to be stowed in a pocket. Or, since Zink premium paper comes with a sticky side, peel off the back of the print and stick your instantly-adhesive photo wherever you like. We’ve been having a good time sticking repugnant selfies all over unsuspecting loved ones’ personal property.
The whole process is pretty damned magical, just like it was back in the ’80s. Press the shutter release, listen to the tiny motors in your hand whirr to life, and in less than twenty seconds you’re holding a photograph. There’s just nothing like it, and even after just thirty shots we’ve developed a heartfelt fondness for the rather distinct noises this camera makes when printing our latest picture.
Prints look good, though not as good as their corresponding digital files. There’s a loss of tonality, and highlights seem prone to being blown. Contrast suffers a bit, and details tend to get lost. Printing black-and-white shots seem to offer the best results in certain lighting, but in other instances we’re getting better results from standard color prints. There really is no rhyme or reason, it seems.
Subjectively speaking, framing shots with the optional Polaroid frame seems to help us accept the lower print quality, as the physical print comes out feeling a bit more retro. It’s a psychological mitigation of an undeniably compromised image, but we don’t mind.
The ability to shoot in multiple styles will be popular with the casual shooter looking to spice things up, though we would have to assert that the lomo quality of even the standard shooting mode will yield enough unpredictable variance to keep things interesting regardless of the selected mode. This is the kind of camera that gives you results that are just impossible to predict, and that’s a big part of the fun.
Before long, shooting becomes infectious. You can’t wait to take the next shot, to hear the print motor whirr to life, and to see what kind of image you’ve made with this humble machine. Before you know it, the Snap feels like an old friend; a camera you’ll keep forever.
It also gets attention. Photo geeks and the uninitiated alike all peer with interest, ask what you’ve got, and seem drawn to the camera. Non-photophiles, especially, seem to get a real thrill when they see that instant film is alive and well, and the usual questions naturally follow. Given the response in our unscientific polling, it seems that with the Snap, Polaroid may be looking at a popular resurgence.
That said, the Snap is certainly not for everyone. To say otherwise would be blindly enthusiastic. There are cranky photo geeks out there who won’t be able to abide its lo-fidelity prints, its unpredictable nature, and its “last-gen” spec sheet. It’s an imperfect camera, built to a price point, and targeted to a certain audience. This camera just won’t work for the shooter who never leaves home without a twenty-pound camera bag bursting with Zeiss glass.
So what kind of shooter will fall in love with the Snap? We see it as a great choice for people who are more concerned with living life, than having the best camera gear. It’s a camera for kids, teenagers, hipsters and travelers. It’s for the young-at-heart, and those who want to go on adventures, stretch the summer, travel to faraway places right down the road, hang out the sunroof, and make instant mementos everywhere they go.
The Snap is a camera for those who want to forget their camera gear and their worries, and just enjoy life for a bit. It’s for those who want to get back to the pure joy of photography. And it’s a camera for those who want to laugh, smile, and connect with the people around them. It’s an exciting little camera, for fun people.
If this sounds like you, then the Polaroid Snap is certainly worthy of consideration.
Want your own Polaroid Snap?
Buy Zink Paper