The OneStep 2, the new instant camera from recently formed Polaroid Originals, has arrived. We wrote about the importance of this back when the big announcement dropped, but if you’re still unsure of what we’re talking about, give that earlier article a read. The biggest news was the announcement of a price-drop on all Polaroid film, a new and improved color film formula for all formats, and a new camera. It was a big deal, and now that the film and camera have arrived, we’re poised to find out if the hype was warranted.
Short story version; hype warranted (if you’re a fan of instant photography). The OneStep 2 and Polaroid Originals’ new film are all worth owning and shooting. But let’s not be lazy. Read a bit more. It’ll be fun, and you’ll be smarter than your friends when you’re done. On to the details.
The camera itself is an I-Type and 600 series camera. That means it uses any Polaroid Originals I-Type or 600 film, of which there are many varieties. It’s got a built-in lithium-ion battery, charged via micro USB and providing up to 60 days of power (which is amazing). It weighs one pound, features a coated optical grade polycarbonate and acrylic lens, an auto-exposure system coupled to a step-motor shutter, and focuses from as close as two feet to infinity. It has a built-in flash, self-timer, exposure compensation, tripod thread, and exposes square format instant prints that are fully developed in about fifteen minutes (in real-world conditions).
Sure, a glass lens and metal tripod socket would’ve been nice. But this would’ve also pushed the price above the hundred dollar mark. As it stands at $99, this is a well-priced and well-specced camera.
It’s also well made. The OneStep 2 feels great in the hand, especially when judged by the standard set by earlier Polaroid cameras. Compared to the original OneStep of 1977, the OneStep 2 may be rightly described as Leica-esque. The squeaks, rattles, and flex that so characterizes SX-70 and 600 series Polaroids of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s are thankfully (and expectedly) absent. As far as Polaroid cameras go, this thing is near to the best-built plastic picture-maker to ever wear the name.
That said, there are some aspects of its design that cause me to worry. The plastic film door has always been a weak point on Polaroid cameras, and the OneStep 2 could possibly suffer the same weakness. The locking latch looks puny, and its supporting plastic receiver doesn’t inspire confidence. The spring is tiny, and I question how many actuations the mechanism will handle, and the way the latched film door flexes when pressure is applied makes the nit-picker in me frown. I’d prefer a more robust metal latching mechanism employed on a moving part that’s so frequently worked. Time will tell if this anticipatory qualm is warranted. Hopefully I’m wrong.
Aesthetically speaking, the camera is stunning. With a minimalist design that references the older machines while avoiding outright replication, the OneStep 2 looks like it should; like it’s the result of the evolutionary progression that would have occurred had Polaroid not stopped designing beautiful cameras. Its lines and aesthetic flourishes, such as the giant lens surround and reference to the old style exposure compensation wheel, mimic the look of the earlier camera, yet the tighter tolerances and more refined design make it clear that this is a machine from 2017.
Simple and effective functionality is baked into this modern form, with switches, buttons, and indicators intelligently placed throughout. The front of the camera houses the large, red shutter release button, well-situated to keep your wiggling digits out of the way of the automatic flash. There’s also an exposure compensation switch, and a backlit self-timer button that illuminates when activated. The top of the camera shows eight LED lights indicating exposures remaining in the film pack. The rear presents a flash-off button (held while pressing the shutter release to shoot sans flash) and a simple On/Off switch. And that’s all, for controls.
The tiny, protruding viewfinder tunnel found on many older Polaroids has been chopped and replaced by a comparatively massive viewing window that offers clear framing while allowing us to see the open space surrounding our frame. Though a bit odd at first, once we’re comfortable positioning the camera this design makes framing and shooting generally faster and easier than on any other Polaroid camera. For users who wear glasses or sunglasses especially, it’s a revelation.
Operation is simple. Frame your shot with the viewfinder, think about your light for a moment, adjust settings accordingly, and shoot. In a moment, motors whirr to life and out pops your photo, protected from the sun by the built-in light shield. After you’ve stowed your photo away, slap a snap bracelet onto your wrist, pick up your boombox, say “cowabunga” and skateboard away.
In the field, the OneStep 2 is simple to use, and the photos it makes can be excellent. They can also be not excellent. But with Polaroid Originals’ new film, the ratio of hits to misses is finally skewing heavily toward hits. Long-time Polaroid shooters will get the most out of this camera, as they’ll understand the strengths and weaknesses of simple Polaroid machines. New users would be wise to read the brief manual and apply the lessons (helpfully) stamped onto the bottom of the machine; shoot with the sun behind you, always use the flash, ensure your subject is in the focus zone. Beyond these helpful tips, experience is the only path to masterful instant photographs.
What I mean is, the camera won’t help you. There are no indicators in the viewfinder to let you know if your shot will be over- or under-exposed. There’s nothing to tell you your subject is too close, or that the backlighting is too harsh to be solved by the built-in flash and exposure compensation. The camera won’t tell you when you shouldn’t use flash. You’re on your own.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be nice to just point and shoot, and leave the worrying to some sap with a DSLR. Sure, you’ll burn through shots at $1.99 a frame, and only some of these will be hits, but don’t worry about it. Often the misses are the most compelling photos you’ll make. The overblown highlights, the sun flares and ghostly blurs, the unexpected color shifts – these are why we shoot Polaroid cameras in 2017. If we want a clinical photo, we’ll shoot our digital camera, or iPhone, or a 35mm film camera for that matter. Comparing images made by a Polaroid to images made with any other type of camera is foolish. It’s its own thing. You either like it, or you don’t, and either way you’re not wrong.
Then again, and somewhat surprisingly, there are plenty of instant cameras clamoring for your dollar. With so many offerings on the market, the success of the OneStep 2 is in no way assured. Other instant machines, like Fujifilm’s SQ10, offer much more in the way of user controls and tech specs. And for users looking for what has, until now, been the most stylish instant camera, there’s the Sofort from Leica. We could also buy that TLR from MiNT or a bare bones Instax.
But are these competitors better instant cameras? It’s true that the Fuji SQ10 allows far greater control of the final instant print. In fact, that camera gives us so much control that we can choose whether or not a given shot gets made into a print at all. It’s a true digital/instant hybrid camera that produces less wasted shots at a per print price that’s cheaper than Polaroid’s new film. There’s no denying the Sofort looks really nice in any of its three available colors. The TLR from MiNT is the only instant TLR on the market, and entry-level Instax cameras, which have dominated instant photography for years, make the highest quality prints in the business.
I’ve spent equal time with all of these cameras, and I can tell you that none of that stuff matters. There’s a Sofort hanging on the coatrack in the CP office and an SQ10 in a drawer by the door. They each have more features and make more technically perfect prints than this new Polaroid. But now that the OneStep 2 has arrived, none of these cameras will see the light of day until I give them away.
That’s because the OneStep 2 is the instant camera that offers the best blend of what I really want in an instant camera. It allows enough creative control to handle most situations, while retaining the unpredictable magic that more advanced instant cameras fail to capture. Its lens and metering system is better than the MiNT TLR. It uses new, quality film that makes larger shots than the basic Instax cameras. It looks better than the Sofort, and has higher build quality than things from Lomography. It’s the classic Polaroid camera made new, with the proper name attached. It’s everything I love in an instant camera and nothing more, and at $99, it’s priced perfectly.
There will certainly be shooters who argue the point. They’ll say that the camera lacks features, or the film isn’t sharp enough. They’ll point to those flaws in the image that so many of us love, and say “Polaroid used to be better.” And they’ll be technically correct, because the OneStep 2 isn’t a perfect camera, and it doesn’t make perfect photos. But they’ll also be missing the point.
In the past, when you pointed a Polaroid at someone, they reacted. They smiled, posed, and you made a shot that you could hold right away. Today, we’re able to do that again with a camera that says “Polaroid” on it. That’s huge, and it means a lot to a whole lot of photo geeks who’ve long held a torch for the departed brand.
What’s more meaningful than even this is the fact that the OneStep 2 also happens to make great looking (if flawed) photos, that the new Polaroid Originals film is improved, and that there could be “more and better” coming out of Polaroid Originals in the coming years. That’s exciting, and wonderful. And if all this wasn’t enough, the OneStep 2 makes my daughter smile. Case closed; it’s a great camera.