In an Instant...Polaroid Returned

Edwin Land at the release of the cult-classic SX-70, one of the marvels of Polaroid engineering.

Edwin Land at the release of the cult-classic SX-70, one of the marvels of Polaroid engineering.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am giddy a few Tuesdays every year. This giddiness typically coincides with large Apple product release days. This week carried a similar high when Apple released a slew of new products, including the rumored iPhone X (pronounced "ten"). What was interesting this week, however, was that it wasn't the most exciting product release to happen during the last seven days.

What really took the cake for me, personally, was a small announcement that I happened upon yesterday morning before our filmshoot. "Polaroid Originals Launches with New OneStep 2 Camera," it read. Let me back up to explain why this is such a big deal.

In 1937, Edwin Land founded the company we all know to be Polaroid. Originally selling polarized sunglasses, the company grew and expanded into cameras and instant film. The company became so successful and was known so widely for its innovation, that it is often likened to the Apple of its era. Even the gigantic Kodak corporation was known to be a client.

The classic Polaroid OneStep.

The classic Polaroid OneStep.

Every large company has its tough days, however, and for Polaroid, it was more like tough decades. After a few failed products in the 70's, Polaroid entered a rough period. Despite this, they reached their most profitable year in 1991. Unfortunately, this wasn't to last. From there, they went into a steady decline that culminated in a chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. 

A selection of Impossible Project Films, previously available.

A selection of Impossible Project Films, previously available.

This set many things in motion, from the licensing of the Polaroid name to companies with varying degrees of reliability and quality, to the discontinuation of Polaroid instant film in 2008. For many people, this was the end of an era. Digital was now the dominant player, so why would anyone need instant film? For those who had grown up experiencing the joy of Polaroid film, it seemed as though they would need to move on. They didn't really have a choice, did they?

In the end, it seems they did. Toward the end of 2008, three men, Florian Kaps, André Bosman and Marwan Saba, visited the closing ceremony for the last remaining Polaroid film-manufacturing plant in Enschede, Netherlands. They decided to do something everyone believed to be impossible: revive Polaroid instant film. Founding "The Impossible Project," that year, they purchased this final Polaroid factory shortly before demolition.

Their goal was simply to reverse-engineer the discontinued Polaroid films, and while they did a remarkable job in this recreation, they never quite got it right. While original Polaroid film packs would hold 10 images to a capsule, the new film pack only holds 8. Also, while the original film took approximately a minute to fully develop, the new Impossible Project film takes nearly 30. Color accuracy was also imperfect, resulting in photos described as artsy rather than accurate recreations of the scene. While these elements were improved upon in later versions, they've still never made it to 100%.

Then, in May of 2017, something monumental occurred. The primary shareholder of The Impossible Project purchased the majority share of Polaroid. This essentially meant that Polaroid and the Impossible project were under the same roof, and that Polaroid was once again owned by someone who had a passion for instant film. Additionally, The Impossible Project might now have the ability to access Polaroid's data on previous photographic formulations and processes; something they had attempted to master, but fallen short. Photographers held their breath, but tried not to get too invested in possibilities that might not happen. 

The new Polaroid Originals OneStep2. Long live instant!

The new Polaroid Originals OneStep2. Long live instant!

Fast forward to yesterday morning, and The Impossible Project is no more. Why? Because it has been combined into Polaroid, of course! With this momentous announcement, Polaroid returns with a bang into the photographic community, bringing with it the expertise and passion from The Impossible Project, and the knowledge, information, and brand recognition that it holds within its coffers. This all culminated in the release of the Polaroid OneStep2 (which bears similar functionality to the previously released Impossible Project I-1) The camera is available for pre-order for $99. Visiting The Impossible Project website now will redirect you to Polaroid Originals.

Boasting a lens with fixed focal length from 2ft-infinity, you won't have to worry about focusing. Unfortunately, that also means that your subject may not always be within perfect focus. This isn't a new concept for Polaroid users, however. New for a Polaroid camera as well, is the inclusion of a rechargeable battery. Polaroid claims that it will last for a full 30 days on a charge, so we'll see how that stacks up. Also included are a self-timer and built-in flash, although the latter of the two comes as no surprise. Overall, the design is refreshingly retro, while maintaining a sense of modernity.

Mirror-selfie with my Polaroid SX-70 and Impossible Project film.

Mirror-selfie with my Polaroid SX-70 and Impossible Project film.

The camera takes both 600-type film (which is traditional for older Polaroids), but also accepts Impossible Project (and now Polaroid Originals) i-Type film. While almost identical to the 600-type film, i-Type removes the battery from the film pack, allowing for a lower cost. This film requires the camera itself to power the process, which thanks to the included rechargeable battery, the OneStep2 does.

So why am I so excited? I'm so excited because there is once again proof that the impossible can be possible. While one could argue that instant photography has been kept alive by the Fuji Instax cameras and the like, there's something unique and special about classic Polaroid cameras, the aesthetic they bring, and the heritage of the company that started it all.

Additionally, it's refreshing to know that instant film is being made by a company that has a true passion for the product, not just a concern for their bottom line. Fuji has discontinued photographic films left and right, and frankly, I don't blame them. Isn't the goal of business to make money? While Fuji maintains the Instax line of cameras due to their profitability, we never know what they might do should they cease to be the driving machine that they currently are. It's still good to know that there are companies that care about profit, but also have passion; something I have little doubt the Impossible Project (er...Polaroid Originals team) has.

We haven't yet seen that original Polaroid film formulation resurface, but I surmise that it's only a matter of time. At the very least, I know that Polaroid and Impossible are stronger together. I'm certainly looking forward to a new era of instant photography for myself and my children. Long live the legend! Long live instant!