Polaroid PIC 1000
It seemed that instant cameras were dying -- yet another analog victim in a digital world. When Polaroid announced in 2008 that it would quit making the film that fueled its iconic instant cameras, it appeared to be the final nail in the coffin. The company instead seemed bent on plastering the valued Polaroid name on all sorts of cheap electronics.
Then -- in what seems an instant -- instant printing has roared
back. Revived after a bankruptcy, Polaroid is, er, focused on
instant imaging. "What makes Polaroid special is this
incredible tactile experience of sharing your pictures in real
time," says company executive
The company, armed with instant cameras and small printers, is now trying to sell the concept to a new generation. Polaroid recruited pop singer Lady Gaga, herself a seeming instant hit, to market the new instant imaging to young buyers. She's also a fan of the old, analog Polaroid cameras and film, popular among artists for their unique, sometimes quirky results. "Each photo was one of a kind, nothing else like it and not doctored," Pollock says. "It was almost like a crapshoot -- you didn't know exactly how it was going to come out."
Most of Polaroid's new products depend less on that unpredictability. The printers connect to digital cameras and camera phones, where images can be edited, and Polaroid's other instant cameras are digital. They also depend on new instant film from a company called ZINK Imaging, which is using technology that Polaroid developed but chose not to commercialize itself.
[Here's a guide to shopping for the perfect digital camera.]
It's almost as if Polaroid had to first die before the new
"Zero Ink" technology could spring to life at ZINK, whose
prints couldn't compete with the quality of the original
Polaroid film. And neither could compete with the quality of
prints that can be made pretty darn quickly from inkjet
printers. But as an independent company, ZINK decided its
clean process -- no messy ink cartridges -- and portability could
make up for lesser quality. "We knew we weren't the best of
best, but we thought the quality was good enough," says ZINK
Now, second-generation ZINK film is producing better-quality prints, if not still the best. And more generations are coming as Polaroid reports that its printers and cameras are hot sellers, and other companies adopt the technology.
Even the original Polaroid film isn't dead. A group calling
itself the "Impossible Project" leased an old Polaroid factory
More conventional printer companies aren't ceding the
"instant" market. Epson,
Polaroid PIC 1000.
As part of a return to its roots,
Polaroid later this year will release an updated version of
its old, analog OneStep camera called the PIC 1000. It will
produce the classic Polaroid prints with their white border.
Film will come from
Meanwhile, Polaroid forged ahead
with portable printers that can run off batteries and produce
clean, simple prints using the Zero Ink technology from ZINK.
A current PoGo printer sells for about
The ZINK tech is also built into
cameras in an echo of the old Polaroid models. A current
Polaroid camera uses the 2-by-3-inch, first-generation ZINK
paper. Selling for about
[As with other digital cameras, the PoGo's images can also be shared online via these sites.]
Jumping on the ZINK bandwagon,
Pandigital is selling a small printer that produces
4-by-6-inch prints. The printer has a slot for memory cards
and a small liquid crystal display (LCD) for previewing shots.
It's remarkably simple to set up and use, keeping the emphasis
on instant and simplicity. It can print four wallet-size
photos on one 4-by-6-inch sheet and is small enough to easily
carry, though it needs an electrical outlet to operate. The
printer costs about
The ZINK film uses a heating process
that's related to the thermal printers found at cash registers
and gas pumps. A similar tech is behind this portable instant
printer from PlanOn called the PrintStik. Aimed more at
traveling professionals, the printer runs from a rechargeable
battery and is only an inch or two wide and about 11 inches
long, or wide enough to print a full document page. The
thermal prints are monochrome only and can be produced from
Windows computers and BlackBerry phones. Models start at about
The best "instant" photos still come
from more conventional printers, usually inkjets with clumsy
cartridges and prints that take some time to dry. Canon
targets the portable market with dye-sublimation printers,
which produce top-notch prints from simple cassettes that hold
a printing ribbon. The prints come out ready to be handled
with a protective coating that also resists fading. The
cute-looking Selphy CP790 can run off an optional battery pack
and can print wirelessly from phones with its optional
Bluetooth adapter. The printer itself costs about
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