Skip to main
Lights: On
Instant Cameras

Say Cheese

Instant Cameras

Feb 2022

Polaroid created the instant film camera in 1948. After decades with Edwin Land at the helm, the company sought to reinvent itself in the 1980s. The new 600 camera series brought features such as integrated flash and high-ISO film. These simplified the use of the device while keeping the camera price under $100—the anti-Hasselblad.

''The average instant photographer does not understand what is going on to begin with, so how is he going to understand the significance of these technical improvements?'' asked Eugene Glazer in the New York Times in 1981. Well, we're about 40 years late, but maybe we can help Mr. Glazer out.

Share This
Intro image for the scan.

Polaroid 600 AF

April 1997

By the late 1990s, consumer-grade digital photography was on the horizon. The OneStep 600 AF was an attempt to maintain a shrinking market with the usual tricks: new features and minor evolution. Many parts of this artifact hearken back to the ’80s. How do you make a camera for less than $100 with 1980s technology? Let's take a peek.

Want to deliver on a budget? Try using a viewfinder design from the 1600s. Galileo’s refracting telescope magnifies images without inverting them—a vital feature for avoiding user headaches.

Where is the power source for the shocking amount of electronics in this old brick? Wires hanging off the highlighted leaf springs are the clue. Film cartridges for the 600 series included batteries. Clever design choice, say those who remember hearing “batteries not included.”

Most of the electronics are dedicated to the challenge of scene illumination. Blue in color, 22x45mm in size, we find an energy burrito, but with dielectric sauce. Electrolytic capacitors roll up a thin metal sheet into a scroll large enough to contain a LEGO minifigure.

Intro image for the scan.

Polaroid Go

April 2021

#filmisnotdead. Polaroid is back, though it's no longer the Cambridge, Massachusetts powerhouse it once was. In fact, this camera is brought to you by a Dutch group called The Impossible Project that bought Polaroid's last film factory in 2009 and eventually bought the Polaroid brand in 2017. Seriously, go Google “The Impossible Project.”

This camera’s film-ejection system has a series of step-down gears. Two spur gears connected to the rollers are metal and seen in yellow; same with the motor. The rest are plastic, reducing weight and cutting costs.

How does this tiny camera utilize large film? To sound smart, we could say a folded optical path. Simply, it uses a mirror. The trapezoidal first-surface mirror is a hallmark of the Polaroid design. First-surface coatings are delicate but eliminate the double-reflections you get in your bathroom mirror.

Batteries in your film cartridge are slick but make your film appear more expensive than the competition. We find a lithium-ion battery and a USB-C charger when exploring the metal contents. It's a modern solution and preferable to “borrowing” the batteries from your mom's TV remote.

Intro image for the scan.


March 2020

Polaroid may have created the instant-camera market, but Fuji is wearing the crown. For a period in the 2010s, they were the only contender. In 2014, reports circulated that Fuji’s instant film business was large and growing, while its digital camera business was half-sized and shrinking. How do these devices differ from the others?

Go back and find a screw in the previous scans. We'll wait. Polaroid notoriously mastered the art of plastic snap fitting for everything. Fuji went another route. Easier to disassemble—if you don't mind losing a screw. You don't need the Webb to see this constellation.

This $70 camera boasts a 60mm lens, with included selfie mirror. Nikon's NIKKOR 58mm Noct costs $8,000, and that's just the lens—without a selfie mirror! The Nikon has 17 lens elements in its construction, while Fuji gets away with just 2.

The Fuji has a flat form factor compared to the Polaroid. What engineering tricks hide inside? Light is folded like origami through the viewfinder by a prism to add optical length. Reflections flip images, so the prism folds it four times to bring the image to eye level upright.

Download High-Res Scan Files

Explore the scan library.

Loading Scan...