ON TRIAL

PO­LAROID ONESTEP 2

Camera - - CONTENTS -

Po­laroid is back! Well, as close as we’re go­ing to get a re-in­car­na­tion of the orig­i­nal, but it means bet­ter per­form­ing in­stant films and, for starters, a mod­ern ver­sion of the best-sell­ing OneStep. The good news is that the new cam­era is just as much fun as the orig­i­nal.

What is it about Po­laroid that seems to res­onate with us so strongly? De­spite many ups and downs since the orig­i­nal com­pany’s demise in 2001, the brand has re­tained both recog­ni­tion and rep­u­ta­tion. Yet the sales of Po­laroid-branded cam­eras to­day is a mere frac­tion of the glory days back in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. And vir­tu­ally no­body is us­ing Po­laroid films to test for ex­po­sure, light­ing or com­po­si­tion any more. It surely can’t all just be about sun­glasses, can it? Even in the dig­i­tal era, the idea of an in­stant print has re­mained ap­peal­ing, enough to keep Fu­ji­film’s In­stax busi­ness tick­ing along nicely and con­vince other cam­era brands – in­clud­ing, re­mark­ably, Le­ica – to get in­volved. Yet even here, it’s still the clas­sic Po­laroid prod­ucts that have most stirred the emo­tions of pho­tog­ra­phers, re­sult­ing in thriv­ing busi­nesses re­fur­bish­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, the leg­endary SX-70 cam­era and, of course, the es­tab­lish­ment of the hugely am­bi­tious and apt­ly­named, The Im­pos­si­ble Project. Back in 2008, an or­gan­i­sa­tion of en­thu­si­asts took over part of an old Po­laroid pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in The Nether­lands, and set about re­viv­ing the best-loved Po­laroid in­stant print films, SX-70 and Type 600.

The chal­lenge here was that, with­out ac­cess to the orig­i­nal patents and for­mu­la­tions, they had to start from scratch and at­tempt to achieve in just a cou­ple of years what took Po­laroid’s founder Dr Ed­win Land vir­tu­ally a life­time. There’s been mixed suc­cess, but per­haps most im­por­tantly The Im­pos­si­ble Project kept the Po­laroid dream alive, even at­tract­ing new afi­ciona­dos along the way.

His­tory has a strange way of tak­ing un­ex­pected turns and so it came to pass that a Pol­ish en­tre­pre­neur headed a syn­di­cate which, in May 2017, pur­chased the com­pany which owns the Po­laroid brand and, im­por­tantly, all the as­so­ci­ated rights. Wi­ace­zlaw Smolokowski also hap­pens to be the largest share­holder in The Im­pos­si­ble Project so, very neatly, the will and where­withal have been com­bined.

The first fruits of this mar­riage are a re­vival of the OneStep cam­era – a cheap-and-cheer­ful box-type model hugely pop­u­lar in the 1970s – and the re­brand­ing of The Im­pos­si­ble Project as Po­laroid Orig­i­nals.

The new OneStep 2 has al­ready been a suc­cess in its own right, rapidly sell­ing out af­ter it was first an­nounced and re­main­ing in short sup­ply un­til re­cently. There’s also a new in­stant film called i-Type, avail­able in both colour and B&W, which repli­cates the square for­mat of the clas­sic SX-70 and Type 600 prints.

Po­laroid Orig­i­nals has also taken over all the Im­pos­si­ble Project prod­ucts, in­clud­ing the var­i­ous films it had re-cre­ated and its range of re­fur­bished vin­tage Po­laroid cam­eras.

KEEP IT SIM­PLE

The orig­i­nal OneStep, un­veiled in 1977, was billed as “the world’s sim­plest cam­era” be­cause all you had to do was press the shut­ter but­ton… and the cam­era did the rest. There were no con­trols, not even an on/off switch and, while there was an ad­just­ment for ex­po­sure, you didn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to use it. The print was au­to­mat­i­cally ejected via a mo­torised trans­port and was self-de­vel­op­ing, a big ad­vance on the pre­vi­ous peel-apart Po­laroid ma­te­ri­als.

Ini­tially, the OneStep cam­eras used the SX-70 print film, but moved on to the im­proved Time Zero se­ries film in 1981. In the mid-1980s, the name was car­ried on, but on a new gen­er­a­tion of cam­eras which used the faster Type 600 film as part of a new balanced day­light-and-flash auto ex­po­sure sys­tem. Type 600 film is rated at ISO 640 ver­sus SX-70 film’s ISO 125. As it hap­pens, the orig­i­nal OneStep will phys­i­cally ac­cept 600 Se­ries film packs af­ter they’re very slightly mod­i­fied, but it’s then nec­es­sary to re­duce the ex­po­sure by two stops by us­ing a neu­tral den­sity (ND) fil­ter over the lens. Fid­dly, but pos­si­ble.

Un­like the rev­o­lu­tion­ary SX70 cam­era (in­tro­duced in 1972) which had a novel fold­ing de­sign, the OneStep was rigid-bod­ied to re­duce man­u­fac­tur­ing costs and make it eas­ier to use. Over the years, there were many vari­ants, some spe­cific to cer­tain mar­kets and with dif­fer­ent model num­bers (for ex­am­ple, the 1000, 1000S and 1000SE in Europe). The ba­sic fixed-fo­cus lens was up­graded to zone fo­cus in the later models and then stepped up again to Po­laroid’s sonar-type aut­o­fo­cus­ing (in­tro­duced on the SX-70). Ad­di­tion­ally, there was a choice of black or white body colours and a few sub­tle styling vari­a­tions such as a round or square lens hous­ing and ei­ther red or green shut­ter buttons.

The OneStep spear­headed Po­laroid’s very suc­cess­ful sales strat­egy of pric­ing its con­sumer cam­eras ex­tremely af­ford­ably with the prof­its com­ing from the con­sum­ables, namely the film. It worked, and in its first year on-sale, the OneStep be­came the best-sell­ing cam­era in the USA. In­ter­est­ingly, Po­laroid man­u­fac­tured the OneStep

IF THE ORIG­I­NAL ONESTEP’S SPEC­I­FI­CA­TIONS AREN’T ES­PE­CIALLY DE­TAILED, THEY’RE POS­I­TIVELY EN­CY­CLOPAEDIC COM­PARED TO WHAT’S BEEN PUB­LISHED ABOUT THE NEW MODEL.

THERE’S NO QUES­TION THE NEW CAM­ERA LOOKS SPOT-ON IN TERMS OF BEAU­TI­FULLY RE-CRE­AT­ING THE NOS­TAL­GIA, BUT WITH A 21ST CEN­TURY SHARP­EN­ING UP OF THE STYLING.

cam­eras it­self at one fac­tory in Mas­sachusetts and an­other in Scot­land (it also had plants for mak­ing film, bat­ter­ies and sun­glasses, and this heavy in­vest­ment in man­u­fac­tur­ing would even­tu­ally prove prob­lem­atic down the track).

OVER THE RAIN­BOW

The OneStep was also the first cam­era prod­uct to carry the iconic rain­bow stripe (even­tu­ally of­fi­cially called the Po­laroid Color Spec­trum) which had pre­vi­ously been used on Po­la­color film pack­ag­ing since 1968. It sub­se­quently be­came part of Po­laroid’s cor­po­rate logo and brand­ing, sur­viv­ing the var­i­ous changes of own­er­ship which have taken place since 2001. A slightly restyled ver­sion has now been adopted by the new Po­laroid Orig­i­nals com­pany.

An all-plas­tic con­struc­tion – in­clud­ing the one-el­e­ment lens – and fixed fo­cus­ing helped keep the price down, but the OneStep still had built-in me­ter­ing with au­to­matic ex­po­sure con­trol via an elec­tronic shut­ter and lens di­aphragm. In the USA, it sold for US$39.95 which, given the com­par­a­tively so­phis­ti­cated ex­po­sure con­trol sys­tem – at least for a snap­shot cam­era – can’t have left much room for any profit mar­gin at all. Power came from an ul­tra-slim, six volt bat­tery – an­other piece of Po­laroid en­gi­neer­ing ge­nius – housed in each SX-70 film pack, an ar­range­ment that was con­tin­ued with the later Type 600, Spec­tra, Cap­tiva and Vi­sion films.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the OneStep 2 has the more mod­ern ar­range­ment of a built-in recharge­able lithi­u­mion bat­tery pack (with in-cam­era charg­ing via USB ca­ble no less), but it will ac­cept Type 600 films, both new and vin­tage, but whether it switches to us­ing the pack’s power sup­ply is un­clear, es­pe­cially as there’s a volt­age dif­fer­ence be­tween the two sources. Pre­sum­ably one chal­lenge that Po­laroid Orig­i­nals could well do with­out, is that the new i-Type films (again rated at ISO 640) don’t have built-in bat­ter­ies and so the boxes are boldly marked “Not for Vin­tage Cam­eras”.

RETRO REPRO

If the orig­i­nal OneStep’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions aren’t es­pe­cially de­tailed (even with the ben­e­fit of his­tory), they’re pos­i­tively en­cy­clopaedic com­pared to what’s been pub­lished about the new model. The lens – made from op­ti­cal­grade poly­car­bon­ate and coated to re­duce flare – has a fo­cal length of 106mm (roughly equiv­a­lent to 40mm) and again the fo­cus is fixed, this time from around 60 cen­time­tres to in­fin­ity.

The aper­ture range isn’t known, nor the shut­ter speeds, but ex­po­sure con­trol is pro­grammed to some ex­tent, in­clud­ing again bal­anc­ing flash and day­light. Ac­cord­ing to Po­laroid Orig­i­nals, the shut­ter is a “cus­tom de­sign us­ing [a] pre­ci­sion step mo­tor”, but that’s as much as they’re giv­ing away.

The built-in flash is the big­gest change over the orig­i­nal, which only has a ded­i­cated port – shared with the SX-70 – for fit­ting ei­ther a ‘Flash­bar’ mod­ule which housed ten flash bulbs (five on each side) or the ac­ces­sory Q-Light elec­tronic flash unit. In­ci­den­tally, the lat­ter has been re-cre­ated by MiNT and is avail­able from Po­laroid Orig­i­nals.

Be­yond the built-in flash though, the OneStep 2 is a pretty faith­ful re­pro­duc­tion of the orig­i­nal mainly be­cause, of course, the ba­sic shape still has to be the same. The new bodyshell is a com­bi­na­tion of poly­car­bon­ate and ABS plas­tics with the choice of white or black fin­ishes. And the white re­ally is white, un­like the orig­i­nal which was more of a pale grey colour. How­ever, the rain­bow logo is re­duced to just a small block rather than the full-blown ‘rac­ing’ stripe which would have just fin­ished things off nicely. Nev­er­the­less, there’s no ques­tion the new cam­era looks spot-on in terms of beau­ti­fully re-cre­at­ing the nos­tal­gia, but with a 21st cen­tury smarten­ing-up of the styling.

The shut­ter re­lease but­ton is reg­u­la­tion bright red, but ex­po­sure ad­just­ment is now by a small slid­ing switch rather than the orig­i­nal’s ro­tat­ing knob (al­though this is repli­cated in minia­ture to still house the me­ter­ing cell). There’s an on/off switch – some­thing the orig­i­nals didn’t need be­cause of the film pack-based power sup­ply – a but­ton for the self-timer and an­other but­ton to over­ride the flash (which oth­er­wise will al­ways fire, pro­vid­ing fill-flash in brighter con­di­tions).

Sur­pris­ingly, the new cam­era’s viewfinder is a lot harder to use as it doesn’t have the ex­tended eye­piece of the orig­i­nal which en­sures your cheek clears the slop­ing back of the cam­era. The OneStep 2’s fin­der is big­ger, but this re­ally doesn’t mean much when you have to tilt your head at an awk­ward an­gle to ac­tu­ally use it.

COUNT­ING THE COST

Film packs load through the front of the cam­era in the tra­di­tional way, but in­stead of an ana­log

frame counter, the OneStep 2 uses a nifty ar­range­ment of eight or­ange LEDs – lo­cated in a 4x2 pat­tern on its top panel – which ex­tin­guish one by one to show how many un­ex­posed prints are re­main­ing.

Print ejec­tion is mo­torised, but while the SX-70 cam­eras sim­ply spat one out and de­vel­op­ment be­gan im­me­di­ately, it’s a bit more com­pli­cated with the Po­laroid Orig­i­nals film. Af­ter tak­ing the shot, a flex­i­ble pro­tec­tive cover un­furls from the cam­era to pre­vent the ex­posed print be­ing in­stantly dosed with avail­able light. You then need to place the print face down (and away from di­rect light) to await com­plete de­vel­op­ment which is now thank­fully shorter than the 30+ min­utes re­quired by The Im­pos­si­ble Project films, but still longer than we sus­pect Dr Land would have ap­proved of.

That said, the new i-Type colour film is a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment, not just in terms of the shorter de­vel­op­ment time and re­duced sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to di­rect light ex­po­sure post­cam­era, but also the im­age qual­ity, no­tably both the colour sat­u­ra­tion and the con­trast.

The “i” ap­par­ently stands for “in­cred­i­ble” which is a bit of an over­stretch, but things are def­i­nitely look­ing up com­pared to the valiant but prob­lem­atic early IP prod­ucts (and, in fact, should now only get bet­ter). Of course, you get the clas­sic Po­laroid in­stant print for­mat – the prod­uct of the de­vel­oper pod’s lo­ca­tion – which is sized at 8.8x10.7 cen­time­tres with a square im­age area of 7.9x7.9 cen­time­tres. This is quite a bit larger than Fu­ji­film’s new In­stax Square film which has an im­age area of 6.2x6.2 cen­time­tres, but i-Type film is sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pen­sive, work­ing out at $4.85 per print ver­sus $2.75 (based on digiDIRECT’s cur­rent pric­ing). At this sort of cost, it’s hard to see the OneStep 2 be­ing quite the party cam­era that made its pre­de­ces­sor so pop­u­lar, and its us­age is likely to be more cir­cum­spect… even artis­tic (al­though a re­fur­bished SX-70 is per­haps a bet­ter op­tion here, cur­rently around €400 from Po­laroid Orig­i­nals).

THE VER­DICT

Fun, fun, fun. For­get any ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion and just en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence. Even if you aren’t a clas­sic Po­laroid cam­era en­thu­si­ast, the OneStep 2 is still strangely ap­peal­ing and while it’s never go­ing to match its pre­de­ces­sor’s sales suc­cess, it has the po­ten­tial to be ev­ery bit as sig­nif­i­cant in his­tor­i­cal terms (so, if noth­ing else, it’s al­ready a nice collectible). Po­laroid is back – prop­erly so – and the OneStep 2 is just the start of a much more sig­nif­i­cant re­nais­sance than The Im­pos­si­ble Project has been able to achieve de­spite its com- mend­able ef­forts so far. Per­haps more im­por­tantly though, it’s the con­tin­ued im­prove­ments in the film prod­ucts – now more cer­tain than be­fore – that are likely to make this and any fu­ture Po­laroid Orig­i­nal cam­eras some­thing more than just nos­tal­gic cu­riosi­ties. SX-70 Mark II any­body?

FUN, FUN, FUN. FOR­GET ANY RA­TIO­NAL­I­SA­TION AND JUST EN­JOY THE EX­PE­RI­ENCE… EVEN IF YOU AREN’T A CLAS­SIC PO­LAROID CAM­ERA EN­THU­SI­AST.

The Po­laroid box cam­era DNA is un­mis­tak­able, but the OneStep 2 is much mod­i­fied com­pared to its an­ces­tor from 1977 and has an on/off switch, a built-in flash, a self-timer and a lithium-ion bat­tery housed in the cam­era (rather than the film pack) which is recharged via USB ca­ble.

The dis­tinc­tive shape is be­cause be­hind the lens is a big an­gled mir­ror di­rect­ing light down to the in­stant print film pack slot­ted into the cam­era’s base.

New i-Type films now branded as Po­laroid Orig­i­nals with the for­mat, name and logo now used un­der li­cense from PLR IP Hold­ings (but still man­u­fac­tured at Im­pos­si­ble’s fac­tory in En­schede, in The Nether­lands. De­vel­op­ment times are es­sen­tial halved and both colour and con­trast much im­proved.

Now repack­aged as a Po­laroid Orig­i­nals prod­uct, The Im­pos­si­ble Project’s re-cre­ation of SX- 70 colour film still needs more than 30 min­utes to de­velop fully and the colour re­pro­duc­tion is… well, in­ter­est­ing.

Im­age qual­ity is much im­proved with the new i-Type colour film which also has a shorter de­vel­op­ment time and is less prone to is­sues with ex­po­sure to di­rect light im­me­di­ately af­ter ejec­tion from the cam­era.

Both cam­eras have es­sen­tially the same sin­gle-el­e­ment fixed-fo­cus lens with just a slight vari­a­tion in fo­cal length (103mm ver­sus 106mm which is roughly equiv­a­lent to 40mm). Some orig­i­nal OneStep cam­eras also had a cir­cu­lar lens hous­ing.

Ex­po­sure ad­just­ment is via a large knob on the orig­i­nal OneStep and a slid­ing lever on the new cam­era. Note the lat­ter’s nod to the orig­i­nal’s de­sign with its me­ter­ing cell hous­ing along­side the lens.

Film pack load­ing slot ar­range­ments are the same on both cam­eras. The orig­i­nal uses SX-70 film while the OneStep 2 will take the clas­sic Type 600 film as well the new Po­laroid Orig­i­nals i-Type prod­ucts.

The orig­i­nal OneStep cam­era was called dif­fer­ent things in dif­fer­ent mar­kets and the shut­ter but­ton colour var­ied from red to green or blue.

TV ads for the Po­laroid OneStep cam­eras in the late 1970s used ac­tors James Gar­ner and Ma­ri­ette Hart­ley (and, in fact, be­came pop­u­lar in them­selves due to the pair’s on-air chem­istry). The high ro­ta­tion TV ad­ver­tis­ing helped the OneStep be­come Amer­ica’s best­selling cam­era for four years.

A built-in flash fast-for­wards the OneStep 2 to the 21st cen­tury. The orig­i­nal OneStep could be fit­ted with ei­ther a set of flash bulbs or an ac­ces­sory elec­tronic flash.

The orig­i­nal cam­era’s viewfinder is smaller, but much eas­ier to use thanks to the ex­tended eye­piece.

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