What’s in an ana­logue in­stant cam­era?

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents -

NOTES: To use a Po­laroid Onestep to­day prac­ti­cally means re­train­ing your­self – there’s no zoom, lit­tle ex­po­sure con­trol, an old-fash­ioned viewfinder, and a fi­nite amount of film. Recre­at­ing a Onestep, which was the goal of The Im­pos­si­ble Project, the com­pany that first sought to re­verse-en­gi­neer Po­laroid film be­fore buy­ing the de­funct brand, rechris­ten­ing it­self Po­laroid Orig­i­nals, and cre­at­ing the Onestep 2 in homage to the clas­sic, was even more dif­fi­cult. Po­laroid’s break­through was de­vis­ing a dark­room the size of an in­dex card, and its chem­istry, which sup­ported an en­tire sup­ply chain of com­pa­nies – most of which failed when Po­laroid did – proved ex­ceed­ingly dif­fi­cult to recre­ate. And it had to be done right, be­cause a Po­laroid is the rare de­vice that tran­scends func­tion: We can tell you that when one of those mag­i­cal pho­tographs shoots out the front, and the sub­ject emerges slowly from a fog, it’s the re­sult of lots of im­pres­sive en­gi­neer­ing and ad­vanced chem­istry; harder to put into words is that it’s also an apt rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the way we re­call the most im­por­tant mo­ments of our lives from the thick­en­ing mists of me­mory.


Ap­praise your sub­ject care­fully. A modern dig­i­tal cam­era uses mir­rors or a screen to help you see ex­actly what it sees; a Po­laroid suf­fers from the par­al­lax ef­fect: Be­cause the viewfinder (4) is off­set from the cam­era’s lens (1), what you’ll see fram­ing up a shot will be slightly dif­fer­ent from the pic­ture. Next, con­sider how much light you have. Po­laroids want lots of it, so the flash (2) is on by de­fault, but if you press and hold the flash in­hibit but­ton (8) while tak­ing the pic­ture, you can switch it off. Sim­i­larly, the trim switch (6) al­lows you to ad­just the aper­ture – the open­ing that lets in light – and shut­ter speed to al­low in a bit more or less light than the cam­era thinks it needs (like, say, if you want a washed-out pic­ture of a day at the beach or a dim in­te­rior at a party). Once you’ve got that fig­ured out, press the two-stage shut­ter but­ton (5) halfway to ac­ti­vate the cam­era’s light me­ter and rangefinder (11). The light me­ter fig­ures out how long it needs to leave the shut­ter open, and the rangefinder uses an in­frared LED (12) to fig­ure out at what dis­tance to fo­cus. (The amount of in­frared light bounced back by the scene in­di­cates dis­tance.) Press the shut­ter but­ton the rest of the way to snap the pic­ture.


As light en­ters the cam­era body (7), it bounces off an an­gled mir­ror (10) and re­flects down to the neg­a­tive in the film cas­sette (15). (The neg­a­tive is one layer of the thing that will ul­ti­mately pop out of the cam­era; the pos­i­tive, a clear sheet, is an­other.) The image im­prints on to the light-sen­si­tive neg­a­tive. Then the film (3) is ejected, pushed by a mo­tor (13) through two rollers (9) at the front of the cam­era. The rollers guide the film out and, as the film passes through them, burst a pod of chem­i­cals lo­cated on the white strip at the bot­tom of the pic­ture (where you write the date or a witty cap­tion). The chem­i­cals de­velop the pic­ture and pro­tect it from light – they are both the dark­room and what hap­pens in­side it. To fur­ther shield the film from light in its ini­tial sec­onds out in the world, when it is most vul­ner­a­ble, a plas­tic shield (14) ejects with the film, then re­tracts back into the cam­era when you pull the pic­ture free. At that point, it’s a wait­ing game while the chem­i­cals trans­fer the neg­a­tive image to the pos­i­tive, cre­at­ing a fully de­vel­oped record of your life. – Kevin Dupzyk


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