When Polaroid shut down film production in 2008, it seemed like the days of new boxy instant film cameras might be over for good. However, when the plucky upstarts at the Impossible Project created their own new film packs for Polaroid cameras, it seemed inevitable they’d release a camera too. That camera turned out to be the fascinating and deeply flawed I-1, releasing in 2016 to much fanfare. As the Impossible Project became Polaroid Originals then Polaroid, the I-1 gave way to more practical and accessible cameras like the OneStep 2 and Polaroid Now+.
However, as much as I was glad that these new I-Type cameras existed, none of them made me want to replace my beloved vintage Polaroid cameras. They were just too simple, too limited. I craved a camera that pushed the envelope forward, one that would be brave enough to take the same big swings as that first I-1.
As the name implies, the I-2 is that camera. With the Polaroid Now series holding down the value end of the spectrum, the I-2 is Polaroid’s big shot at new premium instant film camera for the Polaroid diehards. You know, people like me. And maybe you if you’re reading this.
So, I was ready to love the I-2. But unfortunately, it has one fatal flaw: it costs SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS.
You can buy FOUR excellent brand-new Polaroid Now+ cameras for that money. You can buy countless vintage Polaroid cameras. You can even spend that kind of money on a SLR 680, the final expression of Edwin Land’s legendary camera design.
That 600 USD price tag means that this is a camera geared towards people who are dead serious about instant photography, those who demand the most out of their cameras.
But first, let’s take a step back. If we’re going to judge the I-2 as a ‘pro’ Polaroid camera, what does that even mean?
What Makes a Polaroid Camera ‘Pro’?
The idea of a ‘pro’ level Polaroid camera is a bit of a contradiction. Instant film is a different beast than digital or 35mm. Unlike those formats, which are all about precise control and getting the best results possible, instant film is chaos incarnate. Instant film is full of strange quirks and contradictions, which is why I love using it.
The cameras I use help me direct the chaos of instant film in the direction I want to go. So, when I think of a ‘Pro’ or high-end Polaroid camera, I think of the Polaroid cameras that make it easiest for me to get the results I want.
For me this means:
-An accurate viewfinder
-Expose predictably/basic exposure compensation controls
-Waste as little film as possible/be reliable mechanically
-A powerful flash and flash on/off controls
-Clear lens/good autofocus
You know what knocks this out of the park? The Polaroid 680/690, and that’s why I consider it the best Polaroid instant film camera ever made. But the vintage Impulse AF also ticks most of these boxes, as well as the Spectra System (when it was viable, RIP).
So how does the I-2 fare? Let’s go down the list and see. But if you’re here for the TLDR – no, the I-2 does not dethrone the SLR 680. That doesn’t mean its a bad camera. It’s one that has a different checklist of priorities than I do as a ‘pro’ camera, one that makes no sense to me. It’s not that this camera isn’t worth 600 bucks – there’s clearly some great glass in here, it’s just that… why? The I-2 doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it leaves me scratching my head as to who this camera is for.
The viewfinder is large and bright, better than the cheapest box-type 600 cameras and almost up to the standards of higher-end ones like the Spectra System or Impulse AF. However, this is a rangefinder-style body, not an SLR, which means you’re looking through a window next to the lens rather than the lens itself. Accurate composition is difficult, especially with a subject close to the camera.
There’s a square in the viewfinder that’s supposed to help you compensate, but I found it frustratingly imprecise in practice. It’s impossible to tell where you should move from one frame to the other, and I often overcompensated.
This is forgivable on a cheap box-type 600, but there’s a reason why the high end SX-70 Land cameras and SLR 680 are SLR-style – it’s just infinitely better to actually be able to see through your lens to compose. Polaroid film is expensive, so being confident in your shot literally has a price on it. Better yet, SLRs allow you to check focus, while you’re dependent on trusting a little readout with the I-2.
Exposure and Image Quality
One of the big features of this camera is the lens, and I found it about equally sharp as an autofocus vintage Polaroid camera. It’s certainly better than a fixed-focus box-type like the Polaroid OneStep Closeup. However, sharpness is pretty low on my list of priorities with Polaroid – accurate composition and exposure has a much bigger impact on how an image comes out. Unfortunately, I found that while the I-2 generally nailed focus, it was let down by its exposure system.
This camera tends to over-expose images slightly in auto mode, both with and without flash on. It’s got exposure compensation though, so you can probably leave it at -1/3 or -2/3. The over-exposure tends to exacerbate a tendency to use longer exposure times that result in blurry images when not on a tripod.
In addition to manual, you also also get the option to do aperture or shutter-priority exposures or even full manual. I particularly appreciate aperture priority mode to keep the aperture wide open even with flash on. My SLR 680 stops down to a narrower aperture when the flash is on, so I love being able to get that shallow depth of field while keeping my flash on with the I-2. It’s one of the best features of this camera, but be warned, if you’re going to mess with exposure modes, be prepared for a lot of experimentation and blurry images as you figure out what works for any given scene.
The Impossible Project/Polaroid Originals/modern-day Polaroid has always made beautiful looking I-Type cameras, and this one is no exception. While I’m not sure it quite reaches 600 dollar levels of quality (a freakin’ Nikon Z30 costs that much), it feels good to hold and use. The big lens screams business.
In handling the camera, I’ve found myself hitting the camera power button when I mean to hit the shutter, and I think that’s because the power button is the one round button I can actually see when shooting. Once you get used to hitting the big red button on the front you’ll be fine.
The camera can detect if the lens cap is on, which is handy because you can still see just fine through the viewfinder when it is on. However, I find it annoying that there isn’t an easy, included way to attach the lens cap to the camera itself. This thing is just begging to get lost.
Many of the Impossible Project/Polaroid Originals/New Polaroid I-Type cameras rely on companion apps in order to manually control shutter speed and aperture, and I’m hugely relieved that this camera allows you to do all that on the camera itself. Press the button above the on/off to switch modes, and then further settings are controlled with a ring on the camera lens. A small screen on the back shows you what the camera is doing, and I enjoyed using that far more than trying to see everything in the viewfinder readouts. there’s also a dedicated flash button to easily turn it on and off.
There’s an exposure compensation dial at the top of the camera, but one design quirk that irritates me is that while it says -2 and +2, at one stop it just says ‘1’ on both sides instead of ‘-1’ and ‘+1’. It’s an odd design decision that resulted in more than one double-take.
The I-2 connects to an app via Bluetooth, which is great, but in practice I rarely use these apps. The remote shutter function is nice for selfie artists, but you can also make use of the timer built into the camera. The best thing I can say is that the camera isn’t dependent on the app to work – you can see everything you need on the screen and in the viewfinder.
The flash is beside the lens, not above, which creates shadows on the side of your subject. Most vintage Polaroid cameras put their flash above the lens as far as they could get it, which results in (in my opinion) more flattering shadows. The flash itself works well, but be careful about exposure – flash doesn’t protect you from this camera’s tendency to overexpose in auto.
Whatever you do, keep the flash on. Polaroid cameras need all the light they can get, and even if you think you’re in a well lit room, you’re likely going to want extra light. The only scenarios to turn the flash are outside on a bright day or under controlled studio lighting.
This is an ‘I-Type’ camera, which means that the camera itself has power. Older 600 type Polaroid cameras had a little battery in every pack of film, which can get quite wasteful. The silver lining is that this approach preserved vintage Polaroid cameras, protecting them from leaking alkalines.
The I-2 uses a built-in lithium battery that cannot be easily replaced by the user, which is incredibly frustrating. Lithium batteries have a limited lifespan, and Polaroid cameras are something you should be able to use for decades because, well, most of the ones I use are already decades old.
I have a pile of I-Type Polaroid cameras with dying lithium batteries that are threatening to make them into e-waste, including the my I-1, which no longer charges properly. Please, Polaroid, make it easy for users to replace the lithium battery! These things should be designed to work for decades, not become e-waste in a matter of years!
In most of the ways that matter, this camera feels more like a direct competitor to a solid box-type AF vintage Polaroid camera rather than the Land series of SLRs. That’s totally fine, because those are fantastic cameras. The problem is you can go on eBay and pick up one of those box-type cameras for under one hundred dollars, or even buy them refurbished from a shop for under two hundred. And it’ll probably work better than this camera, which costs not the same – but six hundred freaking USD.
Regardless of price, it can’t touch the SLR 680/690 as a photographic tool. Which makes me wonder – why doesn’t Polaroid make a new SLR? Now that the Impossible Project and Polaroid have combined, I would imagine they have the intellectual rights to Edwin Land’s timeless design. The folding SLR 680 is one of the best cameras ever made – Polaroid or otherwise – and that would truly be something worth a luxury price tag. If I could buy a new SLR 680/690, I wouldn’t hesitate to drop a grand or more – that’s a tool that’s as important to me as any of my other lenses or camera bodies.
I hate writing these negative reviews. I want there to be a new high-quality, top-end Polaroid camera body for serious photographers. However, this just ain’t it. I understand why it costs a lot (medium format glass is expensive), but when this 600 dollar camera can’t compete with a sub-100 camera that’s decades old, it’s just impossible to recommend. Even among the new cameras out there, is the I-2 four times better than the Polaroid Now+? No, it’s not.
Fingers crossed that Polaroid takes another shot at it. The SLR I-3 mayhaps?
I-2 VS Polaroid Now+
The Polaroid Now+ is far more competitively priced than the I-2, and almost just as good. The I-2 can produce technically sharper images in ideal circumstances, but most people aren’t shooting Polaroid film to get the sharpest results possible (and the Now+ isn’t bad at all in the first place). I would start with a Polaroid Now+, and if you end up feeling like you’re outgrowing it, dive into the world of vintage Polaroid cameras.
I-2 VS I-1
The Impossible Project’s original I-1 camera is a fascinating piece of gear and a work of art when it comes to industrial design. However, as a camera it can be a bit finicky and difficult to use. If you’re happily using. your I-1, I don’t think there’s much of a reason to upgrade, but if you want something with a proper viewfinder I would recommend jumping to a Polaroid Now+ or a vintage camera.
I-2 VS Instax Square/Instax Wide Cameras
Instax Square and Wide film are awesome formats, but I personally prefer Polaroid’s larger frame size and color science. There are some decent Instax Square cameras, but the Instax Square frame is a bit too small for my taste. Instax Wide film is incredible, but Instax Wide cameras are abysmal. I’ll take the I-2 over any of them, any day, but I’ll also take literally any Polaroid camera over a monster like the Instax Wide 300.
Find Instax Square cameras on Amazon
I-2 VS SLR 680
The SLR 680/690 is the best Polaroid camera ever made. I-2 can’t touch it.
Find a SLR 680/690 on eBay
I-2 VS SX-70 Folding SLRs
Folding SX-70 SLRs are incredible vintage cameras that are a complete pain to use due to their reliance on SX-70 type film and (often) lack of flash. SX-70 film requires a ton of light to use, and the cameras tend to be older and unreliable. If you’re planning on shooting, any 600/I-Type camera, including the I-2, will be a better bet. I have a whole article explaining why budding Polaroid photographers should steer clear of SX-70 when possible.
1-2 VS Impulse AF/Vintage Box-Type 600 Cameras with Autofocus
Autofocus 600 box-type cameras offer the same sharpness as the I-2 at a fraction of the price. Remember to keep an eye out for the sonar autofocus units – without it you’re probably getting a fixed-focus 600 box-type camera which, while still perfectly usable, isn’t nearly as sharp as the autofocus-enabled variants.
Find a Polaroid Impulse AF on eBay
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