I really, really wanted to love this camera.
The OneStep 2 and OneStep+ have both been solid new cameras from Polaroid (a.k.a. Polaroid Originals a.k.a. the Impossible Project), being fairly easy to use while also fitting in at a nice price point. On paper, the Polaroid Now is better than OneStep 2 in every way, all while managing to stay at 100 USD. What’s not to love?
The autofocus system. That’s what’s not to love. Tragically, the headlining feature ends up being this camera’s biggest downfall. If you want a new Polaroid camera, I’d recommend saving some money and getting the OneStep 2 or spending little extra for the OneStep+. It’s going to save you a lot of heartache in the long run.
When the camera works right, it works really well. Pictures are sharp and the overall experience is fun… except when out of focus shots are causing you to pull your hair out.
Since autofocus is the headlining feature and the cause of our troubles, so let’s start our review there.
The older OneStep 2, like many cheap vintage Polaroid cameras, had a fixed-focus lens. It gets most stuff mostly in focus, but it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to anything closer than 6 feet or 2 meters away. The OneStep+ added an extra focus mode, but you have to manually switch between the modes, which can be somewhat difficult when you’re using a rangefinder style camera (meaning you’re not looking through the same lens that you’re shooting with). The new Polaroid Now tries to solve this problem by adding ‘autofocus’ where the camera will switch between these two focus modes as needed.
I put little quotes around autofocus for a reason. This isn’t true autofocus like what you get with the vintage Polaroid SLR 680 or even the Impulse AF. True autofocus lenses have an element inside them that moves to get precisely the best image possible – and there are nearly infinite positions that that element can be in. The Polaroid Now, on the other hand, simply switches between two fixed-focus lenses. True autofocus systems are very expensive, so I’m not faulting the camera for this approach. However, it does make for a very ‘all or nothing’ kind of system. Either your shot will be in focus, or it’ll really be out of focus. So it better be accurate.
Unfortunately, the Now does a pretty bad job of it. I could forgive this (lots of cameras can be easily tricked, even far, far more expensive systems), but there’s no way to tell what the heck the camera is doing.
What makes this such a shame is that the lenses are actually really good! When the camera gets it right, the results are sharp and compelling. Landscapes in particular look fantastic. If only there was a way to force the camera into landscape or closeup mode manually, or even just an LED indicator that told me which one the camera thought it should use, it would make this camera 1000 times better. Polaroid film is expensive. Because of that, it is intensely frustrating to get needlessly out of focus shots. It’s literally wasted money.
Using the camera, I figured out a little ‘trick’ that seemed to get me slightly more consistent results with the focus system. Pressing down halfway on the shutter engages the autofocus without taking a picture. Rather than doing it a single time, I would press it 3-4 times, and not take the picture until I hear a lens click into place. Once the camera was fairly certain that it had gotten it right, it generally won’t move again. However, if your subject is relatively small in frame or on an edge, it is common for it to focus on the background behind it.
Selfies and Timer
There are only a small handful of instant film cameras that play nice with arm’s-length selfies, and the Polaroid Now is definitely not one of them. If you try to take a picture of yourself while holding the camera, it will be blurry and unflattering. It just can’t focus that close even when autofocus is properly doing its thing.
So for selfies, I have good news, and I have bad news. Good news first: there’s a timer, so you can set up the camera and jump in front of it to take a picture after 9 seconds. However, the bad news is that there’s no tripod screw hole. So you cannot easily attach the camera to a tripod. I don’t know why Polaroid would even bother with adding a timer button while omitting this critical piece of functionality. If there is somebody holding the camera, they can also press the normal shutter – the timer is useful almost exclusively for when the camera needs to be left on a tripod so everybody can crowd in front of it. So, I guess Polaroid is hoping you have a very large stack of books on hand? Perhaps a handy ledge or shelf? It makes no sense.
Even if you’re able to get the camera on something tall enough to use the timer, the autofocus rears its ugly head again. To start the countdown, you have to hit the shutter, and it seems like that moment is when the camera makes its autofocus calculation. The problem is, that’s when you’re standing right in front of the camera to hit that button, not where you’re going to be when the picture is taken. For that reason, all my timer selfies were almost all out of focus.
If you want an excellent selfie camera, the OneStep+ is a much, much, much better bet for a lot of reasons. It even has a bluetooth connection so you can use your phone to trigger the shutter! Skip the Polaroid Now if you want to take a selfie.
I’ve been pretty hard on this camera so far, and that’s because I have a bad feeling that people are going to be (rightfully) frustrated with taking pictures and give up on Polaroid prematurely. The reason why I think a lot of people are going to pick up this camera in the first place is that it is freaking gorgeous. The design team just knocked it out of the park with this thing. The Polaroid Now is a beautiful camera, and the colors are fun and adorable. Even as the shooting experience makes me want to throw it out the window, I also want to proudly display it on a shelf.
Other than the aforementioned insane lack of a tripod screw, the Polaroid Now is a robustly built, handsome piece of gear. The different color models are great too. The OneStep 2 and + are both good looking cameras, but the Polaroid Now manages to be even nicer.
Exposure and flash are mostly fine. You have the option to turn the flash off, but I would recommend doing that only in the brightest outdoor conditions.
Conditions that normally throw off exposure (like your subject on a dark or light background) will do so with the Polaroid Now, but frustratingly, there’s no exposure compensation adjustment that’s typically present on even the cheapest vintage 600 type cameras.
Another thing to be mindful of, this camera really struggles with dark or indoor environments. It allows itself a rather long shutter speed, so it is very easy to get blurry shots if you’re not extremely still. This isn’t nearly as big of a problem on other Polaroid 600 cameras, so I’m not sure what’s going on here.
The Polaroid Now is an ‘I-Type’ Polaroid camera, which means it has its own rechargeable lithium battery inside. Vintage Polaroid cameras were powered a battery in each film cartridge and couldn’t function at all without a pack of film installed. The Polaroid Now works with both 600 type Polaroid film as well as ‘I-Type,’ which is simply the same film as 600 but a bit cheaper because it doesn’t have a battery in the cartridge.
I am conflicted about I-Type cameras. On one hand, it is incredibly wasteful and environmentally harmful to have a little disposable battery in every cartridge of film. On the other hand, lithium batteries have a relatively short shelf life, especially if they’re not recharged on a regular basis. They’re not easy to replace in these cameras either. Many of the vintage Polaroid cameras I use are older than I am, having lasted decades at this point. My lithium battery powered I-1, only a few years old, has a battery that barely works.
Honestly, I think the best of both worlds would be for the camera to be powered by removable AA batteries (preferably of the rechargeable variety). That way, the battery can be entirely removed for camera storage. The better Fuji Instax cameras run off AA, as well as some of my favorite Nikon SLRs like the Nikon F100. Undoubtably it’d be a heavier and less elegant solution than an integrated lithium battery, but I believe the tradeoff would be worth.
The Polaroid Now is a beautiful camera. It has a great price. I wish I could recommend it. If you want an I-Type camera, I would recommend either the cheaper OneStep 2 or the OneStep+. You can also save a few dollars and get a vintage cheapie like the OneStep Closeup. It’s not as pretty, but Polaroid of yore knew how to make simple cameras that still got the job done.
It’s excruciating to see something come this close to greatness and miss the mark. I don’t find any joy in giving a poor review. I paid for this camera and all the film I used to test it out of my own pocket, and I want it to be worth it. I want Polaroid to succeed. I love the look of Polaroid Originals/Impossible Project/Polaroid film (more than Fuji Instax), and the perceived ‘flaws’ that some reviewers have complained about are what make it great. However, the Polaroid Now is a tough camera to love. With a few tiny tweaks, it could be amazing, and my hope is that somehow Polaroid is able to rectify these issues quickly.
I know Polaroid was aiming for something dead simple to use, but removing controls for exposure adjustments and focus only ends up making the camera even harder to depend on. Polaroid film is expensive, and it is intensely frustrating when the camera works against you rather than for you.
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