Tag Archives: polaroid


A set of four Polaroids taken with friends

I have a love-hate relationship with my Polaroid camera.

On paper, my Polaroid is the perfect alternative to the point-and-shoot nature of my iPhone. It’s the ideal analog equivalent to digital photos that might as well only exist on your phone, or at most in a post on social media or group chat somewhere. I love that it produces real, physical photos that people can then take home and put somewhere they’ll see it, like on their fridge or wall, to remind themselves of a nice moment in time. The photos have character that you just can’t get when you take a photo with any modern phone, even if they’re not always perfectly in focus, timestamped, geo-tagged, or include a little two-second movie.

But in practice, there are just as many negatives as there are positives to shooting Polaroids, even though the film it uses doesn’t use negatives. Sorry, little film photography pun there.

The film that it does use is expensive, expires if I don’t use it within a certain timeframe, produces sub-standard photos if I don’t store it properly, and the photos produced are so widely inconsistent as to be basically unusable half the time.

When each photo costs you at least $3, it’s not something that you can just snap away with. I’ve been limiting myself to only taking photos of people with my Polaroid for that very reason, because if I’m going to spend that much on physical photos, I want them to be of something real, and not just some nice scenery or whatever.

But because opportunities for nice photos with friends don’t come around all that often, and I’m not taking that many photos when they do, I often find myself with leftover film. Yes, even when each pack is only eight shots, which makes a 36-shot roll of film seem limitless by comparison. I then have to either force people to take more photos to finish off a pack of Polaroids, or contend with storing it and hoping that it will still be good the next time an photos with friends opportunity comes around, then hoping that the film hasn’t expired in the meantime. Improper storage or outright expiration of the film probably isn’t that big of a deal, but with photos being so wildly inconsistent and the photos themselves costing as much as they do, I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting good photos, which is ideally with film that’s within its use-by date and has been stored correctly.

Which brings us to the other part of the problem. I’ve had such varied results shooting Polaroids that there’s always a small part of me that wonders if it’s worth it. I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t have much experience with it to get a good feel for what works and what doesn’t, or because I’m too used to my iPhone camera and its ability to produce perfect photos every, single, time, and keep trying to pull off technically challenging photos with my Polaroid, but getting good photos out of my Polaroid seems like such a coin toss at times that I wonder if there’s anything I can be doing to help my chances of getting photos I would be happy to stick up on my fridge or on my wall.

What’s interesting about all of this is that I don’t have these kinds of inconsistency issues with film. Yes, I’ve shot hundreds more frames of film that I have Polaroids. But with film, I know that when a shot turns out blurry, it’s usually my fault for not nailing the focus using the manual focus lens. Or when the image turns out under or over exposed, it’s because I intentionally wanted it to be. My film rangefinder has automatic metering which prevents the possibility of too dark or too light shots when using aperture priority, but it also doesn’t have the benefit of a flash. By doing away with any kind of adjustable shutter speed or aperture and relying on fixed-focus lenses, theoretically the Polaroid should be able to produce consistent exposures due to how simplified the whole exposure triangle is. But maybe that’s one of its limitations, in that it can only produce exposures in a few limited scenarios, and it over-relies on the flash to compensate for less-than-ideal lighting. Even in the early days of shooting film, when my very first film rangefinder didn’t have (working) metering and I had to manually meter every shot using my phone before dialling my shutter speed and aperture into the camera before taking the shot, I was able to take OK photos most of the time. Yes, in the beginning I might have had a photo that turned out too dark, or too bright, of been blurry due to too slow a shutter speed. But I feel as though I was able to pretty quickly learn what worked and what didn’t and compensate accordingly. The Polaroid, by comparison, seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to exposing correctly. What I think should be exposed correctly isn’t, and what shouldn’t be exposed correctly, is! It’s madness!

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Fixing my Polaroid OneStep+ Camera

My Polaroid OneStep+ camera in white

At the start of the year, I noticed that my Polaroid OneStep+ camera had a problem: it stopped ejecting photos. Just when I wanted to take cute instant Polaroids of my cousins, I couldn’t, despite already shelling out for the Polaroid photos. At $4 per shot, with limited shelf-life and having been dragged all the way to Malaysia through several x-ray machines, I was a little upset.

This was kind of an issue. While I could take photos, they would never be developed or printed correctly. Most of the magic happens when the photos pass through the rollers, which spreads developing chemicals so your picture shows up within 10-15 minutes.

Polaroids are pretty simple cameras. They might even be simpler than most cameras. Like most cameras, there’s a lens that light travels through. From there it hits a mirror, which redirects the light directly onto the exposed film which sits at the top of the cartridge. From there the photo is ejected through the rollers and through the door at the front. 10-15 minutes later, your photo shows up. There’s no focusing mechanism on the lens, the small viewfinder on the body of the camera is entirely un-parallax corrected, and the only modern conveniences are a flash to give your photo that classic Polaroid look, with sharp shadows cast on the background. Oh, and there’s a second lens too, if you want to do close up shots, although the focusing range they advertise overlaps so much that you might as well use the other lens most of the time, unless you’re really close to your subject.

If my photos ejected more than one at a time, or nothing was being ejected at all, then that might have been an issue I could have performed some troubleshooting on and maybe even fixed. But no, my issue was that while the initial “dark slide” of a new photo pack would eject fine, any subsequent ejects just wouldn’t fire. The rollers would do their thing and spin, but no photo came out.

At the time, some frantic Googling of the issue suggested that it was an issue with the pick arm. The internet claimed that it was possible that the pick arm could have been bent, and wasn’t picking up photos as it should have been. This didn’t make that much sense given that the dark slide was being ejected OK, but no subsequent photos were, but anything was worth a shot. I fiddled with the pick arm a bit, but it didn’t seem to help.

My next smart idea was to take advantage of the fact that the dark slide ejected fine and take a photo, open the cartridge door, make the camera think that I had removed the cartridge and inserted a new one, then close the cartridge door and force it to eject the first photo in the hopes that it would develop the photo correctly when it did so. This relied on two things to work how I wanted it to. The first assumed I could do all this without exposing the first top-most photo with my undeveloped shot to as little light as possible, while the second condition relied on the assumption that the first dark slide ejection worked the same as any other normal photo ejection, and that “real” photo ejections didn’t have some different electrical process that added some magic into the process specifically for photos, as opposed to the plain-cardboard dark slide. Fairly big assumptions, but at that point, it was worth a shot. Pun not intended.

This didn’t work either, but my memory is a little hazy as to why. I knew beforehand that taking a shot, then going to some dark place to unload and reload the cartridge, before being able to take another shot (all while exposing the shot to as little light as possible), was going to be incredibly awkward, but even then I don’t think that was the main issue. I think it might have had something to do with the dark slide not ejecting the whole way, which wasn’t necessarily a problem per se as that might have just been how the Polaroid worked, but I can’t really remember if that’s the case or not, seeing as I’ve only used it a handful of times previously.

Either way, what I wanted wasn’t really workable, so I gave up on the whole thing. Cute Polaroids with cousins would have to happen some other time.

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