Instant Camera, Vintage Style: Is the Polaroid Now Worth It?
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I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a gimmick. I find most to be charming and endearing, especially when they tap into the nostalgia for bygone eras (even if I wasn’t alive for them!). That’s why it should come as no surprise that I’ve been a big fan of the revival of instant cameras, like the Fujifilm InstaX (which I bought in 2017) and the Polaroid Now. After purchasing one earlier this year for our honeymoon, I wrote this Polaroid Now review to help others decide if this instant camera is worth it.
As you’ll see, I end up on the fence about whether the Polaroid Now is worth it. But, I also don’t regret my Polaroid Now purchase (plus three rolls of film!). My Polaroid Now helped me document an unforgettable trip with tangible photo souvenirs we’ll laugh about and treasure despite the spotty quality.
If you are trying to decide on whether or not to purchase a Polaroid Now, read on for my full review. Let me know in the comments if you have any additional questions.
Polaroid Now: Camera Basics
The Polaroid Now looks familiar, right? It has the same basic style and aesthetic of earlier Polaroid cameras, with a modern update.
The Polaroid Now retails for $99.99, more than the competition among instant cameras, but reasonable enough.
The camera has a slippery plastic outer case; it felt very insecure in my hands. I don’t normally shoot with a strap but I put it on my Polaroid Now right away to help keep it secure while walking and shooting.
The Polaroid Now has two lenses – 35mm and 40mm – as well as auto-focus, flash, and a self-timer. It evokes the Polaroid OneStep of the 1970s: simple, no frills.
In terms of shooting, there’s a viewfinder and a single shutter button on the front of the camera. I found that I often missed the shutter button on my first attempt – likely the result of not shooting on a Polaroid for so long!
The Verdict: Fair cost, as long as it doesn’t slip out of your hands!
Polaroid Now: Cost Per Frame
You can shoot on two types of Polaroid film with the Polaroid Now camera: i-Type or 600. The camera uses i-Type film, which sells for $15.99-$16.99 per pack of 8 frames. Each photo taken with Polaroid Now costs ~$2 per frame. (In the gifs in this section of my review, you’re seeing $30 worth of photos.)
At first, that seemed like a lot, especially compared to the $0.60 per frame when you’re shooting on a Fujifilm InstaX. But, the difference in frame size between Polaroid Now and InstaX is so dramatic that it seems comparable when you look at the two side-by-side. (See my review comparing the Fujifilm InstaX Mini 90 and Polaroid Now, here.)
That said, $2 per frame isn’t something I can afford to shoot with everyday. The price is prohibitive, and I’ll primarily be shooting for special occasions where I want a tangible souvenir – like I did during our honeymoon.
The Verdict? The cost is steep but worth it if you’re a spartan shooter.
Polaroid Now: Photo Quality
At the end of the day, the most important aspect of the Polaroid Now is the photos it produces. That’s why I’ve devoted the entire rest of my review to a series of pros and cons about the photos I shot with my Polaroid Now. Over the course of 10 days, I shot on two different rolls of film. (One with a white frame and one with a black frame – I have no idea why they’re different!) As you’ll see, there’s a lot of variance in the quality of shots I got, and not just because I haven’t used a Polaroid in over a decade.
The Verdict? Film quality and final products are spotty – raising the cost per “good” frame beyond what most are willing to bear.
Pros: First Shots Look Great
On both of the rolls I’ve shot, the first photo out of the set has looked fabulous.
This was really exciting! The first frame of my first roll (left/black frame) shows Mr. V in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the beginning of our honeymoon. The first frame of my second roll (right/white frame) was at Monument Valley. Again, it was the kind of place you want to take truly amazing photos, even if you are shooting Polaroid!
Unfortunately, later shots were hit or miss after that first frame. Some looked as good as these in different ways, others were washed out, out of focus, or lacked the sharpness of these first frames. If only all the frames came out this great, I’d be a convert!
Cons: Washed Out, Poor Light Balance
While I’m willing to sacrifice some saturation and contrast in the name of art, I was pretty disappointed in how the Polaroid Now handles these two important aspects of print photography.
For the most part, my photos came out in a variety of near-reality shades. But, a subset of photos was so washed out that you can’t really appreciate the subject of the photos. Pictured above, you can see the Grand Canyon (left/white frame), Black Canyon of the Gunnison (upper right/black frame), and Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park (lower right/black frame). All three came out so far from the reality I saw with my eyes that they don’t look like an artistic interpretation – they look like the camera can’t handle light properly.
Pros: Rich Skies
As I read the instructions for my Polaroid Now, I was surprised to see that they advise using the camera inside under well-lit conditions for best results. While that might be true, it was not clear up-front that I was buying a best-indoors camera for my very-much-outdoors trip.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. While colors were iffy across the board (as mentioned above), I had some outdoor photos where the sky came through in deep, rich blue hues. In the case of both photos – Mount Rushmore (left/black frame) and Joshua Tree (right/white frame) – that beautiful sky really adds to the photo.
Cons: Focus Problems
The Polaroid Now has two lenses: a 35mm and a 40mm that will switch automatically depending on the camera sensors and photo you’re framing up. It’s also an auto-focus camera, which is great if you don’t want to fuss with manual settings. (Let’s be honest, manual settings aren’t something I want with a point-and-shoot Polaroid!)
Unfortunately, sometimes it seems to choose the wrong one and fail to focus entirely! For example, the General Sherman Tree (left/white frame) is certainly far enough away from the camera that it should be in focus, but it’s fuzzy. Conversely, the selfie I took of Mr. V and I at Badlands National Park (right/black frame) is also out of focus because we were too close – but the background isn’t in focus either.
Pros: Decent Details
Color and other issues in the above photos aside, I wanted to highlight them both for the fact that they both demonstrate that when the correct lens and auto-focus work properly, the Polaroid Now produces photos with some incredible detail. At left (black frame), you can see the architectural details of this building in Durango, Colorado. At right, you can almost feel the prickly shrubs on the cliffside of the Grand Canyon.
Putting these last two points together, you get more evidence of what I said before: the final product is really hit or miss!
Cons: Film Damage
After reading several other Polaroid Now reviews, I was “glad” to see that others have had the same issue as I did: some of the photos just come out of the camera damaged for no apparent reason!
Above, you can see a big white streak in the water in front of the Dillon Pinnacles (left) and there’s a weird pink spot in the sky above Spruce House at Mesa Verde National Park. As you’ll see below – I’m all for the vintage vibes that the Polaroid Now produces, but I have no patience for film damage undermining the photo quality even further.
Pros: Vintage Vibes
In the end, I’m mostly forgiving of the issues I have with the Polaroid Now – poor contrast, spotty focus, even film damage – because it’s so much fun to shoot with a vintage camera and roll the dice to see what photo will come out in the end.
I don’t love that the vintage style of this new Polaroid i-Type film seems to be lower quality than earlier generations of Polaroid film. But, there is a definite benefit to getting a real, tangible, almost-instant photo in today’s world.
Final Verdict for my Polaroid Now Review
All that said, where do I stand on the Polaroid Now?
My final verdict is that it was a fun investment/experiment, but I can’t really recommend the Polaroid Now to others. The camera itself is fun to handle and shoot with and the cost is acceptable. However, the shooting and film issues and final results make it so that the photos I have will have no value beyond personal sentiment.
If you receive it as a gift or want something fun to play around with, the Polaroid Now is good enough. But, if you’re reminiscent of the (relatively) high fidelity photos that old Polaroid cameras and film used to produce, the Polaroid Now just doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors.
Still want one after reading my Polaroid Now review? You can buy the camera on Amazon or directly from Polaroid; same goes for the film which is available on Amazon and from Polaroid.
Have questions about my Polaroid Now review or comments based on your own experience? Let me know in the comments!
Hi, I just had a question about your Polaroid Now review from a year ago. You mentioned that the pictures were not as high of quality as the original cameras. My wife and I are 57 and the pictures you took pictures of and posted on your review look as good or WAY better than most polaroid pictures we remember from our young days when these cameras were all the rage. What were you comparing your picture to, that you thought they were worse? Thank you so much. Our daughter (21) wants one for the old-timey effect. We are reading reviews. Thanks!
Thanks for reading, Marty! I was comparing to some of my old (original) Polaroid photos – which are even a few decades old at this point. The old ones were generally better and showed less film damage. I can see how you think they look good based on my photos, but to be honest, the new photos are really underwhelming in person.