New autofocus lens • Accurate flash takes great low-light photos • Impressive battery life • Intuitive controls
Tricky to frame a selfie • No Bluetooth • Not a lot of protection if you drop it
Polaroid adds helpful features to a camera that takes great photos at a very reasonable price.
The Polaroid Now brings a lot of new features to the table, including a first-of-its-kind autofocus lens. After spending over a week with the device, I can confidently say that it makes a great case for getting back into instant photography.
Who doesn’t love the feeling of pulling out a fully developed photo and looking obsessively over every inch of its grainy, faded glory?
After all these years, Polaroid is still synonymous with instant cameras, even with the Fujifilm Instax Mini taking over the shelves at every Urban Outfitters. The 82-year-old company shut down camera production after the rise of digital cameras in the late ’90s, but fortunately, a group called The Impossible Project swooped in and revived the last remaining Polaroid factory in the Netherlands.
It relaunched the cameras under the name Polaroid Originals, and with the release of the Now (marketed as “an instant camera for now”), the brand has again switched up its name to usher in a new era: this time simply as Polaroid. And it looks like they started the rebrand on the right foot.
The new features
The Polaroid Now has a lot of new features, but still feels like the classic instant camera we all know and love.
Compared to the last model, the OneStep, the Polaroid Now is a much more user-friendly experience. The controls are more conveniently placed. It all feels more natural, and you don’t have to contort your hands to get the camera to do what you want it to do.
The Now has an improved battery life, as well, ostensibly allowing you to shoot up to 20 packs of film (or 160 photos) on a single micro USB charge. For reference, the previous OneStep 2 and OneStep+ had a battery life that could shoot somewhere around 15 packs before needing a recharge.
Polaroid also added an “accurate flash” to the camera. It takes lighting conditions into account for better low-light photos (not usually a strong suit of instant cameras).
Perhaps the most important addition to the Polaroid Now is the autofocus lens — it’s the only instant camera that has one. The function is completely automatic, switching between distance and portrait formats all on its own, allowing you to focus only on what’s in front of you.
One thing that might disappoint Now buyers is the lack of Bluetooth support, which the OneStep+ featured. It allowed you to take portrait-style photos and trigger the shutter remotely, but at least the Polaroid Now is $40 cheaper than the OneStep+.
The new look
The Now’s updated design sits nicely at the intersection of retro and modern, claiming its own distinct aesthetic identity without forgetting the camera’s roots. It’s defined by a minimalistic, clean look. Everything on the Polaroid Now serves a purpose; nothing is just for show.
The Now is offered in two core colors: black and white. But for a limited time, you can choose from five iconic rainbow colors, including red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.
I was impressed with almost every photo that the Polaroid Now produced. Either portrait or wide shot, image after image printed with clarity (which speaks to how well the autofocus lens works), but not so much to lose the imperfect charm of instant photos. I was particularly happy with the shots I took on a rainy day with very little sunlight, which really put that accurate flash to the test (it passed with flying colors). I also loved the film shield that comes out with each photo, keeping it safe from light contamination while you find a dark drawer to throw the undeveloped shot into so it can slowly come to life.
It’s the most accessible and user-friendly Polaroid to date.
When I started using the black and white film, things got a bit trickier, because the lack of color requires you to think differently about the lighting and framing of your pictures. They generally came out alright, though. I can’t really say the same for the double-exposure function. I had a lot of trouble producing quality images while using it (especially in black and white), but it’s kind of a high-skill technique, so I’m not sure I can put all the blame on the camera itself. I’m no Andy Warhol.
But, the photos felt good to capture; the new configuration of buttons felt intuitive, and I didn’t have any trouble discerning between modes or how much film I had left, thanks to the camera’s LED status screen. The layout is a nice quality-of-life improvement, for sure, and loading up film cartridges feels smoother than ever before.
The camera doesn’t look all that ergonomic at first glance, but it actually sat very comfortably in my hands throughout the review process. It opts for more fluid, curved lines over the angular design of past models, allowing you to cradle it without any jagged edges poking your palms.
The self-timer is one of my favorite additions to the camera. You can prime it with the trigger that’s located on the camera’s face, line up the shot, and hit the exposure button to start a countdown. The timer itself warranted no complaints from me, but framing selfie shots with an instant camera can still be difficult. The opposite side of the Now’s viewfinder can be used as a mirror of sorts, but you need eagle eyes to accurately make out what’s actually in the frame. It’s just a bit too small and translucent to be helpful.
When it came to battery life, the camera really impressed me. After an initial full charge and about a week of testing, the Now still had juice left in it long after I ran out of film. It came with a neck strap, too, which is essential if you think you’re going to be traveling with the camera often. It’s a tad annoying to attach, though.
Something that I couldn’t help but notice is that the camera is lacking in terms of protection. The classic Polaroid 600 had a flippable flash that would cover the lens when closed, but you won’t find that on the Polaroid Now. I’m not entirely convinced that it would survive an unlucky drop without taking some pretty gnarly damage.
All in all, though, the Polaroid Now surpassed my expectations. In my opinion, it’s the most accessible and user-friendly Polaroid to date; the button interface, autofocus lens, and all the other bells and whistles work harmoniously to make it not only possible, but probable that you’ll get a quality shot, no matter your skill level.
The Polaroid Now retails at $99.99, which may seem steep from the get-go. But, when you consider the price of the competition, it starts to make more sense. Take Fujifilm. The company’s popular Instax Mini, which produces wallet-sized prints, runs for $69, and the large-format Instax Wide for $130.
The Polaroid Now is arriving at a perfect time. With the pandemic, political turmoil, and climate change, many of us are simply trying to hang on to better times; to the little moments that make us feel human in times of despair. While an instant camera, or any material possession for that matter, can’t fix those problems, we can still find some hope in the nostalgic images that they produce.