The Impossible Project rebranded itself as Polaroid Originals late last year, launching new film (at a lower price point) and an affordable instant camera, the OneStep 2. Styled after the Polaroid cameras your remember from the ’80s, it’s a big departure from the company’s last attempt at a modern instant camera, the Impossible I-1. At a third of the price, and without nearly as much tech inside, the OneStep 2 is a pure point-and-shoot instant camera for a reasonable $ 99.99. But it’s held back by film that’s still expensive and not as good as the competing Fujifilm Instax format.
The OneStep 2 boasts a retro design, with the angled back, big red shutter button, and rainbow Polaroid logo you’d expect to see on a vintage model. It’s available in white or graphite, and we received the latter for review. I prefer the bold, bright look of the white model a bit more than the understated, dark gray finish of the graphite version.
The camera measures 4.3 by 3.7 by 5.9 inches (HWD) and weighs about a pound when loaded with film. It doesn’t have much in the way of controls—a shutter button and EV compensation switch (with minus, natural, and plus positions) are on front. The rear has a flash suppression button, which you’ll need to hold down while pressing the shutter if you want to take a picture without using the flash. It’s a comfortable process—the buttons are in line with each other, so you can use your right thumb to hold the flash button and your right index finger to trip the shutter.
The micro USB charging port is also on the rear, as is the On/Off switch. There’s a small LED indicator next to the USB port to tell you the charge status—green when the camera has enough power to shoot a pack or two of film and blinking orange when you’re down to your last few shots. There’s also a group of LEDs on the top, letting you know how many images you have left in the film pack.
An optical viewfinder is used to frame shots. It matches the angle of view of the 106mm lens—roughly equivalent to a 40mm in full-frame terms. It’s the internal viewfinder type that we see in the vast majority of instant cameras, but it is noticeably larger than what you get with other low-cost options like the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 and even the more premium Lomography Lomo’Instant Square.
The finder is positioned at the rear left corner of the body. If you frame shots with your left eye, like I do, you may find it a little tricky to use because the back is not flat. But it’s well positioned for right eye-dominant photographers. Parallax is a concern, especially when focusing close to the two-foot minimum distance, so keep that in mind when framing shots.
Exposure is completely automatic, based on ambient lighting. Polaroid Originals recommends using the flash indoors at all times—even with window light you’re shots will be underexposed without it, and the film is color balanced for the daylight color temperature used by the flash, so if you don’t use it inside you may see odd color shifts in images, as if a digital camera’s white balance was set incorrectly. You may want to dial in the positive exposure compensation when snapping indoors, as some of the images I captured seemed a bit underexposed, even with the flash, as you can see in the shot above.
Ambient meters aren’t the most consistent tool to capture consistent exposures. There are printed instructions on the bottom of the camera to help you get better photos. For best results try to avoid shooting into a strong backlight when outdoors—the meter will expose for the sun when your subject is in shadow. It also tells you to always use the flash—although when shooting under sunlight with the sun to your back it’s really not necessary.
The Impossible I-1 is packed with features, including a Bluetooth remote control for complete manual exposure and focus and a wide-angle lens. The OneStep 2 is a a very basic take on the instant camera, in stark contrast to the company’s previous effort. There’s no way to keep the shutter open for long exposures, for example.
The OneStep 2’s only advanced function is multiple exposure capture, and you have to trick the camera into doing that—by keeping the shutter held down after making an exposure and turning the camera off, or quickly opening the film door. Either prevents film from ejecting, so you can make another exposure on the same frame.
Film Quality and Cost
Our main gripes with the I-1 were battery drain—it would lose power, even when turned off—and the price and quality of the film. The OneStep doesn’t have the power problem—its battery holds a charge for up to 60 days. But there’s still some concern about the film, even with improved formulations and lower costs.
Film is sold in packs, with eight shots in each. The OneStep 2 can use I-Type, which doesn’t include an internal battery and sells for $ 15.99 per pack, about $ 2 per shot, in either color or black-and-white. It can also use the pricier 600 film, $ 18.99 per pack, which has an internal battery and can also be used with older 600 cameras that rely on the film pack to provide power. If you’re only shooting with the OneStep 2, you should opt for the I-Type.
Film used to sell in the $ 22 ballpark, close to $ 3 per image, so the cost reduction is welcome. But it’s still more expensive than Fujifilm Instax formats, which range anywhere from $ 0.75 per image (Instax Mini) up to $ 1.50 per photo (Instax Square). You get a larger photo with the I-Type film—the image area is about 3 inches on each side—versus 2.4 inches for Instax Square, 2.4 by 1.8 inches for Instax Mini, and 2.4 by 3.6 inches for Instax Wide. If you’re new to instant film photography, read our guide for an overview of different film formats.
You can get the I-Type film in color or monochrome (the same as with Instax Mini and Wide—Square is only available in color at this time), but there are also occasional special edition films available. At press time you can buy a pack of blue-tone monochrome film for $ 19.99, and I used some of the discontinued Third Man Records film—a black and yellow duotone—for this review.
I didn’t shoot any black-and-white film with the OneStep 2, but have used the Generation 2.0 film with other cameras and have been very happy with the results. It develops quickly—in about 10 minutes—and shows strong detail and contrast.
But modern color materials aren’t at that level of quality. Even the latest color film, which Polaroid Originals boasts has its most advanced chemistry to date, doesn’t deliver the rich colors it promises. Instead tones are rather muted and contrast is low, in stark contrast to the vivid, punchy look of Fujifilm Instax film.
And there’s the trickiness of shooting the color materials. You can’t snap a shot and watch it develop. Instead it must be blocked from light for two minutes (the OneStep 2 has a long “frog tongue” that covers the film after it is ejected), and it takes between 15 and 20 minutes to fully develop. If you’re working outdoors, waiting two minutes after snapping an image is a definite pain. I tend to slide images into an empty film box and stow it in my closed camera bag, taking care to block the image from light as I do so.
You also have to be mindful of the weather. I received the OneStep 2 in March, the tail end of a lingering northeast winter. My first attempts at making images netted poor images, covered in a thick green fog, with weird splotches covering the frame, as you can see below. I was surprised, considering that the light was bright and the sky deep blue. It turns out, temperature was the culprit—Polaroid Originals warns against using the film in temperatures colder than 55 degrees Fahrenheit
While the company has done fine work with its black-and-white material—I prefer its higher contrast look to the more moderate contrast you get from Fujifilm Instax Monochrome—its color film still needs some work to justify the $ 2 per image cost.
The Polaroid Originals OneStep 2 is a much less ambitious camera than the Impossible I-1, and it benefits from its simplicity. It’s easy to use, comes in at a third of the asking price, and is easy for anyone to pick up and use. I would have liked to see a bulb setting for long exposures, but dropping the phone-based Bluetooth control makes the camera affordable and more straightforward to use.
If you’re a purely black-and-white instant photographer it’s easy to recommend, because the Polaroid Originals monochrome film is quite good, and while it’s not cheap at $ 2 per image, the large size and classic square format make it worth the premium it carries over Fujifilm Instax materials.
But if you like to shoot in color, it’s a tougher sell—at least until Polaroid Originals is able to further improve its color film stock. As much as I like the size of the prints, the color, contrast, and detail you get from Fujifilm Instax Square is much better.
The Lomo’Instant Square is more expensive at $ 199, but its color film is better, and less expensive. Unfortunately Fujifilm doesn’t make its Square format film in black-and-white at this time. Our favorite instant camera for enthusiasts is the Lomo Instant’Wide, which can take color or black-and-white film and produces big, albeit not square, prints. For entry-level shooters, check out the point-and-shoot Fujifilm Instax Mini 9, a low-cost model that shoots smaller images, but is the best choice for quick, inexpensive, instant shots.