Mourning the Loss of Polaroid Instant Film


It’s been tough for Polaroid these last few years. The film is really expensive. Even when I would buy it by the gross at Sam’s Club, I think it averaged about $1 per picture. When film took a week or two to get back from the developer, Polaroid marketed their cameras as “instant”. Even when film developing could be done in an hour, Polaroid still had that beat. However, with the advent of truly instant digital cameras, the days of Polaroid were numbered.

When my son was born, I had two 35mm cameras along with a video camcorder. However, my “go to” camera was a Polaroid instant camera. The reason was the same for my parents when they bought a Land camera back in 1970, right before I was born. With Polaroid, you could tell if a picture had turned out right then and there. The event was too important to take a chance on losing the moment in development. My parents had taken pictures of their first house being built and all of them had been ruined by the corner drug store. Precious irreplaceable memories? Sorry about that. Here’s a coupon for some free film. These days with digital cameras, I routinely check my shots to make sure eyes are open, fingers aren’t in noses, the exposure is correct and nothing is out of focus. Polaroid pioneered this concept.

While the primary reason to take Polaroid pictures may have been supplanted, there is still something special about instant pictures… because they aren’t instant. When you use a One Step camera the picture rolls out of the front with a characteristic three-cycle whirr. At first, it’s a featureless green-gray. You shake it a few times to ensure the edges will develop and then everyone sits and watches. In less than a minute an image appears as if someone is stepping out of the fog. The colors brighten before your eyes and then it’s there: a photograph. Digital cameras are faster. My digital camera has a little screen on the back that looks like a miniature television set. I can see the image on the screen. In fact, I expect it. That’s what televisions do. However, the technology in a Polaroid picture isn’t contained in a camera or a screen. It’s held in the palm of your hand. It’s a photograph that seems to come to life on its own. The process is absolutely indistinguishable from magic.

Polaroid has decided to stop making instant film for its cameras due to a declining market. I will miss instant film. We need more magic in our lives.

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