Polaroid and other instant cameras are back in fashion – and regular travellers should give them a shake
Social media has become as much a part of travel as planes, trains, and inflatable neck rests. We have Facebook for bragging, Twitter for nagging, Instagram for tagging, and Snapchat for making yourself look like a dog and stuff.
But take an instant camera along with you on your next trip, and you’ll be reminded that social media has been with us since long before Mark Zuckerberg co-opted the concept. Instant photographs are a medium, and they are inherently social, especially for travellers.
You’ll have all the proof you need the moment you take the camera out of your bag, especially if it’s one of the refurbished old Polaroids from The Impossible Project.
Yes, instant cameras are back in fashion, and as a travel tool they’re hard to beat. Unless you’re carrying around a Birkin bag or riding in on a Supreme Louis Vuitton skateboard, it’s tough to grab strangers’ attention with gadgets these days, since every single one of them has been distilled into an app on a phone which, for those of us not foolish or carefree enough to have invested in a Vertu, pretty much looks like everybody else’s phone.
“Instant photographs are a medium, and they are inherently social.”
With lines and scale that simply don’t exist in contemporary design, a Polaroid camera attracts attention. Adults will say they haven’t seen one in years, and kids will try to wrap their heads around the idea that cameras can look like that. But everyone will want to have their picture taken with it, and and you can ask them to take yours with it.
Talking to strangers is one of the most rewarding parts of travel, and since tapping people on the shoulder and saying hi doesn’t always work as well as you might hope, luring them over to you with an interesting-looking object can really smooth the process out.
Adam McDowell / Billy
A vintage Polaroid 600, with snaps taken using Impossible Project colour frame film (it’s available online or at Urban Outfitters)
Even if you’ve got one of the more modern devices, like one of the Fuji Instaxes, or the many Lomography iterations that mostly try to look like versions of old cameras, the moment that slip of integral film slides out, people will want to take a look. Instant film is inherently dramatic. People will gather around to see how it turns out; the slow reveal always gets us watching, whether it’s the narrative arc in a movies or a stripper gradually disrobing.
“With lines and scale that simply don’t exist in contemporary design, a Polaroid camera attracts attention.”
But the social potential of instant cameras doesn’t end there. Because it creates a physical object every time you take a picture, you have an object to give. Instant snapshots even come with handy white spaces for jotting down names, dates and messages. Sure, you could friend each other online or swap Whatsapp numbers, but with instant pictures, limitation is a virtue: You may not want randos getting into your network or, worse yet, having your number. Swapping a couple of physical pics can be just the right amount of fun and commitment for someone you happened to be standing next to at Peggy’s Cove.
Instant cameras bring other advantages, too, including getting pictures with a look that could take a dozen swipes and clicks to get on Snapseed or VSCO – or any number of other tools designed to make digital files look like analog prints.
But maybe the most profound difference when taking your travel pics with one of these cameras is that it makes you stop and consider your shots. With their near-endless capacity, phone cameras and DSLRs have worked miracles for photography neophytes, pros, and everyone in between. Yet something got lost in the digital cornucopia – namely, the sense of moment that only scarcity can conjure.
For travellers with money to burn and/or big photography geeks, high-end camera maker Leica is on the bandwagon with its Leica Sofort âÂ priced in the $450 range. And no, we havenât had a chance to try it.
As of 2017, there are three main formats of instant film, none of them cheap. The smallest, Fuji’s Instax Mini film, can cost around a dollar a shot, whereas the Wide costs twice that. Meanwhile, Polaroid no longer makes film. A Dutch company called The Impossible Project has resurrected the format – the catch is that the contemporary stuff isn’t as good; it hasn’t yet matched the ease or reliability of the original. And still, Impossible’s Polaroid-format film runs you more than $3 apiece (all figures Canadian).
Depending on format, each cartridge contains eight or 10 shots. And since you’re not going to be packing that many of the things, you need to ration them, making each photo a little more special.
When travelling, the other obvious disadvantage of instant photography is bulk. These cameras and cartridges are big, and if you’re trying to pack light – as most of us are these days – carrying an extra thing that’s the size of a dopp kit can be a challenge or a deal-breaker. The cameras come in different sizes of course (see below), but even with the most compact models you really should only bring it if you’re willing and ready to make it an important feature of your trip – enough to make it worth leaving behind that extra pair of shoes.
Fuji Instax Mini 90
If you really do pack a lot of shoes, this is the way to go. It’s one of the smallest instant cameras around (though Fuji’s new Square SQ10 is even smaller), it takes small pictures, and it is simple to operate – which is what you want from an olde timey camera, even when it’s actually newe timey.
Fuji Instax Mini 90
Fuji Instax Wide 300
This one is much bigger, and takes bigger pictures as a result. Better ones, too. But it’s the size of some sizeable wedges, though considerably lighter. If you’re thinking of taking any scenic or landscapes shots, this model the way to go.
Fuji Instax Wide 300
So technically speaking, I think this is the best. It comes with a lot of accessories: You can add lenses and adjust exposure; there’s even a macro setting for when you want an instant picture of an ant or something. But as a result, it’s fiddly, with a learning curve. If you’re serious about photography, this is probably the instant camera for you. But if you just want a couple of fun shots of giant people pinching tiny CN Towers, the Lomo’Instant may frustrate you.
Adam McDowell; snapshots by Bert Archer and Adam McDowell / Billy
The Lomo’Instant and Fuji Instax Mini camera lines take teensy tiny Instax Mini film
Polaroid Spectra (Impossible Project)
This one ticks all the boxes. It’s remarkable looking, takes big pictures, and everyone will want to play with it. If it’s a social medium you want on your travels, this is the one for you.
Adam McDowell / Billy
While not everyone is going to find it sexy-looking, the Polaroid Spectra is our top choice