A camera that produces a developed photo directly after snapping the picture is called an instant camera.
In classic analogue instant cameras, a stack of paper with a light-sensitive surface is used instead of normal film. This paper contains the chemicals necessary for the development of the photo. When taking the photo out of the camera, the picture is in the middle of being developed. This kind of film uses diffusion transfer to move the dyes from the negative to the positive via a reagent.
When using normal negative film, several prints of the same image can be made. When photographing with an instant camera, however, duplication of the prints is only possible using the so-called photo-to-photo process.
The first instant camera (as we know it today) was developed by the American physicist Edwin Herbert Land in 1947 and his company Polaroid. The early models used black and white film in various sizes. This so-called 40 series film had to be covered in clear coat directly after development, which took about 15 to 30 seconds, in order to protect the photo. A somewhat smaller format was developed in 1954, namely the 30 series, which made instant cameras smaller and easier to manufacture.
A big weakness of separable film was its enormous degree of sensitivity as well as the time it took for the photo to develop. The temperature, as well as other factors, played a decisive role in the quality of the photo’s development. Stopwatches or tables with the appropriate development times were available to advise the photographer how long they should let their photo develop and get the highest quality photo possible. Black and white film photos that were developed for too long would increase the contrast, while unwanted colour lines would appear in colour film photos.
The first integrated film, the SX-70, was brought to market by Polaroid in 1972. When people talk about instant photography nowadays, most people immediately think about the film format of the 600 series, which was created in 1982 as a successor to SX-70 film. This film gave the photographer a higher degree of flexibility with the exposure and lighting conditions. This film could also be used with lower quality cameras, which was advantageous since they did not always expose the photos correctly. 600 series film was also compatible with SX-70 cameras since the measurements of the two different films were identical.
In the age of digital photography with its sophisticated technology and ever-improving image quality, the instant camera market has remained relatively quiet. However, just as with vinyl records, instant cameras have been attracting the attention of more and more people from younger generations. Nowadays, the function of the instant camera is combined with modern smartphone technology and thus instant cameras are becoming more and more popular amongst the “sharing” community. The newest instant cameras available on the market are outfitted with a digital display and can take photos with the same number of megapixels as digital cameras of comparable quality. Through improved technology, instant cameras are now capable of producing a smudge- and water-resistant photo in less than a minute. Users can also post their photos on social networks like Facebook and Instagram with the camera’s integrated Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities as well as Polaroid social media apps.
Even older analogue Polaroid cameras are being used once again for their artistic touch and to produce a unique photo. Instant cameras are especially popular amongst professional photographers due to the special charm they lend their photos.
One of the latest models being manufactured by Polaroid is the Polaroid Z2300. Even if instant photography remains a niche market for now, it’s the personal and artistic value that keeps Polaroid fans coming back for more.