We haven’t had a lot of occasions to take photos in the last year (your sourdough loaf excluded). But as America gets vaccinated, we’ll be getting together to make memories again.
Which is exactly why Polaroid’s latest camera, the Polaroid Go, looks like the perfect product for the moment. It’s billed as the world’s smallest instant analog camera, designed to squeeze into your pocket—albeit with a bit more difficulty than a smartphone—and produce two-inch photo prints the moment you snap the shot.
You may recall that Polaroid went bankrupt in 2001. Then in 2008, a company called the Impossible Project raised money to acquire the company’s film factory in the Netherlands. Following a series of rebrandings, the Impossible Project is now simply called Polaroid. And the Go is the most ambitious camera that the new Polaroid has made to date.
The biggest challenge to reducing the size of Polaroid cameras is that you can only shrink the system so much and still take photos. “There’s this [internal] mirror at an angle, that basically defines to a large extent how a Polaroid camera looks,” explains Ignacio Germade, chief design officer at Polaroid. (A Polaroid camera’s large, diagonal back houses this mirror, which reflects light from the lens down to the film, while also creating the camera’s unique lean-to silhouette.) “It is a signature, and a design limitation.”
Because of that mirror, you can only make a Polaroid camera so small, which is why some vintage versions played with collapsible systems that could be stored flat in a bag. This time, the team went in a different direction and opted simply to shrink the proportions of the entire camera instead. How? The company created a new, smaller film format. Stock Polaroid film is 3.5 inches square. Polaroid Go film is just 2.2 inches. Producing this film was no small feat, and it required the company to retrofit what Polaroid chairman Oskar Smolokowski calls the “very, very complex machinery” inside the original Polaroid factory.
With the smaller film, Polaroid could shrink the mirror and the rest of the system. The company also credits advancements in lens technology to allow it to squeeze and twist the light to reach the film through such a tight machine.
“The optics are pretty unique in the way they bend light, which was a necessary thing to actually make this camera the size it is,” says Smolokowski. “You wouldn’t be able to design a lens like this even 15 years ago. There are advancements in lenses and what you can do with materials to bend light.”
The resulting Go camera is just four inches at its widest point, which for a mechanical system that bounces light through a lens and mirror—and rolls out photos to develop them—is remarkable. In the x-ray photo the team shared, you can see just how tightly the mechanics are packed inside compared to a traditional Polaroid, which is oddly hollow. As a secondary effect to its internal density, Germade says the camera feels heavy for its size, like a high-quality object—even if it’s mostly plastic.
Despite the device’s small size, the team built a few fun creature comforts into the camera. It has an integrated timer and the option to double-expose photos. But its slickest feature is its selfie “mirror.” That mirror is actually just the Go’s main lens, which was coated with a mirror polish. It’s a simple trick I’ve never seen before. Point the camera head-on, and you can view yourself, framed just as you will be on film.
The Polaroid Go will be out on April 27 for $100, with compatible 16-photo film packs that run $20 apiece. “My dream is it will encourage people to go outside more as we open up and the pandemic has less effect on our lives,” says Smolokowski.