What exactly constitutes “high-end” when it comes to a Polaroid camera? At least for the modern incarnation of the company, there really hasn’t been such a thing until now. That’s not terribly shocking since, for much of its existence, Polaroid has been associated with instant gratification and point-and-shoot simplicity. Of course, in the digital age, waiting 10 to 15 minutes for a Polaroid to develop can seem like an eternity. And the soft, saturated images they create have a decidedly lo-fi feel when put side by side with the razor-sharp photos even the lowliest smartphone can capture.
The new Polaroid I-2, however, retains all of the quirks and charm people turn to instant film for, but packs a number of modern amenities and features that might appeal to a more serious photographer. There’s a lot to like, but there is one immediately obvious obstacle: the price. At $599, the I-2 costs four-times as much as the next most expensive camera in the company’s lineup, the Polaroid Now+.
That premium does buy you the fastest lens in the current Polaroid lineup. It’s 98mm f/8 which, according to the company, is roughly the equivalent of a 38mm f/2.8 on a 35mm camera. I punched the numbers into a few online calculators and got pretty close to that claim, around 40mm at f/3.1 equivalent on 35mm when accounting for the larger film of a Polaroid. That’s not an exceptionally wide aperture, but it's larger than most other Polaroid cameras which often top out at f/11 or even f/16. And you’d have to go quite a ways back (to at least the 1980s as far as I could tell) to find something faster than f/8 from Polaroid.
The lens is made of acrylic and polycarbonate, instead of glass. But the company claims that the difference in quality was negligible without dramatically driving up the cost of the camera. Again, though, this is an area where I’ll have to take the company's word, as I have no viable means of testing the claim.
Polaroid is very proud of this lens, though, regardless of how the specs might appear on paper. It’s pitching the camera as a love letter to the instant cameras of yore, and even pulled two Olympus engineers out of retirement to help design it.
It took roughly four years of development to bring the I-2 to fruition and while holding it, you do get the sense that this was a labor of love. Yes, it's almost entirely plastic, but it feels solid and, in my opinion, looks gorgeous. The matte black body with dark silver and red accents is decidedly classier than the more brightly festooned Now line. Almost every bit of the camera feels fussed over, right down to the underside which features a quote from Polaroid cofounder Edwin Land.
This is also the only camera in the current lineup that can use standard lens filters. This means you can just walk into B&H and grab a 49mm ND filter off the shelf and slap it on. That might be necessary too, since the I-2 has a top shutter speed of only 1/250 of a second. When combined with the 640 ASA of standard i-Type film, it can be tricky to get a proper exposure in bright sunlight.
That shutter speed also means you’re not gonna be freezing any fast-paced action in your frames. That being said, it’s still faster than the Now+ which tops out at 1/200. Oddly the $99 Polaroid Go can actually reach 1/300 of a second, making it the fastest camera in the family, and with a nearly as large f/9 aperture, too. That said, it does use smaller Go film.
What the I-2 has that the Go and all other current generation Polaroid cameras lack is on board manual settings. While the Now+ does offer some options via an app, only the I-2 gives you complete control of the aperture and shutter speed on the camera itself. Both are adjusted via a single ring around the lens, though, so you have to press a button to switch back and forth between them. It’s much easier to opt for aperture or shutter priority mode where you only have to worry about one variable with the ring.