What’s there to say about Polaroid’s new Z340 Digital Instant Camera? Sure, I could go on about the 14-megapixel image sensor, the clunky menu interface, and the pop-up LCD, but at the end of the day none of that matters a whole hell of a lot. If you’re buying a camera with the brand “Polaroid,” you’re doing it for a certain kind of experience, not performance. The question is, does it deliver?
From test shoots from models to the movie Memento, the Polaroid instant camera has been ingrained in the world’s consciousness since the popular SX-70 model was introduced in 1972. Snap the picture, a photo pops out, flap the photo around for a few minutes, and you’re done. It’s probably more familiar than making toast, and certainly easier.
Of course, like most things analog, the Polaroid fell into obsolescence as digital cameras got better and better, and the whole idea of print and film seems quaint today (high-end professionals excepted). After failing to adapt to the digital era, Polaroid went bankrupt, and what remained of the company discontinued the instant camera, and later the film.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing, however. A new company controls the Polaroid brand, PLR Holdings, and it’s been making a lot of noise lately — most famously, by employing Lady Gaga as a design consultant. The new Polaroid has created a digital version of the classic instant camera, the Z340, which combines a point-and-shoot model with a small color printer in a single case shaped similar to Polaroid cameras of old.
The Z340, priced at $299, is actually Polaroid’s second take on the “digital instant” camera. The first was the Polaroid PoGo, which looked more like a typical point-and-shoot and sold for $199 (I guess Polaroid puts a $100 premium on nostalgic form factors). Both cameras use a special printing technology called Zink.
Zink is ideal for an instant camera because it uses no ink. It creates images on special paper ($19.99 for a pack of 30 sheets, each 2 x 3 inches) that’s embedded with dye crystals. Heat from the printer activates them, with different heat levels resulting in different colors, creating the photo.
It sounds pretty magical, and it is. A handheld, battery-operated camera/printer that shoots out a photo you just took in under a minute (45.8 seconds to be exact)? That’s amazing — and actually a lot faster than the old-school Polaroid instant cameras, once you take into account the time it takes the prints to develop (evidenced in this video comparison). The quality of the Zink printouts is even much improved over the PoGo, which were typically a bit smudgy. Check out the Z340′s printing process in the video link below.
Walking around with the camera at Mashable‘s holiday Christmas party, I snapped a bunch of pics of my colleagues, their significant others and various pets — thankfully early in the evening. This is exactly the thing the Z340 is made for: a group setting where the primary goal is to have fun. By the night’s end, tiny photos were scattered all over the place.
It’s in this kind of festive environment that the Z340 excels. In the social setting of a party, things like adding a heart-shaped or snowflake-adorned border stop being cheesy and become useful features. An Instagram-like color changer and red-eye correction are pretty handy, too. The LCD pops up, making framing shots a little easier.
As point-and-shoots go, the Z340 is obviously bulky. But it’s a shame that Polaroid didn’t use that bulk for more than just a printer. It would have been nice to have an optical zoom, even if it was just 3x or something. It’s also annoying that there’s no LED to indicate when the battery’s charging.
When you’re not partying, the Z340 is an okay fall-back camera. Which is to say it’s better than using your phone. The 14MP images it creates look good, though they get a little grainy when you zoom in close. It shoots passable video, but not HD, maxing out at 640 x 480. The interface is nothing special, about as confusing as most point-and-shoots, so with luck you won’t accidentally delete anything.
In the end, though, does it deliver on the Polaroid experience? Although the time for a photo to print is shorter than the developing time for the old photos, there’s something organic missing here. The fact that you could walk away with the pic immediately, even before it was developed, was a tremendous advantage. And browsing through a menu for a Polaroid border isn’t the same as having those white-rimmed prints spat out by default.
Don’t get me wrong: The Z340 is a great party trick, and I think it could stand in for, say, those disposable cameras they leave on tables at wedding receptions. But if you’re looking for nostalgia, you’ll instead re-learn the depressing lesson that you can’t go home again.
PC MAGAZINE- Z340 Instant Digital Camera Review
The Polaroid Z340 Instant Digital Camera ($299.99 direct), isn’t Polaroid’s first digital iteration of the Polaroid film camera, but it’s the first one to let you go beyond wallet-size photos, upping the picture size to 3 by 4 inches. Basically a fully integrated combination of a 14-megapixel camera with a second-generation ZINK printer, it delivers on ease of use, reasonably good quality for the printed photos, and, most of all, the traditional Polaroid promise of letting you snap a picture and have the finished photo in hand in less than minute.
The Z340 is a lot closer in physical design to the consumer-level Polaroid film cameras we remember than the first version was. The Polaroid PoGo Instant Digital Camera ($200 street, 4 stars) that we reviewed a little more than two years ago was basically a 1.4-inch-thick rectangular box, with a slot on the side for the photos to exit through. The photos were only wallet size, at 2 by 3 inches.
The Z340’s wedge shape is reminiscent of some of the old film models. The dimensions, not counting the hand strap on the side or the tiltable LCD in its fully up position, are 4.8 inches deep by 5.8 inches wide, with a height of about 2.3 inches in front tapering off to about 1.3 inches in back. If you went back to, say, the 1980s with it, and handed it to someone to take your picture, they’d probably be impressed by the 2.7-inch color LCD for framing the image, but they’d probably not notice anything else special about it. Just snap the picture, and a reasonably good-quality print comes out the front slot.
The camera side of the Z340 offers lots of control of features like ISO settings and white balance. Casual photographers will want to ignore these in favor of the Auto setting, but more serious photographers will appreciate having them. It also offers about 30 different scene modes, including Portrait, Sunset, and Backlight.
As with Polaroid’s first-generation digital camera, the Z340’s fixed focus lens is arguably its defining feature. Polaroid says it left out an optical zoom to help keep the camera size down. However, that puts the Z340 in a category that hardly exists any more except with camera phones.
The Z340 does offer a digital zoom, which for most cameras would be best ignored. In context of an instant camera, however, where you’ll be printing the photo immediately, the feature can be useful, since it will effectively let you crop the picture when you take it.
Keep in mind too that although you can treat the Z340 like any digital camera, saving photos as files and then sending them by email, posting them to an online site, or printing them on any printer you like, that isn’t how you’re most likely to use it. The whole point of the camera is that it lets you print your photos on the spot using the built-in printer. If you plan to use it primarily as a standard camera without a printer, you’re better off getting a model that fits that description.
The Z340 is one of the slower cameras we’ve tested. It requires a full 4.4 seconds to start up and grab a shot, averages 0.7 second between hitting the shutter button and capturing a photo, and makes you wait 2.8 seconds between photos in continuous drive mode. This won’t be a major issue if you’re printing photos as you shoot, but if you’re selectively printing the best snapshots, the delay can cause you to miss some candid moments.
On the plus side, the image quality for capturing photos, as distinct from the image quality for the final printed photo, is surprisingly good. The 14-megapixel camera recorded 1,948 lines per picture height of resolution according to Imatest. This exceeds the 1,800-line mark that denotes a sharp image. The camera also scored well in low-light performance, keeping its images well under the 1.5 percent noise threshold through its top standard ISO setting of 1600. There’s some evidence of in-camera noise reduction, so you can expect to lose some detail as you increase the ISO, but not so much that the small prints that the camera produces will suffer. There are also two extended ISO modes, 3200 and 6400, for extreme low-light shooting. You’ll want to use these sparingly, since they limit image resolution to 3 megapixels.
The Z340 uses the same print engine as the Polaroid Grey Label GL10 Instant Mobile Printer ($169.99 direct, 4 stars) that we reviewed about a year ago. The printer uses ZINK technology, which means it doesn’t need separate ink and paper. The ink—or, more precisely, what serves as ink—is embedded in the paper as clear dye crystals. The printer uses heat to activate the color and create images.
Not having to load ink and paper separately makes printer setup simple. Open the input door, slide in the paper, and close the door. We ran into a little trouble getting the paper fully inserted, but solved it by using a pen point to push the paper in fully. People with small hands might not have the same problem. Note that the camera comes with one 10-sheet pack of photo paper, which is the maximum it can hold at once. Additional paper is $19.99 for three packs of 10 sheets, which works out to 66.6 cents per photo.
You can set the printer to print immediately after taking a picture, but the feature is off by default. The other choice is to navigate to a picture to preview it on the LCD, hit the Print button, optionally crop the image, add a white border or graphic border, or correct red-eye, and then hit the print button again to print. We timed the printer at a reasonably consistent 44 to 48 seconds per photo.
Output quality isn’t a match for a typical inkjet. We saw a slight soft focus effect in most photos, and colors in some cases were a bit off. A blue sky in one photo, for example, came out as bluish gray, and the red autumn leaves on one tree came out as purple. There was also a slight loss of subtle shading, so one photo of a landscape, for example, looked more like a photo of a painting that a photo of a real landscape. Even so, the quality was generally suitable for snapshots, and most casual photographers will probably be satisfied with the results.
Battery life was a pleasant surprise. Polaroid claims that a fully charged battery is good for 25 prints plus 75 snapshots with flash. In our tests of printing only, it outlasted the paper we had available for testing, still going strong on a single charge after 40 prints.
As anyone who has ever used a Polaroid film camera knows, bringing along a camera that prints is qualitatively different from bringing along a camera plus a printer. It’s simply a lot easier, and a lot less cumbersome, to take a picture and print it on the same fully integrated gadget than to carry two gadgets so you can take the picture on one and print it on the other.
On that score alone, the Polaroid Z340 Instant Digital Camera succeeds quite nicely. We’d like it a lot better if the final result—namely, the printed photos—were of a higher quality or the initial price and running cost were lower. But if you don’t mind the level of output quality for the price, it’s otherwise highly attractive as a fun toy, or, in some cases, a useful tool for work, when you want the convenience of taking pictures and then printing them with minimal effort.