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.