Polaroid announces the $599 I-2 Instant Camera with manual control and LiDAR AF

Sep 7, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Polaroid announces the $599 I-2 Instant Camera with manual control and LiDAR AF

Sep 7, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The fact that we’re seeing any new Polaroid cameras at all in 2023 is pleasantly surprising. What’s not so pleasant, but probably more surprising, is the price tag. At $599, the Polaroid I-2 (buy here) isn’t exactly cheap!

We’re not done with the surprises yet, though. This Polaroid camera is something quite special. It’s the first Polaroid camera to provide manual exposure controls, including variable aperture and user-controlled shutter speed.

YouTube video

Polaroid I-2 – “The best Polaroid camera to buy”

The story of how the Polaroid I-2 came to be is perhaps as interesting, if not more so, than the camera itself. But Polaroid I-2 marks a big shift in Polaroid’s mindset and technology that’s not really changed since releasing its first instant camera in 1948.

Ok, so the chemicals on the paper have gotten more advanced… Then they got less advanced after Polaroid went bust, recipes became lost, and the Impossible Project took over. They’ve made the film chemical compositions better again, but the camera itself has always remained fairly automated and simple.

A new generation of Polaroid with manual controls

The new Polaroid I-2 changes this by introducing manual exposure controls to a formula that’s been largely unchanged for the past 75 years.

In developing the new camera, Oskar Smolokowski – Polaroid’s Chairman of the Board – took to Japan to find engineers who were used to working on mechanical cameras. After all, pretty much nobody else does it these days. At least, not the way they did before electronics started working their way into 35mm film SLRS.

So, he went to see former Olympus mechanical engineers Yusuke Kojima and Toshimasa Akagi – with over five decades of experience between them – to get some expertise and insight. The three driving motivations for the new camera were that it needed to offer sharpness, it needed good bokeh, and it needed to give people control.

Polaroid’s Sharpest Lens with LiDAR AF

The new Polaroid I-2 features what Polaroid says is its sharpest lens ever, easily surpassing the SX-70 (buy here). The sample images shown in the video above certainly seem to show a clarity that many past Polaroid cameras have been lacking.

It’s a 98mm f/8 lens, which on the medium format Polaroid instant film still produces a relatively short depth of field on close-up subjects. This allows you t get a good degree of bokeh and separation between your subject and the background.

But the lens itself isn’t the only reason for its sharpness. Instead of simple “Near” and “Far” focus distances, the Polaroid I-2 features a continuous focus lens with the full range from minimum focus distance to infinity.

It’s also autofocus, with focus distance provided by LiDAR ranging. It’s a continuous autofocus system, allowing it to keep up with moving subjects.

Manual exposure controls and modes

The Polaroid I-2 offers full manual control over exposure. Of course, your ISO/ASA is fixed by the speed of the instant film you place inside the camera, but you have both a variable shutter speed as well as a variable aperture.

But you’re not just getting regular manual mode. You get six different shooting modes in total, including full manual, aperture priority and shutter priority. Naturally, you’ve got fully automatic mode, but there’s also long-exposure mode and multiple-exposure mode, letting you create composites in-camera of 2-4 exposures.

The 98mm f/8 lens stops all the way down to f/64, giving you control over how much bokeh you want in your scene. Even if the answer to how much is “none”.

Mechanical but also electronic

Although the internals of the camera that actually create the image is mechanical. But the exposure modes are electronic. There’s even an OLED display built into the top of it to let you see your current mode and exposure settings.

As Polaroid cameras go, this is about as good as it gets. It’s definitely as good as it’s ever gotten so far. It will be interesting to see how popular this one becomes. Its price tag is going to put many people off. Of course, that price is justified pretty well, considering the features it provides.

Polaroid I-2 Specs

Focal Length98mm
Aperturef/8-64
Focus typeAuto and manual focus
Minimum focus distance40cm
ViewfinderOptical
Exposure modeManual, Auto, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Long exposure, Multiple exposure
Shutter speeds1/250-30sec & Bulb
Self timer3, 6, 9, 12 sec
Built-in FlashYes
Range0-2.5m
Flsah modesAuto
Tripod mount1/4″-20
Battery1x Film Battery Pack
Mobile appYes – requires optional adapter
Dimensions149.9 x 119.3 x 91.2mm
Weight563g

I have to admit, I’m really tempted to ask Santa for one of these myself this year. Polaroid hasn’t really interested me all that much in the past. Fuji Instax, too, for that matter. At least, not enough to make me buy one. I’ve always loved the concept, but it’s not all that useful or practical for me and what I want to shoot.

The Polaroid I-2 is the first one that’s really made me think, “Want one!”

The only thing that’s really missing for me is the mention of a flash sync for external flash units and triggers. There is a small round socket on the back next to the USB-C socket, although there’s no mention so far of whether this is a sync socket for flash or an input for a remote camera trigger.

I’ll probably wait until some reviews from people I trust come out first, and find out what that random little socket is for before making any solid decisions.

You don’t have to wait if you really want one, though! Well, you don’t have to wait to pre-order. You will have to wait until they start shipping.

Price and Availability

The Polaroid I-2 is available to pre-order now for $599. There’s no word yet on exactly when it’s going to ship, but I wouldn’t expect we’ll have to wait too long.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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