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Posts in Review
Polaroid Onestep 2 viewfinder review

When I learned that Polaroid Originals was going to be releasing a slightly updated version of their Onestep 2 camera, I was intrigued enough to take the plunge. 

A few of the pros of buying a new Onestep 2 camera: 

  1. Reliable. You know it's going to work out of the box, and if not, there is a warranty behind it. 

  2. Slightly cheaper in the long run. The price of 600 film compared to i-type film may be enough to justify purchasing if you buy packs of film frequently. 

  3. Features. This isn't a fully manual Polaroid experience like you'd get with an SX-70 or SLR-680, but it has just about everything else: self-timer, flash disable, multiple exposure*, and exposure compensation switch. 

  4. You can blow people's minds that they "still make Polaroids"

The cons: 

  1. Price. I purchased my JobPro 600 camera on ebay for about $30, it still works really well and has most of the features of the OneStep 2. The only things it can't do are take iType film and it doesn't have a self-timer.

    1. It will take you about 23 packs of i-type film until you start realizing the savings in difference in cost between buying a used Polaroid camera and shooting exclusively 600 film.*

    2. If you're really cost-conscious and like the idea of instant film more "in theory" than in practice, you may be happier with a Fuji Instax mini. You can find them for much less and the film is quite affordable, even if the images are very small.

 

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When you open the Polaroid OneStep2 box, you are greeted with the front of the camera facing you. Almost like it's going to take your picture right away. I opted for the subdued black model, but the white model clearly wears is vintage inspiration. In black it appears a bit more "business."

It feels solidly built. It's not noticeably heavy, like a lot of cameras. It certainly feels less-dense than a digital camera. Because it doesn't have a flip up flash, the OneStep 2 looks much smaller when it's sitting on a table. The form factor still probably won't save you much room in a bag or case,  as its maximum height, length and width are still very close to the boxier JobPro/Sun600 models in the "closed" position. 

 
The film closure on the OneStep 2 feels weaker than the JobPro. That old Polaroid "CLUNKS" shut nicely, you feel like you've loaded your camera for some serious business. Whereas this new one feels a bit more fragile. It's also interesting to note the slight differences between the roller and frog tongue configurations. Whereas the frog tongue is easily removable on the old 600s, the Onestep's design appears to make any kind of repair or replacement more difficult. 

 The viewfinder 

One of the biggest complaints about the original OneStep 2 (the OneStep 2.0, if you will) was the viewfinder. It was simply a window between the front and back of the camera. It was very easy for users to place their eye in such a way as to exacerbate the parallax view and miss-frame their shots. This model resolves this issue  with a  proper viewfinder. It makes the OneStep 2 even more like the original Polaroid cameras. Now there is no question as to how to look through the viewfinder, and while it cannot resolve the inherent parallax issue of having a separate viewing lens from the taking lens, it at least reduces the instances of user error. 

One of the best reasons to get a Onestep:

You can blow people's minds that they "still make Polaroids"

 

 After you've gone through a few packs and start to understand the ticks of the thing, the general functionality seems to be about the same between the JobPro and the Onestep 2. The camera meters for the whole image. It doesn't do any fancy "matrix metering" or anything like that, it just a reading from the entire frame and exposes for whatever the middle of that is. If you're in weird lighting, you'll have to think about how you want to compensate. 

In bright light, while it still recommends the flash you probably don't need the flash. It does  a nice job of filling against harsh shadows at midday at a reasonable distance, but otherwise it's not going to make or break things. 

 Indoors, you will probably want to use the flash. The camera has a fixed aperture that is fairly small. While Polaroid doesn't say on their site, the consensus seems to be that it's about f/11. If you disable the flash, you can hear the shutter click slightly slower, so it's probably compensating for the light difference with this. This is part of why camera shake can be a serious issue when shooting indoors.

If you know what you're doing (i.e. can read light and have a tripod or other steady surface) you will get excellent pictures in natural light under many conditions.

The only issue with the flash is its placement on the camera. It is almost in line, horizontally with the lens. I believe this leads to all kinds of flash "blooming" and what almost appears as blur. A good example of this can be seen between the two photos below(Left, without flash. Right, with flash):

Power is closely related to the flash. In one of the biggest departures from the legacy of Polaroid cameras and film, the OneStep2 has a built-in rechargable battery. It is powered through USB, so it can draw power from a USB outlet adapter or charge from a laptop or battery pack. The battery will get you through about 18 packs of film before it dies... which is like ~$270 in film** before a recharge.

One quirk of the new power supply is that the camera can take a few seconds to fully charge up and be ready to shoot. I started shooting with the idea that I could flick the switch to "on" and just shoot, but you have to let the camera charge up the flash before it'll take a picture. If it has been off for a while, this can lead to a noticeable "pause" of about 5 or 6 seconds which I found to be slightly awkward when you hit the shutter button and nothing happens.

I did accidentally leave the camera on for a full weekend and it was dead when I checked it before a shoot (had plenty of time to charge it, though), so while there is very little power draw it does not have any other kind of "sleep" feature. Charging from completely flat using a wall charger takes under two hours.

Unlike on older Polaroid cameras, the film only ejects from the camera after the shutter is released which means that there is a slightly longer delay from when the camera takes the picture. It does interrupt the classic Polaroid sound of the camera in operation, but it is overall an improvement as you can keep the button held and move the camera into a shade or shadow to eject the film if you're particularly cautious. You can also turn the camera off with the shutter pressed, then release the button while the camera is off and create a multiple exposure. This can work with the flash off or on.

It took me about halfway through my first pack on the Onestep 2 to be converted. I really liked my JobPro. I also liked my Impulse AF... each of these cameras had features that the other ones didn't. In the Impulse AF, there was real autofocus- which allowed for neat shots with shallower depth of field- and it could focus fairly close. But you can't disable the flash. The JobPro can disable the flash, but you can't do multiple exposures, and it has a fixed-focus lens.

The Onestep 2 can do most of the things of both older cameras, but it does not autofocus. I'm willing to accept the quirk of fixed focus if it means I have everything else available to me. Overall I'm very happy with the OneStep 2. I think Polaroid Originals did a great job with the design of the product, and I think that for real photo nuts the Polaroid format has some compelling benefits over the Fuji's offerings.

Creating this review took time and film. If this helped you make a buying decision or otherwise taught you something about the new generation of Polaroid cameras, you can thank me in a couple different ways.

*calculations based on standard retail prices of i-Type and 600 Polaroid Originals film.

**18 packs at $16 (baseline i-Type price) per pack.

Heard, an app with so much promise

The rolling buffer is the next great promise of personal devices.

Instead of having to hit record, all a user has to do is hit "save". That great little conversation you had? Save it and then add it to a podcast later. Russian dash cams are a good example of this kind of technology.* 

That hilarious thing your nephew did? If your phone was out you could already have it saved as a video. When you add in wearable computers/cameras like Google Glass, you get the ability to authentically capture great moments without having to interrupt life. 

Phones like the Moto X are the first of these kind of devices. Always listening, ready to snap-to at a word. Privacy concerns aside, there is a lot of power that could directly benefit users.

One example of this technology that is available today is an iPhone app called Heard.

Almost magical

Heard promises to deliver the almost magical power of a rolling buffer to your iPhone's audio recording. The free version of the app keeps up to 12 seconds of recording. When someone says something worth saving, you simply tap the center button and save it. The buffer resumes and you can record another "chunk" of audio.  A two dollar in-app purchase increases the buffer up to 5 minutes.

Theoretically, this is killer.

I'm not the only person who stumbles into really great conversations and thinks, "man, I wish I was recording this!" But Heard isn't truly as passive and easy as it needs to be.

A user must first turn on the app, and then it keeps listening in the background. A big red bar will appear at the top of the iPhone screen, similar to the green bar users are familiar with from using Apple Maps navigation.  This is required by Apple's software limitations as the app is still active and listening. Tapping the red bar jumps back into Heard where you can hit "save" to store the audio.

Drawbacks

One of the biggest drawbacks is the nature of the recording. It only records in the set "chunk" of time. A user can interrupt the recording at any point to save it, but the buffer cannot go longer than what the user has set it for. If I realize that a really good conversation is just beginning, I can't say "record and keep recording"- I would have to switch recording software to keep going. This is impractical and defeats my main use for such an application.

There is also no built in editing capability once a recording is saved. The user can only export the file by email and then edit it on another app. This isn't a big of a downside as the primary recording limitations, though.

For those concerned about privacy, Heard does not automatically store audio off of the device.  The user is always in control of the audio file and can delete or export as desired.

Conclusion

Heard feels like a great idea encumbered by the phone's limitations. It isn't too hard to imagine that Apple could add this level of functionality to their own Audio Note app and give it a little extra access to the phone's utilities, like perhaps a lockscreen button or a way to continue a recording onward from the save point. Perhaps Heard on Android would be a better fit, due to that platform's broader permissions for applications. 

There's very little cost in trying it out, but Heard doesn't yet seem ready to take on more capable traditional recording apps. 

*While those cams may be actively recording at all times, the premise still holds true.