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Polaroid cameras still have fans as do instant photo printers

Do you remember Polaroid cameras? They were a big part of my youth. Invented in 1948 and popular in the 50s, 60s and 70s, these “instant cameras” printed out (actually developed) your picture in about a minute. The cameras, as I recall, were pretty affordable but color film for the SX-70 cost about 70 cents a print in 1972, which is about $4 today.

The company behind the product filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and stopped making cameras in 2007 and film in 2008, but the name has been licensed and other companies continue to make Polaroid products including a $299 Polaroid Socialmatic Instant Digital Camera, which gives you both digital images and the ability to print on inkless paper.

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Polaroid Zip printer

There is also the $80 Polaroid PIC-300P Instant Film Analog Camera that uses more traditional Polaroid film ($70 for a 20 pack), which is basically a clone of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Film Camera where the identical film costs $38 for 50 pack.Even if you get the Polaroid camera, you’re better off paying 76 cents a print for the Fuji film instead of $3.50 for the Polaroid film.

Harry McCracken, the technology editor for Fast Company, is a bit of a Polaroid aficionado. I’ve seen him snap pictures with an old Polaroid camera from decades ago. He gets his film from The Impossible Project, which he said took over an old Polaroid factory.

“People have a lot of fondness for the Polaroid name,” McCracken said. “It was part of our life and it even speaks to people who are younger.” McCracken said that it changed the way he takes pictures, compared to using a digital camera or a phone. “At $3 a shot I compose my pictures very carefully.” He is also impressed by the nearly seven decades old technology, which he called “amazing, considering the fact that it was all done with chemistry.”

Of course a lot of people now take most of their pictures with smartphones but — to paraphrase Apple commercials — “there’s an app for that,” and a printer too. I’ve been playing with the Polarold Zip Instant Mobile printer, a pocket-sized rechargeable printer that works with both iPhones and Android phones.

I paired it via NFC with my Android phone (it also pairs via Bluetooth) and used the phone to snap some pictures from the regular camera app and from the Polaroid app. Once the picture is on the screen you then can route it to the little printer and, about 30 seconds later, out pops a 2 x 3 inch print. It’s not the greatest quality print in the world, compared to a high-end ink jet printer or a professional lab, but it’s pretty good.

The paper, which costs $25 for a 50 pack, is embedded with dye crystals that are clear until the printer applies heat to them. The printer itself weighs about 6 ½ ounces and is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. It charges with a Micro-USB cable so there’s no need to replace batteries though a charge is only good for about 25 prints, so if you’re doing a lot of printing, you’ll need to keep a charger nearby.

The printer holds ten sheets of paper at a time.

Those 2×3 prints are, admittedly, pretty small. The Polaroid rep who pitched me the camera called them “fun sized.” But they do fit easily into a wallet and, as an added bonus, you can peel off the back of the paper and stick them to a wall, notebook or anything else.

This is a fun camera to have at a party or other gathering where people might want to go home with prints or pass them around. Sure, you can always post images from digital cameras or phones to Facebook or email them to friends, but there is still something kind of cool about a hard copy of a picture.

Service bureaus vs. ink jet printing

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 5.36.34 PMSpeaking of hard copy, I sometimes like to print out pictures I take with my digital camera to put on a shelf, mount on a wall or send to friends and family. I have an ink jet printer that does a very nice job when printing pictures from my digital camera or phone but I never use it for that purpose. Instead, I upload my pictures to Walgreens, Costco or one of many online services that do the printing for you. It turns out that these services are less expensive and more reliable than doing it yourself and you don’t have to worry about printer jams. Walgreens usually has my prints ready in less than an hour and I don’t have to spend that hour fiddling with my printer.

If you’re unhappy with the results, most of the services will refund your money. The cost of prints varies from about 12 cents to 29 cents for 4 x 6 and larger prints are quite reasonably priced as well.