Product Promotion Network

Impossible I-1 review: a slick new toy for the Polaroid faithful

(Amelia Krales)

The Impossible Project was created in 2008 in order to preserve Polaroid s instant film process after Polaroid revealed that it would be killing it off, and in the past few years at least, it s a bet that worked. The project has kept a tiny part of the photography market alive with the supplies that are necessary to continue shooting this particular brand of instant film.

The company then spent a few years making and peddling something called Instant Lab, a pseudo-camera that used your smartphone to expose Polaroid 600 instant film, and it also helped revive limited runs of a few of Polaroid s most iconic cameras. But the Impossible I-12, announced in April, is really the Impossible Project s first foray into making a new camera that uses the Polaroid 600 format that the company resurrected. And of course, it s a Polaroid-style camera that was made in 2016, so it s appropriately equipped with smartphone connectivity. After spending some time with it, it s clear that the ?299 I-1 is a camera made for the same niche that the Impossible Project was created to serve. It s not going to be the camera that brings many new shooters into the instant film fold, but that s not what it s meant to be in the first place. It s for photographers who want to keep shooting on a type of film that is teetering on extinction and, more specifically, the ones who are sick of scouring eBay for refurbished Polaroid cameras. Yes, it s been dressed up with an internal battery, Bluetooth, and a companion app things that traditionalists usually loathe to embrace. But those additions don t get in the way. In fact they enhance the experience of what is, for better or worse, still very much a Polaroid camera.

Impossible I-1 Review: A Slick New Toy For The Polaroid Faithful

The most striking thing about the I-1 is its look and feel. It s compact, it s light, and it is gorgeous. The matte-black finish gives it the high-touch look of an Apple product, and it also makes it really comfortable to hold. My favorite part of the slick design might be the camera s pop-up viewfinder, even though I never used it much. It snaps into the top of the camera satisfyingly with three small, strong magnets. (One thing that could be changed, though, is the on / off switch, which appears in the form of a ring around the shutter, and is far too easy to accidentally switch on.)

Other instant cameras on the market, like Fujifilm s popular Instax series3, have the most basic controls your only option is typically an indoor or outdoor setting, maybe a flash if you re lucky. And the I-1 can operate in this straightforward manner if you want it to. There s a three-step switch on the right side of the lens that lets you under or overexpose your photo (or keep it neutral), and a switch for the flash on the opposite side. The shutter sits on the right side of the camera and has two stages: half-press to focus and full-press to shoot. It s a fairly simple camera to pick up and figure out, and this could be your entire experience with the I-1, if you like.

Impossible I-1 Review: A Slick New Toy For The Polaroid FaithfulImpossible I-1 Review: A Slick New Toy For The Polaroid Faithful

But the reason people will want to spend ?299 on the I-1 is what lies beneath that surface layer of interaction. While other mashups of old and new often feel forced like the semi-digital 8mm film camera that Kodak announced at CES this past year4 the Impossible Project officiated this marriage smartly. There’s not so many connected features that the I-1 feels like a digital camera, but the new stuff that is there changes the experience for the better.

Inside the camera is a Bluetooth radio that allows the camera to pair to your phone, letting you to fiddle with the manual controls in a way that s not previously been possible with instant film cameras. In fact, aside from loading the film cartridges, the app is capable enough that you could get by never touching the I-1 s physical controls.

The I-1 has a beautiful, striking design

In the app which is iPhone only for now, an Android version is slated for later this year you can pick from a wide range of apertures (f10 to f64) and turn the exposure time up all the way to 30 seconds. There are modes that let you use your phone as a remote trigger, you can perform double exposures, set a timer, and do long-exposure light painting.

I m not a Polaroid buff, but going in, I thought this deep level of control would sell me on the I-1. While I like the point-and-shoot nature of some other instant cameras, their basic settings (apertures typically locked to f8 or f11, for example) require excellent lighting conditions. I like to tinker and experiment when I shoot on digital cameras, so I ve always craved more control when I ve picked up something like the Fujifilm Instax Wide.

So for a while, the I-1 scratched that itch. I shot from the hip, but I also used the app to plan out more complicated shots. For example, I was able to set the camera up on a bar, rack the shutter time up to 15 seconds, and take a long exposure from a few stools away. That s not some sort of revolutionary photographic concept you can do that with any digital camera and even your phone but there was an inherent thrill about finally being able to do it with a camera that immediately produces a physical version of the picture you just took.

Impossible I-1 Review: A Slick New Toy For The Polaroid Faithful

That was the most fun I had with the I-1. But the total experience was nagged by too many little issues, some which are endemic to instant film, but all of which were amplified by the constant ring of a cash register in the back of my mind that kept reminding me how expensive it is to shoot in this format.

For one, the camera eschews the typical focus method found on cheaper instant cameras physical buttons or knobs with icons of a human, a tree, or a row of trees to represent subjects that are increasingly far away. Instead, the I-1 implores you to use the half-press shutter autofocus. You can hear (and feel) the parts moving when you do this, and most of my photos looked approximately in focus, but the results never inspired confidence.

The shooting experience isn’t perfect

Nailing the exposure was similarly wonky. The camera is supposed to automatically expose the photo if you re just running and gunning, and you can toggle through the three exposure settings on the lens to compensate. The app also has an exposure tool in manual mode. But my results were all over the map, no matter which method I used to calculate exposure. I d flip the switch to try to underexpose a bright scene of buildings and sky and still wind up with a washed-out image. And I had even less luck with the long exposure images: many of them turned out woefully dark, even though the app was telling me that there was more than enough light for a 10-, 15-, or 30-second exposure. The I-1 may have a fancy coat of paint and some modern connectivity, but under the hood, it s still very much an instant camera in the Polaroid style.

These problems felt abnormally hard to solve because of the 20 30 minute processing time for each photo. Since Impossible Project had to recreate Polaroid s chemical processes from scratch, the company decided to change a few steps to make the film a bit more environmentally friendly. The end result, though, is that the film is less stable, and you can get through an entire episode of Parks & Recreation before you know whether you got the exposure or focus right, or if you even framed up the shot correctly. What s worse, even when I could nail the focus and exposure, a handful of of prints showed cracking along the edges.

Another problem is the way the I-1 communicates information to the user. There are eight lights that make up the ring flash around the lens, and they re supposed to be able to communicate the number of photos remaining. The camera doesn t magically count the photos left in each cartridge it just illuminates all eight lights when you load a new pack of film and counts down from there. For reasons beyond me, this process got disrupted a few times while I was using the I-1, and so I wound up exposing film because I removed a cartridge too soon.

Impossible I-1 Review: A Slick New Toy For The Polaroid Faithful

With enough time, you could probably zero in on these problems; learning how to compensate for things like inconsistent focusing, or a light meter s tendency to lean one way or another, is often part of the deal when it comes to getting comfortable with cameras. I had just three packs of film to play around with, though, so I often felt like I was shooting a bit blind.

That s a real problem for casual photographers who might lust for the I-1. You ll have to spend a lot of time using the I-1 to get the most out of it, which is fine, as long as you re okay knowing that experimentation won t come cheap. The camera starts at ?300, the compatible film packs run ?20 or more, and you only get eight shots per pack. That s about ?2.50 per exposure, and I was failing at a rate of about one in three shots in my brief time using it.

If you re new to instant film, or you just like the aesthetic of it, you re probably better off going the cheaper, more accessible route. You ll probably have less control over the camera, but you ll be able to acquaint yourself with the format and produce more consistent results without burning through a paycheck.

But if you re new to instant film then the Impossible I-1 isn t for you, anyway. More than anything, it’s a new toy for photographers who have spent months or years shooting on this type of film, because they’re the ones who are most familiar with the inherent pains of being a Polaroid shooter, and the joy that comes from getting it right.

Photography by Amelia Krales

The Breakdown

More times than not, the Verge score is based on the average of the subscores below. However, since this is a non-weighted average, we reserve the right to tweak the overall score if we feel it doesn’t reflect our overall assessment and price of the product. Read more about how we test and rate products5.

  • Hardware / design 9
  • Image quality 7
  • Interface / controls 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6

Sphero s Spark+ can swim, paint, and teach kids to code

Alienware s VR backpack concept is surprisingly comfortable

Biski, the motorcycle jet ski

Smart Boy turns your smartphone into a working Game Boy

Six ways Trump s energy plan just doesn t hold up

See more videos6

%= data.comments.length % COMMENT%= data.comments.length > 1 ? “S” : “” %

% } %


  1. ^ in order to preserve Polaroid s instant film process (
  2. ^ the Impossible I-1 (
  3. ^ Fujifilm s popular Instax series (
  4. ^ Kodak announced at CES this past year (
  5. ^ how we test and rate products (
  6. ^ See more videos (

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *