I’m old enough to remember when instant film cameras – specifically Polaroids – were the camera to bring to festive affairs. Easy to use and small enough to pass around, the click-whir sound of these cameras still hold nostalgic value today, the technological bridge between traditional analog film and the instant gratification of Instagrams. The Impossible Project’s Impossible I-1 instant camera shortens the divide between then and now, connecting a captivating design with the tactile pleasures of instant film with some new technological tricks that no Polaroid could ever do.
The Impossible Project’s new camera system is mostly characterized by its striking industrial design. Avoiding mere copycat nostalgia, the Impossible I-1 is a distinctly modern device, both in profile and detail. An easy to hold matte-black finish covers the near entirety of its pyramid-shaped and sloped body. It’s unlikely anyone will mistake this for your parents’ instant film camera; the industrial design, iconography, and typography all communicate modernity.
Topped with a flip-up viewfinder for aiming and framing photos, the camera’s front is distinguished by a circular array of LED lights – a ring flash for improving exposure and details for portraiture duty. Camera controls have been reduced to a dial control surrounding the shutter (on, off, and Bluetooth connectivity between the camera and compatible app), alongside with two separate switches on each side of the lens, the first for turning the flash on or off, the other a 3-setting exposure compensation control. You can stop looking around…there isn’t a screen, only a small micro-USB port for charging the camera’s non-removable rechargeable batteries.
Used in combination with the I-1 App’s manual mode, the camera takes on a new life beyond the roll-the-dice nature inherent with instant film photography. The app permits users to connect smartphone with camera via Bluetooth, offering remote shutter control, several artistic shooting modes, and most importantly, manual mode where shutter and exposure can be tweaked. The app is also the easiest way to check on battery life and how many exposures are left within the camera body.
In real world use, launching some of the app controls seem extraneous and counter to the memories of what made instant film cameras most enjoyable: the immediacy of point-and-shoot photography. But the option to tweak and customize settings isn’t wholly unwelcome, opening doors for creative applications and results beyond the original capabilities of instant film shooters. The most helpful feature of the bunch is the app’s remote shutter control, inviting the shooter to join in on the photographic festivities for a group photo instead of relying upon arm’s length selfie perspective.
If there’s any argument for a camera like the I-1 beyond the nostalgia factor it’s the fact that instant film cameras emit an alluring reason for everyone to get closer together for a photo, both during and after the press of the shutter to see the slowly developing results.