The Polaroid brand has been through a lot in the past 10 years. After the company announced that it was abandoning its instant film format, Impossible Project resurrected it in 2011 and sold reverse-engineered film alongside the Polaroid Spirit 600 camera at Urban Outfitters. Later in 2017, Impossible Project brought the brand back in the form of “Polaroid Originals” with a camera called the OneStep 2, followed by the OneStep Plus in 2018.

We’ve now come full circle: Polaroid Originals has reclaimed the classic Polaroid brand. And to celebrate, it’s releasing a new $99 camera called the Polaroid Now. Like the OneStep 2 and the OneStep Plus, this model works with I-Type film (the type of film that the Impossible Project reverse-engineered from Polaroid’s factory and continues to make). And if you’re willing to pay a premium, it’ll work with the classic, battery-operated 600 format packs, too.

Unlike the company’s more recent cameras, the Polaroid Now doesn’t fuss with multiple lenses or superfluous connectivity features. Instead, it has an autofocus system that detects the subject, then cleverly slides in a 35mm or 40mm lens based on how far the subject is from the camera. Polaroid claims that, this way, the camera can home in on the correct subject, be it a portrait or a landscape shot.

As you might expect, this camera has a viewfinder to peer through. It also features a more accurate flash than previous Polaroid Classic models. Polaroid says that the camera takes lighting conditions into consideration to adjust the hue of the flash. If you don’t want to use the flash, there’s a button next to the yellow power button that disables it for each shot. For continuous shooting without flash, you just tap that button twice.

In terms of other notable features, the Polaroid Now has a self-timer mode and a double exposure mode. They’re both activated with the same button; you tap it twice to activate double exposure. The camera is rechargeable via a Micro USB port on its side, and the company claims that it can last up to 15 packs of film, each of which contains eight sheets of instant film. To insert a pack, you just open the film door by pressing a button on the side of the camera.

Polaroid lent me a review unit of the Polaroid Now camera, along with two packs of film to shoot with: a color I-Type pack and a black-and-white pack. As simple as this camera is to use, it didn’t play nicely with the shots I wanted to take. Whether I shot in natural light or in my relatively dim basement studio apartment, the prints always came out looking blurry. It was as if the autofocus system just wasn’t working, and whether the flash was on didn’t make a difference in the outcome of the photo.

A few of the photos that I took have that signature warm, nostalgic look I was aiming to capture with Polaroid’s instant film format. But most of them look like a faded, blurry memory (even though I just took the pictures), and the film takes quite a while to process (around 10 to 15 minutes). In Polaroid’s defense, shooting with analog film is something that takes practice, and I don’t have a ton of experience with it. And the costly trial-and-error process is part of what makes it fun and rewarding.

That said, I put it through paces that I’d put any camera through, although since the cost per shot was about $2, I thought twice and thrice before committing to taking a picture. I took shots in low light with and without flash, shots that tried to test the different zoom levels, and tricky compositions, like shooting at night through a chain-link fence. A Polaroid representative shared a few reasons why, perhaps, some of my photos didn’t turn out as I intended them to.

They said that this camera delivers the best results indoors with the flash on; otherwise, the long exposure to compensate for a lack of light can lead to blurry photos if you aren’t perfectly still. As for why the photo of the chain-link fence below has a chemical splotch on the side, it’s because I didn’t pull the camera away from the fence quickly enough, so the photo got slightly bent on its way out. These were beginner mistakes, and I got better with the camera as I took more pictures with it. But after 16 photos, I had burned through about $30 worth of film with only a few I’d consider to be keepers.

Poor results aside, this camera just isn’t as ambitious as the OneStep Plus, the model from 2018. In the current model, Polaroid has stripped away the useful Bluetooth function that let you use your phone as a remote shutter through a companion app. The new Polaroid Now does have a self-timer, but it might not give you enough time to set up the perfect selfie. What’s more, the older model let you handle double exposure through the app, whereas the newer model relies on a series of button presses that aren’t clearly laid out in the instruction manual. I’m not saying that having those features would have led to me taking better pictures, but they certainly would have helped.

If you’re looking for an instant film camera, Polaroid has some work to do if it wants to be among the ones that we recommend. Fujifilm’s Instax lineup of cameras dominate our buying guide on instant film cameras, and some of its models cost far less than the Polaroid Now and seem to produce better-looking photos.

Then again, maybe I just need to practice more.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

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