20 most worthless pieces of junk: #18 -- Polaroid cameras

polaroidAs worthless pieces of junk go, Polaroid cameras are on the pleasant end of the spectrum. Digital cameras have become so ubiquitous that toddlers frequently ask to see the image of themselves on the back of my (film) camera. When I tell them they'll have to wait a few weeks, they look at me confused, and run off for some other instant gratification. What they don't realize is that my generation, too, had its instant gratification, albeit the need to wait a minute or two for the image to appear. Polaroid cameras were digital cameras, before their time.

Sadly, like any technology ahead of its time, Polaroid cameras had a few major flaws. The first was the need for complex, proprietary film that could only be produced by (and purchased from) Polaroid itself. This can be great as a business strategy -- the inkjet printer and razor industries have made enormous profits by selling the "hardware" (printers, razors, cameras) cheap and making the "software" (ink, blades, film) costly. Unfortunately, in the film camera market, it was relatively unpopular; consumers were used to being able to interchange their camera and film brands. But the second was much more bedeviling, and ultimately was the fatal blow: cost.Polaroid film was expensive, and not just to purchase, but also to produce. When another technology came along giving consumers the same (or better) instantaneous image without the accompanying high price -- with digital cameras, one could now see the photo the moment the shutter clicked, and an incremental cost of zero -- eventually, consumers lost interest. Polaroid went bankrupt in 2001; its successor company stopped producing the film in early 2008, rendering the cameras dinosaurs fit mostly for their prescient design.

Artists, however, are the sort who love useless pieces of junk. And here we get the "pleasant" part of the story. Thanks to thousands of Polaroid fans who buy old Polaroid film off eBay and post their work to Polanoid.net or weekly flickr groups, demand hasn't gone away. So a group of entrepreneurs and ex-Polaroid technicians has leased an old Polaroid film factory and partnered with film company Ilford to develop a new instant film compatible with old Polaroid cameras. Polaroid is saved? Well, not quite; instant gratification is saved, and maybe Polaroid cameras aren't so useless after all.
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