An insight into my experience of shooting with this iconic camera. A serious contender for the one camera challenge!!
First of all, let me say that I am by no means suggesting I know everything about this camera as I have only used it once, but I wanted to give my first impressions as someone who mainly shoots landscapes. I say this because when researching about the camera I noticed a distinct lack of landscape based Polaroid images in comparison to portraits or cityscapes. I half guessed that Polaroids are a little more difficult to get a good landscape images out of or the cameras themselves weren’t the best to use in this scenario. Either way I still fancied giving it a go and seeing what I could get out of one. As a relative ‘newby’ - I could be wrong about this and there are indeed some great Polaroid/instant landscape photographers out there – I will endeavour to find more.
Why the I-1?
I’d been looking at a variety of cameras, particularly the vintage and SX-70, but ended up settling on the I-1 for a few different reasons. The first reason – price. I know this was one of the cameras biggest negatives on release but with the release of the One Step 2 and change to Polaroid Originals the camera had come down to £125. Pretty cheap for quite a feature packed, modern camera.
The second reason I chose the camera was for its accompanying app which allowed full manual control. As someone who spends quite a lot of time double checking exposures and using a spot meter I quite liked the idea I could choose the settings rather than the camera. This worked out quite well on one of my first shots which I will explain a little later.
The final reason I chose it was because I wanted something reliable. I loved the idea of an SX-70 but I kept reading that they could be finicky and a pain to fix and with instant photography not being my main ‘thing’ I didn’t want to be fussing around fixing a camera more than shooting it: especially when the film is dear enough anyway!
I know by shooting with a tripod and using a lightmeter I may go against the grain of what a Polaroid purist is about but I chose to enjoy it this way and it gave me the effect I wanted. I did shoot a handheld image, which was an incredibly easy process and produced a sharper result than I expected.
I charged the camera up the previous night as I knew there was a 2-hour charge time waiting for me. I’ve not used it enough for this to be annoying but from what I hear battery life can be something of a nuisance; I already rinsed half the battery on the first use.
Other than that, everything was a breeze: connecting the camera to the app; loading the film; controlling the exposure and turning off the flash. I was relieved it was simple, as the day I was shooting was cold and I didn’t fancy anything fiddly without gloves on! I have used the camera on a tripod today as I wanted to give it the best opportunity to get good photos; the sky was quite overcast so I knew shutter speeds could be quite slow.
I can’t count how many times I have walked past this spot, but to me it screamed ‘Polaroid!’, so I pre-visualised what I wanted. I metered using my incident meter and went with the closest settings on the app of f/17 and 1/56th shutter. I assumed my highlights would be blown as the ground was noticeably darker and I wasn’t disappointed. For me, this is what Polaroids look like – they aren’t perfect.
I won’t go through each image I took but I did notice the field of view on the camera is surprisingly large and on the shot with the tyre swing I really should have been in closer. This helped with subsequent images where I would be significantly closer than I anticipated. This is not a flaw of the camera but just the sign of using something new. I liked the broad view it gave as it could fit a reasonable viewpoint into each image rather than it being an aggressive crop each time.
The other shot I want to talk about is one that explained a lot about the cameras style of metering and from other landscape Polaroids I’ve seen, why a lot of the images have funky exposures with dark foregrounds.
I knew straight away this would be a stretch for the Polaroid to capture and I assumed the sky would be blown again but I figured that would look kind of cool. I took my incident meter reading and got 0.4” with f/64 (I wanted to smooth the little river a bit). That seemed about right given the film speed so I set about loading that into the app – it really disagreed. Based on the phone camera preview it wanted me to set it at around 1/30th second instead. I realised the metering mode it must use is most likely a centre weighted or general average type meter. I stuck with my gut instinct and went for the slower reading. I’m glad I did as It gave me the detail where I wanted and not just loads of clouds.
Overall I had an absolute blast with this camera and I can’t wait to use it a little more. The viewfinder is quite annoying and feels almost useless as the dot obstructs so much but it’s liveable and my images came out how I imagined they would (framing wise).
The camera is lightweight, compact and I personally love the design as it is a little more modern and quirky. I think I’ll enjoy the unique style and effect Polaroid can give as sometimes landscape images can look a little generic and similar to each other.
Film photographer Russell Jones-Davies is based in the UK. See more of his work on his website, Instagram, and on Facebook.
I can’t quite remember when I got my first Spotmatic, it was a SP1000, screwmount version of a K1000 minus the hot shoe over a decade ago, I have my brother Alex to blame for enabling me. I later picked up an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F from the Henry’s Clearance Centre when they were located on Queen St. in Toronto just west of the flagship store. Much later in 2013 on I grabbed a Spotmatic SP and II off Leica repair tech Dan Goldberg ‘s site when the Canadian dollar was at par.