Like many photographers, I have an affinity for Polaroids. Prior to the digital takeover of the world, we all used them on a daily basis to proof our shots before going to film, and there was something about their rendition of color and tone that seduced many of us into using them for personal work. A colleague of mine used to shoot the Polaroid Captiva instant prints for his personal work and they produced some beautiful images in their tiny little built-in frames when in professional hands.
Of course, the death of Polaroid’s instant film at the hand of the digital revolution is well documented. Many a photographer was saddened at this change, myself included. There was something wonderful about holding a one-of-a-kind print in your hand within seconds of taking it. So you can imagine that I was excited at the prospect of the new Polaroid Pogo printer, a tiny portable printer that can produce 2″x3″ prints in seconds directly from a digital camera or compatible bluetooth equipped device.
There are many press-release regurgitations on the web that will spec out this printer for you, so what I’m doing here is relaying my experience with the printer so you’ll have the answers I couldn’t find before making my purchase.
The printer is really tiny, not much bigger than my iPhone, and comes with a battery that will allow you to print when not plugged in to an outlet. It uses Zink paper, in which the color dyes are built-in, meaning no expensive ink cartridges are necessary! The prints are a little bigger than the old Captiva instant film print window, at 2″x3″. A 30 pack of paper cost me around $13, meaning prints run a little over 40 cents each. Images can be sent to the printer via Bluetooth, so no physical connection is necessary, though you can plug in with a mini-usb cable to print directly from a camera equipped for direct printing. The printer itself is very reasonably priced at aroud $80.
The printer itself resembles a mini version of the pop-up Polaroid cameras of the past, a fact that won’t be lost on pros who loved those cameras, and there’s something to be said about seeing the Polaroid logo on an imaging product again.
All this sounds good right? Here are some issues to consider carefully:
You can’t print directly from your computer to this printer. Instead you have to pair with it over bluetooth and send the file that way. This reduces the amount of control you have, for instance the printer crops the image automatically to it’s 2×3 format unless you pre-crop and save the image before sending it. You also may need to resize the image before sending it since sending a full-size high megapixel image over bluetooth takes a while. This uses up more disk space. I had a issue with a photo I edited in Photoshop were it wouldn’t recognize the re-saved image. Using the ‘Save for Web’ dialog seemed to fix the problem. Not being able to print directly to the printer kills a lot of creative manipulation you can do if you’re a more advanced artist. Imagine if you could create a custom profile the Zink paper and be able to control the color rendition through Photoshop for instance.
I also had a problem with the streaking on the images. This wouldn’t be an issue if it only happened occasionally, but it was happening by my third print, and then every 3 prints or so thereafter. Polaroid realizes this is a problem, because in the troubleshooting section of the owners guide they tell you how to solve it. Problem is the solution involves turning the printer off, removing the paper, inserting a piece of paper upside-down which the printer then ejects (cleaning the printing element somehow) and then re-inserting the paper and turning the printer on again. I had to do this approximately every 3 prints, which is inconvenient and time consuming to say the least. You also end up wasting a piece of paper when the streaks occur.
A minor complaint is that the power brick for charging this tiny printer is huge by comparison. 1-1/2 times as thick as the printer and about 75% of its footprint. If you are going to bring the printer with you somewhere, you probably will want to take the power adaptor along in case you use up the battery, but this brick doubles the volume of space you need to carry a printer designed to be easy to take with you. They can miniaturize something as complicated as a desktop printer, but not a simple power adaptor? Ok the price is reasonable so I can accept that, though I wish I had an option to buy a smaller one.
The biggest complaint I have is the prints. Print quality isn’t great, reds come out over-saturated, shadows are muddy and neither of these in a good way like the way instant film would skew colors. It doesn’t help that all the advertisements and even the product packaging show prints with colors this printer isn’t even capable of producing.
The real deal breaker however is the Zink paper. Zink is a spinoff of Polaroid and as mentioned before, the paper contains dyes that are activated by heat to produce colors. The problem is that leaves the printed images very susceptible to heat damage. I put one print in my toaster oven (stay with me here) set to only 150 degrees and it was less than 2 minutes before it was completely ruined. Imagine having a photo album full of memories at the family picnic and leaving it the car in the hot sun while you play frisbee for a few minutes. Will your memories still be there? Doubtful. What about just leaving the album in the hot sun? Sometimes limited quality can be creatively freeing (old Polaroid instant film) but prints that are this fragile are a real problem.
[A side note: the iPhone as a bluetooth device is not a compatible with the Pogo as of this writing, though the iPhone 3.0 software looks like it may solve that issue.]
I was really looking forward to a digital version of instant film that I could use for my personal work, and the form factor of both the Pogo and it’s prints looked very promising, but some amount of longevity is necessary here. Photography is meant to preserve moments, and the Zink technology is a step backward in that respect as anyone who has ever stored a thermal-printed receipt in their glovebox for a couple of days can attest to. Polaroid has done an impressive job of miniaturizing this printer, but the sacrifices you need to make to use it are at odds with the reason most of us take pictures for in the first place.