Suddenly, Instant Photos Are Everywhere

A guide to the rebirth of Polaroids and their new competitors


Slide Show: New Developments in Instant Photography

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Polaroid PoGo camera. The ZINK tech is also built into cameras in an echo of the old Polaroid models. A current Polaroid camera uses the 2-by-3-inch, first-generation ZINK paper. Selling for about $200, it's a stripped-down, point-and shoot digital camera that captures 5-megapixel images. A new model coming later this year will have more features, capture 12 megapixels, and produce the second-generation, 3-by-4-inch prints. 

[As with other digital cameras, the PoGo's images can also be shared online via these sites.] 

Pandigital printer. Jumping on the ZINK bandwagon, Pandigital is selling a small printer that produces 4-by-6-inch prints. The printer has a slot for memory cards and a small liquid crystal display (LCD) for previewing shots. It's remarkably simple to set up and use, keeping the emphasis on instant and simplicity. It can print four wallet-size photos on one 4-by-6-inch sheet and is small enough to easily carry, though it needs an electrical outlet to operate. The printer costs about $130 online, and prints run about 40 cents each. 

PlanOn PrintStik. The ZINK film uses a heating process that's related to the thermal printers found at cash registers and gas pumps. A similar tech is behind this portable instant printer from PlanOn called the PrintStik. Aimed more at traveling professionals, the printer runs from a rechargeable battery and is only an inch or two wide and about 11 inches long, or wide enough to print a full document page. The thermal prints are monochrome only and can be produced from Windows computers and BlackBerry phones. Models start at about $150, and supplies cost about 20 cents a page and up. 

Fujifilm Instax cameras. Fujifilm targeted U.S. consumers last fall with smaller versions of its Instax analog cameras. The Instax Mini 7S is a point-and-shoot model that produces 2-by-2.5-inch prints. The new Mini 25 will hit the U.S. market later this year with added features. The bulkier Instax 210 is aimed at professionals, such as real estate agents and insurance adjusters, and produces 4-by-5-inch prints. The Mini 210 and 7S both sell for about $75, and the photos they produce are better than ZINK prints and perhaps even better than original Polaroids. But they are expensive, typically costing $1 or more each. 

Canon Selphy CP790. The best "instant" photos still come from more conventional printers, usually inkjets with clumsy cartridges and prints that take some time to dry. Canon targets the portable market with dye-sublimation printers, which produce top-notch prints from simple cassettes that hold a printing ribbon. The prints come out ready to be handled with a protective coating that also resists fading. The cute-looking Selphy CP790 can run off an optional battery pack and can print wirelessly from phones with its optional Bluetooth adapter. The printer itself costs about $160, and the 4-by-6-inch prints run about 30 cents each.