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Throwback Products We Love: Polaroid and 35mm Cameras


Too-generic digital photography has us longing for the days when film, speed and light mattered.

In technology wars, the modern, cutting edge product will always mop the floor with its passé predecessor. New equals improved and consumers are all too eager to get "out with the old" equipment for that superior piece of innovation. The photography battlefield was no exception, where silver-based imaging suffered a crushing defeat against its new digital rival.

Traditional analog cameras didn't stand a fighting chance. Aside from the expert photographer who may get better results on film, the vast majority of camera operators are amateurs who relished the opportunity to have a digital camera do the work for them. With automatic focus, exposure control and a number of dummy-proof features, the camera did everything aside from pointing and clicking. The expense of film and processing was completely eliminated as was the capriciousness of the end result. Gone were the days of being stuck with envelope after envelope of blurry, red-eyed pictures. If a digital picture wasn't up to scratch, we could just press "delete." High speed internet allowed uploads in, well, a flash, and computers with terabytes of storage meant no more photo albums.

By 2003, digital had outsold its film counterpart in both the professional and consumer marketplaces. Shortly thereafter, Kodak (EK) ceased production of its APS and reloadable 35MM film cameras in North America and Western Europe and Nikon discontinued all but its highest and lowest end models. Canon (CAJ) held out a little while longer (but now its current camera lineup is all digital), and troubled Polaroid withdrew the iconic instant camera, its former cash cow with about 1 billion sold, from its roster of products. The global market for digital photography technology was worth $155 billion in 2008 and sales are expected to swell to over $200 billion by 2013. The analog era is over. The future is digital. Right?

Not according to the Impossible Project, a collective of former Polaroid employees that bought the film company's closed plant in the Netherlands in order to save instant-film from certain extinction. "More and more people are rediscovering the fascination of Polaroid," Impossible's co-founder Florian Kaps, an Austrian entrepreneur, told Time magazine. "They are seeking the analog adventure. Just opening a film packet - the smell alone has something sensual to it. And the pictures have a certain worth, unlike digital images, where one takes 10,000 pictures of the same event."

This past March, the Impossible Project released a brand new line of black-and-white film compatible with vintage SX-70 and Polaroid 600 cameras, with color on the way. The nostalgia way paved, Polaroid hopped on the retro bandwagon and got to work on redesigned versions of the classic PIC 1000 camera which was originally slated for retail by 2010. Fujifilm, on the other hand, capitalized early on our fondness for photos of yesteryear with a few models in the Instax product line that instantly spit out those beloved white-bordered snaps.

Fringe photogs are eschewing the crisp, glossy look of digital imaging for the washed out, dreamy pictures that captured the moments their childhoods. Catering to this sentimental niche are mainstream retailers like West Elm (WSM) and Urban Outfitters (URBN) who are selling modern recreations of the cheap (but not inexpensive) plastic molded classics like the Holga, Diana and Lomography cameras. Anachronism be damned, we'll document the first drive in our high tech 2011 Toyota (TM) Prius in a light-leaked, low-quality vignette.

Smartphone camera apps may be the best of both worlds of photography by imbuing digital pictures with analog effects. The Hipstamatic for Apple's (AAPL) iPhone replicates the grainy, lo-fi imagery of the 1982 cult favorite, the Hipstamatic 100 camera complete with charming physical distortions. Meanwhile, Android (GOOG) users are snapping lomo-esque pictures of their cats with Retro Camera and FxCamera.

But if picture enthusiasts really want to get old school, then they should break out the acrylics.
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