Photos are ubiquitous today. It used to be you needed to go to a photographer to get a good picture, but now taking pictures from a smartphone is easy, and we photograph everything from our milestones to our meals, and everything in between.
But how often do you get time to enjoy your photos? When was the last time you looked at the pictures of your last vacation trip? Usually, those pictures serve no other purpose than to eat your phone’s memory. Do you ever print them so you can see them every day?
Polaroid has come up with a way they hope will entice you to print and share more photos. It’s a smart gadget called Polaroid Lab that will turn your digital photos into real Polaroid pictures.
What is Polaroid Lab?
The Lab is what Polaroid calls a ‘private desktop darkroom’.
The idea behind Polaroid Lab is simple: take the digital photos from your phone and turn them into tangible Polaroid pictures. How you do it is a bit odd, but the overall effect is designed to use digital technology to create retro analog photography.
You might think this machine is merely a printer, but what it actually is, is a unique photo transfer machine that captures and scans the photos off your phone’s screen and turns them into legitimate Polaroid photos. There’s no wireless connection between your phone and the Lab; it needs to be in physical contact with the Lab for it to work.
The Polaroid Lab uses a 3-lens system to project the screen image from your phone, exposing it onto authentic, vintage-style Polaroid film. A unique chemical process then develops the image into a Polaroid picture.
Setting up Polaroid Lab
Currently Polaroid lab only works with two types of Polaroid film; Polaroid I type, and Polaroid 600 type film.
You can pick up the film anywhere you would buy film or paper, generally speaking. It comes in small packages of eight sheets. Surprisingly, this film is best stored in the refrigerator, just like the advice they used to give to vintage photographers back in the day. And in case you are wondering, the new I type film is not compatible with the vintage Polaroid cameras.
Get Polaroid Originals app for Lab
Before you get started, charge the camera fully then download the Polaroid Originals app. This device only works with this app.
Because this device prints photos from your phone screen, it works best if you remove any screen protectors or other films on the screen. Cracks and scratches on the screen may also influence your picture quality.
To get started, remove the cover from the platform and turn the Polaroid lab on by pressing the platform release button on the right side of the lab. The phone platform will automatically lift into the ready position.
You will also need to load the film if you have not done so already.
Pull down on the film door underneath the Lab to open it. Remove the film from its foil packaging and insert the film pack into with the dark side cover facing up. You’ll need to push it in until it kind of clicks, though for me this felt more like I was crushing it. As soon as I closed the door, the machine spit out the cover sheet rather quickly. It will come out under a strange black plastic sheet and you’ve got to make damn sure not to pull that black cover sheet off, as it’s actually part of the camera.
Now head to the Polaroid originals app and tap on the Polaroid Lab option. Follow the instructions on the app to select the picture that you would like to use. Wider photos just don’t work and it seems like there’s no way to crop the photos, so choose wisely. Square photos work best.
Make sure to turn your phone’s brightness up before getting started. If you are an iPhone user, then turn the True Tone off
You’ll then place your phone on the Polaroid lab platform with the screen facing down. Make sure your phone is aligned lengthwise and the top of your phone is facing the top of the platform.
The instructions insist you remove any type of case from the phone. Naturally I ignored this the first time, because I thought the ultra-thin, slim clear case I had on my iPhone 11 wouldn’t be a hindrance. But after trying to get the photo to print a few times and nothing happened, I checked the troubleshooting guide. Since it seems like the case was the only impediment, I removed it and sure enough the photo was ready to print.
You’ll try to align the photo on screen with the opening in the top of the Lab. The lights on the front will light up and you’ll hear a chime when successful. When you do, hit the big red print button.
The photos print out under what’s called a film shield, which is kind of like a weird sheet of black plastic that I guess is supposed to protect the film while it’s in its infancy. You’ll probably try to pull this right off when you load the film for the first time, so, you know, don’t do that.
Once the photo is ready, pull it out, and put it somewhere face down and allow it time to develop. The film takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to develop.
Why the Polaroid Lab method?
The big question I had about this device is, why? If you’ve seen stuff about other instant photo printers, you may know you can just use an app and print your photos directly to the printer. No need to fuss with cases, covers, lenses and phone screens. The Polaroid Lab actually seems to be making printing out a photo more complicated.
I guess the answer to ‘why’ is that some folks really like that vintage Polaroid quality, and you can’t get it quite the same way without having something to expose. I think Polaroid is banking on millennials knowing a lot more about original Polaroid film technology and wanting to re-create that. I feel like they’ll just find the process lengthy, involved and unnecessarily cumbersome.
What is a Polaroid?
Some of you out there maybe wondering what a Polaroid is, exactly? Great question. Polaroid technology has been around since?? It was a very unique style of printing film, and capturing it using a special analogue camera. With Polaroids, you would take a picture with the camera, and a few seconds later a photograph would spit out of the side or bottom of the camera. The photograph we printed on special Polaroid film which had a white paper edge that has, and still is to this day, very distinctive.
Polaroid has been updating its technology to work with the devices and gadgets of today, giving you digital convenience, with that vintage analogue look.
Polaroid Lab photo quality
What do the photos look like? I got both good and not great results. The first couple photos I printed were great; just like vintage Polaroids, with their colourwash haze, papery white borders and the square shape that was around way before Instagram.
The next couple were streaky and hazy, and it seemed like the film was almost scratched somehow. When it came to the black and white film, mine had blemishes on the corners of most of the photos like the film was damaged, and the effect was kind of harsh and stark, not artsy and moody.
I’d say I got some good photos out of the Lab and some not so good ones.
These aren’t really photos you can frame, so what’s the use case?
Use cases – who is Polaroid Lab for?
These photos are kind of novelty pics. The kind of thing you pin to a bulletin board, or add to a collage. They’re cute and kitschy, but are they practical? I feel like these are for someone who’s trying to do something more artsy with their photos. They wouldn’t really fit in a photo frame, and in the past when I’ve put Polaroids in a frame, they end up stuck to the glass.
Features: Add AI effects
With the Polaroid Originals app, you can bring static pictures to life. The app can add augmented reality (AR) features to your pictures. You choose a photo, then in the Polaroid app, choose a video you’d like to imbed in it (and you can make the video public or private). When the photo is exposed, there’s a barcode imbedded onto the photo, and when you use the Polaroid AR viewer inside the Polaroid app and hold it over the photo, you can see the video. That’s kind of neat.
Except when I tried to do this I’d say it only worked about one in three or four times. With the price of the film, that’s an expensive glitch to try to re-print.
Overall review of Polaroid Lab desktop darkroom
I have mixed feelings about this device. On one hand I really like Polaroid film format, but I feel like this device unnecessarily complicates the printing process. While I had some good photos print, I also had some duds.
I think the AR abilities are neat, but the process seems flawed. Plus, this device is expensive and it’s not very versatile, in that it can only be used one way; you can’t also print wirelessly. It sells for about $169CAD while a pack of film paper sets you back an astonishing $25 for 8 sheets, or just over $3 per photo! You can get it from Polaroid’s website.
In short while I get the nostalgia, I don’t know if this device is the best way to get it, particularly when you can get those same Polaroid-style photos from other printers.