Not so long ago, people loved taking lots of photographs. The cameras they used to do so had film inside. When they were finished exposing that film, they had that film developed.
Then a gentleman named Edwin Land developed (pun intended) a type of film that actually created prints as soon as the film left the camera. He called his invention Polaroid. For nearly half a century, Polaroid cameras sold like hotcakes. Same for the film packs.
Then came digital. The rest is history. To say that sales dropped off the deep end is an understatement. Polaroid tried selling digital cameras under its own brand name - but with little success. Last year, things got so bad that Polaroid sold the company and the new owners announced that they were going to stop Polaroid film production completely -- even the super-large format stuff that artists like William Wegman have used.
has cut back film production, too. But
hasn't. The Japanese company not only makes regular film you have to send out to be developed, but they also make instant film -- stuff that develops as soon as it comes out of the camera.
Here's the best part: Not only do they make a new sized film to go in their own, new, instant cameras, but they're also making black-and-white and color film that can be used in a large number of old Polaroid cameras.
Fujifilm calls its new 6.2 by 9.9cm, wide-format film and the cameras that use it "instax." Instax color film comes 10 prints to a package. Those packages sell for as low as $9 apiece on the Web.
The camera Fuji sent me to try is the instax 20. It is a physically large and heavy camera (22 ounces without batteries or strap) with a built-in automatic flash unit (when needed). The 200 runs on four AA batteries. A fresh set of batteries is included in the box. For the record, Fuji also makes a smaller format instant film called "instax mini" along with smaller cameras that use it. I asked to try the larger format.
The instax film pack loads easily. After pressing the shutter button once to get rid of the protective black cardboard, you're all set to take photographs. The instax 200's camera is big but easy to grip, hold and operate. Two user-changeable settings, focal distance (0.9-3 meters/3-10 feet and 3 meters to infinity) and normal/lighten/darken are controlled by buttons on the side. It's basically a point-and-shoot camera. The film pops out on the top once you've taken the picture. You can watch the progression as the picture develops. Color and contrast peak after 60 seconds or so.
The results have been terrific. Rich colors and pretty-sharp images are what came out of the instax 200 when I used it. All in all, I found it a hoot to point, shoot and have a quality print in my hands within a minute or two.
I also got to try Fuji's instant film made for older Polaroid cameras. FP-3000B Professional is super-fast (3,000 ASA) black-and-white instant film that produces 8.5 by 10.8 cm prints in 15 seconds or so. It can be used in any camera that was originally made to use Polaroid 107/667 film. I couldn't resist.
I found myself a Polaroid Big Swinger camera (for B&W photography only) and tried my luck. The camera cost me $15 (with case and instruction book) on an
auction. It arrived in terrific shape. The film can be found for $90 (for a 10 pack) on the Web.
I couldn't wait. I had to shoot outdoors because the little flash bulbs that the Big Swinger camera needs for taking indoor shots haven't been made for decades. Instant developing takes longer in cold weather. I allowed 30 seconds or so when shooting winter scenes.
Overall, the results I got were terrific. The prints have an almost 1950s period look to them, which I love. I almost forgot how much fun it is to make instant photographs and am glad that Fuji is still making instant photography possible. You should try it for yourself and see what I mean.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.