When Polaroid released the OneStep camera in 1977, the company described it as the “simplest camera in the world.” It had a fixed-focus lens and automatic roller mechanism that spit out film that developed in minutes. The OneStep was certainly simpler—and cheaper—than the SX-70, a foldable, leather-bound instant film camera that Polaroid released five years prior with a $180 price tag (just over $1,000 in today’s money).
The OneStep, which sold for just $40, was the company’s first true point-and-shoot camera; a one-button gadget that even the most stubborn Luddite could figure out. It was designed to be durable, cheap, and mass manufacturable. As a result, it became one of the company’s bestselling cameras ever.
Even after Polaroid shuttered its instant film business in 2007 and stopped producing the OneStep and its various progeny, it remained one of Polaroid’s most iconic products. “The design was absolutely legendary,” says Oskar Smolokowski, former CEO of the Impossible Project, which reproduced Polaroid film and designed the I-1 instant camera.
Today, Smolokowski has a new title—CEO of Polaroid Originals—and a new camera to show off: a reboot of the OneStep called the OneStep 2.
The OneStep 2 is the first camera from Polaroid Originals, a new brand under the Polaroid umbrella dedicated to revamping the company’s classic cameras for the digital age. Earlier this year, the holding group that owns Impossible Project (headed by Smolokowski’s father, Wiaczeslaw Smolokowski) acquired Polaroid’s brand and intellectual property, making it the leading shareholder of both photography companies. Polaroid Originals is separate from Impossible Project, which will eventually be phased out as Smolokowski focuses on the new brand.
The $99 OneStep 2 takes after the original in plenty of ways. It has a compact, molded plastic body available in either black or white. The viewfinder is tucked into the left-hand corner just above the exposure knob; the red shutter button is on the right. A redesigned rainbow logo runs across the bottom of the camera, paying homage to the original’s striped decal.
There are some major differences too. The updated OneStep has automatic flash built in, which makes it easier to take photos at night. There’s a 10-second self timer and a USB-charged battery that Polaroid says lasts for 60 days. At the top of the camera, a row of glowing LEDs show how much film is left out of an 8-pack. The film itself, a continuation of Impossible Project’s work, is supposed to develop the first images in two minutes; a crisp, saturated photograph develops in 15. But the most important change is the aspherical polycarbonate “selfie” lens, which can take sharp photos as close as two-feet away, compared to the original which need at least four feet.
Despite the modernizations, the OneStep 2 is still distinctly more analog than the Impossible Project’s I-1, which had a manual focus and used an app to create Instagram-like filters. The I-1 aimed to reinvent instant photography for the iPhone age, but mastering the manual settings and phone-connected app proved tricky for people who expected the point-and-shoot ease of instant photography. “Impossible was about experimentation,” Smolokowski says. “As cool as the features were, you really needed to know your stuff to get good results out of it.”
With the OneStep 2, Smolokowski decided to improve upon an already-loved camera taking experience; focusing instead on improving the film and the guts of the camera, while keeping the interaction basically the same. “You pick it up and take a photo with it,” he says. “A huge focus for us was, how do you get someone who only knows how to shoot with an iPhone to be able to get at least seven, ideally eight, shots straight out of the box without knowing much?” The answer to that, it seems, is to design an old-school camera, only better.