Think about the last time that you took a picture. It was, more than likely, a few hours ago. Possibly even a few days. Regardless of when you took it, it was probably taken digitally on your smartphone. Digital photography has taken over the world. According to a New York Times report, market research firm InfoTrends claims that there will be over 1.3 trillion photos taken by 2017, with 75% of those photos taken on a smartphone. And the numbers will only go higher in the future. That being said, however, there seems to be a rising trend that could disrupt the world of digital photography: instant photography.
Decades ago, in the 80s and 90s, Polaroid instant cameras were the camera of choice. The Polaroid Integral 600 Series proved particularly popular with its plastic materials and cheaper price, making it much more accessible. The true selling point for these instant cameras was the fact that they could produce your photo almost as soon as you had taken it. With the advent of digital photography and smaller cameras, the choice between purchasing a large, cumbersome camera along with multiple reels of film or a smaller, more pocket-friendly camera with one single SD card, seemed to be a no brainer. And the arrival of the smartphone camera seemed to drive the final nail in the coffin for the instant photography industry. Recent studies and sales figures, however, show that instant photography is very much alive and well.
Fujifilm, for example, has noticed the trend in instant photography, boasting higher sales in their latest line of instant cameras, the Instax camera. Last year, the Instax series sold 5 million units (a 30% increase over 2014). Fujifilm projects sales to be even higher this year, at a projected 6.5 million units. Compare these numbers to Fujifilm’s digital camera series, which only sold 1.4 million last year. Polaroid’s instant cameras have seen a tremendous comeback as well, with its own version of instant cameras and wireless instant printers, bringing the once dead company back to life.
Why the sudden interest in instant photography? Well, industry leaders believe it has to do with both nostalgia and fascination. Polaroid CEO, Scott Hardy, stated that their latest retro devices have been a huge hit with teens who are fascinated by the products. “[Teens] have been born into digital, born into touchscreens and having cameras with you on your phone,” said Hardy. “So to them, to see a single-purpose device designed to print the photograph you just took is magic.” In another report from Marketplace.org, Hardy stated, “These are the Gen-Y and Gen-Z generations that are just infatuated with this retro photographic experience that we are able to provide.”
And this is not a marketing tactic by Polaroid aimed to sell more products; everyday people are noticing this all too real trend as well. The Wall Street Journal writer, Joanna Stern, recently mentioned the growing instant camera obsession, when her millennial sister wanted her bachelorette photos taken with an instant camera. In her article, Stern notes, much like Scott Hardy, that the instant camera trend stems from the “magic” that instant photography creates. “Smartphones have taken away some of the magic of photography,” she says. “We snap, snap, snap rarely going back to look at the shots, let alone print them out.”
But it isn’t just the magic of physical photos. It is also the longevity and the memories created. In a world full of Instagram and Snapchat users, these online only photos are posted for everyone to see, for a few moments, before moving on to the next picture, forgetting all others in the process. With instant photography there is a very real photo that you can hold and marvel at. These pictures can not be filtered, retouched or altered. The photo is truly a snapshot of that moment in time, creating a much deeper connection to it.
Some companies are even attempting to blend both digital and film photography together. Prynt has recently raised $7 million dollars in a Series A round of funding. The Prynt is a printer that can be attached to your smartphone, allowing users to take photos and print them instantly from the device, mixing the accessibility of a smartphone, with the physical photos of an instant film camera. It even features an application that allows users to upload their photos to Prynt’s servers. The Prynt is currently available in select retail stores, as well as online.
With strong instant film camera sales numbers, it is clear that there is a passion for print photography. Artists prefer film photographs for their physical feel and imperfections, teenagers are mystified by the antiquated technology and everyone else just seems to appreciate the nostalgia and “coziness” of instant photography. Whatever the reason for the interest, companies like Polaroid, Fujifilm and Prynt will continue to cater to this growing demographic, and continue to give digital photography a run for its money.