Think 'Polaroid', and you think of instant photos, not digital images, despite it being one of the world's first digital camera manufacturers.
Yet as the world swaps pixels for print, the company is making sure it stays relevant by giving us the best of best worlds: the printing cameras that are the bedrock of its long-term success, combined with regular digital features.
You can pick up the latest of its efforts, the Z2300W, for around £180 online.
The Z2300W is smaller than the traditional Land-style Polaroids of old, but it's by no means a compact camera. Building in a printer has bulked it up considerably.
The front is largely featureless, with only the flash and lens disturbing its flat face. The back is home to a 3-inch LCD, and a mysterious button marked 'open'. You might expect this to pop up the flash, but in actual fact it releases the screen lock so that the LCD can swing out on a hinge to reveal the paper tray behind it.
This is where you load your stocks of 3x2-inch Zink printing paper. The Zink name refers to the Zero Ink Printing Technology that underpins the whole process. Each sheet of paper is embedded with crystals of coloured dye underneath a polymer coating. By applying heat to the paper, the camera can activate the crystals, releasing the colour to produce an image that's dry the moment it slips out of the slot on the end of the camera. The results are smudge-proof, waterproof and ready for sticking to any surface you choose, as they have a peel-away sticky back.
That's certainly clever, but it isn't cheap. You get 10 sheets to start you off, after which you can buy supplies in packs of 30 or 50 sheets for £11.99 and £19.99 respectively. That works out at 40p per print, whichever pack you choose, and compares poorly with commercial photo printing services.
Order up to 199 regular prints and they'll cost 12p a pop at Photobox, and be more than twice the size at 6x4.5 inches. Bonusprint's 6x4-inch prints start out more expensive, at 50p for your first frame, but drop to 25p for two to nine prints, and 14p per photo for between 10 and 49, 10p for 50 to 99 and so on. So, 50 shots would cost £6 at Photobox, £5 at Bonusprint and £19.99 using this camera to print them right away.
Why then would you opt for the Zink system? Three reasons: you'll get your picture in about 45 seconds, they're stickers as well as photos, and it's fun.
Specs and features
Fortunately you're not committed to printing every shot as there's a conventional SD/SDHC card slot inside the battery compartment for saving the 10-megapixel shots. There's also 32MB of memory built in, of which 15MB is available for photo storage. That's enough for seven shots.
Options and settings are few and far between. There's a physical three-way mode switch that sets stills or video shooting, or image playback. There's no mode wheel to switch between automatic, aperture and shutter priority, no manual control, and only macro mode as an alternative shooting option. There's no halfway position on the shutter release for fixing the exposure and focus, and no optical zoom -- just the digital equivalent, which crops and enlarges the centre. As with most cameras, this has a detrimental effect on the quality of the image.
There is a scene mode however, with a choice of 21 different settings covering all the regular bases, including portraits, landscapes and fireworks, plus creative simulations like fish eye. There's also an album composition mode that combines three shots into an overlapping arrangement.
The sensitivity range is very narrow, stretching from ISO 100 to just ISO 400. Exposure compensation takes in +/-2.0EV in steps of 1/3EV, and to keep things novice-friendly Polaroid has illustrated the scale using a series of black to white blocks rather than simply numbers.
Minimum focusing distance is a distinctly stand-offish 1m in regular use and 19cm in macro mode.
There are several editing options available in the playback mode, including red eye correction and a dynamic lighting setting that brightens underexposed areas and tones down bleached out highlights. You can also attach voice memos to remind yourself where the shot was taken or what it was.
Shooting stills is a bit of a mixed bag. With no optical zoom to call on you're restricted to just the digital version, and I'd recommend steering clear of that as it significantly impacts the output, as you can see from the sample below. The pulled out section is zoomed to 100 per cent -- actual size -- and you can see how the window and branches have a lo-fi finish.
It reverts to wide angle every time you switch it off and on again, and if you keep it in that position the results are much clearer. The brickwork on the image below is well rendered, right into the corner, and its colours are accurate.