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Polaroid Now Plus review: An analog instant camera bursting with creative tools for $150

It's just a point-and-shoot, but its mobile app and lens filters open up a world of experimentation.

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Josh Goldman/CNET

Although traditional film cameras are long dead to most people and even the DSLR is fading away, instant film cameras like Fujifilm's Instax line and Polaroid's Now and OneStep Plus continue to be popular. But even an analog instant camera can benefit from some digital assistance. 

The $150 Polaroid Now Plus (£140; AU$330) takes the original Now camera and adds Bluetooth for connecting to your phone so you can use an app for more control over your final results. Like the Now, the Now Plus has an autofocus lens that will switch for portrait or distance photos; a dynamic flash that adjusts for lighting conditions, for better low-light results; and an LED counter on the back so you can see how many shots are left in the eight-print packs of the company's i-Type film ($16 a pack). The built-in rechargeable battery lasts for up to 15 packs of film and charges via a Micro-USB port on the right side.

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A readout on back lets you know how many shots remain in each pack of eight exposures. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

Connecting to its Bluetooth opens up a lot more opportunities to experiment. Turn on the camera and open the app and your phone instantly connects. You can use the app as a remote shutter release, turn on a self-timer, shoot double exposures, adjust the aperture (f11-f64) or go full manual to control aperture and shutter (1/60th to 30 seconds or bulb). 

There's also a Tripod mode to use with the camera's tripod mount (something missing from the Polaroid Now) that estimates how long the exposure needs to be. A Portrait mode lets you know if you're too close or too far from your subject. A light painting mode rounds out the options. It lets you start an exposure, turn on your phone's flashlight and then stop the exposure when you're done painting. 

Even without the app, you can access a few creative options using the Plus button on front. A single press activates the self-timer while a double press sets it for double exposures. Also, using the app, you can create a custom shortcut for the button. For example, in Manual mode, I selected an aperture, shutter speed and lens focus range. Once I had it set in the app, you simply tap a Plus icon at the top of the screen and it will store to the camera. Then you only need to long-press the Plus button on the camera to switch to those custom settings. A light just above the Plus button lets you know what mode you're in.  

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The app's controls are fairly straightforward.

Josh Goldman/CNET

And if the app settings aren't enough for you play with out of the box, the Now Plus also comes with a set of push-on lens filters. Along with starburst and red vignette filters you get orange, blue and yellow filters. A lens cap and a case to store it and the filters in is included, too. 

The camera is a lot of fun to experiment with, but that fun is not cheap. The camera is reasonably priced for what you're getting. It's the film costs that hit your wallet hard at essentially $2 a shot. You can bring the cost down some by buying three packs for $15 each ($45 total) or five packs for $13 each (roughly $1.63 per photo). That can add up fast when you're experimenting with exposures, lighting and filters. 

As for the actual photo quality, it's good but subjects are soft and colors are more muted than vivid. But those characteristics are what give its photos that nostalgic, dreamy Polaroid look. They also take about 15 minutes to develop and it needs to be done in the dark; a tongue covers each photo to protect it from the light as it comes out of the camera. 

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The included filters give you a pop of color or add starbursts to bright lights.

Josh Goldman/CNET

The autofocus isn't the most precise but there is an audible click when the camera switches between its two focal lengths. You can half-press the shutter release to focus, so before I shoot a portrait or anything else in close-up, I focus on something distant and then focus on my subject and listen for the autofocus to switch the lens. It's not ideal, but it does cut down on the background being in focus instead of my subject. 

If you're looking for a more casual point-and-shoot instant film camera, I would recommend a Fujifilm Instax model like the Square SQ1. The photos aren't as large, but the film is less expensive and the shots look sharper. For those who love the larger Polaroid film size, though, the Polaroid Now Plus can certainly be used as simple point-and-shoot. But with its lens filters, tripod mount and mobile app, you've got a lot more creative tools out of the box. If you want to experiment with the format, it's an easy way to do it. Just be prepared for the cost of film.