Gather ‘round, Zoomers—and put down your phones, for fuck’s sake. I’m here to tell you that while the indie sleaze revival may be manufactured by online trendlords, the real indie sleaze era—aka that glorious post-9/11, pre-Instagram time when late-night partying was ultra-decadent, indie rock reigned supreme, and the recession made us all nihilists—was not. If you’re a Zoomer who was still eating crayons during that time period, I regret to inform you that partying in the 2004-2014 era really was that indescribably fun, but it’s the truth. [Millennial cracks knuckles.]
Yes, we were chugging Sparks and Four Loko, wearing giant owl necklaces with chains so long that they touched our belly buttons, looking like we fell off the back of a Goodwill donations truck, and making out with strangers at Deerhunter shows. We desperately needed to trim our bangs, and our legs were covered in bruises from either that warehouse party the other night or the spill we took when we crashed our fixies on the way home from it. (On the flip side, none of us had a decent career—let alone one with a livable salary—and we were sharing houses in blighted neighborhoods with seven other people and entirely subsiding off bad veggie dogs, drugs, and stolen American Apparel underwear.) What a time to be alive!
Best of all, we were truly uninhibited (see an artifact from 2008 above), because what happened at 2:21 a.m. on Thursday night stayed in the bowels of our analog cameras, shitty digital point-and-shoots, and perhaps most of all, our Polaroids. For the young’uns, it might be hard to remember or imagine a time when you were never under threat of having your blacked-out dancing or street vomiting broadcast on the internet to all your acquaintances (and strangers beyond), but that was very much the case pre-Instagram. It wasn’t until 2016 that Instagram launched stories or changed its feed from reverse-chronological to algorithmic, and before that, photos of parties, friends, and lovers were reserved for your chosen audience—or plastered on your Polaroid wall. I’ve been a lifelong Polaroid fan, and between 2005 and 2015 alone, I took thousands of Polaroids using a variety of cameras from the Spectra to the SLR 680, and I was so embedded in Polaroid culture at one point circa 2007 that I was making friends from online forums about instant photography.
Polaroid cameras ruled the indie sleaze scene, but, of course, were popular for decades before that. They’ve always been an intimate, artistic, and wonderfully unpredictable way of documenting life—or nightlife—which is why everyone from Ansel Adams to Andy Warhol fucked heavy with them. But with waning demand, Polaroid discontinued its instant film products in 2008, and when Instagram came along a few years later, its faux filters and ease of use came for their throne as the best way to document and preserve photo-worthy moments. Brands including Fujifilm (which saw decent pickup of its pretty-good Instax cameras), Lomography, and the Impossible Project tried to replicate the success of Polaroid and amateur analog photography, but nothing quite hit. (Weirdly, disposable cameras not only retained popularity, but saw a resurgence and a variety of new models.)
I had the opportunity to take one for a test run these past few weeks, and it’s taken me on a serious walk down memory lane. Its spontaneity, its quirks, and its hazy, ephemeral images are the antithesis of the hyper-HD, Facetuned version of “photography” that cell phone cameras and AR filters have made us collectively accustomed to over time. Here’s how it went.
OK, so I knew this camera would be small, but y’all, it is TINY!!! Have a look at how it fits into my already very small hand:
The box it comes in is beautiful, and loaded with accessories, including two packs of film and a carrying strap.
After giving it a twirl, I found that despite its miniscule size, it actually has a few very helpful features, including a built-in, forward-facing mirror for selfies and a flash-charging indicator. I know from experience with the ultra-amateur Polaroid cameras—i.e. not the higher-end vintage point-and-shoot models such as the Spectra, SX-70, and SLR 680, which used sonar technology for super-crisp images—that unless you’re in ultra-bright light, the flash is not just a must for any kind of definition in photos; it’s also the ticket for that late-night feel that Polaroids do best.
How it performs
The film for the Polaroid Go is, obviously, very small, because it needs to fit in this very small camera! The image quality is what you’d expect from any instant film designed for a throw-in-your-bag camera model; it will encapsulate your memory in a small and shiny photo that you’ll display on a desk or a fridge, gift to your portrait subject, or keep in a drawer and sigh at in the future when thinking about how hot your friends looked. Make no mistake—this camera is not made for any level of professional-grade photography, but no one is under that impression.
One thing I should note is that compared to pre-discontinuation Polaroid film, these images seem to take much longer to develop. Photos from old-school 600 film were fully saturated and defined in about five minutes; expect more like 15 for these photos to reach their final form.
I threw the camera in my bag and took it to a dive bar and goth show I went to later that night, and every time I whipped it out, it elicited oohs and aahs from everyone in my orbit, from my drinking buds to the door guy at the venue. (“Wow, it feels so good to see someone using one of those things,” the door guy said. “I thought they were gone forever. That brings back good memories.” Folks, I wanted to cry.)
Better yet, when I did take photos of my friends with the Polaroid Go, they smiled. There were no cool-guy poses, no requests for me to hold on a minute so everyone could put on their sultry Zoolander faces. It was a reminder that once upon a time, we took photos for ourselves and our loved ones, not for the consumption of the internet. (I do understand the irony that here I am, sharing these photos on the internet for a product review—but this is something I’m genuinely passionate about. And trust me, I have many Polaroids that will never see the light of day.)
Sometimes, whilst scrolling through my meticulously curated Instagram feed full of “casual” candids taken in Santorini or thirst traps with “who, me?” captions, I’m just so tired of this aesthetic-driven existence that we’ve all been enslaved in by the algo. But when I use analog cameras, that feeling fades away. As I snapped my friends with the Polaroid Go, I immediately found that the joy of taking Polaroids bubbled back up from within me.
At $100, it’s not a cheap toy—but these days, analog film is expensive to get processed, so one could think of it as making a small investment in a reusable camera (even disposables can be pricey these days) with no need to drop it off at a lab or pharmacy to get your pictures back.
The smallest Polaroid camera actually isn’t the Polaroid Go
Oddly, even though it’s the size of a pain au chocolat, this is actually not the smallest Polaroid camera I’ve ever used—that honor goes to the long-discontinued i-Zone, a weird, oblong instant camera that could only come out of the delightfully, totally impractical design sensibilities of the Y2K era.
For some reason, even though its quality was unabashedly shitty and its photos were literally the size of a postage stamp (they also had sticky backing so you could affix them to any surface that needed a selfie of an eighth-grader), I loved that damn thing and even have a collage of all of the terrible photos I took with it. (For time-frame reference, the two selfies in which I’m wearing a jacket with a furry white collar were taken the night I went to see Britney Spears’ 2002 opus Crossroads the day it premiered in theaters. This is true #Y2K content.)
Anyway, this isn’t terribly important in regards to the Polaroid Go—just a fun fact of Polaroid history.
If you’re looking for a super-compact instant film camera that will spice up parties, kickbacks, selfie seshes, or road trips, the Polaroid Go does its job with charm and convenience. Use the flash, get close to your subjects, and don’t expect perfection, but do expect one-of-a-kind images that look like they’re from another era. While the Go might not be a pro model, it’s amazing to be able to fit a Polaroid camera in your fanny pack, hiking bag, or glove compartment.
Polaroid cameras have a genuinely magical quality, IMO, that makes them capture emotion, mood, and nostalgia in a way that a phone camera never could—no matter how many filters or apps you use. If you’re sick of seeing online acquaintances self-promote their personal brands and enduring the psychological manipulation of social media, reverting to analog is one way of mentally unplugging and rediscovering the bliss of creating for your own expression, not for likes. Polaroid forever, baby.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.