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The Fall And Rise Of Instant Cameras

Over the past five years, one of the more fascinating and odd stories in the world of photography is the resurgence of the instant camera to vintage camera bags of some alternative photographers, despite the success and near-ubiquity of digital cameras and smartphones.

The first major example of an instant camera was Polaroid’s Model 95 in 1948, which could produce and develop a picture in just one minute, rather than having to spend considerable time waiting for the pictures to be developed.

It was so popular that Kodak and Fujifilm, Polaroid’s two main competitors, would follow suit and cause a decade-long legal battle, and the instant camera would become an increasingly popular and sophisticated manual camera for several decades, with its peak hitting in the 1980s.

However, by the 1990s, the camera market changed dramatically, which caught Polaroid completely by surprise.

One-hour colour film development and disposable cameras made the instant camera a far more expensive option with a shorter upside, whilst Fujifilm unveiled the FUJIX DS-X, the world’s first digital camera.

It was exceptionally expensive but was a sign of where the camera market would ultimately go.

By the time Polaroid created the PDC-2000 in 1996, the market had already turned away from them, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, before filing again in 2008, ending the sale of Polaroid film as of 2009.

Kodak went out of business as well in 2012, leaving Fujifilm as the last main manufacturer of film for cameras, albeit as a small part of their huge digital camera business.

However, in 2008, a company known as Impossible Project took over one of the old Polaroid factories and started producing film for their cameras again, which combined with the resurgence of alternative instant photography art to create a new market for instant camera photography.

Fujifilm took advantage of the interest and pushed its Instax brand more prominently, which led to a peak of 5m camera sales over 2016, up from 100,000 in 2004.