Almost 10 years after digital photography started replacing silver-halide technologies for everyday use, there is still no equivalent to the user experience that the instant cameras (Polaroid) of yesteryear used to offer. With a digital camera (or a good mobile phone), you can take pictures and immediately visualize them, email them or post them on social networking sites, but you still need a relatively bulky equipment to print pictures. Distributing prints during a party of a social event – a very common (although expensive) practice in the Polaroid days, now requires some planning: you need a laptop, a printer, a table and one or two power outlets – a far cry from the press-the-shutter-release-share-the-print experience of instant cameras.
A few weeks ago, Polaroid started selling a relatively low end digital camera (5MP), the PoGo Instant Digital Camera , equipped with a built in printer. It is a welcome evolution from the PoGo Instant Printer they launched last year.
In both cases, Polaroid is using a technology developed by a company named ZINK (for Zero INK). In a nutshell, ZINK is using a thermal paper containing cyan, yellow and magenta crystals, which are revealed by the heat provided by the printer head. Apart from the paper itself, no consumable is needed, and the process does not use any liquid and produces no waste. It does not need a lot of power either, and can be packaged in a pocket sized device powered by Lithium-Ion batteries.
The PoGo Instant Printer was the first product based on ZINK technologies to be widely available in the US. The size of a paperback book, it fits in a large pocket. It is battery powered, contains a pack of 10 sheets of ZINK paper, and is ready to use provided you find a cell phone or a camera compatible with it.
Printing with the PoGo printer:
Compatibility is one of the issues that the user of the PoGo printer will face:
Polaroid published a long list of compatible phones, but it does not include the iPhone or any Android device, or any phone brought to market during the last 18 months. It looks as if the cell phone makers (and the carriers) had stopped supporting the PoGo technology. Too bad.
Pictbridge is an industry standard adopted by the major manufacturers of digital cameras. I tested the PoGo printer with a tiny Sony Cybershot T20, and with a Nikon D80. In both cases, it is necessary to use the USB cable provided with the camera. The PoGo is very sensitive to the connection sequence (practice before you use it in public for the first time) but once you know what to connect and power on first, it works as advertised: select the picture to print on the camera, activate the Pictbridge “print” command, and after sixty seconds, the PoGo magically ejects a print. It has to be noted that the PoGo only prints JPEG files (no RAW files – convert them to JPEG in the camera before printing).
The quality of the prints
The prints are small – 7.5cm x 5.0 cm (approximately 2×3″). Since the camera and the PoGo printer are directly connected, all the adjustments to the images have to be done through the menus of the camera. The color balance is difficult to set right – the pictures coming from the Sony T20 tended to have a pinkish-redish hue, the pictures coming out of the Nikon D80 were a bit yellow, but it can be fixed. The definition of the pictures is surprisingly good, and dynamic range of the prints is acceptable: the shadows are detailed, but the highlights tend to be a bit washed. The prints are perfectly usable, and thanks to their small size, they will fit in a wallet between two credit cards.
The PoGo printer is a first attempt at producing a really pocketable printer. It works relatively well, and is not very expensive ($40 for the printer, $0.30 per print), but it it is not very practical to use and looks a lot like a proof of concept for the ZINK process.
The ZINK process shows lots of promises – it’s a relatively cheap and eco-friendly way to produce pictures on the go. Polaroid’s decision to integrate the printer in a digicam (and to resurrect the old Polaroid instant camera experience) is obviously the way to go. Zink is also proposing 4 x 6 paper, but nobody so far has tried to integrate a 4 x 6 printer in a digital camera. That would be great, though. A sort of modern equivalent to the SX-70 cameras. Mr Polaroid, please…
More about the PoGo printer
An interesting review by Tracy and Matt (that’s the name of their Web site)