Polaroid Z340 Instant Digital Camera – hands on review

4 01 2012

After Polaroid stopped making their instant film, there were very few options available to snappers wanting a print in hand, seconds after  taking the picture. Fuji offered a credit-card sized print and associated camera, on the worldwide market, while keeping larger print cameras for their own home market in Japan. Then there was the massive crushing effect of digital, on the amateur photography market across the globe. Surely no-one would want an instant print camera in this day and age? Well, Polaroid have taken the bull by the horns and come up with a cross-breed. The new Z340 uses Polaroid’s Zero Ink technology to deliver pictures in hand in just over a minute, while remaining familiar to digital camera users.

Nicely laid out user interface

More manbag-sized than pocket-sized, the Z340 is similar in size to Polaroid’s last offering on the instant market, the Image/Spectra.  It features a pop-up colour LCD live-view monitor, the colours of which are sadly rather optimistic – more on this later. 10 sheets of paper are supplied with the camera, and further supplies are currently sold in triple packs. Each sheet of paper gives an image measuring 3”x4”, although using any of the selectable borders can reduce the visible image size.  The camera has an internal 128Kb memory, and SD card slot. Rather importantly, the print function is optional – meaning that the Z340 can be used as a conventional digital point & shoot, with the usual disadvantages, a lag between pressing the shutter release and making the exposure, of up to 1.5 seconds; a rather poor quality digital zoom; no decent wide-angle; and a lengthy series of menu-accessable options.

Grid Screen Overlay on the LCD Monitor

Despite these initial misgivings however, it was quite entertaining using the Z340. The print function for any given picture perhaps needs a confirmation, on a couple of occasions I wasn’t certain that the instruction to print had been received and pressed the print button rather  too many times – ending up with multiple copies of the same image. There are a number of overrides that any serious photographer would use – manual white balance, exposure compensation, etc; but these are hidden down inside menus  – not exactly user friendly for we serious photographers.  I am certain that Polaroid simply wanted to entertain me with some of the ridiculous modes in the menu – Lomo Mode – takes blurry and badly-exposed images for that ‘artistic’ look. Seriously! I liked the fact that it has a handstrap supplied, but a neck strap can fitted instead.  And of course it can be used as a mobile printer, for images on an SD card. The camera runs on a removable rechargeable Lithium Ion pack; I got 30 printed images plus a further 150 digital exposures, before the battery packed up. The supplied charger also acts as a mains adapter.

The prints I got from this, using indoor light without flash, were pretty dire, it has to be said. Turn on the flash however, and it’s a very different story. Old ladies balanced on Santa’s knee, kids at the first party they had been to in 9 months, happy smily groups – this is what the Z340 excels at. Faces light up with joy as the print emerges. Outdoor images in good light were also very good. Be aware though that the LCD monitor over compensates for poor lighting – sample shot with the Christmas decorations. The monitor can be operated when flush with the camera body, lending a useful viewing angle; and the screen can be made more or less bright – controls in the menu.

Would I recommend this camera? It depends on your expectations. My experience of digital has largely been of the professional SLR cameras. So I was frustrated at the shutter lag, but apparently this is par for the course. It’s nowhere near pocketable, but there is no denying that it does make excellent instant prints, in a party snapshot situation. And having the SD card compatibility, does extend its versatility somewhat.

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