Instant Photos That Don't Come Spitting Out Polaroid Vision Date Plus

Designer: Henry Dreyfuss Associates

A few years back, market researchers at Polaroid Corp. secretly videotaped tourists using its instant cameras at Walt Disney World. What they discovered was both hilarious and troubling: As the cameras spit out print after print, the hapless tourists struggled to find places to put them. One man clamped several still-developing prints in his teeth. Another put them on top of his backpack, only to have the wind blow them away.

Thus was born one of the key features of Polaroid's new Captiva, the first instant camera that stores its own pictures. After the shutter clicks, the exposed print turns 180 degrees inside the Captiva and winds up in a windowed storage compartment at the back. That neat trick is one reason why Captiva has been a winner for Polaroid since it was introduced--in Europe (as the Vision) in 1992 and in the U.S. last year.

In designing the Captiva, Polaroid executives started from this assumption: Previous Polaroid models were too bulky and complex for some customers. An untapped segment of the public, they were convinced, wanted a smaller, simpler instant camera--and would accept a smaller picture size as a trade-off. A secondary aim was to make a camera that would mimic the look and features of the trim, 35mm, point-and-shoot cameras that dominate the market.

Given that mandate, designers at Polaroid set to work with Henry Dreyfuss Associates, a New York industrial-design firm. Figuring out how to include the self-storage feature without compromising reliability or adding too much to the camera's bulk was one big challenge. The prints had to do a U-turn without creasing and without breaking the pod on each print that contains the instant-developing chemicals.

To achieve the compact size and look they wanted, the designers decided to make Captiva a folding camera. But that presented a new challenge: The camera's single-lens-reflex design requires near-perfect alignment between the lens and viewfinder. So the folding mechanism needed to be foolproof enough to click into precise position every time. The designers decided that the camera's protective front cover should swing around and click into place as one leg of a triangular brace for the lens assembly. "It was this folding configuration that drove the design," says John H. Betts, who led the design team at Dreyfuss.

Captiva also sports a few other innovations for Polaroid, including a patented focusing system that uses a nearly invisible pre-flash to locate the subject, rather than the sonar system of earlier Polaroids or the infrared of most 35mm models. And the Date Plus model, which won the IDEA award, mimics popular features of 35mm cameras, such as stamping the date on photos.

The Captiva does have drawbacks. Its picture quality suffers in comparison to earlier Polaroids, and its shrunken picture size, which measures 2 7/8 in. by 2 1/8 in., is 40% smaller than the Polaroid Spectra's and just a quarter the size of the prints now used by 35mm developers. But so far, the 1 million people who have bought the sleek, black camera don't seem to mind.

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