(UPDATED June 25) A detailed look at the Impossible I-1 camera

UPDATE: You can now watch a recording of the Impossible I-1 camera keynote on Vimeo (embedded below). I have also added many interesting details about the camera to this post, including detailed specifications that were just posted on the I-1 website.

Bloomberg Design Conference 2016: Oskar Smolokowski from Impossible on Vimeo.

Sections (roughly): 00:00 to 10:00 (about Impossible and why they made the camera), 10:40 (first look at the camera), 13:30 (flash), 15:00 (app), 17:00 (example photos taken with the I-1), 17:20 to end (live demo).

As you have probably already heard, Impossible unveiled their IP-1 I-1 camera at the Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference on April 11th. I promised you to write a post after the announcement to cover all the details that were unveiled. Here we are, 12 days later, and it’s not like I forgot to write or something. The problem is that there‘s was not much to report until now: Impossible annoyingly chose to postpone any info outside of some basic points of interest until May 10th, when the camera goes on sale. Luckily, the BW keynote video is now public, meaning I was able to add tons of info to the post. Enjoy!

As expected, the camera looks a lot like the ugly child of a Polaroid Land Camera 1000, an Impossible Instant Lab and a rotary phone:

I-1 parody
(images sourced from etsy, photojojo, gporetro, terapeak, fenix/soldiersystems)

Yeah, I was kidding. Not:

Screenshot from the Impossible Project website.

I-1 detail website

(Click any of the above images to go to the official I-1 page on impossible-project.com.)
Click here for a Google image search for more pictures of the I-1. I have embedded a few screenshots from the keynote below, to accompany the features.

Features at a glance:

  • Looks like a Frankencamera – but doesn’t immediately remind one of the old Polaroid cameras, so that’s a plus in my book.
  • “advanced ring flash”
  • “autofocus”
  • “great portraits”
  • Bluetooth connectivity for manual control using an iOS app
  • Uses Impossible 600 film
  • Has built-in rechargeable battery
  • Will cost 299$ and be available starting on my 18th birthday (how cool is that!? pretty cool if you ask me…)

More detail:

Design (continued from above)

The design follows the rule of “form follows function”: nothing fancy, just a Polaroid Instant Lab film processor with a lens, shutter and reversing mirror on top. Turns out the ring on the side of the camera isn’t a self-timer or remote socket, but rather an operation mode knob to switch between on, off and bluetooth remote control modes. The camera has a built-in rechargeable battery (just like the Instant Lab) and charges via micro-USB.
Here’s the camera in size comparison to a Polaroid type 600 camera:

I-1 is about two thirds the size of a 600 camera.
Wow! That Polaroid 600 camera dwarfs the I-1. Oskar says he’s “proud that the Polaroid can eat our camera”.
Companion App

The I-1 has bluetooth connectivity for manual control via a smartphone app. An iPhone and Apple Watch app will be available with the following features:

I-1 app

  • Manual Mode (for shutter speed and aperture)
  • Remote Trigger
  • Self-Timer
  • Double Exposure
  • Light Painting (variable shutter speeds)
  • color painting (daheck?)
  • Noise Trigger (cool)
  • Maybe more!

No word has been said about a possible Android app.

Film compatibility

The camera is programmed to use 600 film, and needs no battery in the film pack. According to Oskar Smolokowski, there will be special film for it that doesn’t include a battery and that is “cheaper” than the regular film (but still only 8 pictures; just like the Instant Lab). It is possible to use regular packs that include a battery, too.

The following still from the keynote shows that the LED flash doubles as a display for the remaining pictures (6/8 in this case):

I-1 pictures remaining

Knob around the shutter button

The knob acts as a mode dial. The camera has three operation modes:

  1. Off: Pressing the shutter will light up the LED flash to display the battery level.
  2. On, automatic mode: Pressing the shutter will take a photo with the exposure values determined by ambient light, lighten/darken and flash toggle settings.
  3. On, Bluetooth mode: the camera will wait to pair to a smartphone and can then be remotely controlled via the I-1 app.
I-1 flash toggle
The flash toggle is on the side the flash ring, opposite of the light/dark switch. Impossible recommends using the flash for indoor shots.

Modular viewfinder

The viewfinder is attached to the camera via magnets, allowing for easy removal. This opens up a new platform for accessories such as a digital viewfinder, an additional flash or photo filters.

Optics

After reading lots of customer feedback on numerous blogs and on Twitter, I am able to give a little detail on the optical specifications of the camera. It indeed has phase detection autofocus that works with infrared light. This means it works good and rather quick in most lighting conditions. In terms of optics, the way the lenses work is very similar to the Polaroid 600 AutoFocus cameras work: there’s a rotating disk that has five lenses with different focal lengths on it. This means that when the camera focuses, the disc starts to spin and the autofocus gets to work. Once it determines the lens that gives the sharpest image, the disc stops rotating and the image is taken.

This epic I-1 cutaway shows how the camera works. Copyright Impossible Project / Timothy Armstrong
This epic I-1 cutaway shows how the camera works. Copyright Impossible Project / Timothy Armstrong

Impossible notes that the lenses aren’t all glass. The full specifications have now been published on the Impossible I-1 website:

I-1 specs

What do I think?

The camera went on sale on May 10th, which coincides with my 18th birthday. Was it on my wish list? No.
I have to admit my initial reaction to the design of the IP-1 I-1 wasn’t positive. I actually wondered if Impossible was joking until i saw the pictures on their website. However, after thinking about it for a while (and after seeing the demo in the keynote), I quite like the extraordinary style of the camera. It’s a meaningful departure from the retro-style Polaroid cams that makes a lot of sense in our modern, connected world.
My final opinion on the I-1 will take a bit to develop (pun intended), but I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to try it in person some time.

UPDATE: I visited the I-1 pop up event in Vienna on May 13th and wasn’t disappointed: I was able to test the camera and had a portrait taken. The gadget feels very modern and well-constructed. It’s a decent and modern camera for the classic Polaroid format. That being said, the optics aren’t great due to the limited focus zones (5), so the image quality (sharpness) isn’t on par with SLR cameras like the Polaroid SX-70 and 680. On the plus side, the camera has brand new electronics and mechanics, meaning it should be more reliable than the ancient Polaroids out there.

What do you think of the I-1? Is it overpriced at 299$? Tell me in the comments!