The Polaroid Z340 instant digital camera comes complete with a LCD 2.7in screen, SD card slot and a built-in printer for instant snaps. The Polaroid Z340 may not feature the same compact build as the likes of the Fujifilm X10 or the Nikon V1, but it sports a similar retro aesthetic. With the 14 megapixel Z340 it has returned again to what it knows best, instant printing, with a chunky design that, more closely than the previous unwieldy digital camera and printer combos like the ‘Pogo’, recalls Polaroid’s analogue heyday.
Polaroid is utilising its proprietary non-messy Zero Ink ‘(Zink’) technology to fulfil the print end, delivered as dry-to-the-touch 3x4-inch hard copies that are smudge, tear and water resistant. With a suggested price of £229, the price tag seems fair, if not quite cheap enough to make it an impulse purchase. You don’t always have to print though; space is also found for a regular SD card so images can be retained and uploaded to a PC as normal. It’s one advantage it has over the likes of the Fujifilm Instax analogue print cameras where you’re just left with the print.
As the shape of the Z340 is wholly different to most digital cameras, being square and boxy rather than rectangular, instead of a conventional handgrip at one edge a camcorder-style hand strap is provided. The user simply slips the fingers of the right hand beneath it. You will still find it tricky to get a tight grip because of the slightly awkward camera shape. The Z340 resembles a printer that’s been miniaturized rather than a camera that’s been pimped. The screen is the most prominent feature here. Curiously the shutter release button is much larger than the less obvious print button. Printing is not an automatic process as it is with instant cameras such as the Fuji Instax Mini 50s. With the Polaroid Z340, you get to view the image first on the screen before deciding whether it justifies a hard copy, so it’s not quite ‘click and print’. A pack of 10 3x4-inch sheets which are loaded shiny side up, light blue side facing down, into the back of the device, with the plastic flap that was raised to allow insertion snapped shut afterwards. Once this has been done and the device is turned on it will eject the light blue sheet on the bottom of the pack which features a barcode for setting up the device.
It is just as much about speed of output as speed of capture, so the Polaroid has the doubly hard job of acquitting itself well on both counts. On par with a cheap dye sub printer, prints are produced in under a minute, but unlike most dye subs, you don’t have to wait while the print passes back and forwards within the device as the colour layers build gradually. After much whirring of internal mechanics, the finished print magically appears, and unlike old-school Polaroids, it's dry to the touch.
The Z340’s lithium ion battery charge is sufficient to generate 25 prints, but that’s probably 25 more than most of us normally bother printing. So anyone considering this as anything other than a gift may want to invest in a spare pack.
Because of the flattened design of the camera giving it a wide top plate and tapering back and sides, the 2.7-inch LCD screen is, rather unusually, positioned on the top so that the user is looking down on it. However it can also be flipped up through 90° and snapped into a position where it is facing the viewer at eye level. In playback mode, shots can be viewed on the camera before printing and they can also be altered with a crop if necessary. A reference date and file number can be printed on your pictures too, as well as a border should you wish. There’s even the option to include the classic appearance of the old-school ‘wet’ Polaroid prints.
Pictures and video
Prints from the Z340, while acceptable, are a little underwhelming. Underclose scrutiny, fine banding is visible in the form of feint lines cross the print that makes them look more like high quality photo copies than actual real photographic prints, while colours although recognizable could be more faithful to the actual scene. Prints also lack the charm of the ‘wet’ Polaroid film, where the picture slowly appeared before your eyes. Surprisingly, the main appeal of this camera is shooting and printing still images, there's also a 1280x720-pixel video mode.
As with any instant print device, the instant gratification of holding a hard copy in your hands seconds after pressing the shutter release button takes preference over pin-sharp photo-realistic print quality. Convenience is also what you’re paying for here, and at £229 the Polaroid Z340 costs little more than a stylish non printing compact. But if you’re considering this as your main camera, with the added bonus of the occasional print, you’ll soon be put off by its bulk and unwieldiness.