This past holiday season, I wracked my brain over what gift to buy for my brother-in-law, who was then a soon-to-be dad (and just today, in fact, became a dad, at 12:32 p.m.). I wanted to get him something that felt appropriate for his new life as a patriarch, something that, ideally, he could use with the baby or with my sister or even alone. It should, I reasoned, be far from the super-practical things he and my sister had filled their registry with but not so impractical or precious that he wouldn’t actually use it. My brother-in-law, like many men, is by no means a fancy guy. But also like many men, he appreciates nice things of good quality that look cool, too.
Taking all this into account, I mentally cycled through some options. A new backpack for dad gear seemed useful at first but less exciting the more I imagined him unwrapping it. Then I remembered that a Strategist contributor who is also a dad told me a multi-tool would come in handy any number of ways. But that felt a tad too practical (and sharp, at least during infancy). A handsome journal for preserving memories that he could display on a desk or shelf when not in use? That, I thought, might be the ticket. Then it hit me: A camera could preserve those same memories but with the click of a button. And then I realized an instant camera would allow him, my sister, and (eventually) the baby to cherish those memories mere seconds after they were made — and not simply forget them as you do after capturing photos on a phone or a digital camera. The right one could also look just as nice on display itself, I figured.
One glitch with older technology that becomes new again is that smarter and sleeker iterations can lack soul, something I noticed more with each instant camera I considered. It’s not that new models aren’t capable or authentic; it’s just that those not geared toward serious photographers appear to be designed for sale near the checkout at Urban Outfitters, making them seem more like another type of camera: disposable. Ready to go back to square one, I doubled back to Polaroid, where, after scrolling through its newer instant cameras, I found exactly what I was looking for.
The 600, which debuted in 1981, is currently one of two vintage models Polaroid sells after refurbishing them. This camera produces the square images that went on to inspire the square layout of a certain photo-sharing app that (probably) went on to inspire the refurbishing of this line of cameras. Although you can buy the 600 and Polaroid’s other refurbished model individually, giving my brother-in-law the bundle of a camera and three packs of film meant he could use it right away. And use it he has: The baby may have just been born, but his nursery is already full of Dad’s photos from the last trip to Sag Harbor he and my sister took as a twosome this winter, the small baby shower we held for immediate family, and other random snaps he took of Mom and baby as they grew. I’ve seen the camera in action, and it certainly looks and performs as well as a new one. (That Polaroid invented the instant camera and refurbishes these itself helps instill a sense of quality control.) Speaking of looks, it’s also pleasingly old-fashioned: None of those rounded edges or pops of color that seem to be hallmarks of newer instant cameras. Another nice thing, especially for the planet, is that a refurbished camera is by nature more sustainable. Yes, it comes in a cardboard box, and, yes, the film also leaves behind waste. But it’s a baby step.
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