Polaroid Go Film Review

11 min read by Dmitri.
Published on .

Polaroid Go instant film packs include two perfectly miniaturized Polaroid I-Type/600 film cartridges, enough for 16 photos — with the emulsion and frame materials faithfully replicated. They’re smaller (which makes them cheaper) but the choice of cameras that can take advantage of this format is limited.

Note: Polaroid Go film currently only works with its namesake Polaroid Go film cameras (see: full review).In this review: Polaroid Go film size and quality. Polaroid Go vs. Instax Mini. Polaroid Go colours, grain, sharpness, and resolution. Techniques for better results with Polaroid Go film. Scanning Polaroid Go film. Safe storage & recycling. Is Polaroid Go film worth the price? Where to buy Polaroid Go film. More Polaroid Go sample photos.

Polaroid Go film size and quality.

At just 54mm × 67mm/2.1” × 2.6” (or about the size of a credit card), Polaroid Go is the smallest instant film frame. Its image area is 46mm × 47mm or 1.8” × 1.9”.

Polaroid Go film in hand.

The second-smallest instant film frame is the Instax Mini. It’s only a little larger, being 54mm × 86mm/2.1” × 3.4” with a 46mm × 62mm/1.8” × 2.4” image area. I’ll compare both films in further detail below; see more instant film formats compared by size.

Polaroid Go are essentially miniaturized Polaroid 600 film frames. Both are made with dozens of layers of plastics and chemical compounds, wrapped in a frame, plated with a thin layer of metal. They are almost as sturdy as credit cards; however, the image area can degrade if rubbed regularly, scratched, submerged in water, or from prolonged exposure to the sun — as is the case with most printed photographs.

Polaroid film’s vulnerability to water, physical, and sun damage has long been exploited by artists to create unusual effects, like emulsion lifts. I’ll show a few examples of creative destruction with the Polaroid Go film below.

Instax Mini (left) and Polaroid Go (right) black-edition frames side-by-side.

Polaroid Go vs. Instax Mini.

Fujifilm (Instax) and Polaroid are the only two brands that make real¹ instant film. Instax film is generally cheaper, but Polaroid offers creative possibilities Instax physically can not deliver.

The size difference isn’t practically significant, other than with Polaroid, you’ll be shooting a square frame format, while Instax is usually shot in portrait orientation with a 2:3 aspect ratio.

Sharpness and detail. Both formats can create extremely detailed prints that may reveal even more visual information when enlarged. The true limitation of resolution is often the camera’s lens.

Colours. Instax Mini can render colours with a bit more accuracy than Polaroid Go. However, both films show tonal shifts: Instax images may sometimes appear cool, whereas Go tend to look warm.

Polaroid Go vs. Instax Mini colours.

Development times. Polaroid Go film takes about 15 minutes to fully develop, which is roughly double the Instax film’s development times. Both formats begin to show some of the image after about one minute.

Durability. Both films are crease-resistant; they are made with layers of strong plastic and aluminum foil. Instax film is a bit more resistant to water damage; both films will have their colours fade slightly over decades, even when properly stored (in an album or a photo box, away from moisture and excessive heat).

Both films can sometimes spit out duds due to issues with the complex chemistry packed inside each frame. However, Polaroid film is more prone to defects. Out of the 48 Go frames I’ve exposed thus far, I’ve had two that came out damaged.

Ease of use. Both Instax and Polaroid films have a narrow dynamic range, which can sometimes cause a loss of detail in shadows and highlights. Because cameras’ internal light meters can inevitably make occasional exposure mistakes, over- and under-exposures may render photos unusable. I share a few techniques for avoiding such disasters with Polaroid Go cameras, below.

Neither film producer shares detailed technical information about their film, though some suggest that Instax is easier to get well-exposed photos with. However, Polaroid has recently worked on its new Go camera to improve its meter and has just announced big improvements to its black and white film, which may soon find their way into the Go format.

An emulsion lift with Polaroid Go instant film.

Creative features. Instax and Polaroid make physical prints, which you can use to decorate your space, deconstruct, make Sol Prints, and art with. However, some creative techniques, such as emulsion lifts, are exclusive to Polaroid.

While both film formats have given powerful tools to talented artists, Polaroid’s name has a stronger historical significance. Polaroid were the first to bring instant film to the world and influence the works of historical figures like Andy Warhol.

Other than Go, Polaroid also makes regular-sized frames (~3×3”) and the enormous 8x10 packs.

The only current creative limit on Polaroid film is the lack of third-party camera manufacturers. You can only shoot Polaroid film in Polaroid cameras (which may have something to do with this historical lawsuit).

Note: Polaroid film is particularly susceptible to sun damage. If you’re planning to display it on a sunny wall, you’ll need to protect it with a museum glass or simply post it on the shady side of your room.

¹ — By “real instant film” I mean traditional photochemistry; i.e., thermal paper printers are excluded.

Polaroid Go Black edition frames. The bottom-right exposure was taken through my polarized sunglasses.

Polaroid Go colours, grain, sharpness, and resolution.

Instant film prints aren’t as sharp or detailed as photographic film can be due to the complex chemical process that softens the grain slightly while the image is transformed from a negative to a positive. Still, they appear to have higher resolution than a typical inkjet print

Polaroid Go colours often shift towards warm pink in the highlights and green or purple in the shade. In cold weather, you can expect to see teal colour shifts.

The print gamut of Polaroid Go film is limited (i.e., this film may not pick up nuance tonal changes you’d expect to see on a digital camera), but the gradients are silky-smooth thanks to the ultra-fine grain chemistry.

Polaroid Go film saturates naturally and consistently through all exposure zones (from shadows to highlights). The contrast levels within the film’s ~3.5 stops of dynamic range are also medium-to-mild; however, you should expect sharp fall-offs in the under- and over-exposed areas, which can give your images a high-contrast look.

For more info about the emulsion at the base of all Polaroid 600 and Go films, read the detailed overview here.

A small pile of Polaroid Go film with a damaged frame on top.

Techniques for better results with Polaroid Go film.

All new Polaroid Go film cameras come with a “frog tongue” — a thin rolled-up piece of black plastic that covers your frames as soon as they come out of the camera. It’s designed to protect your film from strong sun exposure. You should keep your frames under that cover or remove them from the camera in a shady area to avoid losing contrast in your image.

Polaroid film needs to develop at a warm/room temperature. For best results, keep your frames in your breast pocket after they come out of the camera as cold weather can cause colour shifts.

The new Polaroid Go Generation 2 cameras tend to over-expose, whereas Generation 1 could sometimes under-expose your frames. This means that the new camera could deal a little better with backlit scenes (i.e. when you’re shooting against the light). At the same time, Generation 2 Gos can make colours of photos taken in the shade without flash appear too bright. In general, Generation 2 will yield more flattering results — with or without flash.

Polaroid Go Powder Blue edition frames.

Scanning Polaroid Go film.

Polaroid Go film is relatively easy to scan. Due to the frames’ small size, you’re less likely to encounter Newton rings.

However, because you are likely to display scanned photos larger than the originals, imperfections like dust and scratches are bound to become more visible. It’s best to gently wipe your photos with a microfibre cloth (the same type you’d use for your glasses or camera lenses) before scanning.

Larger scans, like the one above (if seen on a large screen) can end up showing even more dust and scratches, no matter how much you clean them. The best way to go around this is to use Adobe Photoshop’s Spot Healing Tool or similar to clean up the digital file. Check out this tutorial on how to do this right.

Safe storage & recycling.

Your Polaroid film should last for decades if you store it in dry, dark places — like a shoe box, an album, or a Polaroid photo box.

Unlike Polaroid 600 and SX-70 packs, Polaroid Go packs don’t have an integral battery. However, the spent cartridges should be taken apart for recycling once spent. Here’s a guide on how to do that.

Your fresh/unspent Polaroid film should be stored in a fridge — but make sure it’s not the freezer and the fridge itself isn’t so cold that the packs ice up. Once ready, take out your pack to warm up to the room temperature for an hour.

Polaroid Go Powder Blue & Black edition frame packs.

Is Polaroid Go film worth the price?

I have a personal preference for Polaroid film because of its colours and the creative possibilities. I also enjoy the square frame aspect ratio (Instax also has square frames, but they are more expensive and won’t let me make emulsion lifts).

Though not free, a new Polaroid Go camera with two packs of film is $100. I think it’s a fair price for what comes in the box and I appreciate having a portion of the product being manufactured from recycled plastic materials.

Where to buy Polaroid Go film.

New Polaroid products usually show up on their website first, but by the time you read this article, you should be able to find them at your local photography store and usual places like eBay and Amazon.

By the way: Please consider making your Polaroid Go film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!

More Polaroid Go sample photos.

The plan for my Polaroid Go camera was to write this review and sell or give it away. But the tiny new format got me hooked and I ended up shooting six packs (and more are on the way). Many of those photos turned out pretty well!