The first camera I want to write about is the Polaroid x530.
This camera was not officially released but thankfully due to a few shipments of the camera that were not returned to Polaroid, some of us lucky gearheads could aquire such a gem.
What makes this a special camera even if there was a recall of all the cameras?
Well first of all, it was the first compact camera to have the Foveon image sensor installed and also, the camera itself was probably among the first cameras to support the RAW format in a compact camera.
These two aspects alone are enough for me to give it a go on my „Lets check it out“ list and therefore I am happy that I bought one of them.
If you are wondering how I could buy one, it is fairly easy. On ebay or other portals, every now and then there is a batch of these cameras for sale and they are actually very reasonably priced. I bought mine for a budget price of 30 Euro.
Ok, whats in the package?
The camera sports a 3x optical zoom lens with an incredible Macro ability *developed by Ricoh, a 4.5 Megapixel Foveon X3 sensor (3x 1.5 MP), in camera charging battery *replacable, a metal tripot mount and a proper RAW developing software.
The display is really small, about 2″ LCD, pretty useless in dark environment and supplied is of course a neck strap.
The provided power supply is actually one of the reasons why this camera was recalled as its polarity is reversed and therefore it would’ve damaged the camera.
The camera takes SD memory cards with capacities of up to 1 GB and on such a card it will store about 110 images in RAW format or many more in Jpeg.
The battery is actually holding just about up to the 110 images so if you wanna go on a longer shoot, you might want to purchase replacement batteries.
Thinking of it, this was also the first Foveon X3 based consumer camera that supported the recording of video in either 320x200x30fps or 640x480x12fps. Pretty darn amazing for a camera that would’ve hit the stores in late 2004.
What if it would have hit the stores? What could we expect of it?
Lets see. With this camera I am able to get very close to the subject, I can literally hit the subject with the front lens element and get an amazing macro with it. For this alone the money would´ve been well spent if there wouldn´t be some BUTs.
The camera is painfully slow. For quality fanatics like me and friends this would´ve been ok, but for the mass this would’ve been a problem. Also the limitation to 1GB SD Cards was not really a good idea as I am sure the 110 images would´ve been filled in one little walk as there are soo many little things that you would´ve shot with it, that you can easily forget how many images you took so far.
Resolution is a point that is debatable. Again, for myself I don´t see an issue but back in the days people would´ve killed the Polaroid in reviews for the sole reason that the sensor was marketed as a 4.5 Megapixel sensor but the resulting images had a resolution of just 1.5 Megapixel. Especially back then this was a factor that was hard to sell. So in the end I am quite sure that the image quality would´ve been up to the competition in the compact sector but the speed and the resolution would´ve been very difficult to bring to the masses. Only some enthusiasts would´ve bought it for the initial price of over 400 Euro if I am correct.
What else was wrong with it? The firmware is in a state of a beta or even alpha firmware. As soon as you turn off the camera, it will forget all the settings, including ISO and exposure compensation so every time you start up this compact you would´ve had to set up the parameters to start shooting again. Also, out of 5 Polaroid x530 that I could test, 2 of them had problems with the lens being decentred. Meaning that you had sharp images on the left or right, but it was blurry on the opposite site of the image. However, I could just return those and try another one. No issue for me, but if I already had some bad copies, how bad would it have been on the mass market?
So what is my conclusion?
It is hard to tell. I for myself love this little gem and I would not for any money give it away. In fact, not only I have one, also my father has one for light travel and my nephew got one to have a camera to learn the basics of photography.
I am impressed about the image quality that a camera from 2004 could provide. Resolution is one thing but the overall quality is on a different level from compacts in the same price range from back then (my personal opinion). There is also some kind of a collectors aspect. I can say that I have a camera that is very rare and never really hit the shelves so for me this is an extra bonus.
– Small and light weight
– Excellent lens with great corner to corner sharpness (if you get one that is not flawed)
– Excellent macro abilities
– Dedicated RAW developer with functions that you would find in the DSLRs equipped with X3 sensors
– Foveon X3 image sensor (very unique, especially this version as it cannot be found in any other camera)
– Slow…painfully slow
– Beta firmware, forgets the settings every time you turn off the camera
– Some copies of the camera had decentred lenses, hardware issue
For 30 Euros it is a steal. Even for todays standards, the macros are of excellent quality. Would I buy it for travels or even take it with me exclusively when I go somewhere to shoot landscape or similar stuff? No. Would I take it as a companion for my big cameras? Hell yeah. If you can live with the low resolution and want quality images, take a look. If it is too big of an issue to work around the bad things, stay away. I like mine and won´t give it away ever.