Introduction: Bring Your Polaroid I-Zone Camera Back From the Dead

It was Polaroid's last gasp before its bankruptcy.  In 1999, Polaroid introduced an integral film camera that gave you a tiny photo almost the same size of a 35mm negative. It was a big hit for the "on-the-go" teens for whom this camera was heavily marketed.  In fact, the I-Zone probably single handedly kept Polaroid out of Chapter 11 for a few extra years.

However, the on-the-go teens got up and left....not taking their I-Zones with them.  They moved on to greener and more digital pastures.  Polaroid abandoned the I-Zone camera and I-Zone film in 2006.  SInce then, these inovative cameras drifted into junk drawers and thrift shops all across the world.  

The current state of the I-Zone:

1.  Camera and film has been discontinued.

2.  Legacy film has gone bad in the classic integral film way...dried up developing goop.

3. forwards directly to the new where you find very little information on the I-Zone camera.

4.  The camera is easily bought used at thrift shops and auction sites and even new from Amazon (the non-availability of the film is glossed over).

5.  Fuiji and Impossible Project folks have not indicated that they will take up the I-Zone film banner.  This leaves your I-Zone in paperweight mode permanently.....or has it?

In this Instructable we will attempt to get your I-Zone camera off its lazy butt and start making exposures again by converting it to use APS photographic film.

Is it worth it?  Probably not, but I never have let that stop me before!

Step 1: Camera Overview

The I-Zone is a fun and handy camera that produced a tiny integral print with a crazy decorated boarder that could be trimmed.  Some stock had sticker adhesive on the back so they could be used to decorate most surfaces.

The lens is a single element miniscus plastic lens at maybe 50mm.  The flash fires on all exposures with the flash power controlled by a sensor next to the lens.  The aperture is controlled by a selector lever that also turns the camera flash system on.  The stops are waterhouse stops in front of the lens.  The stops are Outside Sunny (f 34.5), Outside Cloudy (f 12.5), and Inside (f 10).  The shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 sec.  The focus is fixed and optimized for 2-6 feet (normal flash range).  One you make an exposure, the camera automatically turns off saving battery power.  The image is pulled out the right side of the camera through the rollers and develops like any other integral film format.

The camera evolved to keep the "short attention span" target audience interested.  A rainbow of colors with interchangable accent plates can be found.  A thinner version also made it possible to put in a shirt pocket (about the size of a pocket instamatic). Finally the I-Zone 200 came out that took a different type of film. 

Step 2: Concept and Stuff You Will Need

The I-Zone is an integral instant photography camera like a smaller version of the popular Polaroid 600 series camera.  It is simple and simple to use.  Since there is no more film for this camera and existing stocks are drying up, both  figuatively and litterally, we have to substitute another film format. 

The first thought was 35mm however I ruled that out due to the film gate being slightly smaller than 35mm.  That would mean some messy grinding (I destroyed one I-Zone trying a 35mm conversion).  The next smaller film format is APS so I chose that for this conversion.  The film covers the whole image area of the camera, however you will get edge artifacts inherent in the film format in your image (kind of like the popular sproket hole photography for 35mm).


1.  Modify the supply cartridge to make it light tight.

2.  Construct a light tight take up chamber from an empty APS container.

3.  Modify the camera to make a lightproof gate to give the film a way to enter the take up chamber.

4.  Spool out the APS film and put it into the supply chamber, put in camera with the new take up chamber on the outside.

5. Advance film by spooling it back into the APS cartridge. 

6. Develop APS cartridge, and scan film.

Stuff you will need:

1.  Original I-Zone camera (not 200 or any other variety).

2.  Shears, razor knife for cutting and shaping.

3.  Black electrical tape or other lightproof tape.

4.  Empty I-Zone film cartridge (probably still in the camera).

5.  Black felt or other low friction lightproofing material.

6.  Empty APS container (black plastic).

7.  3.5 inch floppy disc you can destroy.

8.  White school (ceasin) glue.

9.  Small screw driver for prying.

10.  Tinted gel material to cover flash sensor.

11.  Patience.

Step 3: Modify the I-Zone Film Cartridge

In this step, we will modify an empty I-Zone film cartridge to accept the APS film.  The cartridge is just a shallow black plastic box with a hinged lid. 

1.  Give the box a slight squeeze on the sides and the lid will pop open.

2.  Cut some felt swatches that will cover the lid,bottom and front and back.  Cut the swatches for the lid and front a little long to cover the slight gap in the front (where the film comes out).  This will form a felt light trap.

3.  Score the plastic to give the glue something to bite into and glue your felt on the inside of the box.

4.  Once the glue is dry, ensure you can still close the box and that it remains closed.

Step 4: Modify the APS Film Can

Since the original Polaroid does not have a take up chamber, we'll have to construct one from a black plastic film container.

1.  Put an APS cartridge into the film container to get an idea where the film will come out.

2.  Cut a slit in the side about 3mm wide.

3.  Drill a hole in the lid to insert a drive rod (this will be your film advance).  This will be off center.

4.  Cut a felt peice to fit into the lid.

5.  Glue the felt into the lid.

Step 5: Modify the Floppy Disc

I used an old floppy disc to construct a snoot that the film will flow through. 

1.  Pry apart a floppy disc and discard the magnetic media and shutter.

2.  Cut out a rectangle of plastic that is slightly wider than the film.  Be sure to include the friction reducing material as it will help the film flow through easier.

3.  Tape together the two peices.

4.  Insert the snoot into the modified film container and tape it in place.

Step 6: Modify the I-Zone Camera

In this step we will take out the rollers that are used to burst the developing goo capsules in the original film because they make the exit too tight for the free flow of film.

1.  Open up the bottom cover.

2.  On the reverse side of the bottom cover you will see 4 holes.  Jam a small screw driver into the holes to release the latches.

3.  Once all 4 tabs are disengaged, pry the roller assembly off and discard.  Cover the holes with some electrical tape on the outside to prevent light from entering the camera that way.

4.  Rip off the rubber apron and discard.

5.  Pry the roller out of the main part of the camera.  It will take some effort, but it will come out.  Underneith the roller, you will see a white plastic peice and two springs.  Take all this out and discard.

6.  Cut some felt peices to line the film path.

7.  Glue the felt peices in place in the film path.

8.  Cut a gel  that blocks about 2 stops of light to cover the flash sensor.

9.  Glue the gel in place over the flash sensor.

Step 7: Load Your APS Film

APS film cartridges are specifically designed to keep your greasy fingers from the film to decrease the chance of scratches, fingerprints and other damage caused by uncaring humans.  To get our film from the cartridge to the supply chamber, we will have to defeat some of those safeguards.  Sadly, the high tech innovations in APS film like magnetic information coding, bar codes, precise film transport, all that crap with different aspect ratios, and easy loading will be ignored.

1.  Open your APS film cartridge.  Instead of a felt light trap that you find on 35mm cartridges, APS cartridges have a small door you will need to open to get at the film.  Do this by depressing the detent on the end with the silver bar code on the spindle (that is the opposite of the end with the 1-2-3-4 and symbols).  I use a map pin to hold down the detent and open the door with my finger nail.  This will let a little light into the cartridge, but you will be wasting some film in the beginning just like 35mm.

2.  Feed out some film of the cartridge.  Use a tool (I used a bolt) to spin the spindle counterclockwise until some film appears through the door.

3.  Feed this leader through the black plastic case and the plastic snoot we made from the floppy disc.  Once you have this done it is time to turn out the lights!

4.  In a dark room or changing bag, pull out the rest of the film through the snoot and make a tight coil.  Place the coiled film in the prepared box and shut the lid.  Make sure the lid is securely closed before turning on the lights.

5.  Place the prepared film assembly in the camera by placing the box in the rectangular well in the camera and the snoot near the latch.

6.  Close the camera.  The take up chamber will hang outside the camera.

7.  Insert your tool through the lid of the film container (through the hole you drilled) and engage the central spindle.  Give the spindle a turn or two to take up the exposed film.

8.  Take photos with the camera and give the film one complete turn between exposures.

9.  Keep mental count of the number of exposures and stop when you get to about 24. You will lose a few frames in the front and rear of the film.  Even though the film is rated at 25 exposures, APS film has an absurdly long leader you can take advantage of seeing as you are not restricted by the draconian film transport protocol of normal APS cameras.

10.  If you lose count, you will feel the decrease in tension when the film is fully wound back into its container.

11.  Once you are done exposing the film, take the APS cartridge out of the black container and shut the film door by simply pressing it closed.

12.  Your final job is to rotate the spindle until the white indicator is on the "X" (#3).  The spindle may click a few times when you do this, don't worry you are not damaging anything.  Doing this will save you some explaining time at the photo finisher!

13.  Tell your photo finisher to develop only.  This saves a lot of money and frustration as the computer that scans and prints the film will not be able to deal with the odd spacing the I-Zone camera will produce.

14.  I scan the negatives at home with a flat bed film scanner and store the strips in 35mm negative holders.

This workflow saves some money since the only expenses are the film and $2 in C-41 processing costs.  I usually don't bill the time I spend...because it is supposed to be fun... right?!?!

Step 8: Sample Photos

Here are some photos from the converted Polaroid I-Zone camera.  As you can see, the edge artifacts from APS film show up in the image area.  Judging from the proliferation of 35mm film "sprocket" shots, this is a trendy thing to can always crop the artifacts out.

Some shooting tips:

1.  The lens is optimized for subjects between 2 and 6 feet, so try to keep your shots at that range.  As you can see, it does not do well with distant subjects.

2.  The flash will fire no matter what you do, so carry some spare batteries.

3.  This is 200 ASA film.  I used the indoor setting on all my shots.  Judge your exposure accordingly.

4.  Don't expect too much from your camera and you won't be disappointed.

So go out and enjoy your Polaroid I-Zone camera!