Polaroid Is Dead (Long Live Instant Film Photography)

polaroid photography IHEARTSHARKS

Allo Darlin: “The Polaroid Song”

Let´s face it – who doesn’t love those retro style Polaroids? I’m in love with them and so are tons of other people. These small instant pictures bring back the beauty of old analog times when photography was still a profession and not just a „click-click-click“ thing to do. You had a real photo in your hand, people could see it immediately and enjoy the beauty of Polaroids. I grew up when Polaroid was still in business and had a lot of fun using their polaroid cameras. However, nowadays the future looks bleak as an instant film lover. Is instant film coming to an end? Or is it just the beginning of a revival?

It was February 2008 when Polaroid shut down their factories (and laid off 450 workers) as a result of the tremendous drop in demand for instant film. Digital camera usage had skyrocketed and had left little space for analog enthusiasts. Why shoot on film, when you can get a digital camera which is easy to use and perfect for photography beginners and wannabe photographers. The group of weirdoes who still shot on film was probably small enough to fit into a basement rehearsal room!

I guess it was a similar situation for music lovers at the time who refused to buy CDs and mp3s, and were still collecting vinyl.

But Polaroid wasn’t dead for long and eventually some guys from Vienna bought one of the factories and started working with 10 of the former Polaroid employees. The Impossible Project was born.

polaroid photography - Polaroid SX-70

Polaroid SX-70, (c) Analog Docs

 

Unfortunately, the original Polaroid color dyes were no longer available (according to their homepage) and they had to start from scratch and reinvent a new photographic instant system, which was a pretty challenging project!

Living in Vienna gave me the opportunity to follow the steps that The Impossible Project made and also gave me the hope that instant film would survive into the 21st century.

When I started out as a professional photographer, I needed awesome looking instant film photos. I read a lot of reviews, followed pro-film photographers and got in contact with the people from The Impossible project. I bought a Polaroid 600AF off ebay and was ready to rock this camera with the new Impossible Project films, but the results were devastating. I had to cover the instant photo immediately after it popped out of the camera and keep it in absolute darkness for several minutes whilst it developed. The black & white tones were dull and lacking in contrast. The color film was of a much lower quality than that of the original Polaroid film. To make matters worse, the colors faded further after a coupe of months. I understand that this project has cost a lot to get going again but the films are just too expensive for the quality they deliver.

But thankfully, there’s another competitor in the instant film market: Fuji. After doing some more research I found out that Fuji also offers instant films – FP-100C (color), FP-3000b (black & white, which was discontinued in 2013) and Fujifilm Instax (color and smaller in size). The colors and quality of these films were far superior to the ones the Impossible Project had to offer and I thought I had reached the end of my journey to find the perfect instant film. The only problem I faced was which camera could I use that could take these films?

 

As I decided to go with Fuji instant films, I searched for a “proper” camera that could satisfy my needs. And again, if you love instant film, you’re rather limited these days. There are only a couple of polaroid cameras available that can use the FP-100C – Polaroid Landcameras and the Polaroid 600SE (or it´s cheaper alternative the Mamiya Press). These cameras are quite rare and hard to find on ebay. The Landcameras were produced between 1947 and 1983 and are either automatic ones (e.g. 350) or manual ones (e.g. 180 or 195). As the manual Landcameras, as well as the Polaroid 600SE, can set you back up to US$800, I decided to go for an automatic Landcamera 350. I mean, US$800 for a camera for which the FP-100C film is the only choice (The Impossible Project doesn’t manufacture it) is ridiculous! And, as I mentioned above, Fuji discontinued the FP-3000b last year, so we don´t know how long the FP-100C film will survive. Given the fact that the Fuji film only fits in 2 different cameras which are damn expensive doesn´t give me the feeling they’ll stay around for long. Once it disappears, these expensive cameras will become doorstops.

Ok, back to my automatic Landcamera 350. I got some packs of Fuji FP-100C and put the first one into the camera. I dialed in the correct camera settings and pressed the shutter button. Click. A new problem! The film was an incredibly tight fit in the camera and it was impossible to pull it out. Finally, I ripped the paper strap on the picture which helps you pull it out. So, here I was, with this great, old, stupid instant film camera unable to get a photo out of it. I had to open the camera back, losing one film pack in the process, because I wasn’t aware of the proper procedure once the film cassette was open. A friend of mine also had one of these Landcameras and we thought that the problem was with the camera itself. So we tested his. We encountered the same problem again – we couldn’t get the stupid film out. Finally we figured it out. The main problem is that there is an electronic timer inside the Landcamera 350 that pushes down on the back part of the Fuji film pack and therefore results in the stuck film problem described above. The older Polaroid films had a different housing for the film, but they aren’t available anymore. If you want to know how to deal with your Landcamera, check out this great tutorial here. The problem with the Landcamera 350 in general however, is the automatic settings. You can’t set your aperture or shutter speed manually and therefore you’re once again a slave to your own camera, which is something I try to avoid.

Skipping forward to 2014 you now have the following options as a passionate instant film lover:

Polaroid SX-70

The Impossible Project has improved the quality of their films over the last few years and are offering Polaroid-SX-70 films which will fit into a SX-70 camera. You can get a pack of SX-70 film (only 8 exposures!) for US$30 and the SX 70 camera for US$400. That’s goddamn pricey! This camera only has automatic settings and many people are still unsatisfied with the quality of these new films.

Polaroid Landcamera 350

Get a Polaroid Landcamera, such as the 350, and modify it. You can use Fuji FP-100C (10 exposures) for US$20 and a Landcamera 350 for about US$250. As I mentioned above, i’m not happy with the automatic settings on this camera.

Polaroid Landcamera 180/195

Get a Polaroid Landcamera 180/195 or the Polaroid 600 SE (it’s so bulky it comes in a suitcase!). These cameras only takes the Fuji FP-100C and cost about US$700. Holy crap, this old cameras cost a ton! Beware: if Fuji discontinue the FP 100C, there’s no possibility (at the time of writing) of getting films for this camera anymore!

Polaroidback for Hasselblad and Mamiya

Get a polaroid back for your Hasselblad 500 series or for your Mamiya RZ67. Both polaroid backs take Fuji FP-100C, but you get just part of the film developed which I don´t like.

Lomo instant camera

Wait a little and get the new Lomo instant camera. They launched their kickstarter project on 27th May, 2014 and asked for US$ 100 000. After a few days they had already raised US$600 000! This camera takes the Fuji Instax films (unfortunately only the smaller ones) but also offers manual settings (whatever this means). They have their prices set at about US$90 for the camera. The Fuji Instax films cost about US$20 (for 20 exposures)

Lomo might hop on the hipster train the Impossible Project is riding and give instant film photography another chance.

Personally, I’m still considering getting a Landcamera 180, because the manual settings of the camera and the size and quality of the Fuji FP-100C is so much better than all the other options.

Let me know what you think about the future of instant film photography in the comments below!

Spread The Word
  • Now I’m wondering when you started out as a professional photographer!
    Btw. “offering Polaroid-600 films which will fit into a SX-70 camera” is factually incorrect. SX-70 film and 600 film have always been two different kinds of films; has to do with film speed.

  • ah, thanks for the correction. You are right. These are SX-70 films! I thought they will take 600 too. I am self employed as photographer for about 1,5 years

  • Cont’d: What I’m missing in this blog post is a differentiation between or explanation of the different kinds of instant films. You mention the different cameras and films but don’t make note of the differences in type – not everyone wants to mess with peel-apart film and it’s also not the kind most people think of when thinking of instant film. I’m also wondering what the “manual settings” on the new Lomo cameras are supposed to be, could you maybe elaborate?

  • All the instant films I am using are peel apart films. Actually I am just using Fuji films and not the Impossible Project films anymore. This blogpost has by no means the claim to be an introduction to instant film photography. It´s about my experience using them for my portrait work for artists like Zola Jesus, Portugal. The Man or I Heart Sharks. Regarding the new Lomo instant camera: they say it has manual settings, but since it´s still not available, I can not comment on this.

  • Ah, ok! It read somewhat like an intro to me (what with all the background info on Impossible etc.), so that’s why it felt like that bit of info was missing. (: Re: Lomo: I only read what got posted on Kickstarter and thought they meant something comparable to the “lighten/darken” switch on Polaroid 600 cameras, so basically sth. that implies to give the user control but doesn’t really (definitely less so than the focus dial on the SX-70s). I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

  • Yeah, i hope that the Lomo will be “true” manual, because otherwise it will be like the “lighten/darken” switch you mentioned. ( I have this switch on the Polaroid Landcamera 350). Otherwise there is not much choice than the Landcamera 180/195 or the Polaroid 600SE.

  • I think it will be more of a switch as I just had a look again and it says: “you can switch between N for normal daytime shots and B shutter for long exposures” for both “manual” modes…

  • mh. let´s see what this means, but then I am afraid it won´t let you change the aperture and shutter speed manually

  • The new lomo will have a fixed shutter speed and you can set aperture. So it boils down to only being useful as a darker/lighter switch. Sad, kept me from funding 🙁

  • thanks Sebastian Toth for the info. Damn it!!!

  • Kaisa

    Last summer I got the cheapest Polaroid camera (636 Close Up) from a second hand store just for the fun of it. We never had instant film cameras when I was growing up (maybe one thing the Soviets didn’t manage to copy and produce?! I don’t remember having ever seen one as a kid in the 80s). Drawback being that the Impossible Project film is bloody expensive and having to wait like 30-40 minutes isn’t really that instant.

    As long as there are hipsters there’s hope for instant film?! 😉 I might give some newer version with cheaper film a chance (maybe Lomo will deliver and the camera is worth a thing or two). I kinda think that while analogue photography will be around for ever then instant film photography might change considerably compared to Polaroid years.

  • Scott Gardner

    “Given the fact that the Fuji film only fits in 2 different cameras which are damn expensive…”

    Maybe you were limiting your comments to manual cameras, but the automatic Polaroid Land cameras aren’t that expensive – It’s not hard to find the popular Land 250 on eBay for ~$30-50, often with accessories like a flash, portrait kit or carrying case.

    And while you’re correct that FP-3000B has been discontinued, there’s still plenty of it in the supply system, and I’ve seen expiration dates going out to December 2014, so with proper storage you could stock up and it would probably be viable for at least the next couple of years.

    • Hi Scott! Thanks for your comment. Yes, I was refering to manual cameras. As I mentioned I am using a Landcamera 350, which is cheap, but have only automatic camera settings. The main problem I see is that Landcameras are used by analog enthusiasts and pro photographers only. So there are not many people in need of this film and I can´t believe that Fuji can make a profit of them anymore. So I guess, this was the reason why they discontinued the FP-3000B. You are right, you can buy them now and store them, but just the fact that also really famous people in the analog biz like Jonathan Canlas predict that Fuji might stop the production the 100C in 2015 doesn´t make it a great future for instant film (but nobody knows for sure). I am still in need of a manual instant filmcamera, but it seems there are only the Landcamera 180/195 and the Polaroid 600SE which will give you all the options I need. Using a polaroidback on the Hasselblad or Mamiya is not really a solution for me.

  • Tangair

    Terrific article. Thanks for taking the time to share. I use the pack film and still lament the passing of full 4X5 chemistry. I hope enough users can rally to support the folks working on 4X5 B&W.

    I have been using the 250, 360 and 195 models successfully with both 3000B and 100C. I just purchased a 405 back to use the full frame potential in my view cameras. Although I also have a Horseman 980 with Polaroid pack back, I don’t want to be limited to its 6X9 mask.

    Scanning the B&W negatives as well as the color neg transparencies will open new possibilities for instant lovers as well.

  • Sarah BK

    There’s plenty more landcameras than the only 350 you mentioned – I believe the 100 and 200 series don’t have a timer, and hence, don’t have that problem.

    It’s a pity these are our only options if we want to get started in instant film photography. I really hope a better company steps up and recreates the Polaroid land cameras.

    The Lomo photos aren’t even that great from what I’ve seen, and the Fuji Instax are also very limited in functionality (except for the most recent mini 90 but the portrait orientation and small size of the film it uses is ridiculous).

  • Kyle Michaels

    “It was February 2008 when Polaroid shut down their factories (and laid off 450 workers) as a result of the tremendous drop in demand for instant film. Digital camera usage had skyrocketed and had left little space for analog enthusiasts.” This is actually completely inaccurate. In 2004, internal forecasts projected that film sales would take ten years to trail off into nothingness. So BankOne had stockpiled a decade’s worth of ingredients from Polaroid’s suppliers: truckloads of dyes, tons of titanium white, giant volumes of paper. One by one, the supply lines were allowed to dry up and the specialized production lines shut down. The miraculous New Bedford negative factory pumped out enough material to last until 2014, and then was closed and sold. The end of instant film was fast approaching- except that over those few years in the mid-2000s, something peculiar started to happen. Demand for Polaroid film did not fall off to zero as predicted. In fact, the decline began to level out. Sales actually rose enough that the ten-year supply of materials was exhausted in less than five, so that the last packs of Polaroid film were produced in 2008 (and expired in 2009). So contrary to your opinion, demand has been on the rise since before Polaroid even went out of business.

  • Option8

    I think you should try instax wide with a 600SE! I make the backs for this exact situation. Because there is not manual camera for instax at all.

  • Tangair

    And as of this date there is no instant peel-apart film from Fuji. Instead, they have rolled-out a vastly inferior Instax Wide which is poorer in quality, color rendition, definition – just about any metric you want to put on it. This was an amazingly poor strategic decision as a significant segment of the film community has turned against Fuji’s hubris.