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back to article Polaroid enthusiasts unveil new instant film

Owners of Polaroid's classic SX-70 camera will this week be able to buy the first of a new batch of instant films for the model, courtesy of The Impossible Project. A snap on The Impossible Project's PX 100. Pic: Jake Chessum Since Polaroid stopped production of instant film back in 2008, the tech has until now been available …

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Seems pointless

Wouldn't it have been easier, and more expandable, to design a film pack that actualy contained a CCD sensor, basic inkjet/thermal printer, and SD card slot? Same end result, future-proofed technology.

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Grenade

Future-proof?

What's future proof about digital? Are you sure that your CCD sensor isn't obsolete in 2 year's time? That your inkjet/thermal prints haven't faded in 10 years? That you will still find a working SD card or a workign reader in 25?

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Future proof

It's called a JPEG file. See, digital means you can make copies without having a dark room.

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JPEGs future proof...?

But not proof against lossy compression and pictorial artifacts...

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Anonymous Coward

Future Proof

Many of the more arty type of photographer would tell youigital cameras in general do not produce results as satisfying as film excepting, perhaps, those equipped with the wonderful Foveon sensor).

Many would tell you that the Bayer type sensors which dominate the market are responsible for this. They certainly do some very strange things to produce the colour image that you see. The colour at each pixel of the image is interpolated from one photosite and it's neighbours because each photosite is a single colour. So the colour of each photosite influences that of it's neighbours. That's not the worst of it however, that honour is reserved for the fact that a Bayer sensor has twice as many green photosites as red or blue ones so the interpolation of colour data has to account for this.

Even a monochrome image suffers as a result of this since the brightness of red, green and blue light at the adjacent photosites must be worked on to give the final monochrome image. And bear in mind that it has to account for that heavy green bias.

Colour film, as eny fule kno, has layers and filters so that each layer records one colour and the three layers are effectively overlayed when developed to produce the final colour image. With monochrome film the silver halides effectively record the brightness of the light, no clever adding of colours. For that reason it's quite difficult to get a digital camera to replicate the results of

Foveon sensors have three layers seperated by filters so that the colour at each site is created by adding the colours together at the same point so there is no effective bleed between pixels. Also the photosites are bigger and so give better low light sensitivity, less noise and a better dynamic range. All of which seems to give a result more like that of film. To my eyes at least a Foveon sensor gives results that look much more like those of colour film.

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Because size matters

That's a clever solution from the point of view of an engineer (it appeals to me on those grounds), but impractical for cost reasons and about the polar opposite of what the target market would want anyway.

I'm not sure what a sensor the size of a Polaroid's picture area would cost, but I'm sure the amount of money involved to break even on one of those would buy you a metric assload of 8-frame film packs even at $21 each.

The cheapest digital medium format rigs retail for 5-figure sums, and they aren't even "full frame" sized compared to 120 film.

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JPEGs future proof...?

Yes, yes they are. And more proof against the sort of degradation that silver nitrate tends to be prone to.

A few years ago I'd have agreed with you, but these days your average digital camera produced pictures far better looking and sharper than pretty much any film camera that isn't ridiculously expensive.. and the JPEG won't deteriorate over time. Just keep copying it to a new storage medium, if you're that scared.

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@AC 16:55

Crikey, someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

I still have to disagree a bit though. Ever since digital cameras started being more than one-megapixel toys with plastic lenses, they've been producing some excellent imagery.

These days, the whole "but film is just better" reminds me of people who absolutely insist that valve amps are the only way to listen to audio. Sorry.. valve amps are good for guitars because they produce a nicer variety of distortion. They don't reproduce hi-fi style sound any better than a good MOSFET. And so it is with digital imagery.. you'll always get people insisting that film is better, regardless of advances in digital technology. No matter that even after JPEG compression a lot of pictures are a higher resolution than the grain of most domestic films.. film is better!

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FAIL

Let me know when you can make one that fits

The CCD would have to be three inches on a side and the inkjet printer would have to be less than half an inch thick. Good luck getting that to work at a reasonable price.

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@M Gale RE: valves

I recently got a valve amp and I can say definitively that you are dead wrong. The glorious warmth and richness that comes from that valve distortion is an absolute joy to listen to*. It has genuinely rejuvenated my love for music. I would never go back to transistors. You should note that I am a very cynical man when it comes to audio gear; I once replaced my £0.50p / m speaker cable with £10 / m cable and couldn't tell the difference.

* Except, weirdly, Neil Young sounds a bit crap through it. That's beyond me.

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$21 for 8 snaps

This is what made the original polaroids so shit, and destined to be used only be a few specialists and people with craptons of money to burn.

Very nice idea, but wtfprice? Also, having no negatives compounds the failure.

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Boffin

Re: $21 for 8 snaps

"Also, having no negatives compounds the failure."

There used to be a Polaroid film of the peel-apart kind that also provided the negative.

In fact the peel-apart films would have been more useful to reproduce: You could use them to imprint the color image from the negative side onto ordinary paper (preferably of the kind used for water colour painting), a trick known as "dye transfer". With skill and luck you get an stylish painting-like photograph.

It is also a unique object d'art, as the trick works only for one printing.

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FAIL

All very good...

The Impossible Group said it intends to produce one million film packs by the end of the year followed by three million in 2011"

Yes, but having 2.9999 million sat on your shelves unsold is pretty pointless.

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Boffin

Selling useless stuff

So you also suspect this whole project was set up by an unemployed shelf maker?

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Why?

I've got a Polaroid camera somewhere in the loft. With several other obsolete cameras - 126, 110, Super 8, and possibly a Box Brownie.

Advanced technology in their day, but that day is long gone.

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I don't get it

Really, I don't. Polaroids filled a rather niche market in the 70s and 80s, and were struggling to stay alive even then. Polaroid pictures were hideously poor quality - the only thing they had going for them was that you could get them instantly. Now you can get a decent result with a digital camera and print it off instantly on a pocket inkjet printer with *much* better quality, why bother?

Sure, it's an art thing. That's fine, but producing mass-market quantities of film packs is a pretty serious fail. Especially since they're not hugely chemically stable, and four million packs is probably a hundred-year supply for every artist using them.

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Yes, it's an art thing...

Y'know they still *make and sell* oil and watercolour paints! Why? Don't these 'artists' know that photography killed painting in the mid 19th C.? (Paul Delaroche)

Blimey, why would anyone bother with all that fuss when digicams and computers can do stuff so much more _easily_!

... 'coz that's what this world needs, more 'art' made by the empowered masses.

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Instant prints are brilliant

'Instamatic' type cameras are very useful in out of the way places. Three years ago a group of us travelled to Ecuador to visit some indiginous peoples. One member of the party took a polaroid type camera (actually Fuji) to give photographs to tribespeople who had never seen a picture of themselves. (If you live in a jungle you may not even own a mirror).

A rugged and simple device that doesn't rely on electrical supplies compensates for the cost of the film.

One day the whole world will own a mobile phone with a built in camera - and yes some tribal people owned one, but at the moment there are at least a billion people who do not.

It isn't every day that you meet a tribesman who hunts with a blowpipe - but when you do it is a wonderful experience to be able to give them a photograph of the meeting so they they have a momento - we can take out digital cameras back home and print out as many prints as we like.

Well done to the people who are keeping instant photography alive - there is still a need for it.

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WTF?

@ Pierre Castille

" It isn't every day that you meet a tribesman who hunts with a blowpipe - but when you do it is a wonderful experience to be able to give them a photograph of the meeting. Well done to the people who are keeping instant photography alive - there is still a need for it"

Yes, I'm sure there is a need for 8-times-15 million pictures per year of tribesmen with blowpipes who've never previously seen pictures of themselves.

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Headmaster

Re: Instant prints are brilliant

"'Instamatic' type cameras are very useful in out of the way places."

Actually "Instamatic" refers to "non-instant" film cameras that used the idiot-proof "126" film cartridges, introduced in the 60's for people who could not figure out how to load regular 35mm film, or always forgot to rewind it before opening the camera... Kodak's trademark, I believe. The "126" went out of fashion, when 35mm cameras became capable of threading and rewinding the film automatically with a motor.

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Black Helicopters

No to mention...

That once they get mad at you for stealing their soul, you get great exercise running from said tribals with blowpipes.

I'm thinking the true users (as well as the planners) are using blowpipes of a different kind.

You need a "need more doritos' icon. I've got the hungries now. I'll use the helicopter, since it looks dorito-like.

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Nudge Nudge

when I worked in retail we always looked suspiciously at people buying polaroid films. you just know they were being used for "candid" photography, Know what I mean, nudge nudge

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Joke

Nerdy reference

Do you think they had a "double-polaroid"?

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Paris Hilton

Much preferred the 110 film

Fast, fine-grained B/W pictures. Still have a lot of them and the camera I used. She would approve.

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@John Tuffen

Painting and photography are different media formats. Polaroid and printed photos are the same media format. A better comparison would be if I set up a company manufacturing authentic 1940s radiograms, with authentic crackly 1940s sound quality. Equally pointless as a business venture in an age of CDs, DVDs and MP3s.

But still, for the sake of argument, let's assume there's an artistic reason to keep using a Polaroid. How on earth would you expect to sell 4 million film packs, for a camera whose only users in the entire world are (1) people doing art projects who particularly need the blurry images and skewed colours of Polaroids, (2) OAPs who bought a Polaroid in 1975 and still think it's the height of modern technology, or (3) retro junkies who want a toy to play with for a few minutes. And the latter group are unlikely to be long-term consumers.

If there's more than a hundred Polaroid users in the world today, I'd be utterly amazed - not just because digital photography is so much better in every respect, but also because Polaroid cameras were cheap plastic crap and had the build quality of a house of cards. But let's be charitable and say there's a thousand Polaroid users across the world. In which case that's 4000 packs of film per person. Let's say they're all prolific photographers and use 40 packs of film a year. Then by the absolute worst-case figures possible, that's a 100-year supply for every Polaroid camera user in the world.

It ain't happening, is it?

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FAIL

Fact checking. It's quite good actually.

"If there's more than a hundred Polaroid users in the world today, I'd be utterly amazed"

Well hold on to your socks there big lad, because they're about to be blown clean off. Complete, utter and total amazement is just a Flickr search away.

Polaroid related groups on Flickr:

Polaroid

14,275 members | 174,183 photos

POLAROID EDGE

4,526 members | 66,722 photos

Polaroid SX 70

5,508 members | 62,923 photos

polaroid love *

3,169 members | 43,671 photos

polaroid photograph

2,249 members | 39,382 photos

No doubt there's a ton of overlap between the smaller groups and the larger ones, but still that's just a smidge more than 100 users, innit?

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Go

Given that they've sold...

...more than half a million packs of Polaroid film that they bought up in the original liquidation, over the last year and a half, it seems like there is a market- just not the one you seem to think.

My experience with this is that Polaroid is an excellent niche market, just not the mass-market product you seem to assume. When you're at a party and you offer someone a polaroid snap, you don't just take a picture, you also give them a gift. There's a unique tactile element, too, that you don't get from digital photos, where everyone clusters around to watch the photo develop. There's a magic in watching it- and people seem to respond to it.

If you've got an old Polaroid hanging around, and you attend gatherings, you could do worse than to blow a tenner on a pack of film for it and see.

Then there are a number of factors that really make Polaroid irreplaceable- firstly, that lack of a negative means that once the photo's developed and set, it's set in stone. This is something digital formats just can't replicate, and it's something that gives polaroid photos more weight in court cases. This is very handy when you want to sue that builder who screwed up your house.

Secondly, the film is huge compared to a 35mm negative- easily the largest consumer format- which means you can actually blow them up really large before they lose detail, at least if you're using an SX70 or Spectra camera that has a decent glass lens. These cameras are far more compact than other large-format film cameras, and a lot cheaper too (you can pick them up for a few quid on eBay.)

Thirdly, if you're at a party and you take a picture of someone, and they don't like it (or they're doing something that might get them in trouble...) then you give them the photo and they know for a fact that you don't have a copy to upload to the internets. That's a big win in my experience.

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Terminator

@AC

Thank you Kryten.

(And never before was the "Rise of the Machines" icon so appropriate...)

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Boffin

Ah, the memories. Well, that's all of them.

Another thing that Polaroid prints were good at was accident investigation- the prints were damned difficult to modify, and as you got your print on the spot, if it was crap you could re-shoot while the scene was still available.

Now with digital, it's instant review on the investigator's laptop in their vehicle. Sure, it can be 'shopped, but it still takes a fair amount of effort to pull it off.

I had one of the older style Polaroid cameras with the peel-a-part film packs, and while it was a novelty, film was nigh-impossible to find, and both it and the flash that I managed to hack into working used oddball batteries that are slightly less difficult to find then the film. (I also remember seeing Kodak instant cameras in the thrift stores all the time, which was amusing- Kodak was legally barred from making film for them due to a lawsuit between them and Polaroid, and no one who knew anything would bother buying them.)

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Stop

18 comments by non-photographers

Pretty straight forward chaps, polaroid is the ultimate in image tests. If it looks good on a roid it's going to look great in the final shot. That is why so many photographers still do test shots with roids.

Yes the price is too high, but if you haven't tried to develop a roll of medium format in the last couple of years then you haven't got any basis for comment.

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Not bad.

The old style photography is analog and can put one metric crapload of info on a piece of paper.

But I have to stick to digital* because no way in hell am I lugging around a SLR again unless I am paid for it.

(*then you can beam their souls directly to the mothership.)

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The main problem I have with the original Polaroid film is that...

... most of the photographs taken by my family during my childhood were taken on Polaroid; and most of them (in addition to having truly dismal resolution) have also faded significantly, even though they've been stored in a dark place for most of their life.

The same's true of a lot of the colour films from the 1970's, based on what I've seen Kodak Ektachrome was dismal too.

Some of the printing processes back then were also a little unstable, not sure whether the labs were trying to "economise" on the chemicals (like no stop bath), but based on the family archives I'd rate the whole 1970's photo experience as dismal with regard to longevity.

We actually have B&W from circa 1900 which have lasted far better than either than *any* of the stuff from the 1970's. That's not to say that some of the B&W stuff hasn't gone wrong either, but most of it's still significantly better than the Polaroid stuff.

As for digital, it very much depends on what you store your files on, and how you look after those backups. If they're on unbranded discs, and they're on your desk in bright sunlight, they've probably gone already. If they're on a reputable brand which actually says something about lifespan, and have been kept cool and dark you should have better luck. Multiple backups are still a good idea, as ever. Accidents do happen.

I hope for those using it, that this resurrected film is stable. Fingers crossed. I'm sticking with my EOS 5D2 though :D

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Grenade

Good Grief!

On the one hand I guess it's good people will still be able to shoot film in these things. However, rather than a plastic SX-70 I have a good old 1969 Polaroid Model 360 Land Camera. It sits on the shelf next to the 110 Minolta, 35mm Canon AE-1, and a host of film cameras.

Great things were done with film at one time, especially Kodachrome. But today most of the people clinging to film are either using it as an art medium or a retro bucking the trend. They go along with the people still playing vinyl records, CRT televisions, laserdiscs, and vacuum tube radios. Fine if it's your interest, but don't sit around pretending you've got some secret superiority the rest of the world has forgotten.

I shoot color, infrared, landscapes, events, and action. I've been digital for ten years and since I got my first full frame DSLR have never even considered going back to film. It's every bit as good as 220 large format and much faster and easier to use. As for "new" Polaroid, it's like listening to 45 singles, a nice retro moment but I'm not going to live there.

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@Paul

Wow! OK, yes, I was completely wrong about the number of folk using it then. I doubt all of the group members are active Polaroid photographers though, but still, that is a fair number of people round the world. Say 10,000 active users then.

So complete and utter amazement, yes. Amazement that so many people would want to take over-saturated, over-exposed, faded, blurry pictures. But hey ho. A-shackin' son goat, as I think the French say about sexual preferences. ;-)

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Heh

"So complete and utter amazement, yes. Amazement that so many people would want to take over-saturated, over-exposed, faded, blurry pictures."

Never come across Lomography, then...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lomography

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Happy

@John Stepp

My digital is SLR. Olympus E300. About 5 years old now and beats the pants off most things available then and even now.

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To be honest

I could see a market, though not necessarily universal, for a modern instant camera. Trouble is this isn't one, it's only the film as well. Their market will only go down as the numbers of polaroids out there that are in usable condition go down.

Now portable printers might be a credible alternative to an instant camera in a lot of cases, but that's just having the same functionality in a different package.

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Actually...

Polaroid's new owners are making a new camera to work with the film, and the Impossible Project guys are working on one too. There are also plenty of deadstock brand-new cameras out there- you can even get them on Amazon. It's not like they'll stop working in the box, especially since there's no battery in the camera.

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