Review: The Impossible Project Instant B&W Film with Color Frames

8:19 AM , 2 Comments



When I embarked on this journey into photography and video production some 9 years ago (a hobby at first more than a business), I always wanted to learn my craft on film. I had heard other production professionals talking about learning on film in school and was intrigued by the chemical processes behind making an image. I knew that if I used film I could teach myself to get the shot right the first time, saving myself time, money and perhaps making myself a better filmmaker/photographer. Plus film is just cool. There's something about holding a piece of film. Knowing that I made this picture. It's perfectly unique. There are no digital duplicates. You're essentially holding the raw file in your hands. Tons of detail compressed onto one small frame. I also had a somewhat sentimental attachment to film as I expressed in my review of Pro8mm's Super 8 Film Kit.

As I was saying... early on I went out to explore the world of film. At the time, digital was already taking over the world of professional photography and feature films were getting there - RED and the Canon 5D MKII hadn't made their debuts. So slowing, I began shooting whatever kinds of film I could get my hands on. I started with the easily available 35mm film - even picked up a few old relics like the Canon AE-1. I stuck 35mm film in everything. I even made super wide panoramas by putting 35mm film in an old Ansco box camera.

Then came medium format. Portra 120 film in a beautiful Zeiss Ikon that my wife's grandpa had purchased from a work friend back in the 50's. A bit of a pain to use but produced gorgeous results.

Zeiss Ikon and Kodak Ektar 120 film
About the same time I was trying out my first few cartridges of Super 8 motion picture film. I shot some during formals at a wedding. The camera with gears grinding definitely turned some heads - in a good way.

The last popular film format that I experimented with was one that I had little remembrance of growing up. The only time I had seen a polaroid camera was on the rare occasion that great-grandma decided to bring her's to our family get togethers. Even then, the only time I ever remember seeing the magic of instant film was at the dentist's office. Kid's usually like getting their picture taken right? That must have been their assumption because every kid had their polaroid taken and hung on the wall after their appointment.

I realize that at this point you're probably wondering WHERE'S THE FREAKING REVIEW?! Well wait no longer! I give you...

The Impossible Project Instant B&W Film with Color Frames Review

-or-

The Good, The Bad and The Overexposed

Tech Specs
For those of you who are new to The Impossible Project, they rescued the once popular instant film business from extinction a few years back. When Polaroid called it quits, Impossible bought up their old instant film manufacturing equipment and began R&D for their own Polaroid style film. The film doesn't work exactly the same as Polaroid's, but essentially produces the same results. More details on that later.

The Film
The film used in this review was Impossible's B&W Instant Film with colored frames made for 600 series cameras. Each cartridge has it's own battery to power the camera and contains 8 exposures. I'm still not sure why Polaroid decided to put the battery in the film cartridge. It certainly doesn't make the film any less expensive! The emulsion that Impossible developed for this run is fairly new - providing high contrast and sharpness - unless you screw up like I did (more on this later).

Update from one of our readers:
"--Polaroid initially put the battery in the film pack as a bit of customer service. Its research revealed that many consumers went out to shoot with fresh film but then discovered they had dead batteries, and got blank pictures, so the idea was to deliver a fresh charge with each pack. Over the years, though, it took on another purpose: to stop anyone from making knockoff film for Polaroid cameras. Manufacturing that thin flat battery was a headache, especially in the early days, and nobody else could realistically do it and match Polaroid's price. So it served as a patent-enforcement tool. (Much later on, it became a problem, because it did raise the price of each pack of film, making it less competitive against 35-mm.and then digital.)"

Film Speed: 640 ASA. Each image has a different color frame.
Instructions come with the film. Anything else you'd need to know
can be found online.
The Camera
The camera I used was a Polaroid One600, one of the last models Polaroid came out with made in the early 2000's. Not the most exciting looking camera nor does it have the vintage, classic feel of an SX-70. It's fully automatic, so as long as you follow a few rules, you'll get pleasing results. Other features include an electronic flash, self timer, 100mm lens and a 3-foot minimum focus distance.


Loading Film
Loading film is simple. Insert the cartridge in the front of the camera firmly, close the door and open the camera with the "Open/Close" button on the back. Opening the camera turns it on. The camera will recognise the new film and spit out the black sheet that protects the first exposure.

video


Test Shots
Below are test shots taken with said film and camera. Some of the images are attempts to push the limits of the emulsion - just to see what I could get out of it.


1. The Tunnel
The first image I shot was rather late at night. I wanted to see how much latitude the film would give me with the tunnel ahead - the tunnel being lit by fluorescent tube lights. What surprised me was that the you could still see the interior of the tunnel even with the flash exposing the exterior of the tunnel. If you look closely, you can make out two figures sitting in the tunnel, roughly 3/4 of the way down.


2. Smoke in the Tunnel
I wanted at least one "portrait" and a portrait with someone smoking in the tunnel seemed like the thing to do at the time. The film didn't exactly render the smoke the way I wanted it to but I suppose that was more my fault in planning and lighting than the film's. It's important to note that all of these photos were taken with the camera's electronic flash - it fires with every shot - whether you need it or not! Don't worry. There are a good handful of cameras out there with manual controls.


3. The First and Last Hotel in Texas
A little history: This is the first (and last, depending on which direction you're going) hotel in Texas on the border with New Mexico. It's on an old stretch of Route 66 that was bypassed in 1973.


4. Cadillac Ranch
You guessed it. This is The Overexposed. This was supposed to be an image of Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. You may say, "But I thought you said that camera was automatic! How did it become overexposed?" The answer lies in the film itself - not the camera. This brings me to my next point...

Development
You see, unlike the Polaroid film of yesteryear where it came out of the camera and you watched it develop, you have to immediately put this film in a completely dark place for 10 minutes while it develops. If it sees light before then, you run the risk of further exposing the film and blowing out any details. The trick it to have a small piece of cardboard (or a frog tongue, etc.) to shield your images from the light as they come out of the camera. At that point you can carefully place them in a dark (I mean completely dark!!!) pocket or bag for the remaining development time. Why? I'm not sure. If I hear from Impossible on the subject I'll let you know. My assumption in that Polaroid decided not to sell their patent forcing Impossible to reverse engineer the process which they haven't quite figured out yet.

Update from one of our readers:
--Polaroid's patents have all expired, so that's not a factor in Impossible's recipe. The real problem involves the actual chemical ingredients. Polaroid's suppliers have long since shut down those production lines; they can't or won't restart them for the much smaller orders Impossible would be making. Other chemicals, made by Polaroid itself at other sites, came from factories that have been demolished. Impossible's workarounds, thus far, have been semi-successful. We are told that future batches will be better; hope so.

As far as the image above is concerned, I simply didn't cover the film fast or well enough to hold the exposure.


5. Wigwam Motel
Wigwam Motel is a classic stop on old Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ. This is one of my favorite shots. As you can see, there are some weird light splotches on the image. I'm assuming I again did not get the image covered fast enough to prevent overexposure.


6. Woman in the Weeds
Admittedly not a great image. I think I'll call this The Bad. Again, overexposed in some areas. Snapped quickly while over by Cadillac Ranch.



7. "Mom, there's a Unicorn on the Wall!"
This was taken at Graffiti Park at Castle Hills in Austin, TX. This was a really fun place to take pictures. This time I was able to shield the image from light and get it into my bag immediately which is why it looks sharp and full of detail.


8. Heart of Texas
My last shot was of a popular piece of "Texas" wall art. Perhaps there's a slight inconsistency in the film or perhaps I'm really just that bad at covering the photos when they come out of the camera. In any case, you can see some light leakage up in the top left corner where the detail is lost. Shielding your developing images isn't quite as difficult indoors because interior lights aren't anywhere near as bright as ye 'ol sun.

Buying a Camera
Cameras are easily available through The Impossible Project, ebay, yard sales and even amazon. Always check to see if film is available for that camera before you buy. Personally, I would go with a camera sold by The Impossible Project since it's been fully refurbished. A used camera bought elsewhere may not even work properly if at all!

Buying Film
The B&W color frame film I used is only one of many stocks Impossible carries. They have everything from your standard color film with white frames to Fuschia with Floral Frames. Go classic or have some fun with the new stuff. There are also different films for different camera series, so double check that you're purchasing the right film for your camera.

Scanning
Scanning Polaroids to share online or make copies is easy. Use your flatbed scanner or you may be able to use your smartphone if you're in a well lit area and you're in some kind of hurry (scanner is better... use the scanner).

Final Thoughts
The Impossible Project has truly done an amazing job recreating the Polaroid. It's a lot of fun to shoot this film and light leaks or no, they have a unique, vintage look that phone apps like instagram are still trying to replicate. I'm slightly disappointed that you can't pull out the image and watch it develop like in the old days but I really have no room to complain - if it weren't for Impossible, 'polaroids' would no longer exist in any iteration. As mentioned by one of our readers, the chemicals necessary to develop in broad daylight are no longer manufactured/expensive/toxic/etc. but perhaps Impossible they'll figure out in the not too distant future as they continually improve their product.

Price is another concerning aspect of this product. Now solidly in the digital age, instant film has become something of a novelty and the price of film shows it. Currently, an 8 pack of film costs $23.49. That's almost $3 a shot! So unless you're into expensive hobbies, using this for a photo gig or maybe a special occasion, you may want to rethink your instant photography options, new and old. It's important to note that the only other type of instant photography that uses similar technology is Fuji Professional Instant Film (review and tutorial coming soon!!!).

Lastly, on the color frames: At first I didn't care for them. I prefered the classic white frames but after shooting a few I found that I enjoyed the contrast between the frame and the image. The variety of color in the pack is a nice touch as well. In the future I'd probably want to choose a style of film for my subject matter - using classic white or even black frames for serious subject matter. In any case, Impossible has a wide variety of film and frame options so shoot what you like!

If you have specific questions about the chemistry of Impossible's film or need to troubleshoot image problems your having, check out this post on Impossible's website: http://bit.ly/1KeOSq7

Happy shooting!

JoshMcDarris

Josh is an independent DP, editor and motion graphics designer in Austin, TX. You can read more about him and check out his work at joshmcdarris.com

2 comments:

  1. Nice review. Two clarifications worth mentioning:

    --Polaroid's patents have all expired, so that's not a factor in Impossible's recipe. The real problem involves the actual chemical ingredients. Polaroid's suppliers have long since shut down those production lines; they can't or won't restart them for the much smaller orders Impossible would be making. Other chemicals, made by Polaroid itself at other sites, came from factories that have been demolished. Impossible's workarounds, thus far, have been semi-successful. We are told that future batches will be better; hope so.

    --Polaroid initially put the battery in the film pack as a bit of customer service. Its research revealed that many consumers went out to shoot with fresh film but then discovered they had dead batteries, and got blank pictures, so the idea was to deliver a fresh charge with each pack. Over the years, though, it took on another purpose: to stop anyone from making knockoff film for Polaroid cameras. Manufacturing that thin flat battery was a headache, especially in the early days, and nobody else could realistically do it and match Polaroid's price. So it served as a patent-enforcement tool. (Much later on, it became a problem, because it did raise the price of each pack of film, making it less competitive against 35-mm.and then digital.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess the name "Impossible" really fits with those sort of obstacles! Thanks for the info!

      Delete

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