Last week I tried hard to be impartial while writing our brief article outlining the current problems surrounding the first film from The Impossible Project’s (TIP) factory and the backlash surrounding it. Personally I was torn about the new film: I was incredibly happy that they have managed to resurrect the old factory and succeeded in creating an entirely new film, but I was a bit dismayed by reports of the instability of their integral product.
I ordered three packs on the launch day for two main reasons: I really wanted to try the film out for myself so I could make my own mind up about a product that has so far split polaroid’s internet fanbase, and I also wanted to show my support for TIP, a tiny company that was tasked with an incredible feat in a small time frame. Being based in the UK, postage was somewhat expensive at £14 (purchasing one pack would cost £30 or £3.75 per shot!), but buying in bulk is key to keeping costs down. Other customers have been left frustrated by shipping costs ($50 to Canada from the Inpossible USA shop), but TIP are looking into reducing the costs. The plus side of this price is the swift delivery: 2 days via UPS from Germany once it had left the warehouse.
Before using the film I really wanted to read as much as I could in order to avoid the overexposed white shots experienced by the British Journal of Photography and some users on Flickr. The first port-o’-call was the TIP website which contains a step-by-step guide on how to use the film.
TIP mention that the film is incredibly sensitive to temperature, with the optimum range being 16-24C and appears to be sensitive to light during development, with the guide stating that you should ‘IMMEDIATELY SHIELD THE PICTURE FROM LIGHT’ with your hand. That’s a good start, but people were complaining the photos were still overexposing even after following this guide, others found that using their old ND filter from the sx70/600 film hack days helped produce better results.
After more research it seemed that the photos weren’t overexposing at the point the shutter fired, but rather after the camera had spat the photo out. The blue opaque layer which is meant to shield the film while it is developing seemed to be at fault, allowing ambient light to penetrate through it, thus over-exposing the photograph. T’interweb is full of productive and ingenious types, with users instantly coming up with 2 main solutions to this problem: taping the ejected darkslide (more on the darkslide later) onto the front of your camera to shield the film as it ejected, or taping a small dark bag to the front of the camera so the film went straight into the bag. Most people seem to agree that the bag solution produces the best results, but is a bit more cumbersome in the field.
So the first problem seems to have been overcome, but what does that say about the film, and indeed, TIP? The opaque layer is far more sensitive to light then TIP seem to be stating in their literature, simply covering the film with your hand after it had ejected would not be enough to prevent overexposure, it requires direct action on behalf of the user in order to produce a workable photo, something that TIP must have known about before production?
I decided to use the darkslide method for my first attempts, mainly due to the speed. That was the first problem out of the way, the second seems to be temperature. Even in the middle of summer, it very rarely gets close to 24C in Scotland, so I needed a way to ensure the film developed correctly at about the correct temperature. I went with the ‘armpit’ method : transfer the photo and the darkslide together into my armpit and allow development for 2 minutes (more on this later).
Now I thought I was fully ready and preapred to test the film out in ‘the field’…
The location was chosen: Edinburgh, the day: Good Friday. I had packed my polaroid case with a couple of packs of film, and still had a few shots left of 600 to use up first. A fountain diptych took care of the penultimate shots, and with only one shot remaining I thought I better try a comparison shot. It just so happened I was sat outside in the (cold) sunshine nursing a pint of Guinness, so being the lazy sod I am, I just took a photo of that.
Now it was time to load the new film. The first thing I had totally forgotten about is that this film won’t have those annoying nubs that I had gotten so used to circumventing on the 600 film; the film just slotted straight in. TIP have produced 60 different darkslide designs, each with a different bizarre quote on them. It’s an nice design addition, but I can’t see many people truley being bothered about trying to collect them all (afterall, polaroid fans have mostly grown out of their ‘pokemon’ phase). I should also note at this point that the packing of PX100 is very nicely designed (although some people have harshly said they wish TIP had spent longer working on the film than the packing): an embossed PX logo on a plain white box, with a tear strip revealing a smaller box inside containing the film. Anyway, back to the review..
I taped the aformentioned darkslide (‘saddle a hippopotamus’ if anyone cares) to the front of my SX70 and lined up a shot of my now slightly depleted pint. The camera spat the film out at a slightly weird angle so the darkslide did not cover one side of the photograph, which led me to believe it was definitely handy to have a photographer’s assistant handy to grab the film as it is eject and guide it directly under the darkslide (or use the ‘baggy method’). The photo was probably exposed to the sunlight for approximately 3 seconds before I grabbed it (along with the darkslide) and placed it into my armpit of my jumper and waited…
..2 nervous minutes, and another quarter of a pint later I took a look at the photo:
and the later scan:
‘Success’ I thought at the time, afterall, compared to many peoples completely white shots I had managed to get something that resembled a pint of Guinness! As this photo shows however, there are a few problems. The main one shows just how sensitive that blue opaque layer is. That side of the photo was in sunlight for a matter of seconds yet has managed to completely overexpose that part of the photograph. As mentioned above, it’s probably better to have someone to ‘catch’ the film as it emerges in order for you to ensure the photo lines up with the darkslide completely. Alternatively try the bag method, which seems to work even better with regards to contrast. This problem with the layer also explains why people are having success with ND filters: they are underexposing the image with the ND filter but allowing it to develop in less ‘light tight’ conditions which balances out the exposure problem (but possibly at the cost of contrast).
Another little discussed issue related to this opacity layer is the social aspect. One of the joys of Polaroid integral film is that you take a photograph and then watch it develop in front of your eyes, much of the time with your friends. PX100 takes away that step as you quickly try to stash the photo away for a a few minutes in a dark warm place.
Spurred on by at least getting ‘something’ on the new film, and determined to master its idiosyncrasies, I carried on to a new location (well not straight away, I did have a few more pints, it was a bank holiday afterall!).
After taking the first photo I could see how people think the film is better for ‘still life’ situations. Those situations where speed isn’t key, where the subject doesn’t change and where you can quickly deal with the film after taking the photo. A daffodil seemed a logical choice as we walked through some gardens. This time, after taking the photo, my photographer’s assistant/fiance made sure the ejected photo was aligned and then placed into my slightly warmer armpit (it was up a hill in the gardens!). After waiting two minutes, the result was as follows:
After taking this photo it occured to me that this film has some interesting characteristics. It seems like the development can be pushed and pulled by varying the temperature and length at that particular temperature. In this instance, spending longer in a warmer armpit (mmm lovely) seemed to increase contrast and produce a warmer image. This opens up a huge door for people to manipulate the image by varying the development time and temperature. Score one for the return of polaroid manipulation! Be careful when using your armpit or other body part to warm the film: gunk from the blue layer can come off the film and stick to your clothes, leading to a blue, and then white stain (that does wash out though!).
I took another shot outdoors and then returned indoors, where people seem to prefer using PX100 due to better heat and light control.
I wanted to take a more ‘standard’ polaroid shot (i.e not a still life close up!) to see how the film would handle in a more normal situation. This is not the strongest asset of the PX100 film, the results are quite pleasing in this instance, but the film does seem to produce quite ‘soft’ images compared to other integral polaroid film. This can be used to your advantage in certain situations (people are saying this film is ‘artistic’, although in my opinion, a medium can never be intrinsically ‘artistic’, but rather contribute to an art form), but would be better if you actually had control over this. Perhaps it’s the Holga fan inside me, but I do like the results, however, the film isn’t the answer if you want take some party snaps of your friends in the pub!
But it probably was never going to be like that, TIP are marketing this ‘First Flush’ film as ‘experimental material that will produce changing results depending on light conditions and temperature.’ Many people seemed to expect that TIP’s first film would be a straight off perfect polaroid replica, but like most complicated processes, it is going to take them time to perfect. Whether you agree with their ‘Lomography’ style marketing or not, TIP have been reasonably up front with the description of the product, perhaps not just the steps you need to take to get a result!
The marketing could be their problem however. This film is not for Polaroid beginners, it requires that you follow a certain process in order to get a result. In order for TIP to reach their sales goals, they need to introduce integral film to new customers but this could be tricky until they can release a more ‘normal’ film to the masses. I can see a teenager picking up a camera and some PX100 from Urban Outfitters and just tossing it aside after only managing to get a couple of acceptable shots from a pack. An accessible film it is not.
It also raises the question whether TIP should have spent more time to perfect their process to produce a more stable product, but the same people that are lambasting TIP for releasing this film would be the same people that would be angry if TIP delayed the project for a year. They would have been damned if you do/damned if you don’t. They have taken a risk, and only the sales figures will reveal if has been a successful risk.
In conclusion, I don’t think that this is the film Doc & co at the Impossible Project envisaged a year ago when they set themselves a deadline for releasing new integral products, they have had to adapt and market the film as something different as the complexity of the situation unravelled. It probably is not the film they would have liked to release first either, IT IS unstable, IT ISN’T the replacement standard polaroid film people were hoping but it is just a first step. The film, however, is something entirely different, another film to add into rotation. It’s an alternative that can be used to great effect in certain situations, but definitely not all. It is a great stepping stone for TIP who felt they needed to get a product to market.
- New film..yay! Integral film is back
- Has a completely different look to normal integral film-almost sepia-like.
- Manipulation is back! People have sucessfully manipulated images including sx70Manipulator and Polarodium . it’s early days, but results look promising.
- You can push/pull development and adjust contrast by adjust light exposure, development temperature and development length.
- Nice ‘small touches’ with the packaging and darkslide.
- Buying this film will support TIP allowing more R&D into other true-replacement films.
- Might lower prices of other older stock on eBay.
- The film is unstable and highly reactionary to light and temperature (bad and good!) leading to inconsistant photos.
- Results tend to be slightly blurry and soft.
- Not for beginners.
- You can’t watch the film develop in front of your eyes.
- Will take a lot of time and practice to truely master.
- An inconvenient product: takes effort (and sticky tape) to get the best results.
- Shipping costs are very high to most countries.
So what are your views? Had a chance to try the film yet? Like its characteristics? Found a reliable workflow? Let us hear your views.