With the news this week of the new Impossible Project I-1 instant film camera I’ve decided to provide a few thoughts about their PX680 color film, of which I’ve tried a few packs in my old Polaroid Spirit camera. Mine dates from the 1980’s or very early 1990’s, is a simple plastic low-cost camera not to be confused with the iconic high quality SX-70. Even the Spirit’s lens seems to be made of plastic and nothing about the camera screams anything but cheap with build quality I would succinctly describe as hard and plastic-y. The camera’s worst feature is its cheap red plastic shutter button which must be pressed and released very quickly or you’ll end up doing two exposures by accident. Something I’ve experienced more than once unfortunately.
One thing that often confuses many people about these cameras is that they don’t require a battery. Or to be more precise you don’t need to put a battery in a dedicated battery chamber. A new battery is built into every film pack including each pack of Impossible film.
A single pack of film currently lists for $US 23.49. This gives you eight colour photos.
Already you can probably hear the groans of indignation from the masses. That works out to $US 2.94 per image. In a world where people think of images as these disposable things on an iPhone of which you takes dozens every day that sounds well, rather Impossible.
Part of the cost comes down to the design of the pack itself. In addition to the battery each pack is made of a plastic and metal enclosure and is spring loaded. Each film contains all the paper, plastic and chemistry for self contained photo development. The film pack is a wonderfully inventive and complex object.
The other part of the cost comes from Impossible having to buy up the remains of a Polaroid factory in The Netherlands then essentially re-invent the wheel as much of the original Polaroid film recipe couldn’t be reproduced due to some components no longer being manufactured. Add to that the costs of packaging and marketing and one can appreciate what goes into making this unique product.
The people at the Impossible Project deserve a huge amount of respect and appreciation from the photographic community for even attempting this 'crazy' undertaking. The fact that they’ve succeeded should give comfort to entrepreneurs and dreamers everywhere.
Early versions of the film were famous for being, shall we say, temperamental with various issues ranging from weird colours to degradation. Over time with several iterations these issues have largely gone away.
That doesn’t mean this film delivers the absolute consistency one could get from digital. In my experience it’s very susceptible to overexposure so I need to choose my subjects carefully and be conservative with the cameras exposure slider.
That being said the element of uncertainty and mystery about just what will pop out of the camera does add to the experience and you do get images with unique qualities. From my camera they tend to be a bit soft. Perhaps ‘dreamy’ would be another way of putting it. However you do get an image which is quite special and has an aesthetic all its own.
Can it be frustrating to use? At times yes, and it is rather pricey lets face it.
On the other hand if you are patient and thoughtful about your photography there is a certain je ne sais quoi about the resulting photographs. In addition it is rather exciting to tuck that blueish film into your pocket after it pops out of the camera and 30-40 minutes later seeing a fully formed image appear. I admit I sometimes peek before the time is up to see the image as it emerges.
It’s a fun and unique experience all-in-all once you get over the learning curve. That plus you now have this tangible photographic object in your hand.
Any form of photography that forces one to slow down and think before clicking the shutter is a good thing in my book.