After years in pursuit of technical quality, I've found Polaroids :)
A short introduction - I'm very interested in shooting native black and white 4x5 medium without the hassle of darkroom. The words are carefully chosen: native BW means no conversion from color, native 4x5 means no cropping. Some of my ideas and experiences with instant film are covered in previous post about polaroid.
I brought out several reasons why I like instant film in my previous post linked above. Just to sum it up:
It teaches you to slow down, do things once and do them good.
It teaches you a very laconic pictorial language.
So, I thought I'll shoot some more instant film. The following is an analysis of various options and constraints related to it.
Firstly - I don't like square format which means I need to shoot what is called Image/Spectra film, which is almost 4x5. This also restricts the camera makes and models available.
I'd prefer the better contrast of Impossible 2.0 version film, but 2.0 film is not available in Image/Spectra format (at least yet, but I hope it will). This is the first contradiction - choose better contrast and bad format or bad contrast and preferred format. Here's how the looks differs from original to 2.0 film.
I'd like to have more detail, meaning I'd need to shoot bigger format. Impossible makes 8x10 instant film (!), but - of course there is but - it costs a lot and needs separate 800$ development machine in addition to 8x10 camera (which sets a lot of preconditions itself). I'm unable to make that sort of financial commitment right now. There's still problem with output - there would only be originals, they're more detailed and scannable, but would anybody buy a digital print of scanned polaroid?
I want to have the prints (I truly like them), but I don't want them to be the only output. I want to make enlargements and hang my pictures on the wall. There is a solution - called peel-apart film or PN film (as is positive+negative) that produces both negative and positive instantly.
Black and white peel-apart instant film is made by New55 project which has it's own problems - their film is not ready yet, they're seemingly out of money to finalize and start mass-producing it, and although they claim to sell some film already, they're out of stock whenever I check their website. Not to mention steep prices.
Fuji makes PN film too, but they discontinued their black and white film in 2013. Bummer. They do still make color film, but I'm not into color.
Long story short, I have three options:
- Buy Polaroid Spectra camera, shoot Impossible Image/Spectra film with bad contrast and no way to use the outcome in any way. At least it's financially affordable.
- Invest into 8x10, use Impossible 8x10 instant film. The investment is huge and I'm not entirely sure I'll still be shooting instant film 2-3 years from now.
- Keep my fingers crossed that New55 makes it.
So I'm left with only bad options. But then - as instant film needs positive temperatures to develop and we, here in Estonia, are almost out of positive temperatures for the next 7 months, I have around half a year buffer to see if anything of the equation above has changed and take a better decision by then.
PS: Did I mention New55 still needs a fixer bath? So much of "instant" there.
I shot something totally different over this weekend - a polaroid camera (a camera using instant film - you get prints straight out of camera, no sensors/computers/postprocessing, even no negative nor development). And I have totally mixed feelings now :) My thoughts just don't form nice sentences by default so I'm going to throw them at you in a bulleted list:
- I like the fact that there's black and white medium (or should I call it film?) available. You don't think about shooting BW polaroid into sunset. And it's just fine to shoot during harsh midday contrast. After a few frames contrasts are the only thing you think about.
- I like the format - it's very close to 4x5 which I've used for some time now. Just that until now I've cropped my digital files to 4x5, while this camera shoots it natively. Remark: this was Image/Spectra camera, the usual 600 and SX-70 cameras shoot square, which I prefer not.
- I like the physicality of the out outcome - you get nicely finished prints in about 10 minutes.
- I like the random defects at the borders, it's so analogue.
- It is what it is - there's nothing to adjust after the picture is taken, you don't crop, you don't retouch a polaroid.
- If you just have 8 frames in a pack (that costs 22€ - which should be part of the not-so good-list) it makes you slow down and think, consider different compositions, not just shoot 20 rather random frames hoping to get one so-so photo in post.
I like the restrictions it forces - they make you think towards specific pictures, not try to capture anything aimlessly. I was totally fine shooting just 7 frames during a day trip, while the usual digital mileage is in the order of few hundred.
OK, there's a lot things I liked, now about the not-so-good things:
- Contrast is poor, like really poor. I'm not sure if this was due to the film being old or kept in improper conditions or that's the way it should be. Need more testing here. Version 2.0 of the Impossible film had a bit more contrast and deeper blacks, but for now it's only available in square format (Polaroid 600 cameras). As I said before, I prefer not to shoot square.
- Although you get your prints immediately, the prints are small and resolution is non-existent. At this size you'd need a lot of resolution if you'd like to scan and print these images bigger.
- There's no fine detail - it's a mixture of non-existent resolution and poor contrast.
Why I still want to shoot polaroid is that it teaches you to convey your idea to the viewer in a very basic form, you don't have all the arsenal of photographic tricks at your disposal, all you have is something just barely better than a pencil drawing.
A pencil drawing - now that I think about, it seems very good comparison. It's so basic it first teaches you visual alphabet of it's own, you'll get to the language later.
Why I'm a bit reluctant to use polaroid for anything serious is that there's almost nothing you can do with the picture after it's taken, in a sense that you can't enlarge it, you can't print it bigger, you can't do an exhibition of polaroids (or maybe you can if you matt them?), you can - maybe - put them into small book. Makes me give another look to the polaroid books like Helmut Newton's and Mike Brodie's.