I carry a Polaroid camera with me most days, and this is, hands-down, everyone’s favorite conversation-starter. The short answer is… it depends.
Briefly: Over the decades, Polaroid used nine* principal film formats, and although the company no longer makes any film, other manufacturers have picked up production for four of those. Fortunately, they are the ones for which secondhand cameras are extremely plentiful, so if you want to start shooting, you can get going without spending much money on equipment. The films still available are:
• “Pack film.” This is the kind with a paper tab that is yanked out the side of the camera to begin development, then peeled apart to reveal the print a minute or so later. It’s made by Fujifilm, in black-and-white (FP-3000B) and color (FP-100C). You can’t buy it in your neighborhood drugstore anymore, but if you still have a decent camera shop around, it’s likely to stock it. If not, you can order from Adorama or B&H in New York City, as well as many other online dealers. (No endorsement implied for either of those, though I will say that I get most of mine from Adorama, which slightly underprices most competitors.) The black-and-white version is ISO 3000, so you can shoot it in a fairly dim room with no flash. I love this stuff.
• SX-70 and 600 film. This is the stuff with the wide white border most of us think of when we think “Polaroid.” When it went out of production in 2008, a small group of enthusiasts bought Polaroid’s last operating factory, in the Netherlands, and spent a year attempting to reconstitute the recipe. They couldn’t duplicate Polaroid’s chemistry, for lots of reasons (environmental restrictions, suppliers that were simply gone, an ingredient whose factory had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina), and had to start practically from scratch. They call themselves The Impossible Project, with good reason, and the resultant film is an evolving product, one that requires some special care and fussing. Among other things, you have to keep it shielded from light for the first couple of minutes after it ejects from the camera—otherwise it will be fogged and overexposed. Each batch of film gets a little better, and there’s a general feeling among Polaroidians that in a year or so, it’ll be much more like Polaroid’s own film was. You’ll hear much more about The Impossible Project (often called TIP) on this blog in the coming months.
•Spectra film. Similar to 600, but wider in format, it was introduced in 1986, and was extremely popular with commercial Polaroid users: police evidence departments, automobile insurance adjusters, modeling agencies, movie-set continuity checkers. It too is being made by Impossible, in the same Dutch factory.
*There are actually more than nine, when you count large-format materials made for professional photographers and special cameras. Much more about those in future posts.
LEGALITIESThis site is not connected with or endorsed by Polaroid or PLR IP Holdings, owners of the Polaroid trademark.
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