One site you’ll hear about regularly here is New55. It’s written by Bob Crowley, a fellow in the high-end-microphone business who is attempting to reproduce (with tweaks) one of Polaroid’s most astonishing products, the special 4×5 film known as Type 55.

Background first: Type 55 (and its offshoots, Type 105 and 665) were made principally for professional photographers, and they were the only instant films that produced both a print and a high-quality black-and-white negative. Type 55 was a favorite of Ansel Adams, who used it to make (among many others) El Capitan, Winter, Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California, 1968.  The prints are instantly (heh) recognizable by the markings left by a perforated paper sheet, known as a mask, around the edge of the photo. Here’s a great example. In fact, that border is so well-established that some people take the trouble to fake it, which seems extremely silly to me. It’s an artifact, people, even if it’s a pretty one.

You processed it much as you would any peel-apart Polaroid film—pull it through the rollers of a 4×5 camera back, wait, reveal—with one added step: a dunk in a sodium sulfite bath, after the fact, to “clear” and stabilize the negative. This could be done in regular room light, once you got home, so it wasn’t all that much of an imposition.

Type 55 was discontinued along with the rest of Polaroid’s film line in 2008, and a lot of photographers are still sad about that. Since then, Crowley’s made huge progress, and has even worked out one improvement on T55—the old film had mismatched ISO ratings for print and negative, so you had to choose between a correctly exposed print and a correctly exposed negative. His new product will be balanced, giving both in one shot. He has also replaced the sodium sulfite with ordinary black-and-white fixer, which is easier to find. An enthusiastic appreciation of the new film appears here.

According to Crowley’s New55 blog, if he can secure an investment of about $210,000, he can have production going in eight months. (Anyone reading this who’s feeling flush?) It won’t be cheap, at $6 per sheet, but honestly, 4×5 photography is never going to be a mass medium again, and when you factor in that you don’t need a darkroom to process this stuff, that isn’t really a bad price at all.  Watch his page, and this one, for steady progress reports.

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One Response to Sammy Hagar Was Wrong: You May Soon Be Able to Drive 55 Again

  1. Wanderson says:

    Hi Jess! I’m not sure how long expired film lasts. Just get out there and start stinhoog it. Nothing is sadder than film that doesn’t work. The film packs have batteries in them that make the cameras work so the life of those might be more important. People are saying this will be the last year of Polaroid film which I assume means that the expired film is becoming less and less stable. What kind of film do you have? What cameras do you have? :-)

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