End of a great run.

End of a great run.

The news leaked out of Japan a couple of months ago, but the official announcement appeared online just last week, and can be seen here (non-Japanese-speakers, click Google Translate).  Fujifilm is discontinuing FP-3000B, its last black-and-white instant film. Final orders for the U.S. will apparently be shipped in the spring, and the last Japanese deliveries will be in September.

It’s not a surprise. Peel-apart pack film is complicated to make, and it requires a lot of specialized materials that, I am sure, it is hard for Fujifilm to justify in this diminished market. (The large-format version was dropped two or three years ago, and the supply has dried up.) The black-and-white film constituted perhaps 20 percent of peel-apart sales, so the color (FP-100C) will continue on for now, serving Polaroid aficionados and the lingering ID-camera market in the third world. If we keep shooting it in substantial volume, maybe we’ll get another couple of years before it goes away too. If we’re lucky, a few more. (The 4×5 color instant film was dropped this year as well, which does not inspire confidence.)

As much as I like shooting the color–that Fuji red is just amazing–it’s the black-and-white that I love best, partly because of what it once represented. An ASA 3000 film for consumers was almost unthinkable when Polaroid introduced it in 1959. (The fastest film you could usually buy back then was Tri-X, rated ASA 400.) It was first issued in roll form,  called Polaroid Type 47, and it had been created largely by Meroë Morse, the remarkable chemist Land had hired from Smith College and entrusted with a big swath of the business. The same emulsion appeared in 1963 on pack film, under the name Type 107, and got an update about a decade later, removing the need for a film-coating swab. Pretty closely cloned by Fuji, it outlasted Polaroid itself. That’s a great run.

I still think Fujifilm is wrong about this, of course–I believe that the demand for products like this has bottomed out and will modestly tick up in the next few years, unless of course they have all been discontinued. The 11,000 signers of this petition agree. But it’s apparently an irrevocable decision; the supply chain has been rolled up, and there’s no going back. (I’m told that Fuji believes the large team of people required to make this film are better deployed in other, growing parts of the business, and that’s hard logic to argue with.) Perhaps someone could pick up production from Fuji, but that too seems unlikely; The Impossible Project was able to go on its crazy mission because the demand for integral (SX-70 and 600) film was very large. Peel-apart, being a niche product by comparison, presents steeper challenges.

What is especially frustrating is that this leaves us with no black-and-white instant film at all, apart from Impossible’s, which is much improved but still problematic: limited tonal range, splotchy results. The last best hope is the product under development at New55, but it will be in 4×5 format, and thus not really appropriate for fast casual shooting. It will also be expensive at the start: A single sheet is likely to cost about as much as a ten-shot pack of Fuji. So until New55 gets into the marketplace, this really is the end of a medium, if not quite a whole format.

Like a lot of people in the past few weeks, I just bought a case of FP-3000B, plus a mini-fridge, and hope to ration it out for as long as I can. As a rule, pack film lasts longer than integral film, and black-and-white ages better than color. Five years’ cool storage, with good reliable results, is not totally out of line. (Unfortunately, instant film cannot be frozen for very long-term storage as conventional film can.)  So I am set through 2019, the sixtieth anniversary of its introduction. That’ll have to do.

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