Breaking news in Polaroidland, and this is actually pretty big.
I’ve posted before about the wonders of Type 55, the 4-by-5-inch peel-apart film that gave photographers both a print and a usable negative. It was black-and-white, and slow in speed–the negative was ISO 25 to 35, the print ISO 50–so its images were extremely fine-grained. It was last produced, along with Polaroid’s other film lines, in 2009. Any Type 55 that’s left is long expired and entering its final stage of questionable reliability. Soon the stock of this product—for which many photographers had a deep and longstanding affection—will be exhausted forever.
Since 2011, an entrepreneur in Massachusetts named Bob Crowley has cultivated a plan to produce a new positive/negative instant film. After experiments with single-reagant processing tanks and other methods, he and a small team have worked out a product they call New55, based on an available negative and their own positive sheet. It’s a complex thing to make, but they’ve figured out how to do it, and their prototype photographs look good (that’s one by Tobias Feltus in the Kickstarter banner at right). They have also improved one detail about old Type 55: this new product’s positive and negative will have the same ISO rating, so you won’t have to choose which half is over- or underexposed.
The startup costs of New55 are considerable, and Crowley and an investor have been footing the bill for R&D. Now it is time for New55 to test the market, to see whether this is a viable product. The Kickstarter campaign will begin this Monday, and you heard it here first. It’s a tall order—they’re looking to raise an amount in the mid-six figures. But I also know that there are still many, many people who used and loved Type 55, and did not want to see it go away.
I suspect Bob and his team are going to feel that love this month, and I myself will be signing on with a preorder. I hope you will do the same. This is, I think it’s safe to say, the very last chance photographers will ever have to obtain a new peel-apart black-and-white instant film. (Fuji’s final run of FP-3000B is due in the U.S. this very month, and it’s never coming back.) If this plan works, and the audience and the market prove sustainable, an extraordinary visual medium will have been yanked back from the edge of oblivion.
The sticking point may be price: This product is made at very small scale, and will be a lot more expensive than Type 55 was. On Monday we’ll see exactly how much, but I have heard $10 to $12 per sheet batted around. It sounds like a bracing number; then again, shooting a sheet of 4×5 Tri-X and having it processed, at least in my neighborhood, is now in the $6 range, and takes a couple of days.
Until the actual Kickstarter campaign goes up, click here to get the latest news. When the actual campaign goes live, I’ll add a link.
UPDATE, 3/22/2014: Kickstarter campaign is live, and here’s the link. You are encouraged to go click and donate.
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