Polaroid

Gear: Polaroid OneStep+ i-Type Camera by 3.1

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I can’t be arsed to do one of those pointless unboxing videos that litter YouTube on an hourly basis, but although late to the party, I recently got sucked into the hype of the “new” “Polaroid” cameras floating around and picked up a OneStep+ iType Camera.

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Boom. How very hipster of me. That said, it took me a while to make the purchase, not just because I already own a small collection of working vintage Polaroid cameras (as attached below), but to get to where we are now with this current purchase took a bit longer than I was expecting.

Folding boi

Boxy boi

Transformer-in-disguise boi

Wider boxy boi

Vintage Polaroid camera p0rn out of the way, let’s go back a bit.

Now you may have noticed at the start that I put Polaroid in the quotation marks because it’s not quite Polaroid as we know it, but a firm operating out of the Netherlands under the name ‘Polaroid Originals’, which many of us in the world of instant film preservation will know as ‘The Impossible Project’. This lot came about when the original Polaroid company announced that they were going to stop making film back in 2008 and everyone lost their shit. I’d been shooting the odd Polaroid since 2003 (I think) on an run-of-the-mill 600 camera (until I upgraded to an older SX-70 camera, for which the original pack film was no longer made), then latterly I’d been shooting peel-apart film.

Here’s the Polaroid 600 film format that everyone knew. I shot these frames between 2008-2012 on an SX-70. As original film stocks began to dwindle, you had to end up paying for expired film if you wanted to keep shooting, which often resulted in some funky colour casts.

Peel-apart film was a little less common, a slightly different process, but just as fun to experiment with. I shot most peel-apart film with a Hasselblad 500CM and Polaroid film back (though earlier shots were with a Holga).

Eventually, film stocks in all formats dwindled to the point of no return and rendering many cameras unusable (yet I continued to purchase more Polaroid cameras… hilarity ensues). The Impossible Project decided to take over the old film production at the original Polaroid film factory site, with the intention of saving the pack film format everyone knew, but it meant starting from scratch, even down to the chemicals used in the films. It was a lot of risk for an uncertain reward, and although Impossible were able to sort the mechanics of actually getting some kind of pack film out there with all the packaging and whatnot that was actually the easy bit; the film chemistry took a long while to get right.

I don’t even know how much I spent on the very ‘First Flush’ of Impossible film, but it was pretty expensive and, well, underwhelming (even for a black and white film). It was delicate as anything, you had to shield the print from light almost immediately (which was a bit difficult at the time as we were just so used to the frames just popping out and then having it in your hand for all to see and change in front of your very eyes) and the worst part was that you didn’t know if you even had a useable shot because it would take the better part of half an hour to develop (if it developed at all), which is complete opposite of the pack film I knew.

I don’t know how many shots of that stuff I wasted, but yeah… it was a lot.

Still, I kept throwing money at the seemingly aptly named Impossible Project for a whole decade because like many other instant film fans out there, I wanted to believe we could keep this Polaroid thing going. Sure, we can leave it all to the Japanese and Fujifilm, the chemical stability and the kawaii-ness of the Instax brand, but where’s the fun in that?

I mean… the Square Instax format is just a bit meh compared to an actual Polaroid:

I sold that Instax SQ6 after running just one pack of film through it. No joke. The Fujifilm Instax film chemistry is great and predictable, but almost too predictable. And the Instax Square format is just too small a format to think it can compete with its wider counterpart or even a standard Polaroid.

So, as I mentioned, I was one of those people that kept throwing money at the Impossible, hoping for better things. And I suppose the better things came along, slowly but surely. More and more versions of whatever chemical composition they had at the time came out, along with other types of film packs, like the wider film format for Spectra cameras. In 2012-13, I remember there being colour film becoming available for SX-70 cameras from Impossible, and although still incredibly washed out and unpredictable, at least it meant there was a stable-ish supply of some kind of film that was somewhat useable and for people to keep using their cameras.

The black and white film however came on leaps and bounds, and one of my favourite shots to come out of the Impossible black and white film was shot on an SX-70 Sonar (refurbished by Impossible) in 2015 when I was catching a ride on the old Rail Adhesion Train on the Metropolitan line:

Impossible also released something called the Instant Lab, a device you could recharge with a USB cable, where you could take your iPhone and expose an image from it onto instant film via a dedicated app that worked out the exposure time, then eject it from the device to have an exposed print. The film got better and more responsive around this time, with packs also being sold without the batteries inside as a result of having a rechargeable device that could eject the film without using power from the film pack, as was the old way. Believe it or not, the next frame isn't from a live-at-the-scene Polaroid camera, but it was an old picture on my iPhone 5S exposed onto film in the Instant Lab device (albeit expired Impossible film.

This whole thing of having a rechargeable device meant cheaper, battery-free film. From this came the Impossible I-1 camera, which could also connect to an iPhone app for additional functions via Bluetooth. I didn’t quite like the design, so I never bought that camera in the end to add to my collection.

The Impossible Project then rebranded into Polaroid Originals. And here we are with the OneStep+ (having already had the “new” OneStep and the OneStep2) and some pack film that has come on leaps and bounds from what seemed like a truly impossible project back in 2008.

I love the design of the quick start guide – it’s almost like a vintage poster:

The unboxing experience was good and so far, without even having used the camera, I feel like I’ve got something useable and up-to-date, but still keeping faithful to what once was. The app is pretty slick too. I can’t wait to get to use it this summer and I’ve even order myself a new neck strap for it from Artisan&Artist in Japan (in keeping with my other A&A camera straps that I already own for some of my other cameras, like my Fujifilm X-Pro2).

It’s going to be nice shooting with an instant camera that doesn’t make me look like I’m trying to x-ray people (yeah – I had that with the SX-70 Sonar), but I guess, for me, this was more than just the purchase of a camera riding off the back of a retro design. It was a community that quietly came together to save a creative process and medium from being resigned to a mere design museum exhibit and lyrics to a song by OutKast.

Polaroid SX-70 by 3.1

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I came to acquire a shiny and (new) old Polaroid SX-70 Sonar (or whatever else you want to call it, as Polaroid didn't seem to think consistency in branding/naming a product was all that important). There are loads of these knocking around on eBay, antique shops or jumble sales, but I'd decided to pay the money and get a refurbished model from the people at Impossible, along with some other bits and pieces.

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Impossible ship off all of their refurbished SX-70 cameras with a "frog tongue", which you slip in between the rollers and camera housing. Impossible film is not as stable or as consistent in results as original Polaroid film, so it needs to be shielded from light immediately upon ejection.

Back in 2008, I used to have an old, bog-standard Polaroid SX-70, in silver and tan leather:

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It was gorgeous – however I sold it after about a year or so (which I thoroughly regret). I loved it, but as is always the case with instant film cameras, it was hideously expensive to run. Not to mention the fact that dedicated SX-70 film was pretty difficult to get in 2008. Polaroid 600 film was still around; you had to faff around and use a darkslide or something similar to get the film into the camera (the casing of 600 film packs was different to SX-70 film) and you had to buy a neutral density filter and tack it onto the front of the camera to avoid the photographs coming out overexposed. Then Polaroid stopped making film and you had to make use of whatever expired 600 film was floating around on eBay, which was hideously overpriced and of varying quality.

Now that Impossible have brought out film especially for SX-70 cameras, one doesn't have to bother with a neutral density filter anymore. You can still use 600 film packs too, as Impossible have developed a neutral density filter film that sits on top of the pack while it's inside the camera.

Anyhow. The new Polaroid SX-70 Sonar that I acquired is meant to be replacing my currently aged SX-70 Model 1:

Part of the reason I sold my original SX-70 was because it didn't have a tripod mount or strap lugs and you'll find with SX-70s that these are useful things to have. The Model 1 did have the latter things I mentioned, and pretty much all the SX-70s after that. As you can see though, my Model 1 is in need of a leather replacement (and it smells too), and the rollers need taking out and fiddling with.

Some shots on Impossible SX-70 colour film, from (maybe?) last year, taken with my SX-70 Model 1:

Meanwhile, I've been (irresponsibly) hoarding film, so I had a good range to play with. There's also the fact it needs using as I've had this supply for a while now, so another excuse to acquire a new SX-70:

The SX-70 Sonar comes with a chunky bit of plastic on the top that's supposed to provide the camera the ability to auto-focus. It also (thankfully) has an override function, so you can go back to basics:

Impossible film has come a long way since the "First Flush" days (which I tested back in 2010). Back then, the prints took something like 30-45 minutes just to develop. The contrast varied and they were more a sepia tone than black and white:

Today's Impossible SX-70 film is a lot more stable, develops within 10 minutes or so in the right sort of temperature and cures within the day if you leave them in a box or a drawer. The results of the first pack (Black Frame Edition) I tested with the SX-70 Sonar are as below (SX-70 film comes in packs of 8 frames):

I loaded up another pack, this time a colour pack (Color Frame Edition). Contrast is low and the colour film takes longer to develop than the black and white, and it's a lot more sensitive to all sorts, especially temperature. It was about 13°C outside when I took the first three shots, but they just wouldn't show any signs of developing until I'd got them back home and indoors. I've not finished the pack yet, but here are the first three shots I took on a walk back home from somewhere (walking past the London Museum of Water and Steam, in Brentford):

Just for comparison, here are some shots that I took on my first SX-70 camera back in 2008. These images were shot on original Polaroid 600 film with a ND filter:

Not sure what else there is to say really. SX-70s are quite unique little boxes of tricks, and I hope to get back into shooting with one again after so long. It's great to be able to use them again now that the Impossible Project really is in fully swing since that first pack I shot back in 2010.

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