This is not the first time Polaroid Spectra film becomes discontinued. The first time was when Polaroid went under and the remaining stock depleted. DPReview now reports that Polaroid Originals is stopping the production of Spectra film because the remaining cameras are now aging, unrepairable, and there is nothing they can do about it.
This is a bigger problem with film photography in general that I wrote about previously: the whole production supply chain, from cameras to film processors and scanners is in danger. Nobody develops new hardware, because it requires a lot of R&D and the old one is becoming harder and harder to repair, non withstanding for processors and scanner where the software is antique and only runs on obsolete systems.
In today’s Instant photography there are two different technologies. The old instant film pioneered by Polaroid and now dominated by Fujifilm Instax, and the new digital printer, usually ink based, the later being pushed by the Polaroid brand (as opposed to Polaroid Originals), with Zink that uses thermal printing technology.
From All About Images, Zink Twice about Polaroid (their pun):
Polaroid and Zink have chosen not to provide any stability information on their products. One can only assume that the expected lifetime for this product must be poor, since if it were not, they would have every reason to publicize it.
Lifetime of prints is an important matter. I’m convinced that the majority of the digital photography archives will be lost to obsolete and failing technology, destructive services, etc. and that printing is one of the limited ways to preserve them. But prints have to be long lasting. Photographic paper like the Fujicolor Crystal Archive is rated for 70 years and this is way longer than Zink.
I wrote a few month back about Polaroid coming full circle.
It seems that today, on the 80th anniversary of the original Polaroid company by Edwin Land, the idea is coming to fruition, as Polaroid Originals is born. Dedicated to instant film photography Polaroid Original offers a new instant film camera, the OneStep 2, and its companion film the i-Type. Along this, they offer film for the vintage 600, Spectra and SX70 Polaroid cameras.
The OneStep 2 looks like a modern version of the Polaroid OneStep with a built in rechargeable battery (via USB).
The i-Type film looks like Polarod 600 film pack, but cheaper. Although the OneStep 2 accepts 600 film packs, but the cheaper i-Type can’t be used in vintage Polaroid 600 cameras.
At USD99, the OneStep 2 is reasonably priced. USD15.99 for an 8 exposures film pack is a bit on the expensive side compared to Instax, but cheaper than Impossible Project film. Also, it seems that the price for the vintage formats has been lowered too. Let’s hope that this be successful to allow the R&D to reduce the cost as they scale up the business.
Impossible Project is no more. Vive Polaroid Originals.
Polaroid is going full circle. Petapixel tells us that Polaroid is being Acquired by The Impossible Projectâ€™s Largest Shareholder.
To put this into context, The Impossible Project is the company that was founded to produce Polaroid compatible instant film after it was end-of-life. It was a hard task as they needed to reinvent it, and to that effect bought from Polaroid their last factory in the Netherland. On the other hand Polaroid, the company that was synonymous of instant photography, went bankrupt and ended up being just a brand selling electronics. It is only recently that the owner of the Polaroid brand started to sell Polaroid branded instant film products, dubbed Polaroid 300, based on Fujifilm Instax Mini 7.
The bigger irony is that the Fujifilm instant film technology was only allowed to exist with licensing agreement from the original Polaroid after Kodak lost big in a lawsuit.
To summarize the history:
– Polaroid invent instant film.
– Kodak develop instant film and get taken down by Polaroid.
– Fujifilm, in light of this, settled with Polaroid.
– Polaroid goes bankrupt.
– Polaroid stops instant film.
– Impossible Project starts from the ashes of Polaroid technologies and manufacturing to manufacture and sell film for Polaroid 600 and Polaroid SX70 cameras.
– Fujifilm Instax thrives.
– Polaroid is just a brand, that changed hands more than once, used to sell many things.
– Polaroid sells rebranded Fujifilm Instax Mini 7 as Polaroid 300.
– Impossible Project release their first instant camera the Impossible Project I-1.
– The Smolokowski family, who purchased a large stake of Impossible Project, is now buying the Polaroid brand.
Now, while one can’t speculate of what will happen, it seems that Polaroid has now come full circle. I do believe that leveraging the brand and distribution network for Impossible Project would make sense to expand the instant photography business.
If you are interested in the story of Polaroid, I can’t recommend enough Christopher Bonanos’ book Instant: The Story of Polaroid.
Christopher Bonanos write for the Washington Post: What Kodak could still learn from Polaroid. He goes on to explain the mistakes of Polaroid and what Kodak should learn from that to survive and keep film coming. The key argument is right here:
Yes, the remaining buyers of film are weighing this technology against digital methods of image-making. But theyâ€™re not choosing film for reasons of economy; it could never compete. They are choosing it for a particular look and feel, and because they want to differentiate themselves. Some are old-school professionals who prefer to work in familiar ways.
Bonanos is the author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid that I recommend.
NPR has a piece titled How Much Longer Can Photographic Film Hold On?:
At the turn of the 21st century, American shutterbugs were buying close to a billion rolls of film per year. This year, they might buy a mere 20 million, plus 31 million single-use cameras â€” the beach-resort staple vacationers turn to in a pinch, according to the Photo Marketing Association
Basically, film is not dead, but it is far beyond in term of market. The biggest risk for film is not that big companies stop producing it but rather that they hoard the technology to make it. Agfa Scala was the first example, albeit salvaged by the makers of DR5, still repeating the mistake. Polaroid is the second example, and the Impossible Project did the impossible with it. Kodachrome is the third and hardest example: a very complicated and undocumented process without any alternative. I believe slide film E-6 will be next. Time will tell.
Technologizer relate the story of the Polaroidâ€™s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible:
Most important, unlike any other Polaroid, the SX-70 asked the photographer to do nothing more than focus, press the shutter, and pluck the snapshot as it emerged from the cameraâ€“and then watch it develop in daylight. It was the first camera to realize what Edwin Land said had been his dream all along: â€œabsolute one-step photography.â€
This was in 1972 and it was a landmark towards the true instant photography. Long before digital.