Last Updated on 02/03/2022 by Mark Beckenbach
This blog post is inspired by a thread that happened on Reddit. I personally responded to it as I’m a Mod for R/Polaroid. But I realize that there is a ton of misinformation and folks who don’t know what’s going on. Modern Polaroid Film isn’t what it used to be. Further, there are great reasons for that. And in this blog post, we’re going to explain everything to you.
The following is from a post on R/Polaroid, where I’m transparently, a mod for the subreddit. So I’ve taken a summary I wrote there and modified it for this blog post. I hope that it will provide a lot of clarity on some of the misinformation out there. Specifically, this tidbit made me write this post.
Polaroid lost their original formula since their rebranding with Project Impossible and Polaroid Originals and the team are actively working to improve the image.
The Fall of Polaroid
Years ago, Polaroid screwed up very, very big. They were already on the decline because the world became very anti-analog to embrace DSLRs fully realizing what they could do, and early mirrorless digital. So to make themselves look cool, they literally hired Lady Gaga as their creative director without the funds to do it. Kodachrome was also on its way out then, and the entire analog photo world was in disarray. This was more than a decade ago.
Polaroid shut it doors, sold itself off to a Chinese company, and started to go the route of making zInk cameras. They survived and thrived off of their name alone for a few years. But no one took them with any bit of seriousness.
The Death of Polaroid, and the Birth of the Impossible Project
When Polaroid shut their doors, Florian Caps and a few others bought the factory and tried to recreate Polaroid’s formula. They asked Polaroid for help, but Polaroid refused to do so. This is how the Impossible Project was created. Caps and others started the project to find a way to keep Polaroid film alive.
Progress was made slowly and in a questionable pace. They focused on the 8×10 cameras first quite a bit along with a few other models like the SX-70 and more. They had a beautiful, and cozy gallery shop in NYC back then where they’d show the prints off. They were gorgeous but had to be experienced in person to really be felt, sort of like a Leica camera. Back in December of 2010, Impossible said that they were making progress and created a version of PX680. This and a lot of the smaller format films had problems.
Some of those problems:
- Issues with the film and spots
- Bad colors
At my desk is a box of both Polaroid and Fujifilm instant film. And it’s very clear what’s what.
Then they found a way to take your phone’s photos and print them on their film. This is when the Impossible Project started to refocus a bit more. One of their biggest problems back then was that the film faded really hard. So they literally created something called color protection film. Impossible Project film continued to improve, but still wasn’t up to what Fujifilm was making.
Speed up ahead, and a few things happened. Polaroid was bought by shareholders. Then the same shareholders also bought the Impossible Project. This brought the two companies under the same banner finally. Impossible film was rebranded to be called Polaroid Originals.
By that, today’s Polaroid is not the same company that started in NY that many years ago. Neither is Kodak, Kodak Alaris, Kodak Moments, or any of its variants. Fujifilm, Ilford, and Lomography are still the same companies they’ve always been. The modern Polaroid is not at all the same company that Edwin Land founded.
So Will Polaroid Film Ever Improve?
Personally speaking, no, the current Polaroid film will not ever look like the original stuff in my opinion. I’ve got photos of me from McDonald’s when I was super young (I’m almost 35 when writing this). It hasn’t faded a bit. And then I look in my desk drawer of Impossible Project and Polaroid originals film that I shot in the past few years. Some of it has faded. Some had problems with air bubbles. It’s not going to be the same. And further, environmental concerns might keep it that way.
Those formulas were tweaked over and over again. Edwin Land introduced the first Instant Film camera back in 1947. Polaroid shut its doors in the early 2000s. That means that there were 50+ years of innovation happening. When you look at it like that, we’ve only had 10 years of work being done on the film again and we’re sort of starting from scratch.
The Land family and Polaroid refined and developed the formula for well over 60 years. The Impossible Project figured most of it out but not perfectly. It’s been a little over a decade since that started and they’re reintegrated to become a new Polaroid company. This Polaroid isn’t the same as what descended from Edwin Land. By that logic, it’ll take a super long time for it to possibly happen. Combine that with stuff like environmental laws, and it might not ever happen. Sometimes stupid things happen too. Realistically speaking, Provia 100 was discontinued in the US for a carcinogen that doesn’t even touch human skin. When you look at the large picture, it’s really not likely that it’s going to happen.
You’d think that maybe someone had this formula all written down somewhere or that there’s a patent or copyright on how to combine the ingredients. But instead, they probably set up the company so that barely anyone knew the formula and that everyone had specific things that they had to do.
Realistically too, they’re probably working too hard to please their investors than to make a better film. They’re riding a nostalgia train with a ton of hype and they, unfortunately for us, don’t need to do a lot to maintain that.
The Modern Polaroid and Instant Film
To Polaroid’s credit, they’re not the only ones to have done this to Caps. Fuji, after discontinuing 3×4 Peel Apart, did the same thing and didn’t give the formula over. So Caps along with SUPERSENSE had to create their own. And it was not good.
Instax film is really the best that you’re going to get. It’s Fujifilm’s own creation. They still make and maintain it. And in the grand aspect of things, it’s their cash cow right now. That’s just a straight fact. These days my staff and I have some major ethical issues with Polaroid that they always dodge our questions about.
But for years now, Impossible/Polaroid film has always been buggy and it’s sad because the cameras available are seriously dope. In some ways though, they rely on their history the same way Hasselblad does.
Polaroid’s own cameras aren’t that great. But there’s a company called MiNT that makes dope things like the SLR670. They refurbish the vintage ones and they’re fantastic. There are also a few Polaroid Original film backs I’ve seen and heard of.
As a journalist, it’s often my job to press them on things for answers. I instill this in our team too. It’s literally our jobs. Lots of other pubs and Youtube channels don’t. Our big issue with Polaroid is their support of Unsplash in the past few years for contests. Unsplash blindsides photographers to give their images away for free for commercial use. If you support a company like that, you’re screwing over your own market. We’ve asked them various times and they basically just stopped emailing me and instead email our editors. Our editors did the same thing, so they took us off their press list.
In the past, yes, I have pressed them on film quality. They’ll often say that they’re working on it or something like that. But in recent years, they haven’t really been so chummy with the traditional photo press. And anyone that would know the real answers is not who they’re putting in charge to talk to the press.