The Impossible Project’s PX100 – the ultimate “low-fidelity” film ?

Manufacturers of Instant Cameras and Instant Film used to cater to two main audiences: the professionals who needed photographic documentation for insurance claims or real estate listings, and amateurs looking for the instant gratification of seeing on paper what they had shot. When they used instant cameras, the professionals did not face the risk of receiving bad pictures from the photo lab two days after they had left their customer, and the amateurs bringing their instant camera at a party or a reunion could show and share their pictures with their friends and guests, right on the spot.

Polaroid SX-70 with PX100 film
Polaroid SX-70 with PX100 film pack. The black and white instant film is not manufactured by Polaroid, but by the Impossible Project. With a 100 ISO sensitivity, it's compatible with the original SX-70 color film from Polaroid.

The professionals who used instant film cameras now use digital technologies to produce their reports or leaflets, and casual photographers use their cell phones to take pictures, that they forward electronically to their friends, or share on social networking sites. Printing digital pictures requires some extra hardware – a photographic quality printer – and the effort of manipulating memory cards or USB cords while navigating in complex menus. Sharing prints during a party or a reunion will obviously requires some planning. For the people who still prefer the no-fuss experience of instant cameras, Fujifilm is still selling its Instax line of cameras and film.

Take a few pictures with the PX100 film, created by the Impossible Project for the Polaroid SX-70 cameras, and it becomes evident that a completely different audience is targeted. It’s not about ease of use or instant gratification – the image has to be kept in the dark during the development process and takes more than a few minutes to reveal itself. In fact, it’s not about gratification at all: the images have a very low resolution, an extremely low contrast, and have to be scanned and reworked in Photoshop to be barely usable. I was so puzzled by the results that I checked what other users of the PX100 were posting on Flickr (check those groups: polapremium and PX100) and I read the same story over and over. People who want to be polite talk about a “touchy” film, the positive minded guys discuss work arounds, but the truth is that the PX100 Instant Film is not a reliable photographic medium.

Portrait shot on PX100 film (scanned as shot, no adjustment)
Portrait shot on PX100 film (scanned as shot, no adjustment)

The fans of Holga cameras started the “low-fidelity” or “Lo-fi” photographic movement a while ago (check my test of the Holga 120CFN). When you use a Holga camera, you put a very decent roll film elaborated by Kodak or Fuji in a camera of very questionable quality, and you sometimes get interesting results. When you put PX100 film in a nice Polaroid SX-70 camera from the 1970s, it’s just the opposite. The camera may be good, but the behavior of the film is largely unpredictable.

A positive note to conclude: the Impossible Project started shipping its PX600 film this week. It’s supposed to be more usable. Color film will follow in a few months. Check the Flickr groups to see how they perform.

Portrait on PX100 Film (exposure adjusted in Photoshop)
Portrait on PX100 Film (exposure adjusted in Photoshop)

The Impossible Project – PX 100 film received

The Impossible Project is more than just buzz and hype. I received today the two film packs I had ordered 10 days before. Nice packaging (all white with embossed Impossible and PX 100 logos, almost Apple-esque).

The film shipped is the Silver Shade / First Flush variant. I suspect there will be other declinations of the PX 100 film in the future. The PX 100 is 100 ISO Monochrome Instant Film. It’s made in the Netherlands for the Polaroid SX-70 cameras, and interestingly there is an Ilford logo on the side of the box.

Little disappointment: the pack’s capacity is limited to 8 pictures, which makes it a very expensive proposition ($21.00 plus shipping).
More about it in a few days.

The on-line Store of the Impossible Project: Impossible Shop (US).