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 return of the SX 70 instant film pack

The Impossible Project PX100 film for SX 70 cameras
The Impossible Project PX100 film for SX 70 cameras

Today, March 25th, the Impossible Project ( started accepting orders for its new black-and-white instant film for SX 70 Polaroid cameras, the PX 100 Silver Shade. Produced in a plant which used to belong to Polaroid, the PX100 is presented as the first member of a new family. It will be followed by another black-and-white film pack for the cameras of the 600 series, and later this year, by color film for SX 70 and 600 cameras.

Instant film had never totally disappeared – Fujifilm still manufactures cameras and film for the amateur photographer market (the Hello Kitty generation) as well as the peelable film compatible with the Polaroid 100 format used by committed medium format photographers. But the return of the SX 70 and 600 film formats is an important milestone, and a new sign of the rebirth of silver halide as the technology of choice for creative and experimental photography.

The customers buying the new SX 70 compatible film will probably be very different from the real estate agents, insurance adjusters and young moms who formed the target audience of the original SX 70 cameras. The Impossible Project’s site obviously targets a niche of amateurs and pros who want to take pictures differently, and are looking for out of the norm results. The focus will not be on the fidelity of the reproduction of tones or on the sharpness of the pictures – that’s what digital cameras are there for nowadays. The SX 70 film will find its place in the tool box of amateurs of “weird and artistic photography”.

I’m waiting impatiently to receive my first film pack.

More about Instant Photography

Wikipedia: list of Polaroid Cameras

Shot by impossible testlab (Zora Strangefields)
Shot by impossible testlab (Zora Strangefields) - The Impossible Project PX 100 film
Shot by impossible testlab (Josh Coleman)
Shot by impossible testlab (Josh Coleman)- The Impossible Project PX 100 film