Friday, 9 October 2015

Messing about with Instant Film. Lomo, Instax, Polaroid, and The Impossible Project

My forays into instant analogue photography, which I have found to be good fun

I'm assuming that everyone has heard of Polaroid film and knows what it is. Polaroid stopped making film in 2008, but Fuji had been making their own instant film Instax, since the 1990s, nowadays available in 2 sizes, the credit card sized mini, and the larger wide format. When Polaroid closed their  last factory in the Netherlands, Florian Kaps and André Bosman bought it, and founded The Impossible Project, in order to continue production of instant film for use in Polaroid cameras. It was not possible to make the original product, since various components were no longer available. New processes had to be developed, and in 2010 they started making their own film.

I had come across Instax film and cameras, and thought that they might be fun. When Lomo produced an Instax attachment for their LC-A cameras, the Instant Back, and I thought I might give it a try. I already had an old LC-A at home (the original one, not the current LC-A+) which I had not used for several years. It had been fun for a while but then the novelty wore off. Phone cameras got better over the years, and having to send films off to be developed became a bit tedious. Also I found that in my hands, adopting the Lomo philosophy of "Don't think, just shoot" was somewhat expensive, and a lot of the time the pictures were not very good. Much better to do it with a phone camera, where the pictures were immediately available for prompt feedback and learning.

After you acquire your Lomo Instax back, you have to fit it to the camera yourself. The result is a bulky, square affair. I rather like the look of it. 

Unlike the Fuji's own Instax cameras which are fully automatic, and designed for  Instax film, the Lomo has automatic exposure, but manual zone focusing (i.e. you estimate the distance then set it on a lever on the camera). There is a slight size mismatch between the camera and the film format, so that the pictures emerge with a fuzzy-edged black border. The viewfinder sits on top of the Instax Back, so there's quite a lot of parallax to contend with. You have to wind the mechanism before releasing the shutter. And not forget to open the lens cover. For someone accustomed to point and shoot digital photography, it's quite a lot to remember to do, and to fiddle with.

But it's been fun so far and I like the effect.

I've also had a go with Impossible Project film. My wife had an oldish, fully functioning Polaroid 600 camera. The process of taking pictures is a lot simpler compared to the Lomo, as this is a point and shoot camera with two focus settings, near and far, plus a slider that allows you to adjust the darkness of the picture produced on the film. The film is larger than the Instax ones, photo sized, rather than credit card sized, as it were.

However the film is delicate. You are advised to keep it in the fridge, use it within a year of production, to shield it from light immediately after exposure and during the development process, and it takes about 30 minutes to develop, so it's not really instant. So far, the pictures I've taken have had a somewhat washed-out look even after I fitted their 'frog tongue' attachment which shields the film from light as it emerges from the camera. I quite like it, but it's a bit challenging to use. 

Impossible have a new generation (2.0) black and white film which develops much more quickly, with images emerging in 20 seconds, and fully developed after five minutes. I've been quite pleased with it.

The latest colour film is said to have more natural and balanced tones, more saturated colour, and, like the black and white, more rapid development, but I haven't tried it yet.

This stuff is not cheap. Instax film costs £30 for 2 packs of 10 exposures each. Impossible project film  is around £17 for 8 exposures. It does have the effect of making me think rather carefully before each shot. 

It's hard to explain the appeal of instant photography. I think it's partly the appeal of analogue, of the physical object, and a picture you can hold in your hand, or put on your desk or wall. I do like the way the pictures look. I can't deny that some of it has to do with the cameras themselves, and the process of taking the pictures, but I'm aware that this is not something that will matter much except to the person taking the picture.

It's early days, but so far it's been interesting and good fun.

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