Playing with Polaroid’s Polachrome Instant Slide Film

Beginning in 1983, and lasting until the early 2000’s, Polaroid – the leader in instant camera film – created a self-developing instant slide film.  You took a 12-exposure roll of 35mm film, and instead of sending the film off to the developers, you placed the exposed roll into a special home developing machine – wait a few minutes – and voila, instant slide photos.

Polaroid manufactured several different types of this film –

There was a 35-exposure “Polachrome” color film. There was also a saturated Polachrome HC” film.. There was “Polablue,” a blue-on-white slide film.

There were also two black-and-white films, “Polapan” and “Polagraph.” Each package of film came with some developing chemicals, which were to be mixed with the film in an autoprocessor.

Now theoretically you could use these films for regular photography, but the Polablue and Polagraph films were designed for overhead transparency creations – in the pre-PowerPoint days, you created an image on paper and photographed it, then included it in your slideshow presentation.

Polachrome and its kin haven’t been manufactured in years.  Most likely, if the original packages haven’t been stored in refrigerators, the developing chemicals have lost their potency.

But hey – it’s not like I’m sending Kodachrome off to Kansas any more.  What’s the harm with messing around with another discontinued film format – at least one that I can actually develop at home?

This instant slide film technology is, for all intents and purposes, an orphaned format.  Why use instant slide film when you can instead shoot your subject as a digital image?

And for me, it’s another challenge to see what CAN be done with this film, rather than what CAN’T be done.   And since this slide film is dinosaur technology, the film – as well as the autoprocessor – was easily acquired for what I call “experimental prices” on eBay – I got a few rolls of film and the autoprocessor for about $50 total.  Believe me, this dirty deed was done so dirt cheap, I half-expected Bon Scott to ask if I was having trouble with the high school head.

My first tests involved the discontinued Polaroid 35mm slide film called Polablue. The film itself is monochromatic – but instead of black-and-white, it presents a blue-and-white image. Actually, the film I had produced more of a blue-and-salmon image, but I digress.

The colors are strictly blue or salmon – it’s nearly impossible to discern the middle ground between the two separated colors.  The ISO on this film is the slowest I’ve ever seen – I’d need to use an ISO estimate of 8 for an outdoor shot. That’s right, 8. I think construction paper has a higher ISO.

In late January 2011, I took the Nikkormat FTn and packed the Polaroid slide film into it. I set the ISO down to the lowest the camera would accept – an ISO of 12 – and went out for a shoot through North Albany.

No, I didn’t shoot Nipper this time. See, a white dog against a white sky would not have worked with this film. I did, however, shoot some dark buildings along the cloudy sky, and photographed some signage along Broadway. There were twelve shots on the roll; I took ten photos and went from there.

I attached the processing pack and the exposed film to the autoprocessor (which I purchased on eBay for about $20), closed the autoprocessor lid, and waited five minutes. Then out came the pictures, like a pancake out of an Easy-Bake Oven.

I then carefully trimmed each developed slide, and placed the cut slides into Gepe plastic slide mounts. A quick ride for each slide in my Minolta dIMAGE Scan Dual IV, and looky looky what I got.

1032 Shipping Receiving, Albany NY.  Photo by Chuck Miller. Factory Rooftop, Albany NY Arcadia Building, Albany NY

Not bad for a test run. Gotta work on the exposures – I hoped to get more detail, but I may have overexposed the film a step – which would explain why I didn’t get the brick and window details I wanted on these shots. But this was a decent first try.

My next attempt with the film was last week.  I purchased a roll of Polaroid’s color film – Polachrome – and stuck it into the Nikkormat.  Polachrome has an ISO of 40, and takes two minutes to develop in the autoprocessor.  On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I drove over to Latham and photographed the water tower.  Gotta get the tower before the wrecking ball hits it.

The original photograph The same photograph with some post-processing
Latham Water Tower, Polachrome film Latham Water Tower, Polachrome film - edited with Picnik

Ugh.  A few things to note. Look at the picture on the left.  That was the unretouched developed film.  The old film needed to be exposed at least two more stops.  Gotta remember that when I shoot the next batch.  That, or at least bracket the shot with a couple of different exposures.

Also, this batch of Polachrome film has a very vulgar magenta shift.  If I’m planning on using this film for anything important, I need to find a way to use that color shift to my advantage.

I used flickr’s “picnik” software to quickly bring the photograph into some sort of viewable (and less headache-inducing) imagery, and you can see the results on the right.  You can also see two major things that would detract from any decent photograph.  First off, there are nasty black splotches on the images (especially the one in the upper left of the photo), and those splotches are actually caused by the developing compound that adheres to the slide when the film is placed in the autoprocessor.  You can actually wash the black gunk off with lukewarm tap water; but some splotches will still remain.  Also, with careful observation you can see horizontal scan lines across the Polachrome slides.

Last Friday, I tried my luck with the Polachrome again.  I took two rolls of 12-exposure 35mm Polachrome HC to downtown Albany and just – in lomographer’s terms – shot from the hip.  Here’s the best of what I got.

Basket hooks on light pole, Polachrome Geometric Sculpture, Polachrome
Abandoned Adirondack Trailways door, Polachrome Downtown Albany from Greyhound station, Polachrome

Geez… there’s more magenta in these pictures than in a road show of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  And those jagged edges on the upper two photographs?  That’s the black developing compound, I decided to leave it on the finished slide this time rather than try to wash it off.  This effect may play to my advantage in future photographs.

Okay, straight up.  There’s no way on earth I can even consider using Polaroid’s 35mm slide film for anything important.  About all I can think of for ths film would be lomography projects or experimental photography.  At some point in time, I’ll figure out some way to use the film to my advantage.

For now … these are my first test shots.

These are the shots for which I make notes.