Another of my favorite products has passed away to the annals of photographic history this month. Polaroid, the instant camera outfit with the ubiquitous instant self-developing film packaged in a blue box or a rainbow wrapped box, lost the battle against the gratifying immediacy of digital photography. The company which stopped making instant cameras for consumers a year ago and for commercial use a year before that, said that as soon as it had enough instant film manufactured to last it through 2009, it would stop making that, too. Three plants that make large-format instant film will close by the end of the quarter, and two that make consumer film packets will be shut by the end of the year.
f/4.7, 4-element Rodenstock Ysarex and double-window
viewfinder/rangefinder on top of the camera and
automatic parallax compensation
Tominon lens. Separate-window range/viewfinder
assembly. Built-in mechanical development timer
According to the Photo Marketing Association, Americans bought 4.2 million instant cameras in 2000, nearly all of them Polaroid. However, they bought 4.5 million digital cameras that same year. It was a harbinger of hard times for Polaroid; digital cameras steadily got cheaper and better, and users became accustomed to sharing snapshots over the Internet. Last year, Americans bought 28.2 million digital cameras, and just 240,000 instant cameras.
But also, Polaroid had other problems: Its successful fight against a hostile takeover bid in the late 1980s left the company swamped with debt. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, and is now owned by privately-held Petters Group Worldwide, of Minnetonka, Minn. “We’re trying to reinvent Polaroid so it lives on for the next thirty to forty years,” said Tom Beaudin, Polaroid’s President, COO and CFO in an interview to the Boston Globe. Petters changed its direction from instant cameras and instant film to digital cameras, flat-panel TV sets, DVD players and computer monitors under the Polaroid brand.
Polaroid’s decision to halt film production of their cameras and instant film distressed photo professionals and photo amateurs around the globe. Polaroid pack or sheet film is a very important tool for the non-digital professional, commercial and art photographer, allowing us to evaluate lighting, exposure and composition prior shooting our chosen emulsion in 35mm 120, 4x5, 5x7 or 8x10 formats. Every medium and large format camera maker offered a Polaroid back or facilitated the way for other aftermarket companies to adjust a Polaroid back in their cameras.
Prior every still shooting I did, regardless of the format, (except 35mm) and client, from corporate, to fashion to tabletop (2 1/4x 2 1/4 Hasselblad, 6x7 Mamiya or 4x5 Linhof/ Sinar) at my New York City/Hoboken studio or anywhere on location, I always used Polaroid pack or sheet film to evaluate lighting, exposure and composition. It was beautiful. It created a sense of anticipation, crew-client collaboration and sometimes worked as currency to pay agency “go-see” models, makeup artists or lunch. It was the proof of proofs of a successful shoot.
daylight (5500K) at 1/125 of a second,
as well as for electronic flash units
Polaroid 57 4 x 5 Black and White Sheet
film is a high speed, panchromatic general
purpose black and white print film.
Ultra high-speed Medium contrast,
116mm f/8 coated glass lens and electronic shutter.
The SX-70 film was the favorite of artists for
creative manipulation (read more)
As many other people, I will miss the different cheap Polaroid cameras I have owned through the years, spitting integral film with a toying sound and seeing the ethereal images forming in front of my eyes. Also, will miss a retrofitted 185 Land with a Copal leaf shutter I sold not too long ago and the screw-ups that happened every time I pulled wrongly the protective tab of a 669 or a 667-pack film. But overall, what I will miss the most is the wonderment offered by a technology that lasted over eighty years. A longevity record now days, that’s for sure.