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July 14, 2020 4 min read

by Susmita Das


What makes Polaroid Instant Cameras so special? Polaroid integral instant film cameras are the classic white framed images that everybody associates with the Polaroid brand. During their peak, Polaroid made this kind of film in three different formats – 600, SX-70 and Spectra System. Before Polaroid made this type of film, they made an earlier version of the instant film called Packfilm.


All instant films began with a man named Edwin Land who created a company called Polaroid in 1937. Polaroid manufactured a variety of products during its lifetime, but the biggest and the most popular was the Instant Film. In 1944 during a family outing, Land was asked by his daughter why she couldn’t see the pictures that he was taking on his camera straight away? This greatly inspired Land and in 1948 he created the world’s first Instant Film Camera. In the years following, Land worked incredibly hard to improve his invention. 


In 1972, Land got up on stage and unveiled to the world – the Polaroid SX-70. With it, the first truly Instant Film that developed right before your eyes. This was a brand-new photosystem that anyone can use. First, you open up a box that contains a plastic cartridge. Inside that plastic cartridge were ten instant Polaroids. At the bottom of the cartridge was a battery that powered your camera. So, you buy the camera and you buy the film, put it in and that was it! No labs, no enlargers, no darkrooms, nothing – just purely instant photos!


Here’s how it works. An instant Polaroid is made up of multiple layers. These layers are super-thin and contain elements that are activated by chemicals to create an image – just like a normal film! However, these layers are all encased in the frame and protected with a top plastic piece. At the bottom of the image is a pod that contains developing chemicals. At the top of the image is a little absorption pad.


The Polaroids are all put into the plastic cartridge along with a battery that powers the camera. Every Polaroid camera has a set of rollers that the film gets ejected through. This causes the chemical pod at the bottom of the image to break open and its content spreads across the entire image. As it’s ejecting before being absorbed into the pad at the top as soon as the image starts coming out, there’s this entire chemical process happening right inside the camera that you don’t even see!


It is an amazing system! Yes, it can produce imperfect results, but Polaroids have always been kind of unpredictable, and for a lot of people that’s the appeal of it.


Over the next few years, Polaroid enjoyed massive popularity with this format and introduced different cameras in the SX-70 line and then eventually 600 and Spectra System cameras. Kodak even tried to create their own instant film camera at that time, but they were quickly sued by Polaroid and they had to shut it down. Sadly, Polaroid as a company was in a decline starting in the 1980s through a series of failed inventions that never caught on such as Polavision, the instant Super 8 film.


Polaroid was essentially a household name and like so many things it all came to an end in 2008 when they announced that they would be discontinuing the manufacturing of all their Instant Film. This was a devastation for photographers all around the world, both young and old who had fallen in love with this iconic white framed image and the magic of an instant photo. It meant that not only all these photos would cease to be made, it also meant that every single Polaroid camera became useless, because the company that made this incredibly specific film format for it just decided to stop!


Since then, Polaroid has turned into more of a watered-down brand name. You can get Polaroid sunglasses, printers, watches, turntables, 3D pens, and more. The company that once spearheaded such innovation in photography had just become so disappointing. However, a single glimmer of hope existed.


In 2008, the very same year that Polaroid announced they would be shutting down the plants that have manufactured their film, a group of former employees based out of the Netherlands, led by Marwan Saba and Andre Bosman and Dr. Florian Caps started a project – The Impossible Project. The Impossible Project aimed to do the impossible, which was to bring back Polaroid Instant Film all on their own!


To do so, they had to start from scratch with a bare-bones team of engineers who were mostly former Polaroid employees. Over time, they successfully recreated a functioning Polaroid film for Polaroid Cameras. The Impossible Project has been way more successful than anyone could have ever imagined. Maybe it’s not going to be the same kind of film it was 45-years ago when Edwin Land got up on the stage and showed to the world. But, in doing so, they saved thousands of these adorable little cameras from the backs of closets and the bottom shelves of thrift stores.


The most recent surprise came in the Summer of 2017, when the head shareholder of The Impossible Project acquired the Polaroid brand name, which meant that nine years after it was considered dead, Polaroid branded Instant Film existed once again! So pick up a pack, take a picture, put it in the mail or give it to somebody that you love because nothing beats a Polaroid picture!

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