Polaroid: A brief history

Polaroid is an American company that was founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land, to exploit the use of its Polaroid polarizing polymer. Land ran the company until 1981. Its peak employment was 21,000 in 1978, and its peak revenue was $3 billion in 1991. The Polaroid business passed through bankruptcy twice in the 2000s.

Instant film is a type of photographic film introduced by Polaroid to be used in an instant camera (and, with accessory hardware, with many professional film cameras). The film contains the chemicals needed for developing and fixing the photo, and the instant camera exposes and initiates the developing process after a photograph has been taken.

In earlier Polaroid instant cameras the film is pulled through rollers which breaks open a pod containing a reagent that is spread between the exposed negative and receiving positive sheet. This film sandwich develops for a predetermined time, depending on film type and ambient temperature, after which the positive sheet is peeled away from the negative to reveal the developed photo. In 1972, Polaroid introduced integral film, which incorporated timing and receiving layers to automatically develop and fix the photo without any intervention from the photographer. Integral film packs may contain a flat “Polapulse” electrical battery, which powers systems in the camera, including exposure and focusing mechanisms, electronic flash, and a film ejection motor.

Polaroid 250

Polaroid 250, photo taken with my SX-70 on Impossible SX-70 B&W material.

Though the quality of integral instant film is not as good as conventional film, peel apart black and white film, and to a lesser extent color film approached the quality of traditional film types. Instant film was used where it was undesirable to have to wait for a roll of conventional film to be finished and processed, e.g., documenting evidence in law enforcement, in health care and scientific applications, and producing photographs for passports and other identity documents, and simply for snapshots to be seen immediately. Some photographers used instant film for test shots, to see how a subject or setup looks before using conventional film for the final exposure. Instant film is also used by artists to achieve effects that are impossible to accomplish with traditional photography, by manipulating the emulsion during the developing process, or separating the image emulsion from the film base.

Polaroid SX-70

Polaroid SX-70 Time Zero Autofocus, photo taken with my iPhone 5S and printed with the Impossible InstantLab on Impossible Color 600 material

Edwin Land also pioneered (and patented) consumer friendly instant cameras and film. The earliest Polaroids (pre-1963) used instant roll film. Later cameras (100, 103, 104, 210, 230, 250, 320, 330, 350, 180, 195 & more) utilized “pack film,” which required the photographer to pull the film out of the camera for development, then peel apart the positive from the negative at the end of the developing process. Later Polaroids, like the popular SX-70, used a square format integral film, in which all components of the film (negative, developer, fixer, etc.) were contained. Each exposure developed automatically once the shot was taken. SX-70 (or Time Zero) film had a strong following from artists who used it for image manipulation.

600 series cameras such as the Pronto, Sun 600, and One600 used 600 (or the more difficult to find professional 779) film which was four times faster than SX-70 film. Polaroid Spectra cameras used Polaroid Spectra film which went back to a rectangular format.

Polaroid successors

Polaroid stopped producing instant films in 1998. Nowadays there are two companies producing instant films: Fuji (Peel Apart and Instax integral film) and The Impossible Project for older Polaroid cameras (600, SX-70, Spectra and 8×10).

Impossible InstantLab

Impossible InstantLab, photo taken with my SX-70 on Impossible SX-70 color material

The Impossible Project is a company that manufactures instant photographic materials. It was founded in 2008 after Polaroid announced in February 2008 that it would stop producing film for Polaroid cameras. The founders are Dr. Florian Kaps, André Bosman and Marwan Saba. In October 2008, Impossible bought the production machinery from Polaroid and began producing several types of instant film in 2010. Since then, Polaroid has become popular again. Several small companies all over the world sell refurbished Polaroid cameras or even add new technical features to the old models. The Impossible Project produced the „Instant Lab“, a device which prints photos taken with a smartphone on instant film, and also an instant pinhole camera.

Polaroid is a trademark of PLR IP Holdings, LLC.
Text consists of extracts of several articles on Polaroid at wikipedia.com