Instant analog film might just be the world’s most chemically complex entirely manmade product ever created. Numerous chemical reactions take place as you watch the instant print develop. The timing of these reactions is critical to get a good picture in the end. Some need to occur very fast and some more slowly. Some need to occur independently of the others. Some need to interact with others. Controlling all of this is our challenge. Our CTO Stephen Herchen has prepared this update to provide further insight into our research and development efforts over the last year – and the future of Impossible color film.
“When we started to re-invent analog instant photography from scratch, the team was limited to using chemicals that were readily available. We didn’t have access to custom chemicals. During the Polaroid days their chemists came up with over 30,000 new chemicals that had never existed before – several dozen of which were used in its films. When Polaroid stopped its film production the production of these custom chemicals was stopped as well, and these were not available as we attempted to develop our first film products. Over the past two years we have been making serious investments in our R&D in order to improve our films. The primary improvements that we are working on are making the photographs faster developing and more instant, eliminating the need to shield them from light while they are developing, and improving the quality of our B&W films and the color quality of our color films.
To do this required us to add a molecular design and chemical synthesis capability to the company in order to replace some of the non-custom chemicals in our first films with newly-invented custom chemicals. It is the properties within these custom chemicals that provide these targeted improvements. This will be an ongoing process but we are already seeing positive results that we are very excited about. At some point in this process we need to decide if the net result of this work has reached a point where we should bring the new chemistry into production and replace our current film with a new improved version. Having the ability to make a small quantity of this experimental film and provide it to our pioneers and members to test is an enormous help to us in making this decision.
Along the development path there were several versions of test film that were used by our pioneers and we used their feedback to refine our chemical formulations
Before we release our films onto the market, we put experimental batches of film through a rigorous set of tests ourselves but we still cannot test the film under the full range of conditions (camera models, exposure conditions, temperatures, the variety of indoor and outdoor subjects, etc) found around the world with our customers. Often when we test a new film with our pioneers we learn something new that we did not see in our internal testing. Plus we get their direct feedback about whether they see the targeted improvements, how significant these improvements are to them and if there is anything about the film that they did not like. We collect this feedback and use it as part of our process to make a go or no-go decision regarding proceeding to production.
As important as having this new chemistry capability is for us to achieve these improvements, our connection to our pioneers and members is also very important. The Impossible Project is still a fairly small company with limited resources so we need to be sure that we work with the highest priority on the things that matter most to our customers. The feedback that we get from our loyal customers helps us to set the right priorities. In addition to helping us set the right priorities there is another huge benefit from our direction connection to this kind of feedback. As we develop the new chemistry for our films we every day are making experimental films in the lab to test these chemicals and see if they are behaving as we designed them to and to see if we are getting the targeted improvements. This is a trial and error process that takes time. And our system is chemically interactive enough that often we will see the expected improvements but along with some unexpected side effects. We then continue working to maximize the good performance and minimize any unwanted side effects.
Our recent Generation 2.0 B&W films and recent improvements to our color films are good examples of this process at work. The main change made to our B&W films for Gen 2.0 was the incorporation of a new custom opacification dye into the developer paste that better protects the film from ambient light while it is developing outside the camera eliminating the need for shielding the film during this time. This new dye took a few years to develop and several versions of this film were tested before proceeding into production with this one. There are also several other chemical changes that provide more neutral blacks and whites and that improve the contrast of the film.
Similarly, we have recently made a change to our color films in production with a chemical change in the light sensitive negative that produces more accurate, more saturated colors and another new custom opacification dye in the developer paste that enables the initial image to be seen much faster than with our previous color film. As was the case with our new B&W film, our pioneers played an important role in the development of this improved version of our color film. We continue to work hard in R&D on further significant improvements in these and in several other areas and, with the continued help of our long time pioneers and new members, we are confident that we will be successful and be able to deliver and continuous stream of better and better film products.”
White square frame film for 600 and SX-70 has now started to ship with our new color formula. We’re rolling this formula out to all formats as quickly as we can, though the process may take some months to reach all films. For now, you can be certain that the films you see below, bought directly from our online shop, will contain the new formula.