On a recent trip to New York, I had the chance to stop by the Impossible Project Space New York City, to check out their stock of vintage Polaroid cameras. I ended up leaving the shop with a refurbished Polaroid Cool Cam, circa 1988. I was seven when this camera was released. Essentially, the Cool Cam is a rebranded model of Polaroid’s Sun 600 line of cameras (originally released in 1983; I was just two then). I had originally wanted to pick up a rainbow striped OneStep SX-70 Land Camera. However, I found the striking red hardware on the Cool Cam very attractive. It’s like Polaroid had the foresight to do a (Product)RED product before (Product)RED was even a thing. Nonetheless, I had left New York City with a 25-year-old camera, one pack of color film, one pack of black and white film, and a vintage Polaroid carrying bag. I was ready to shoot Hawaii, with Impossible film.
The limited amount of manual control that you haveÂ with this cameras poses somewhat of a challenge. The Cool Cam features a single-element 116mm lens, fixed focus, with minimum focal length of 4 feet, electronic shutter, programmed auto-exposure system and a built-in electronic flash. The only settings that you can adjust are the “exposure” slider (i.e. you can brighten or lighten the image) and the flash (i.e. you can choose to fire the flash or not). The lack of control, coupled with the fact that I was limited to 8 exposures, made me a bit nervous at first. With this film, there’s sort of a need to “get the shot” with the first shot. You don’t have the luxury of wasting shots like you would if you were using your digital camera or iPhone. You can delete photos from your SD Card, whereas photos on instant film are forever.
For those of you who have forgotten, or for those of you who are too young to know, Polaroid cameras were unique in that they used a film pack that did two things: 1. powered your camera and flash (each film pack was also in effect a battery), and 2. provided instant photo prints. When Polaroid announced in 2008 that it would cease production of instant film, something called The Impossible Project was born. Dr. Florian Kaps, Andre Bosman and Marwan Saba founded The Impossible Project and bought the production machinery from Polaroid and leased a portion of the original Polaroid plant in Enschede, Netherlands. Since then, The Impossible Project has been experimenting with different recipes of instant film and has been releasing iterations of film each time they make significant improvements. Essentially, The Impossible Project has allowed Polaroid cameras to go from forgotten dust magnets to useable film cameras.
Ironically, since Polaroid ceased production of their instant cameras and film, there has been a surge in interest and usage of instant Polaroid cameras of the past. Earlier this year, I picked up an old OneStep Sx-70 Land Camera off of eBay. It turned out to be a dud, but, the hardware and principle behind “instant photography” intrigued me. And so when I visited New York this summer, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the Impossible Shop and pick up a “new” camera (they have offices in Netherlands, New York, and Tokyo).
To test out the Polaroid Cool Cam 600, Exploration: Hawaii, of course, jumped on one of the many hiking trails here on the island. Specifically, we checked out a popular spot known as The Dead Man’s Catwalk. It wasn’t always called this. When we were there back in 2011, there was no graffiti indicating the slab of concrete had such a moniker. I kind of wish the graffiti wasn’t there. Or, at the very least, I wish that the typography was a little better. In any case, it was a perfect day to test out the Cool Cam, since the sun was out.
Below you’ll find the shots that we took with the single pack of film that I brought up with me. I used the new formula PX 680 Color Protection film, and it worked great. Having said that, you’ll have to be patient with this film. The Impossible film is unlike the Polaroid film of yesteryear, that would develop in seconds as you flicked it in your hand. You’ll have to wait anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour before you see anything resembling a photograph. For the first few minutes, you’ll just see a blue, almost reminiscent of the blue screen of death that Windows users are so accustomed to. Rest assured, though, that the blue will eventually turn into a picture. Since the film is so sensitive, it is recommended that you immediately shield it from light. And in fact, that was sort of the fun. Composing the shot, clicking the shutter, hearing the familiar (though forgotten) sound of the film being ejected, and then rushing to throw it in the bag and away from the sunlight. The process was enjoyable and it was satisfying. And the tangible photos that I held in my hand, with their muted colors and chemistry, provided a sense of amazement and happiness that I almost never get from Polaroid’s digital equivalents.
Note: If you’ve reached the bottom of this post and you’re wondering where the 8th exposure is…well, unfortunately (for you at least), I submitted it as part of a contest drawing. Cross your fingers and hope that I win!