The brand, known today as Polaroid, used to be called Polaroid Originals. And before that, they were named The Impossible Project. Which was yet before they bought the original Polaroid business that invented and built the iconic SX-70 camera. As the factory changed hands and names, the chemistry in the little magic squares saw its own share of alterations.
Following the most recent rebrand exercise, the SX-70 instant film packaging got a slight facelift. In this article, I am comparing the new pack, manufactured in 2020 that spells Polaroid, against its older 2019 sibling, spelling Polaroid Originals. Particularly their respective photo qualities.
To do this, I will be using my two beloved film cameras: Polaroid SX-70 Alpha-1, and Polaroid SX-70 Model 2.
The comparison made here isn’t entirely scientific: a few things may be contributing to the differences other than the changes in the factory process. The two film packs may have had different storage conditions before being sold. Neither is considered expired, though the dates of production differ by three months: 10/19 for Polaroid Originals and 1/20 for Polaroid. Plus, the sampling here is just a single set per batch, which may not represent the entire line.
You can use this read is to inform your future decisions when taking pictures on this remarkably expensive medium, and to acquaint yourself with the somewhat unpredictable nature of the modern Polaroid SX-70 emulsions.
Having loaded my Alpha-1 with the new Polaroid pack, and the Model 2 with the older Polaroid Originals, I’ve set their exposure dial to -1. The scenes I chose were lit at around LV11 (a bright indoor space) to accommodate the film’s extremely narrow dynamic range — it’s less forgiving than most slide film! — and the cameras’ limiting widest aperture of 𝒇8. All photos were taken moments apart.
As you can see from the first set, above, the difference is quite stark. The new Polaroid pack produced a significantly darker image. My scanner missed a few minute shades, which made the image on the left (new Polaroid) look even crispier in person. Though it may seem like there aren’t many dissimilarities, other than the amount of light captured, the colours on the new pack look slightly better — less purple tinge.
The next set of photos confirms the tendency of the new Polaroid film pack to produce slightly darker images, a difference of about -1/-2 stops. The dynamic range hasn’t changed, so the gains in details on highlights are offset by their loss in the shadows. Above, it’s easier to see the avocados, but the fish is murkier on the new film. Still, the greys appear more natural on the new pack. Overall, the colours seem more “real.”
Could the difference be in the cameras?
For the next test, I switched the film packs, having wedged the dark slide back on top of the remaining frames while still in-camera. All of this was done in subdued light, though some photons still made their way onto the emulsion — you can see the light leaks at the very top of the above frames.
No change in film’s behaviour, the new pack remained the darker one with a bit better colour seen on breadsticks.
It’s not entirely clear whether the differences are due to the changes Polaroid made and forgot to announce. In my case, they are welcome — a slight improvement in colour and, perhaps, a diminished need to alter the exposure setting from its default.