The Early Films, Failures, and Triumphs of the Impossible Project

The mysterious packaging of the rare Impossible Project PX 680 Color Shade beta film.

The mysterious packaging of the rare Impossible Project PX 680 Color Shade beta film.

This article is a collection of old reviews that I wrote about the many films that the Impossible Project created in their first few years of existence. Almost all of these films have long disappeared, and even if one stumbled across them the chemistry would barely work these days. However, many of these films, while wild and unpredictable, were my favorites that Impossible ever created. They were unique to their time and are likely to never appear again. When updating my site, it seemed silly to have a bunch of old reviews sitting around collecting dust. So I collected them together and created this article, a celebration of these old films and a peak into what it was like to follow a product as it developed and matured.

A Brief History of the Impossible Project

Back in 2008, headlines were made when Polaroid announced they would stop making their signature Polaroid instant film. They reasoned that digital had killed film for good and there was no point to producing the stuff. Besides being an ultimate low point for a company that had once been considered the Apple of its time, artists and photographers all across the world despaired. People were still using that film, and they liked using it. They had no plans to stop. Millions of cameras that filled households all across the world were now facing the prospect of becoming completely worthless.

One of the greatest things about living in the internet age is that if people really, really want something to happen, it usually does. An entrepreneur traveling Europe ended up salvaging a Polaroid factory before it was shuttered, and founded the Impossible Project. They made it their mission to create instant film that could to replace the increasingly rare and expensive Polaroid film that had been discontinued. Polaroid had already destroyed their supply chains in the early 2000s, so simply recreating the old formula wasn’t an option. New chemicals had to be found, new processes created. Quite frankly, it was an insane undertaking. So they called themselves the Impossible Project.

The Impossible Project wouldn’t release their first batch of film until 2010, and leading up to then photographers (including me) watched the website’s countdown timer, wondering if they’d actually pull it off. In the meantime, the Impossible Project was selling off a stockpile of old Polaroid film, and we were all shooting the last of it before it expired.

Then, finally, PX 100 Silver Shade First Flush appeared. The dawn of a new era. And it was terrible. Clearly, it was not a polished or even finished product. It leaked chemicals, the photos blew out when exposed to light too soon, and humidity ate the pictures from the inside out.

One of the first photos I ever took with Impossible Project PX 100 First Flush. Notice the humidity damage and deep sepia tones. I loved this film.

One of the first photos I ever took with Impossible Project PX 100 First Flush. Notice the humidity damage and deep sepia tones. I loved this film.

I loved it.

I don’t shoot film because it works perfectly. I don’t shoot film because of consistent results. I shoot film because it’s fun. And there is nothing more fun to me than a wild and unpredictable format that constantly surprised me. It’s not a conincidence that nearly all of my favorite instant photos I’ve ever taken have been with early Impossible Project films.

The Impossible Project continually improved and iterated their products until they became the stable and robust lines they are now. The excitement has died down a little, but now the Impossible Project has truly succeeded in creating a line of film that matches and even excels classic Polaroid film. The road was bumpy though. Below I’ve placed all the reviews I wrote of the various films that came out, roughly in the order that the Impossible Project created them. You can see that IP often took two steps forward, one step back. But they never stopped moving and they have truly done the impossible. Now, let’s take a little walk through recent history.

Note: As of this writing, the Impossible Project recently revised how they label their products. By the time you read this, you may be wholly unfamiliar with how IP used to name their films. Here’s a handy little run down of the old IP naming system:

PX 70 – Color films for SX-70 cameras
PX 100 – Black and white films for SX-70 cameras
PX 600 – Black and white films for 600 type cameras
PX 680 – Color films for 600 type cameras
PZ 600 – Black and white films for Image/Spectra cameras
PZ 680 – Color films for Image/Spectra cameras

It can be a tad confusing, which is why I’m sure IP eventually decided to discard it in favor of just labeling things based off of what cameras they needed to be used in and what color they were. IP also made some large format 8×10 film, but for our purposes I’m not including it here.

HISTORICAL REVIEWS

The First Flush Generation

The first films that the Impossible Project came out were called ‘first flush’, as in the first flush of spring. They were temperamental films that carried numerous defects, but the thrill of discovery was strong. I loved these films for their flaws, and hope that one day IP will re-release a new series of films that carries the unpredictable First Flush chemistries.

PX 100 Silver Shade First Flush

PX 100 Silver Shade First Flush is the very first film the Impossible Project produced, made for SX-70 cameras, but still somewhat compatible with 600 cameras. Just throw the exposure knob towards the light side and it should work just fine. The image taken on the right was taken with a Polaroid Impulse AF 600 camera using flash for illumination.

It’s characteristics are very similar to PX 600 Silver Shade First Flush, but slightly more stable because of its lower ISO. Instead of a true black and white, colors tend to be more sepia in tone. It suffers from the same problems with killer crystal (humidity damage), but for some reason, the defect takes longer to develop than in PX 600 FF.

Build quality tended to be questionable, as the Impossible Project was still working on getting everything made properly. Chemicals tended to leak out of the back through loose seals, and some of the white paste can be seen on the image above. My Polaroid Impulse AF’s roller was gummed up by these loose chemicals, but not to worry, Impossible no longer produces any film that has these problems.

I loved the first flush silver shade films for their defects, and I hope that Impossible decides to produce them again. It’d be a shame if all their films became too good.

PX 600 Silver Shade First Flush Instant Film Review

PX 600 Silver Shade First Flush was IP’s first shot at making a new instant film for 600 cameras, and was the cheapest film available to purchase at $14. This black and white film has a sepia tone, and is highly unstable. The film’s lamination suffers from LLP (loose lamination problem), which causes acidic developer to leak out the back. Also, the newly exposed image must be protected from light as soon as it exits the camera or it will be blown out. Finally, it is extremely sensitive to humidity, which causes the ‘killer crystal’ effect, where the image will turn orange, fill up with moisture and deteriorate.

So with all these issues, why would anybody buy this film? Think of it as the Holga of instant film. I love the effect the killer crystal effect has on images; I have an entire gallery dedicated to images that I’ve used this defect to make. The image to the left was scanned several weeks after initial exposure, and humidity damage has clearly taken its toll. Be sure to scan your images on a regular basis, as the picture will be constantly changing and growing as the humidity changes the chemistry inside.

I miss this film (and its cheap price), and hope that the Impossible Project will one day re-release their first flush films.

An example of the Impossible Project's first attempt at color with PX 70 Color Shade First Flush. As you can see, pretty much the only color it displayed was blue.

An example of the Impossible Project’s first attempt at color with PX 70 Color Shade First Flush. As you can see, pretty much the only color it displayed was blue.

PX 70 Color Shade First Flush

PX 70 Color Shade First Flush was IP’s first attempt at a color film and was only sold in a three pack at $44. An experimental format for only the most diehard of IP fans, the images just barely show color. Mostly, the pictures will be a low contrast shade of blue with a few other strong colors just poking through. This format is made for SX-70 cameras, but can also be used in 600 cameras with some exposure adjustments. Color Shade takes far longer than Silver Shade formats to develop, taking a day to two weeks to fully take form.

While there are no problems with LLP or killer crystal, the film is extremely sensitive to light while developing and suffers from what I call the ‘reptile skin’ defect. Images will be filled with discolored dot shaped areas, especially in darker parts of the picture. IP claims that this should disappear within a day or two, but I found that it took well over two weeks and still left behind scars on the image. It’s exciting to experiment with a new format and I’m glad that IP released it so early in the process, but I don’t recommend chasing this film down. If you need color instant film, this still comes nowhere close to what expired Polaroid 600 or the current generation of Color Shade can do.

This was a difficult format that frustrated many people who thought they could get a color out of the frame that wasn’t blue. For best results, be sure to heavily shield the image as it pops out, as even the tiniest bit of sunlight will blow the image. Also, make sure to shoot bright, contrasty colors, and you might get a glimmer of something that isn’t blue.

Second Generation Impossible Project films

The first flush films were severely flawed, especially in the color film department, and the Impossible Project rushed to create new, better films. This generation was largely hit or miss, but build quality was much better.

PX 600 Silver Shade Version Six Instant Film

This is an immensely improved version of PX 600 that is far more stable than first flush. Manufacturing problems were resolved and the killer crystal effect is much less pronounced. The overall tone of the film is very similar to first flush, with an overall sepia tint to the image. Version five preceded this edition of PX 600 Silver Shade, but I never got a chance to use it.

PX 100 Silver Shade Instant Film

For some reason the Impossible Project has not released a UV+ version of PX 100, and as a result the current generation of PX 100 Silver Shade is very similar in nature to PX 600 Silver Shade Version 6 and the first edition of PZ 600 Silver Shade. Construction quality and durability are good, but the image retains a sepia tint. This film is currently selling for $22.

PZ 600 Silver Shade Instant Film

This is the Impossible Project’s first monochrome film for Image and Spectra cameras, and is still available in limited quantities at a slight discount. As a later addition to the IP family, PZ’s chemistry is much more stable and responsive. Images develop quickly and show no discoloration from temperature. The overall tint is still sepia, look to the UV+ editions for true black and white.

The image still needs to be protected when it is initially ejected from the camera, but a little light leaking in the sides will not leave as much of a mark as some of the first flush formats. Just like PX 600 Silver Shade version 6 and later, this film is highly resistant to the killer crystal defect.

I personally would get this before PZ 600 UV+ since it is quite stable and I don’t mind the sepia tone that much. The Impossible Project’s film is so expensive that I don’t mind saving a buck wherever I can. It doesn’t look like this film will be around much longer though.

Before the UV+ generation of Silver Shade, the photos were more sepia toned than black and white.

Before the UV+ generation of Silver Shade, the photos were more sepia toned than black and white.

PX 70 Color Shade Push! Instant Film

Push is the second generation of PX 70 Color Shade and is a completely different animal than its predecessor. The blue tint is largely gone, and images actually exhibit some solid color. This generation of PX 70 Color Shade requires much more light to work, taking 600 cameras out of the equation. SX-70 cameras must be used, and even then the exposure compensation must be set to let in more light (thus the name ‘Push’).

Some of the lizard skin defect remains, and images are somewhat hazy in nature. Just like first flush, be extremely careful in handling the image immediately after capture, as any exposure to light will blow out parts of the image. Still not an expired Polaroid killer for color images, but getting closer. This film is still sold at a slight discount and in a ten pack.

After several weeks of storage, I went back to look and see what kind of changes Push would undergo. To my surprise, the image had turned completely blue. Personally I found it kind of neat, but be warned, you should scan early and often with this format, as it is highly unstable.

PX 680 Color Shade Beta/First Flush Instant Film

As of June 2012, this film has been replaced by PX 680 Cool as the Impossible Project’s flagship color film, but is still being sold individually and in discounted packs. PX 680 has some major improvements, especially in regards to the lizard skin defect, but also costs much more than this. If price is a concern, the last generation packs are a great deal.

As of September 2011, I’ve finally gotten a chance to use PX 680 First Flush and can say for certain that it’s almost identical to the beta version reviewed below. I shot my PX 680 First Flush in daylight conditions rather than studio, resulting in even more vibrant colors. I noticed that my pack had a slight yellow hue to it, similar to the Polaroid Image Soft Tone film, but it could be the temperature I shot at that caused this. The white spots of the beta film had disappeared, but the lizard skin defect surfaced slightly more than it had when I shot beta. Still, I remain very happy with this film and look forward to using it more in the future.

This film is currently sold by the Impossible Project. The rest of this article is the older review I posted from my experiences with PX 680 Color Shade beta.

A little over a year after silver shade first appeared on the scene, and at last we finally have a worthy color alternative to expired Polaroid. The Impossible Project released a limited amount of its new PX 680 Color Shade as a ‘beta’ to its Pioneer users, and I was lucky enough to snatch up a pack before it sold out. Unlike previous releases of new versions of color shade, there was almost no information on how to use the film other than it was 600 equivalent and may show white dots. Even the packaging was just a mysterious black box.

Not knowing what to expect, but impressed by what others had already shot with the film, I popped my pack into a 600 camera and did a short shoot with the beautiful Sarah. To compare, I also simultaneously shot a pack of IP PX 70 Color Shade Push film in a SX-70 camera.

The results? I was instantly (no pun intended) won over. The PX 680 developed much faster than PX 70, and within a half hour, was already showing bright, crisp colors. The PX 70’s colors looked dull by comparison, and the overall image was fuzzier than 680. Skin tones were accurate and all colors seemed to be equally represented. Black gradients tended towards blue, but there isn’t an overall blue tint to worry about.

I shoot in a humid area, and I am always plagued by killer crystal and lizard skin defects. The lizard skin defect only appeared in solid black areas, and was not nearly as noticeable as in first flush and push. Even the white specks that IP warned about were barely present and certainly nothing to worry about.

Hands down, PX 680 beta is the best color film the Impossible Project has ever produced. However, the big question is whether or not it finally replaces expired genuine Polaroid Type 600? For me personally, yes, it will. PX 680 faithfully reproduces color and is durable enough to not be destroyed by the tiniest bit of leaked light. Defects are minimal and developing time is fast. PX 70 Color Shade First Flush and Push did not serve my needs, but now I finally have an IP color film I like.

However, when it really comes down to it, genuine Polaroid is still superior in color, durability, and overall tone. If PX 680 is anything like other Impossible films, don’t count on it to last for more than a few months. Polaroids seem invincible by comparison, lasting decades without any major color shift or deterioration. Unfortunately, it’s been years since Polaroid has produced any new film, and prices are skyrocketing on what little expired film is left. PX 680 is a good place to jump on the IP bandwagon, and I’m sure IP will have even better films developed a year from now.

Since PX 680 was only released as a beta to Pioneer users, it is long sold out and unavailable to purchase. PX 680 First Flush has been released and can now be purchased on the Impossible Project’s website.

Third Generation and Beyond

The third generation finally saw the Impossible Project line mature in a relatively stable series of films. The opacifier issue wouldn’t yet be solved until the color protection line (as of late 2013, this line is just now being phased out), but black and white film was now black and white, and color films were showing good color.

PZ 600 Silver Shade UV+ Instant Film

This is most current version of monochrome film for Polaroid Image and Spectra System cameras and has the new UV layer built in that creates a more genuine black and white image. This film replaces the high quality PZ 600 Silver Shade.

I still have yet to shoot my pack of this film, but it’s chemistry is the same as PX 600 Silver Shade UV+, which is very good. Check out my review for that film for more information.

Earlier generations of Color Shade tended to slowly turn blue with time, with the image sometime disappearing completely.

Earlier generations of Color Shade tended to slowly turn blue with time, with the image sometime disappearing completely.

PX 680 Color Shade Cool Film Review

The Impossible Project has really outdone itself this time, PX 680 Color Shade Cool is the best new color film for 600 type cameras yet. The colors are similar to PX 680 First Flush, but the film is more stable and free from lizard skin blotching. Black portions of the frame stay solid black, removing the last major complaint I had about the PX 680 line.

If you’re wondering why they call it ‘cool’ (I was), I’ve been told it’s because the Impossible Project wants to encourage people to take care of their film by refrigerating it. To this end, the box has a temperature activated strip on the side that says ‘keep me cool’. When refrigerated it turns blue, otherwise out in the wild it’s white. This isn’t really that big of a deal or actually all that useful, but it’s a nifty little detail. It is a good sign that Impossible is encouraging people to refrigerate their film though, as IP films tend to change dramatically under different conditions.

Part of me likes this film even better than genuine Polaroid 600 film, and I definitely prefer it over Fuji Instax’s colors. Pink and blue hues transform a drab landscape into something surreal. I hope that as the Impossible Project improves their film and get closer to genuine Polaroid colors that they keep producing batches of film with these colors. Heck, I’m still waiting for them to bring PX 600 First Flush back.

The film performed well both indoors and out. Colors were bright and vibrant even when flash is the only source of light. My outdoor images had a very slight blue cast, but it’s nothing like the heavy blue cast of PX 70 Push or First Flush.

Speaking of Push, so far the images I’ve exposed on this film have proven to be very stable. I shot some Push on the same shoot, and it was blue within the next day. My PX 680 first flush images turned blue after a month, so be updating this review if they turn a few weeks from now. The blues have gotten slightly stronger but the effect remains subtle.

Like nearly all modern Impossible Project films, build quality isn’t a problem. I haven’t encountered any leaking chemicals and very few grey or brown spots on the edges. I was very happily surprised to see that the lizard skin defect has been dramatically reduced, and as a result, black areas of the frame look great. Detail is also very impressive; in the above image you can see some of the fine patterns on Maryann’s dress very clearly.

UPDATE: After a few months, this film has shown remarkable stability compared to previous generations of Impossible Color film. There is only a very slight shift to blue, but it’s nothing that will ruin the photo. This is the first Impossible color film that has been stable enough for me to frame and put up on my wall. Woo hoo!

The Impossible Project will probably be selling off their stock of this film at a discount now that Color Protection has risen to replace it, so if you know what you’re doing, I would highly recommend picking this film up while you can. It develops faster than color protection and (to me) has more vibrant colors. Instant photography is an expensive hobby, so I almost always buy most of my film at least one generation behind just so I don’t have to pay $22 for eight exposures.

PX 70 Color Shade Cool Review

I didn’t realize it, but apparently I never published this review! I used PX 70 quite a bit this summer, and I was fairly pleased with the results. It’s almost identical to PX 680 Color Shade Cool except with a much lower ISO, so I would go to that review for more details.

Because of the lower light sensitivity, I tended to get blurrier pictures with this film. The Polaroid OneStep I was shooting it on was also on the fritz, so it was hard to figure out the exact cause of some of the photos that didn’t come out. If you’re using this film, I would stick to the bright outdoors or use a flash.

Even current generation Impossible Project color films show color shifts, which can have a fantastic effect on photos.

Even current generation Impossible Project color films show color shifts, which can have a fantastic effect on photos.

What’s Next?

The Impossible Project has shown no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Polaroid cameras are becoming trendy once again in popular culture. Digital photographers are showing interest in experimenting with film. Hopefully the Impossible Project has a long, happy future ahead of it.

Personally, I would love to see the Impossible Project re-release some of these early chemistries. The complete unpredictability of PX 100 and PX 70 First Flush was some of the most fun I’ve ever had taking pictures.