Years ago, the Impossible Project came out with a ’round frame’ version of their 600 type film. I’ll admit, I really didn’t get it. It was the same film… but slightly less of it. At a greater cost. And if I really wanted a round frame, all I had to do was crop my scan. When I scan and share my Polaroids, I don’t even include the frame anyway. So what was the point?
Curiosity got the better of me, so I ordered some anyway. Then, when I shot it, it all suddenly made sense to me.
Polaroid round frame film is amazing.
Why? A big reason we shoot film is the restrictions and challenges it places upon us. Constraints are incredibly useful in art. It might seem counterintuitive, but like a painter who is tasked with only using shades of pink in a composition, constraints often result in better results and help stimulate our imagination. Film is inherently impractical and has no technical advantage over digital, but the limitations that film puts on me pushes me towards better work than I do with digital. There is almost no photo I couldn’t replicate with digital and endless photoshop filters and effects, but film helps me get where I want to go faster because it is more difficult to use.
Which brings us back to circle frame. Sure, you can apply a circle crop in post, but shooting circle frame forces you to recalibrate and frame specifically for this shape. I’ve found that it forced me to get closer to my subjects than I normally would, creating tight closeups. I loved the results I got from my first experiences with circle frame.
And then the Impossible Project discontinued it as they went through the various rebrandings that brought it back to Polaroid today. More than a few photographers missed circle frame and steadily lost hope that it would ever return. But this year, we were surprised. Circle frame is back!
As of June 2021, it currently only comes in color, and it also comes in at a slightly higher price than regular 600 type Polaroid film. Shooting with it, I found it every bit as great as I remember it.
If you think you might like it, or you enjoy what you’ve seen other photographers are doing with circle frame, go for it. There’s no major downside to using this film, and it may push you to take your work in new directions.
Image quality, like with all Polaroid color film these days, is excellent. It’s not quite as blue and neutral as Fuji Instax, but I think the tones are far more interesting and flattering. Despite the company now sharing the same name, this film is not the same as vintage pre-2008 discontinuation Polaroid, rather, this is a further evolution of the film that the Impossible Project/Polaroid Originals developed over the past decade.
As mentioned below, as the film ages, it will begin to accumulate unpredictable elements and potential defects, such as discoloration, yellow dots, and low contrast. However, this may be a feature for some photographers, and it is easily avoided by shooting new film. That’s why I always recommend buying it directly from Polaroid if you can.
Storage and Longevity
Polaroid film does not do well sitting in a drawer, waiting to be used. Instant Polaroid film over a year old, especially color film, tends to become quite unpredictable the longer it goes unused. The results can be interesting, but I recommend ordering film when you need it rather than stockpiling it. Even refrigerated, it really doesn’t do great with long-term storage. There is a dramatic difference between new Polaroid film and old, and even film that’s been cooked in hot weather and properly stored stock. To make sure you’re getting the newest film possible, I recommend ordering it directly from Polaroid’s store rather than picking it up at retailers like Best Buy where the film may have been there for some time.
After being shot, this film remains fairly stable (as opposed to the unpredictable life of earlier Impossible Project films). It’s wise to keep it in a relatively dry environment to reduce any potential blue shift.
If you are shooting out in bright sunlight, be sure to use a frog tongue adapter or your hand to shade the image as soon as it pops out of the camera. The first few seconds are the most critical to keep the photo shielded from light. Sunlight can pierce the opacifier that protects the developing image, resulting in far lower contrast, or in rare worst cases, no image at all. Indoors you don’t need to worry, but I tend to keep photos face down anyway to help with contrast.
Temperature will also impact the color of your film, although it is a bit less sensitive to it than older Impossible Project color film was. If you’re shooting outside on a hot summer day, don’t be surprised if your colors shift a bit than if you shoot them in indoor temps. Keeping film shaded and out of the sun is always a good idea. I have a pocket in my camera bag that I stick photos in immediately after they eject.
Polaroid color film takes longer than black and white to develop, with the image becoming perceptible at around a minute, then continuing to steadily develop over a half hour. I recommend scanning 24 hours after shooting for optimal results. You may see some subtle changes to the image over the next following few days, but typically nothing major enough to necessitate a rescan.
Round frame Polaroid is a lot of fun to shoot. I don’t normally care for ‘gimmick’ film products (think cheetah print frames or many of the things that Lomography makes that are more toy-like than useful), but round frame has really earned itself a spot in shoots as a photographic tool.
Now, if only we could get it in black and white again. Pretty please Polaroid?
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Thanks to Cassandra Fowler and Kierra Wooden for modeling for the above example Polaroids!