Update October 2019: Well, that was fast. Just a few months after this review, Polaroid Originals announced they were discontinuing their Spectra lines of film. Below is now a review of the last batch of Spectra film that will ever be made. Polaroid Originals is selling off the last of their stock, so get it while you can!
Polaroid Spectra is an odd format. It’s nearly identical to 600 Polaroid film, sharing a similar chemistry and ISO rating, just a bit wider.
Back in the day, it was used in many professional capacities, for everything from inventory to police work (one of the Spectra cameras I found came with a VHS instructional tape on how to use it in a crime scene investigation). Because of this, Spectra cameras tended to have a nice balance of lots of features with a lower price. These cameras were the main reason that I often recommended shooting Polaroid Spectra/Image, and why I used it as my main format for many years until I got my hands on an SLR 680.
However, in 2018 a strange thing happened. Polaroid Originals ran out of Spectra film… and stayed out. For over a year, there was no stock to be had and no news as to whether the format was coming back. I had to remove my favorite Spectra cameras from my Polaroid camera buying guide because there wasn’t film for them anymore.
Thankfully, it was all temporary. As of mid 2019, Polaroid Originals color Spectra film is back in stock. After a year’s absence, are there any major changes? Well, from my tests, it seems to be the exact same film, for better or worse. That means it is overall a great format that is a worthy successor to vintage Polaroid, but lingering issues with the opacifier have not been resolved.
Polaroid Originals’ color film lines all look great these days. The colors are not quite as accurate as Fuji Instax or vintage Polaroid, but as an artist, I like it that way. Instax looks boring to me. But that’s just taste! You can’t go wrong either way. You can see the comparisons in my Ultimate Instant Film Shootout for more information on the Fuji vs Polaroid debate.
There’s very little to complain about. The film is sharp, clear of grain, and lacking any major defects that detract from the subject. However, to get the best image possible, you will need to pay attention to ambient light and temperature. More on that below.
This used to be a major concern with Impossible Project film, but it has largely been fixed these days with Polaroid Originals. After the chemicals in the film dry, the picture will remain stable for years to come, just like Fuji Instax and classic Polaroid. It takes a few days to weeks for the chemicals to fully settle, so it is a good idea to keep the film out of extreme conditions during that time for optimal image quality. However, there is one major weakness in this film: light immediately after taking a picture.
Sensitivity to Light
When Polaroid film first pops out of the camera, it is extremely sensitive to light. That’s why there is a chemical that obscures the image, protecting it as it develops. This chemical is called the opacifier, and it is triggered by the rollers that press down on the Polaroid as it is ejected from the camera. The opacifier dissipating is what makes it look like a picture is ‘developing’ once out of the camera.
The opacifiers of vintage Polaroid and Fuji Instax are tough customers, able to withstand direct sunlight. Impossible Project film, on the other hand, had opacifiers that needed a helping hand. Users were encouraged to tape a darkslide or piece of thin cardboard over where the image is ejected, protecting it from light in the critical first few seconds after it emerged. Modern Polaroid Originals 600 and SX-70 film has a much better opacifier, and one can largely go without using a darkslide at all when shooting it.
However, I’ve consistently had problems with my Polaroid Originals Spectra film being blown out by the sun. If I’m not extremely careful to shield the image from light when it first pops out, light will damage the parts of the image that are exposed.
This can be somewhat managed if you’re expecting the problem, but it can be an extremely difficult problem for people unfamiliar with analogue film to deal with. For this reason, I can only recommend this format to more experienced photographers who already know how to properly shield their film. It’s no fun trying to explain to a newbie why all their outdoor shots are blank.
I’m really not sure why the Polaroid Originals Spectra film line has this issue. Theoretically, Spectra has a very similar chemistry to 600/I-Type, which does not have this problem anymore, but I have heard rumblings that the thickness of the film may have been causing issues. Personally, the past three years I’ve had a lot of trouble with Polaroid Originals Spectra film getting caught in the rollers of my various Spectra System cameras, which may have something to do with that thickness issue.
Defects and Flaws
All of the Spectra film I shot exhibited none of the common Polaroid Originals image ‘defects’ like blue flames or banded color areas. This is either a positive or negative thing, depending on your artistic intent. We’re a long way away from the lizard skin/everything blue days of the Impossible Project.
As mentioned above, the primary thing you’re going to have to watch out for is initial exposure to light blowing out the film. Also, temperature is going to play a big role in how colors are going to come out.
All color Polaroid Originals films are extremely sensitive to temperature. Generally, if it is warm outside, the photo end up with redder tones, with cold weather bringing out the blues. The temperature of storage will also affect your film.
For the best results, keep your unused film in a fridge, bringing it out several hours before shooting to let it acclimate. In cold weather, keep the film warm against your body or in your jacket. In hot weather, keep it out of the sun and pray.
Polaroid Originals Spectra film is great, but not much has changed in 2019 compared to previous generations. At the end of the day, I’m thankful we have it at all, as the Spectra format is far more niche than 600 and SX-70. If you’re interested in stepping up from a simple box-type 600 camera, but aren’t quite ready to spend hundreds on a Polaroid SLR, Spectra cameras are a great in-between. With this film, you can get great, sharp results with some of my favorite Polaroid cameras like the Spectra AF.
If you’re starting out, do yourself a favor and get a simple 600 or I-Type camera. However, if you’re ready to step up to something with more control, but you’re not ready for SLR prices, make sure you put a darkslide over the front of your Spectra camera!
If you’re interested in picking up a Polaroid camera of your own, check out my guide to picking up a vintage Polaroid camera. If you purchase this film and are wondering how to scan it, I have a guide on how to do just that.