Friday, September 23, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
|Impossible Project's film (left) and a mockup of Fujifilm's new|
Monday, September 5, 2016
|Robert J. Crowley "Bob", medical |
device inventor, industrialist, and
originator of New55 FILM
We started with no machinery at all. The addition of "The Thing" a coating rig made of plywood and hair dryers, and medical pumps and controls, was a huge step forward, but it is not enough.
Larger scale means better consistency and manufacturing economics. The cost of tooling, machinery, automation and improved coatings are rolled into the potential for a sustainable and growable small industry with ever improving quality and product offerings.
Black and white is good but many people only shoot color film. Our early hand made color film examples were a test of demand, and were built using old materials that were provided by our friends at 20x24.
Meanwhile, Fuji left the scene, at least as far as peelapart films. Their system represented a high point in industrial development but they decided to close it down when demand for passport pictures declined. The loss of packfilm represents another empty space for innovation, if we are bold enough.
Crowd funding has evolved into a merchandizing tool, mainly, but also a place to share risk among those who believe in coming together to make something happen. We have done the latter and today have proof-of-principle that complex technical and industrial projects can be crowd-funded, if there is the will.
Photography itself is redefining itself. To many, the so-called "alternative photography" term is synonymous with "real photography" meaning projecting light onto a chemical surface that you can see with your own eyes, and producing a photographic "thing". Our digis and phone devices are fantastic, and they have shown us that video (still, moving) is a better way to communicate. We use these tools as communications devices first, and sometimes as fine art. The interest in large format cameras is increasing at an impressive rate. The view of the ground glass and what it does to our perceptions is important and satisfying.
New55 exists because we believe all this and you did too. Though the expense has been very high it seems that many people do understand that technical and industrial progress occurs in stages in part funded by early sales, with the implication that continuous improvement will occur. We hope we have shown some signs of that philosophy in action with the introduction of new coatings, but there is much more to do.
I've gone on record that about $15M are needed to build the factory for peelapart films, including packfilm. Nobody is suggesting we attempt a $15M Kickstarter even though I am sure there will be even bigger crowd funding in the future in other fields, such as movie production. But the fact is we all crowd fund when we pay our monthly Verizon fees, or go to the food store. The difference is that deep pockets have placed products for us to consume. New55 is completely different in that regard, as instead we made products to demand.
The Color film exercise we just did was important and seems to point to how we can introduce peelapart color first in 4x5 and then in other formats large and small. A successful Kickstarter will establish the "sheet goods" requirement and sophisticated coating chemistry that has not been made before with earth-friendly materials. Many of the old chemicals cannot be used, and like The Impossible Project we will depend on new and less hazardous ones, if we can make the new system work well. This crucial step must occur if we are to progress. The effort will benefit black and white, too, with increased economies-of-scale in the factory, and broader, more effective quality improvements. New55's first Kickstarter was easy to understand, as it could be reduced (inaccurately) to bringing back, or resurrecting something that had gone. This is different: We need to find a way to pay for the factory. Pre-orders alone won't do that.
So we are at the moment of truth: Shall New55 continue and grow and if so, how? Together we have proven there is interest. Film use is up over previous years. New film cameras are still being made, and photography itself is bifurcating with one arm in analog. We know what is needed and can design and build the tools and factory to do it and have done so in a small way. From a purely business perspective we could make the case that it is a good investment, but we can't do that ourselves.
How do we communicate and get support for what is almost purely an industrial effort? Over the next week we will decide if we should announce a new Kickstarter effort to raise $500,000, or 20% more than the last time, to introduce color 4X5 and pave the way for other formats, such as packfilms.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
In September we will be making an important announcement about New55 and what we have learned so far, and what will need to be done in the future to make peel apart instant photography a vital and ongoing industry and art form.
There is much to be done. Do not think for a moment that anyone on our team thinks our job is anywhere close to completion. I have an intense dissatisfaction with the primitive state of our manufacturing capabilities and know from experience that in order to introduce the several very new products that I have in mind - that have never been seen before - we must first establish automation and robust supply lines of photosensitive materials and chemicals and be able to put them together: Coating, folding, attaching, die cutting, slitting, pod making, chemical mixing, packaging and assembly all take money, minds and machines. We are lucky to have at least one of these.
Together with you, and all of other supporters who do not live on social media, we have managed to show proof-of-principle that a small start up company can make and sell an instant film product - primitive as it may currently be. Many of you have learned how to use a new and difficult product that seemed to require the skills of a unicycle rider and the daring of a wing suit flyer. Now, with that proof in hand, we must advance into a serious industrial stage if we are to continue. That takes a substantial investment that no conventional investor would dare attempt, but we are unconventional, clearly.
Crowd-funding an industry is more complicated than crowd-funding a single product or a one-off project. Some of you know that I come from a very large scale medical device industry that enjoys hundreds of millions of dollars of industrial investment. Even Polaroid, in the 60's, spent many millions and years to build the assembly machinery for pack film, for instance, having delayed the decision until the money could be made available.
Because we have the gall and the experience to break the established molds and sometimes upset the old guard, my current estimate is that we "only" need to raise $15M and spend it in $5M increments over three years. This is not a large amount by today's standards, but it still a huge amount from the point of view of an individual. We can do it in stages as we introduce new products such as the new color 4x5 instant film that is in planning stages. We must do these things, or the flame will go out.
The future of technologies in general could fall exclusively in the camps of established corporate giants, or we could find another way. We have evidence that can be done, and the fact that New55 has achieved sales of $1M in its first year is also very surprising to some people!
So stay alert as we make major changes that must include new alliances, global distribution and most importantly - the tools needed to improve product quality and offerings well into the Post-Digital future we have together created.
Friday, August 12, 2016
It's the best of both worlds: The quality of film with the latitude of digital. Let me know what you think. This is Ilford HP5, 135mm, but is typical of all black and white negative films used with R5.
|New55 R5 Monobath processed at various temps|
and exposures. This is just a guide. The center is the
"correct one " by the gray scale.
Monday, August 8, 2016
|Typical New55 PN when done correctly|
Copyright 2016, Robert J Crowley
Surprising chemical reactions that are essential
The reasons for all this may surprise you. This is a story about the origins of type 55 and what had to be done by Polaroid, and how New55 FILM overcame a big problem with the Polaroid method and made it all so much easier.
Polaroid made Type 55 PN from the early 60s up until 2008. The product was unusual because it used a Kodak-produced Aerecon film that was also used for aerial reconnaissance. This negative film was a single layer, cubic-grained emulsion similar to Kodak's well-known Panatomic-X, but on a thinner base and with other small changes. Kodak supplied this material to Polaroid over many decades and it was labeled SO-139, which is a special order number among many others that Kodak produced in smaller amounts. SO-139.
The purpose of Polaroid Type 55 was to produce an instant negative. The positive print, which plays a role in the development of the negative, was secondary.
When processed and finished correctly, Polaroid Type 55 produced a sharp and permanent negative with very high acutance due to the static nature of the monobath reagent (or processing goo, or paste as some call it) used. The chemical process is too complex to get into here but suffice to say that this method of developing a negative film had several important advantages in negative quality over traditional wet baths.
Removing the goo - the old days
Users of Polaroid Type 55 had to treat the negative in a clearing bath for it to be both sharp and permanent. The clearing bath was sodium sulfite - a solvent that was hard to get - necessary to remove the goo that would otherwise fade the negative if not removed. Endless questions and gripes over the source, availability and cost of the sodium sulfite and the clearing process continued throughout the nearly 50 years of production.
Sodium sulfite worked in two ways: The first was by dissolving the goo so it went into solution, then as a fixer to remove the residual silver halides present in the freshly developed negative. Polaroid even went as far as suggesting that users further fix the negative in standard fixer to assure permanence, but they gave up on that as too complicated for an instant film.
Polaroid also sold clearing buckets for the sodium sulfite so you had a convenient place to keep your negatives. If you have one you can still use it today, with sodium sulfite or Ilford Rapid fixer. They are quaint reminders of the old days, which are now gone.
Fast forward to New55 PN
When I started New55 in 2010, one immediate concern from users was the un availability of the sodium sulfite. They complained that it was hard to get, expensive, and always a problem. I said I would look into that problem among several others.
Getting rid of the new goo
After several months of experiments I discovered that instead of dissolving the goo, I could get it to curdle and peel off as a sheet. This was far better and quicker than the old way. It turned out that shocking the goo with a low pH further polymerized the goo and caused it to shrink and separate. Lucky breaks sometimes come and this was clearly one of them, but how to implement it was not immediately clear.
Reviewing all the fixers including the fixer that was once used in a monobath designed by Donald Qualls, I noticed that Ilford Rapid Fixer (IRF) was not only the more desirable ammonium sulfite, known for very quick action, but also came mixed with a generous dose of acetic acid which has a very low pH. Ilford Rapid Fixer is also available worldwide, and is inexpensive. A series of experiments showed that a 50/50 mix of IRF and water was acidic enough to curdle the goo, cause it to float off, and it fixed the negative extremely well. All of the series of New55 PNs seen on my flickr feed were processed that way except one which we will talk about later.
Please look again at the example of a properly processed New55 negative that I want you to take a close look at. I've uploaded a large file so you should be able to zoom in if you like to see the incredible detail available. It's at the top of the page.
Contrast this with a badly processed negative kept down here on purpose. I see these things posted on flickr sometimes and though we do need to share our failures too, there is no need for this kind of bad result. Some of the reasons this looks so bad could be:
|There can be artistic merit to weird|
results. But better to know how
to do this intentionally rather
-Peeling too soon. Wait 2 full minutes
-Not getting the negative into the fixer right away. That is necessary.
-Wrong fixer. "I alway use Kodafix" means a bad result.
-Letting the negative dry. This makes it very unsharp and likely to fade in weeks.
-Scratched. Handle more carefully to avoid it.
There you have it. It is simple. We've worked very hard to bring back the look of T55 which I achieve every time, and so can you.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Other parts are heat sealed too. For instance, the air tight bad that the film is wrapped in is heat sealed. This is a simple operation compared to the pods, which is more complex.
The distribution of heat, how long it is applied, and pressure on the seal greatly affects how well the seal performs. In our case, we produce a frangible seal. This is a special type of seal designed to break open at just the right pressure, and requires very precise pressure and temperature.
Various industries are trying to make tools to measure sealing performance and sealing tool quality. Here is such a tool: It produces a color-coded map of pressure, which could be useful. One thing that is shown here is an acoustic horn, which is part of the business end of an ultrasonic welder. Instead of just being hot, ultrasound waves are transmitted into the material to heat it up by just the right amount.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
We have to cut color negative stock, which comes in a wide roll, down to about a four inch width after which the roll goes into a dark chamber to be cut into individual sheets. I had looked for a reasonably priced commercial slitter but all I could find were machines in the $10,000 and up range.
A trip to Home Depot yielded a little circular saw which was almost toylike. This was mounted on the South Bend Heavy 10 lathe we have in the lab (this is a special NASA owned lathe bought surplus from the Apollo Program). A mandrel made of a broomstick and a "pool noodle" was used to spin the roll while it cut.
|The impromptu "log slitter" on an old (but very fine) South Bend|
lathe. The log rotates a big roll of color film. The yellow part
is a "pool noodle" used in swimming pools.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Now that we have your attention on receiver sheets, notice how good and smooth the coverage is and how much better the tonal scale is. It is an achievement.
It find it hard to believe that this very obscure but critical chemical process, which was so costly to develop and learn how to make, is finally something we have firmly in hand, and am amazed when the photograph is peeled. It is unique in all the world; We are the only company on earth who manufacture instant peelapart films, and it is now becoming apparent that we need to expand to color and other formats, too. I would expect we can use this in an instant 8x10 system, but we'd have to make a wider coating machine. You can see the scanned negatives of these photographs on flickr at this link.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
|Prepared for brazing out on the loading dock|
Additions are the extra filling port seen being prepared for silver brazing and the rather scorched looking aftermath. This is normal.
A special rotary feedthrough goes on the top and gets connected to a powerful motor, as the color reagent is thick and requires a lot of mixing.
New55 has to do a lot of its own machine building and some of it is improvised. These make good starting points and allow us to make valid predictions about cost and yield if and when high speed production machinery is ever available to us.
|The rotary seal is upside down and has four|
separate pressure and vacuum ports
|You can buy beer making equipment that looks|
like this and then drill holes and braze on more
fittings if you have the tools.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
For no real reason, an Aero Ektar with a yellow dot sells for more than one with no dot.
Here is a drilled, counterfeit dot! Not only is the Testors yellow paint slopped over the edge unlike a real dot, but the depression is incorrectly shaped and poorly centered. A genuine dot is flat, perfectly centered, and shows shallow grooves of the ring engraving tool.
You've been warned.