Saturday, May 29, 2010

What the f/90 Aperture Does

There is something distinctly Bostonian in this product copy which seems to be organized like a Powerpoint presentation.

Old Pol had so many product codes, accessories, gadgets and materials and would release a new product weekly it seemed.

New Product Introduction is necessary for business growth. Companies that sit on existing product codes maintain their existing positions if they are fortunate. Those that know how to leverage existing products, with appropriate changes, into new markets are usually the winners.  When Type 47 came out, a 3000 speed film was nearly impossible to believe, and it revolutionized available light instant photography.  FP-3000B is its direct descendant.

Fuji could do that again by coming out with a more user-controllable camera for their excellent, 800-fast Instax Wide film, or collaborating with Summit Group to produce it.  It would have been unthinkable at Old Pol to have such a successful film, and only have one camera that uses it.

20 inches is being modest. With the bellows racked out, I think the focus is acceptable at 10 inches.  That close, 10 inch focusing distance is what made the SX-70 such a gem. I can only imagine some kind of SLR that could do that with Instax Wide, what great images we could achieve.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Project plans are nearly ready, but is the marketplace?

Just a note to say Thank-you to the many blogs and other websites pointing to this one.  While most of them understand that what we are trying to do is aimed at enabling field processing of 4x5 negatives, a few seem to suggest we are trying to reproduce 55.  That is not so, and would not make economic sense today, as the production cost for such a sheet film would require a retail price tag of over $6. Some people stall at the cost of about $2.50 a shot for FP-100B45 which is well worth it but nobody seems to know about it. It leads me to ask why Fuji cannot bring themselves to Fedex some of the 500 speed 4X5 black and white version to the US too, and spread some PA45 backs around.   It's mystifying, given such a "well narrowed" market. (that's marketspeak for a customer base that has only a few remaining choices)

The spirit of 55, the ease of use, the portability, and the making of images using the many millions of 4x5 cameras that are out in the realm, is the driver for the New 55 Project. As you can read, we have looked in detail at the DTR process, looking for new opportunities to meld that with existing emulsions, using reagents derived from monobath formulas, just as Old Pol did.  In the process of doing so, a few side diversions emerged to amuse and entertain us, such as the workflow to accomplish the recuperation of fairly high quality negatives from Fuji's FP-100C films, which are only a buck a shot.  Also, several monobath formulas have been tested, and the results shown to be promising, but not perfect yet without the boost of DTR.

Equipment to make instant sheet film has been identified, and is available for purchase. It would only take money, and not much time, if we really wanted to invest in recreating 55 or something very much like it. It would not be hard to do at all.

Now would be a good time for Ilford or Fuji to invest in the project if they were interested, as there is a fairly complete product development plan in place, and very low technical risk involved.  That won't happen. Fuji is too far away and Ilford has already passed - or at least they passed on a rights transfer from Old Pol, something that is no longer needed, since we are building the new know-how to proceed, if there is interest.

So go out and buy lots of 4x5 Efke 25, (you can get it for a little under a dollar a sheet here in the US) and some holders, and prepare to try an interesting new monobath reagant, and workflow, that may be convenient enough, and cheap enough.

From the masthead from day one:

The goal is to enable the supply of a very high quality 4x5 (and possibly 8X10) negative material, for artistic purposes, that can be easily field processed, such as so-called "instant film" of discontinued Polaroid type 55, and get this to happen any way we can!  We will need your help to make it happen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Paterson Orbital Print Processor Needed

We need one of these as part of the investigation. Condition not important as long as it functions. Have not found one in the US on ebay yet. Let me know what you have and the price. Thanks!

The Pod Machine

QuickPouch  makes this and other pod and pouch making and filling machines like this one. The QuickPouch Mini, which would be good enough for what we are thinking, costs about $35,000, plus another $12,000 consisting of the liquid fill system (our might cost more because it needs to be pressurized to get the high viscosity reagent to flow), the stamp system, and the sealer.  Conveniently on wheels, with a foot switch, the unit in the photo is a more deluxe version than the Mini, which is a tabletop machine.

On the top you can see the unfolded pouch or pod material, very much like the type used at 20X24 Studio.  There has to be a filling line, a hot press, and the cutter added to it. Take a look at the pod machine at 20X24 here. 

I met with the QuickPouch people at a manufacturing trade show in Boston, and was impressed by the simplicity and versatility of their machine.  If we are to make "readyload" type system with a built in reagent pod, this is exactly the machine we will need for that part.  It appears that the sleeve and clip can be outsourced. The film is Efke 25.  More on that soon, hopefully.  Still buying some equipment and working on other projects here to keep the doors open.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I realize the Cost Analysis looks quite daunting. Recreating T55 in total isn't something we set out to do, fortunately, so this is a good and sobering exercise that puts cost/benefit in perspective.

A field processable, high quality negative for 4x5 is not something that should be too expensive. It should be convenient, quick, excellent in quality, and not require a darkroom.  A choice of emulsions would be desirable, as would less disposable waste. T55 wasn't exactly "green".

Some of our readers have ideas and so do we.  At a buck a shot, what can be done?  This will require some ingenuity, certainly. Some kind of integrated film holder and processor using a cheap one-shot monobath would reduce component count, and cost.  Already familiar but discontinued Readyloads are possible candidates for a field processor.

In the meantime, here is another shot of the converted 110A. This works well for 100 packfilms, but for handheld 4X5, I have a Byron coming and cannot wait to start using it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cost Analysis

Since we are all on this adventure together there is an opportunity to discuss some of the cost issues that are always present when designing or preparing a product to be manufactured.

Companies and accountants nearly always use a method known as COGS, which stands for Cost of Goods Sold.  There are variations on this but basically it usually consists of these three main categories:

1. Materials cost at the point of manufacture. This would include film, cut paper, sleeves, borders, clips, reagent pods and also the package it comes in.

2. Assembly costs.  This is often expressed in hours or portions of hours it takes to put it all together times some standard rate, such as the "shop rate". All this means is how much an hour of assembly time costs in the facility, including salaries, fringe benefits, insurance, overhead such as lighting and rent, spread out over time. Many companies simply refer to this category as "labor".

3. Selling, General and Administrative Costs.  SG&A sometimes is not included in the analysis, but in this case we have to because there is nobody else to do all the ordering, hiring, design debugging, customer service, packing and shipping, and product maintenance.

More to follow, with details of COGS for New55, and about Gross Margin. These basics apply to everything you buy, and as an informed consumer, you should be aware of them.

Most consumers do not understand the profit margins made on products, especially consumer products, and most especially disposable or single-use consumer items.  All of this is helpful to understanding why, for instance, Ilford declined to manufacture the instant sheet films when they were offered, and knowing the details also permits us to work with the numbers, and technology, to improve and possibly lower the costs - if we are clever enough. In the end, though, the key number is what the consumer will pay.

A very rough estimate:

1% of the potential users of 55 would pay $30 a sheet, meaning we would sell about 50 sheets a year
10% of the potential users of 55 would pay $20 a sheet, and we would sell about 500 sheets a year
40% of the potential users of 55 would pay $10 a sheet, making 5000 sheets a year (is that enough to make it worthwhile? I wonder)
60% would pay $5 a sheet and maybe we can sell 20,000 sheets a year or so and possibly break even.
99% would pay $1 a sheet, but we would still only sell maybe 40,000 sheets a year and go broke.

It is such a small market that it would take years to recoup a large investment in tooling and machinery, which is not included in COGS, but someone still has to make the investment. COGS needs to be no more than about 25-40% of the final retail price to achieve breakeven.  That means that if we charge $5 a sheet, the total manufacturing cost for that sheet cannot be more than about $1.50 or so. You may be aware that one piece of B&W 4x5 sheet film costs about a dollar at retail.

Look closely and you will see a clip made from a Fresca can. The film is a piece of TMX, and the pod is from 100 series packfilm.  The blotches are experiments done with small amounts of reagents at various pH levels on a fully exposed sheet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fuji Integral Film - Instax

Shot taken yesterday with the stock Instax 210 camera set to the "near" distance, to focus on the Japanese maple leaves under the brilliant blue sky. No attempt to improve Dmax or anything at scan-in. so you see it very much like it appeared a minute after the shot was taken.

In fact these colors are rendered realistically on yet another clear weekend when air traffic over the Northeast has once again been limited due to volcanic ash. One can imagine that we might start to like clear blue skies, and would opt to stop contrail-producing air traffic, and encourage fast transAtlantic boats again.   Usually the afternoons are a criss-cross of contrails near Boston, along a heavily traveled air route, same as over Surrey England, which clouds up early every day due to contrails.

At what price do we span the globe?

Click on the image to see details.  I have taken apart another Instax camera and intend to mount a 65mm Super Angulon to it later this week and return to Babico's in Maynard, MA for some breakfast and another shot,  sort of like this one done recently with the stock Instax on a cloudy day.

I can see pages load from the server, and only one in 40 visitors to a page actually click on the images to see them at full resolution.  Nearly every image posted here is in a small thumbnail and also a full res version, since this is about photography.  OK now, click on the image of Babico's, please!  See how sharp Instax is. 

Both images have that plastic lens look. Imagine what a decent lens could do. Today I spent a lot of time on the Instax conversion and ruined the camera in the process. You can see  the result at the Black Gallery. Have to start over.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kodak Integral Film

Not unlike the Fuji Instax film, which is apparently an improved derivation of the Kodak integral film of yore, the exposure is made through the back or negative side, and migrates toward the front masked side.  In the case of Kodak, this produced a nice, seamless image with a white border.  The typical green negative emulsion can be seen in this example, as well as the all important reagent with black mask.

The idea of making an opaque developing layer is very clever and effective, and exactly as done with Instax today.  It allows the back to be clear so no mirrors are needed to produce a normal right side up image, unlike Old Pol's through the front process. The Kodak/Fuji process also produces a much sharper image in part due to the thin layers and lower point spread.  Point spread is a function of distance so the shorter the process has to migrate the better.

Broken image of KODAK comes from rolling over the embossed lettering on a Kodak Readyload holder with a woodblock roller, not by any projected lightwaves.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sticky Postcard from the Past

Found a bunch of these in a box with some other Polaphemera.

The sticky glue has not completely dried out, even after nearly 50 years.

Click on it and notice that right where it says "cut through center" there is  a cut, right through that line. Like they planned it.  All of the cards were like that. Precision die cutting of paper and cardstock was a key technology at Polaroid, and still is in many industries.

Monday, May 10, 2010

110a Packfilm Conversion

Since we have a Bridgeport milling machine I thought I would mill out the cast magnesium/aluminum body of an old 110a so a packfilm back would fit in with no other modifications.  It does, once enough clearance is made. Then, mysteriously and wonderfully, the screw holes line up perfectly with existing rivet holes in the old 110a.  Amazing.  A little color on the Polahide and the bellows, some through the transparency lighting, and off we go to The Black Gallery.

Don't do this with your 110B! Let a pro make that into a 4x5 camera.

This was a fun project.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

There has to be a better way

Excellent video tutorial about using the jobo 4x5 system and loader, also some insight on the Quickload/Readyload system which is very similar to 55. There are a lot of small bits to be concerned about here, and I cannot imagine taking this with me on vacation.

Post 100 - looking at a very thin negative

It's hard to believe you have suffered through 100 blog postings in just over 3 months, but progress is being made.  Recently I read a very early lecture by Land where he touches upon subjects that were discussed in the myriad of now-expired patents, but put in a better context for me to understand the history. Above, a Fuji FP-3000 negative similar to the Polaroid 677 material that was so amazingly fast is presented in full-form. 

According to Land in his 1949 MIT lecture, it seems the thinness of the negative is intentional, because the DTR process when used with nucleating metals or sulphides of metals on the receiver sheet produce agglomerating clusters of particles that photonically represent black, and only a very small amount of silver in the negative is needed to do that.  The chain of events during development work like an intensification process.

Similar to carbon nanotubes used as wavelength-specific-recievers, the agglomerated silver blob has to be over a micron in size.  That's important to us, as we know for instance that a half micron dot next to another dot the same size and distance tends to look yellow and not black to us, as 0.5 microns corresponds to the yellow portion of the visible spectrum. The photonic effects of particle sizes and controlling them are important to improving things like solar photovoltaic operation that you can read about here.  A little larger, perhaps around 0.6 microns, we see start to see reds.

Now go back and look at the the Fuji FP-100B negatives that we have tried to reclaim, and we can get the idea that silver clouds of smaller than 1 micron may be present in some areas, and not in other areas.  FP-100B is a very fine grained material. Not so with the above negative of the 3000 speed material, where the coarse grain sizes appear to exceed a micron in size, therefore perfectly monochromatic to us.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Laura Allen's Excellent Blog

You owe it to yourself to go look at Laura Allen's recent postings on her blog. Fascinating images with detail, texture and a sense of wonder.  Laura has been an ardent supporter of our project, and has offered a number of valuable and generous contributions that spur us along.

Last stock of Fade to Black available

As you can see, if you stop Fade to Black at the right moment, you can achieve a nice SX-70 like image.  I got several packs and enjoy using it around the lab.

Here's the link to get some.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Instax Wide shows promising characteristics

There is real reason to get this interesting film into a proper camera with some manual settings.

The Instax integral film exposes from the rear and the dyes migrate toward the clear front, leaving a fairly sharp (click on it) and contrasty image. The corners appear to be sharper than the center with the standard lens and this distance - worth a close look and comparison to front-exposed integral films.

Since it exposes from the back, no mirrors are needed. This makes it possible to use the Instax film like any other film, if you can make it fit.

F14 or something, a plastic lens I presume, and a simple shutter are what you get with the big Instax 200 or 210 camera, which seems ripe for a graft job. The native lens has a focal length of 90mm or so.  Maybe if I put that 90mm Schneider Angulon with a machined adapter I might be able to get a quick result. Even better would be a back that could clip onto the Speed Graphic. This seems quite possible, since the eject mechanism consists only of a little kicker arm to push the exposed picture out enough for two rollers to grab it.  Both could be manual.  A small crank like the old Kodak "The Handle" would work, and eliminate motors and batteries altogether.

Just light, optics, film and chemicals.  ISO 800. Impressive.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Report preview

I'm holding it for two reasons: 1. Some recent technical data just came in that ought to be included in the preliminaries and 2. There is some market info that we bought about Fuji, TIP and photographic film application in industry science and medical fields that hasn't come in.

In the meantime, Efke 25.  This is reasonably close to what I think you want if you like 55.  I want to know if you use Efke sheet film, how you develop it, and what your results are like.  Also, you might be interested that we have a working monobath for the Efke 25 that presumably could be taken anywhere except on a plane, and is compatible with the methyl cellulose thickening agent as found in 55 reagent.

It is too bad the Readyloads were loaded by Polaroid.  I was astonished when I first examined the holders and saw that they carried essentially the same machine marks as 55.  There is no reason that we cannot process B&W sheet films in Readyload type holders, or even conventional film holders for that matter.

There are no good daylight 4x5 film processors on the market either.  The existing ones have critical faults that are well known and discussed elsewhere, and for that reason do not appear to offer solution to our desire to have an instantly or quickly available field processable negative material.

In the headline of this blog there is a goal set out that defines the focus and direction initially set. That has not changed. One item that we need to add to it is cost. Getting right to the point, it is hard to compete with "free" even though a raw or jpeg is ephemeral compared to a hardcopy.  The cost per shot and use vs cost decisions for TIP users are now being experienced and we are finding that is a very sensitive area.  Of course 55 users tend to be a pro group who have purposeful if not literal uses for the material in their art and business activities. Also a baseline of from $.50 to $1 per sheet of B&W sheet film seems to be accepted.  Wouldn't it be great if we could use our 545s at a buck a shot?  I think we still might, but not with a fully integrated peelapart system which costs $2.50 to produce and therefore needs to retail at 4X or $10. Systems such as a digi with a quality printer such as this Canon, plus the consumables, also average a dollar a shot, or more. Ink and glossy paper can be expensive also.

Preliminarily, the markets of "instant film enthusiasts", which consist of hobbyists, and 55 users do overlap, but just barely. A much stronger overlap exists in PCR and industrial and scientific uses where highest quality hardcopies are needed, and in other business fields where instant photographic records are needed, such as insurance, ID, forensics,  R&D records, etc.  Roughly, insurance adjusters comprise the largest segment of integral film users (now primarily filled by the big Instax) and business/technical the largest segment of pack films, mostly color, but with a significant portion of the scope cams using fast 3000 speed materials, along with certain other medical and biotech equipment.  A lot of SEMs (scanning electron microscopes) still have a sheet film holder like a 545 and could probably use a packfilm holder with graflok rails. SEMs are shared tools and it is nice to be able to have your own hardcopy material to paste into your laboratory  notebook.

We were not surprised to find that in cost-contained government situations that much packfilm was still being used. In general, imaging without a computer but getting a hardcopy is still what lots of agencies and businesses need to produce reports.  If we can develop systems for non art and hobby use before the channels dry up, we might be able to piggyback some materials over to the fine artists who comprise a much smaller segment.

That scene is 180 degrees from the Lomography and Holgaroid products. Detached as they are from any critical or essential professional business function, they are free to create, innovate, and deliver low cost items that are fun and serve art and hobby markets well. One wonders though if Ilford and TIP really should attempt to base their business solely in that arena, unlike the much larger Fujifilm which serves multiple markets.  The same question could be asked about the present owners of the Polaroid brand which obviously still has consumer credibility but appears to be in a fragile coalescent stage at present.

The "instant film segment" is currently what we refer to as a disrupted market, where stability and predictability are uncertain.  There has been a disaster, in case you have not noticed, and pieces of the so-called "Polaroid" culture are laying about, waiting to be picked up, or forgotten.  The dynamics of such a marketplace where there is only one strong incumbent and some other rights holders and possible new entrants are typical - and not always productive in terms of delivering new products or restoring marketplace health.  They tend to battle amongst themselves when they should be serving the customer.  Being "the only one" in instant photography or any field is a dangerous place to be. You need your competitors, and they will win some, and maybe you will win on another day.

We see that effect as empty channels are filled by those who can (which is a good thing for all of us)  yet it is often incorrectly perceived with cynicism, even by those who should understand the basics of business, and that tends to drive away investors who will seek out greener pastures.  Social media tends to amplify this effect, which is unfortunate, but it is only part of the world we live in, thankfully.

It is good that this is not some medical emergency. Art itself is not in peril. The artists among us would take sticks to sand, if it came to that, and they would still succeed.

More to follow.  This is what we do for a living - go into a field that we see with fresh eyes, experiment, get to know people and possible customers, and innovate if there is a consensus to do so. I've personally developed many products in diverse, highly technical fields, and with a fine arts degree this project also has a fun element for me.  A similar project was recently completed in another field - microphones - that you can read about here.