Tuesday, August 14, 2012

About Packfilm

Plenty of people ask about packfilm.  Some history: Graflex made multiple sheet backs for 3 1/4 X 4 1/4 and 4x5 cameras that allowed the user to load up to a dozen sheets of  film into a box that could be manually operated to expose each sheet without changing the back or a sheet film holder. I have an early 12 sheet version that has a patent date of September 7, 1920 on it.

 A 1920s Graflex film pack

Kodak and Ansco supplied packs of ready to use 4x5 and other size sheet film in the late 30s, 40s and 50s for use with packfilm adapters on press cameras. Press photographers paid the extra price to have this pack of Tri-X ready to go. If you see a pack film adapter, you will notice that it looks like a 550 style holder for instant film packs.

Here is a link to details about the early pack films with a cross section view of how one is assembled.

Polaroid knew about packfilm and had ideas to produce pack film from almost the beginning of their photography business. But, packfilm was complicated, and required expensive machinery to produce. The choice of "picture rolls" also known as Polaroid roll film, was the result. Picture rolls were produced until the early 90s, when they were discontinued. 20x24 Studio still uses a big "picture roll" of sorts, with two rolls in the camera, one the negative, the other the positive.

After the business grew and improvements were needed, and the capital was available, the decision to switch over to packfilm was made.  Both Polaroid and Fuji made packfilm.  Fuji still makes some of the smaller pack film today, but has discontinued 4x5 pack film completely, due to poor sales. After being approached six times by an associate of ours, it became clear that Fujifilm is planning on exiting the packfilm business completely. Attempts to get Fujifilm to supply materials to various instant film projects go unanswered.  Poor sales of the pack film were blamed on the high cost, but that's not the entire story. Few 4x5 pack film backs were manufactured compared with the smaller backs that shared the same format with millions of still working pack film cameras. With so many "mouths to feed" Fuji enjoys sales to those cameras that take the smaller pack film. Those who still have a stock of 4x5 Fuji pack film are fortunate.

 Polaroid also had 4x5 single sheet from very early on and produced it for about 50 years.

There really is no reason for us to make pack film, especially not in 4x5.  The sales figures would not support it, and the value proposition to the user is not as good as its single sheet cousin that can produce a positive print and a high quality negative with one exposure. Even this improved value still needs to be proven in the marketplace and steps are being taken to learn if the market is strong enough to support that product. We think it might as there are more of the 545 type backs in the world than any of the pack film backs, and nearly all of the 545 backs are still in operating condition, a testament to their durability.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

New55 FILM is official name of first planned product

The first planned product from this group will be called New55 FILM.  The two word name with a combination of letters and numbers, and with the word FILM in all capital letters is the correct term to use for this product.

New55 FILM is the product, and New55 is a brand, not a company, and we may have other names and designations for various types. As we learned with our very successful ribbon microphone line, names and not just truncated numbers, are far more effective.  The Wayback Machine has a nice stored page of Crowley and Tripp Ribbon Microphones made up until 2009, at this link.  Give it a few seconds to load.  Note that unlike their less successful competitors, names, not numbers, were given to the models. Once that was taken away, product recognition, and overall mojo, slipped.

Here is a link to an amusing, old rant about product naming that quite a few people commented on.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

About New55 FILM

New55 FILM is a new, trash-reduced 4x5 film that produces a positive print and a high quality negative in about 2 minutes. The photographs you see posted on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/groups/new55/ are experimental in nature and are put there so that the extended and geographically distant New55 group can show and discuss failures, findings, and successes as this new material is fine tuned for later distribution.

There will likely not be widespread distribution at first, but small batches made as people, tooling and market converge, we hope. There are no "beta testers" nor is there a test supply - all New55 FILM is purchased or otherwise paid-for by the user. Doing so covers some of the cost and also reaffirms the value proposition of the estimated $6+ per-sheet selling price. This isn't a bad price considering the yield of both a positive and a negative.

New55 FILM can be exposed for whatever artistic purpose the user desires and make a positive and a negative that are balanced more closely than its discontinued predecessor. There are many other differences such as the trash reduced design, the use of a more advanced reagent, and the clearing step with ordinary photo fixer.

A number of people have recommended this be crowd funded by Kickstarter which we looked into. Kickstarter is fine for pre-selling things that you have or will have, but not for tooling, engineering or infrastructure costs that are needed to achieve the industrial mass required to produce a complex product. An alternative to this will be sales of batches online, perhaps on auction sites, as that will tell us, and investors and supporters, about the demand, or not, for this new medium.

New55 FILM is a new medium or sub-type: A less industry-intensive approach to making artistic materials for large format photography aimed at the growing number of artists who are just discovering photography with any of the millions of 4x5 cameras that are still operating perfectly. New55 FILM is likely to be produced in very small quantities at first and larger numbers if the sales are good. Fuji discontinued their 4x5 instant film due to poor sales. We may be in a better spot as there are perhaps over 100,000 545 holders that are still in working shape, and they are likely to remain that way for a long time, vs the very limited number of 4x5 pack film backs that were sold.

20x24 Studio is an essential partner in New55 FILM commercialization. As a supporter and instant film center of excellence, and with their long expertise in sourcing and building photosensitive materials for sale, 20x24 will bring together access to materials, venues, major artists, and sales channels, in addition to its own artistic and technical expertise which is unparalleled. There are still plenty of risks and many assumptions being made about the viability of the marketplace for large format instant 4x5 photography.
New55 FILM scan of negative.
Photo by Orianna Reardon

So far on the New55 Project blog and elsewhere you have seen the circuitous and incremental steps that led to our present state of fairly consistent and high quality "hand made" results. These still need refinement, the type that comes from engineering, tooling and investment. If you have not seen the results to date, look at the New55 slide show on flickr, and soon at Orianna Reardon's work with this evolving material.