Sunday, August 28, 2016

Important Message About the Future from New55

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

R5 Monobath exposure and temperature array

For those who use R5 Monobath here is a chart that you probably already know.  The center panel is the most accurate or "correct" however for scanning you can elect to make a lighter negative. One reason to do that is if you think there will be a lot of hot spots and dense highlights in your negative which may not print or scan well. One the big advantages of scanning over optical printing is the ability to collect all the tonal range from negatives that people who only print might consider underexposed. For a scanner, with a sliding and long tone scale available and the ability to set any curve, that isn't a limitation.

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

Do you want a really good negative?

Typical New55 PN when done correctly
Copyright 2016, Robert J Crowley
A superb negative, and a positive print too. That's what we've said from the beginning, and why all New55 PN users have to clear the negative in Ilford Rapid Fixer (IRF).  This is a typical New55 PN negative, scanned on my Epson 750 scanner and NOT photoshopped in any way. Notice the good deep blacks, the sharp sharp details, the wonderful mid grays, and the crisp whites. This has it all. What you might not see are the subtle edge effects caused by the monobath processing that makes a sharp negative even sharper. So if sharp is your thing, this is it.

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
than accidentally. 
-No washing or rinsed with water. Obviously a disaster.

-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.