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.


9 comments:

Anonymous said...

That thing is the same age as Johnny Peske.

MICHAEL said...

I knew about the film packs from Kodak I bought one used to see if it fits Polaroid's pack camera and it does loosely you would have to shim it to keep it from sliding around. The reason I say this I came across this info when doing searches for Polaroid. A quote from Peterson's Polaroid photography book from 1974 "Here's a piece of information that's not generally known-regular 3¼x4¼ film packs such as the Kodak 518 will fit the Color Pack camera and can be interchanged just as with Land film packs. This gives you the capability of using Tri-x Pan Professional film, with 16 exposures to a pack, to make a standard negative for development and printing at later time. As this film is rated at ASA 320, set the Color Pack film speed at 300 and turn the L/D ring one notch (one-half f-stop) toward Darken. While Kodak no longer packages its Plus-X Pan in 3¼x4¼ packs, you may run across a supply in some photo stores. To use this emulsion, set the camera's film speed at 150 and turn the L/D ring about one-half notch (one-quarter f-stop) toward lighten. Focus and expose as you would with a Type 107 film pack and when you pull the tab, it will just reposition the exposed sheet to the rear of the pack, which must be disassembled in the darkroom to remove the exposed film for processing." end quote. Very interesting that Kodak had these film packs back then way before Polaroid, this site has a post on the film packs href="http://silversolvent.blogspot.com/2010/12/kodak-super-xx-film-pack.html">Kodak film pack also shows a diagram of the pack, all it's missing is the positive sheets.

Regards
Michael

louster said...

I'm saving my Polaroid 545 Pro back in hopes that you'll make film for it one day. :-)

Alastair said...

I'm lucky that there is apparently a large store of Fuji pack film (FP-100C and FP-3000BW) where I live in Australia - my local lab have plenty of it and say getting more packs of it isn't a problem.

As a new large format photographer, I'm using this film to "hone" my technique. I do know that it'll eventually dry up but hopefully by then I'll have got my technique down pat and won't really need instant film, at least not in the pack format.

By that time, I'll only be interested in film that I can easily enlarge. I'll be keeping an eye on you guys and hope you'll be releasing your film sooner than later, I'm quite excited about it as it'll give me something new to shoot with.

Good luck with the project chaps!

Justin Parker said...

Well I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through your blog these past two days. I now have many of the books mentioned in the blog and comments on order, I bought 10 packages of FP-100c45 and 5 FP-3000b45, a PA-45, trying to source PA-145 still, and I have a Polaroid 545 coming for your film. I am very eager to try the monobath concept as well, and making a gell that can be rolled out. I wonder if the developer wouldn't be sprayed on like the application of photoresist for planaraization when spincoating can't be used. Obviously it could be spun on, but that would be wastefully bulky. Can't wait to get the books, better understand DTR, and try it out myself.

I have advertised New55 and the flickr group to the Facebook Film Shooters group, and I will be sure to also mention it to the Contax 645 film photography facebook group I am the admin of. Now that I am "current" with the blog I will just have to wait anxiously with everyone else for the latest updates and interesting posts.

Cheers,
Justin

Bob Crowley said...

Spin, spray, cascade, blade etc coating are all descendants of the film industry especially Kodak.

Land talks about integral developer on the sensitive surface and there are some old expired patents that you would find interesting. Film photography technology is vast - more than the materials society and ieee put together. Let's hope it all isn't lost.

Anonymous said...

Very cool stuff. I'm looking forward to someday being able to purchase single sheet Polaroid type films without tearing off my left arm. I have a stockpile of 64T in 4x5, but that's all I've got left. Now Fuji is no longer making full size 4x5 pack films either, sadly, so I'm relegated to the smaller size in the Polaroid 405 holder.

Is there a way to keep up with production progress?

- E.

RA Friedman said...

It's unfortunate that I paid over $200 for the PA-45 back and shortly after, the film went out of production. Still, I still have a single-sheet Polaroid back and I anxiously await the 4x5 P/N film New 55 is working on. Since 2008 I've done countless instant film shots where the sitter got the positive and the only way to preserve the image on my end was to save the goop negative and resurrect the image digitally. To have a real negative!

Bob Crowley said...

Fuji discontinued the 4x5 instant film due to POOR SALES. Not enough people bought it. On the other hand, Fuji failed (and continues to do this) to get enough backs or cameras to take their film on the market. The half-hearted Instax camera is a perfect example of this. Imagine the fantastic results from Instax if a decent camera to go with could be bought. And sales of film would increase. Even Polaroid knew that they had to sell cameras to sell film.