Instant Film  –  Vintage Camera Film Format

Instant Film Format Specifications

Introduced: 1948
   
Type: roll/sheet/pack film
   
Typical Frame Sizes: 1.8 x 2.4 cm
  (Fujifilm Instax Mini)
  7.9 x 7.7 cm
  (Polaroid SX-70)
  6.9 x 10.2 cm
  (Kodak PR-10)
  10.8 x 8.3 cm
  (Polaroid Type 100)
  15.2 x 10.1 cm
  (Polaroid Type 50)
   
Currently: in production

Instant Film Format Overview

Instant Film, a category of all-in-one films that include the chemicals necessary for self-development, was first demonstrated in 1947 by Polaroid founder Edwin Land at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. One year later, Polaroid introduced the first commercially available instant film alongside the first commercially available instant camera: the Polaroid 95.

The earliest instant films were roll films but soon sheet film and pack film versions were also produced. Polaroid dominated the instant photography market for several decades until its first real competition emerged in 1976. Eastman Kodak—which had actually provided manufacturing assistance to Polaroid for several years in the 1960s—decided to introduce its own instant film and seize a share of the market. Kodak’s PR-10 instant pack film was similar to Polaroid’s SX-70 but with one key difference: it was exposed from the back which eliminated the need for an interior mirror and allowed the Kodaks to be more compact. Eastman Kodak also debuted two new models alongside PR-10 film: the EK4 and EK6.

Polaroid responded immediately by filing a patent infringement lawsuit against Kodak and then filed yet another lawsuit against Fujifilm when it entered the market in 1981. After a decade-long uphill battle with Kodak, the court finally ruled in Polaroid’s favor in 1986 and ordered Kodak to cease production of instant photography products. Polaroid’s other lawsuit against Fujifilm also ended in 1986 but this time it was settled out of court: Polaroid agreed to look the other way if Fujifilm shared some of its technological breakthroughs. As for Kodak, Polaroid sought damages of $12 billion–triple the amount that Polaroid claimed that it lost due to Kodak’s interference–but the court awarded just $925 million when the case finally concluded in 1991.

Unfortunately for Polaroid, Fujifilm, and instant photography in general, the market had declined considerably by then as consumers were lured away in droves by inexpensive, user-friendly 35mm cameras from Japan and the convenience of one-hour film processing. In 1998, Fujifilm debuted the Instax instant camera which enjoyed some success but then declined rapidly in just a few years. The mighty Polaroid floundered before eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2001. Instant photography all but disappeared in the years that followed as the advent of digital photography drove yet another nail into its coffin.

Then, starting in 2009, instant photography experienced a somewhat unexpected resurgence in East Asia. According to Franck Portelance, head of Public Relations at Fujifilm France, much of this popularity was due to a handful of South Korean television dramas showcasing instant photography including some which actually featured the Fujifilm Instax itself. Aware of just how popular South Korean dramas can be, Fujifilm took advantage of the situation and began marketing the Instax heavily. Instant photography was soon back in the mainstream consciousness. This revival quickly spread from South Korea to China and Japan, the rest of Asia, and then to the rest of the world.

Around the same time, a company called The Impossible Project purchased a former Polaroid factory and relevant production machinery in order to produce Polaroid-compatible instant films and other related products. The Impossible Project continued to supply faithful devotees with instant film and eventually introduced its own instant camera—the Impossible I-1—in 2016. Then in 2017, the the group purchased Polaroid itself and changed its name from The Impossible Project to Polaroid Originals. They now sell instant film, refurbished vintage Polaroid models in addition to the brand new Polaroid OneStep 2 instant camera.

While Polaroid was undoubtedly the major player in instant photography, several other manufacturers made Polaroid-compatible cameras like Minolta with the Instant Pro, Konica with the Instant Press and Press 2, Mamiya with the Universal press camera, Keystone with the Wizard XF1000 and even GOMZ with the Moment. Polaroid itself came out with several notable models including the SX-70 folding SLR, the ridiculous and eccentric Polaroid Big Shot (famously used by artist Andy Warhol), and the Polaroid Spectra which utilized a sonar-based autofocus system.

Interested in finding instant film or instant cameras?
Check eBay to see what’s available.
References:

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), 253, 311, 338, 543, 546.

“Polaroid Is Suing Kodak, Charges Patent Violation,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1976/04/28/archives/polaroid-is-suing-kodak-charges-patent-violation-polaroid-is-suing.html

“Kodak Ordered To Get Out Of Instant Photography,” Chicago Tribune, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-01-09/news/8601030030_1_kodak-instant-instant-cameras-henry-kaska

“Polaroid versus Kodak: The Battle for Instant Photography,” Ryerson University, https://library.ryerson.ca/asc/2013/08/kodak-versus-polaroid-the-battle-for-instant-photography-2/

“Polaroid, Fuji Reach Patent Agreement,” Associated Press, https://www.apnews.com/a338d0309d61485a94033ccb82f62c5a

“In Focus: The Impossible Project,” The New Yorker, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/in-focus-the-impossible-project

“De ‘I Will Survive’ à ‘We are the Champions’ : L’Instax Fujifilm,” Focus Numerique, https://www.focus-numerique.com/actus/dossiers/le-marche-de-l-instax-fujifilm-interview-de-franck-portelance-22207.html

“The Company That’s Keeping the Polaroid Legacy Alive,” Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-design/a/oskar-smolokowski/

“instax: the instant photograph creates a new culture in the age of social media,” Fujifilm, http://www.fujifilm.com/innovation/achievements/instax/

“Polaroid Acquired by New Ownership Group,” Polaroid, https://www.polaroid.com/news/polaroid-acquired-by-new-ownership-group
“Instant film,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant_film

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