The Story of Packfilm for Instant Cameras

by Ruth Storey

Dr. Edwin Land, an acclaimed American scientist and noted inventor, unveiled the first commercially available instant camera, the model 95 Land camera in 1948.

For the first time the world of photography was beginning to open up to the general public and during the years that followed, photography was transformed from a magic art only available to a few professionals to a medium easily accessible to many. Polaroid continued to make a multitude of cameras and compatible films over the following six decades, including roll film for its earliest cameras, packfilm (also known as peel-apart film) for 100-400 series Land cameras and integral film for SX-70, Spectra and 600 models.

photo by Jessica Elenstar

Packfilm was first introduced in 1963 alongside the unveiling of the model 100 Land camera, the first fully automatic packfilm camera. Packfilm required the user to pull the film from the camera and peel apart the positive from the negative at the end of the development. The development time varied depending on a number of factors, including the ambient temperature, but it was essentially simple to use and accessible to the mass market photographer.

These films became a huge success and went on to be used by professional photographers as well as keen amateurs and enthusiasts. World-famous artists popularized the film, employing it to create wonderful images including portraits, abstracts and landscapes. Perhaps most notably, Andy Warhol used this film for his famous 1970's portraits of celebrities including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Jerry Hall and Debbie Harry. More recently, acclaimed fashion photographer Mario Testino captured iconic images of Kate Moss using packfilm. Legendary American photographer Ansel Adams also demonstrated the quality of this film in his landscape work, and in recent years punk icon Patti Smith has published a book of personal images made with this iconic film. Packfilm was widely considered to produce a superior quality image to integral film, making it hugely popular with professionals and hobbyists alike.

photo by Jessica Elenstar

By the time of Dr Land’s death in 1991, Polaroid’s revenue had peaked at $3 billion. But with the rise of digital technologies, Polaroid and instant film began to see a decline in sales by the turn of the millennium. Polaroid stopped producing cameras in 2007 and the cessation of film production followed in 2009. To many this signaled the end of this analog medium as some failed to see how it could compete in the digital age. But instant photography had developed a loyal following and in 2009, a company called The Impossible Project was formed and leased one part of the old Polaroid factory and its equipment in Enschede, The Netherlands, where it continues to make integral film to this day. The age of instant was far from over. Furthermore, Fujifilm, who had been producing their own version of packfilm, extended their market into North America to fill the void left by Polaroid. They produced (alongside Instax, their own integral instant camera and film) packfilm FP-300B and FP-100B (both black and white) and FP-100C (color) for Polaroid Land cameras. A dedicated, international following—a strong, tight knit community of people passionate about instant film—formed a smaller but no less enthusiastic customer base for instant film manufacturers.

Fujifilm discontinued its black and white FP-100B packfilm in 2009 followed by FP-3000B in 2013. The company announced at the end of February 2016 it would also cease production of FP-100C. As this remained the only packfilm in production, this has been a devastating blow to enthusiasts around the globe and has already caused an inflation in the price of remaining FP-100C stocks. If this is really the end for packfilm, millions of still-functioning Polaroid cameras will become redundant, leaving their dedicated users distraught at the loss of a medium they love and cherish.

Many thought the end of instant film was in sight in 2009, but dedicated and resourceful people cared enough to save integral film. At that time, the campaign to save integral was considered impossible; but photographers, entrepreneurs and former Polaroid employees banded together proved the doubters wrong, launching the aptly-named Impossible Project, which today flourishes selling integral film to long-time Polaroid photographers and a new audience of young creatives interested in the advantages of analog technologies like vinyl records over digital media.

A new campaign is now underway to save our beloved packfilm. It might be a long shot but as Dr. Edwin Land himself so famously said “don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”

We welcome you to join us.

David Bias

223 1st Ave, New York, NY, 10003, United States

New Yorker. Crazy for old cameras and analog film. But I love sci-fi. Go figure.