Classic Film Review – Polaroid Type 55

There is a tonne of iconic film stocks that have been released and are no longer with us; I’m thinking Kodak Plus-X, Kodak Panatomic-X, almost the entire line of Polaroid Film. And among those Polaroid films, the one that probably hurt the hardest when it saw cancellation in 2008 is Type 55. Type 55 is a unique film even among Polaroid instant films in that it produces a usable print (obviously) but also a usable negative. And it is a legend that the negative used in Type 55 is based on Kodak Panatomic-X. It is also among those films that I wish I got to use more of but sadly by the time I had all the equipment the price of good boxes were skyrocketing, and the inexpensive boxes were cheap for a reason. But still, when I did get working frames, I remained rather impressed with the results.

Good Hart General Store
Anniversary Speed Graphic – Schneider-Kreuznack Angulon 1:6,8/90 – Polaroid Type 55 @ ASA-50

Film Specs
Type: Black & White Instant Film (Postive & Negative)
Film Base: Acetate
Film Speed: ASA-50 (Print), ASA-25 (Negative)
Formats Available: 4×5

Union Station
Anniversary Speed Graphic – Schneider-Kreuznack Angulon 1:6,8/90 – Polaroid Type 55 @ ASA-50

Image Quality
No matter what part of the film you look at, Type 55 sings. There’s sure cleanliness to the images even with the expired packs I was working with, I shot mainly with boxes that had expired in around the turn of the century (20th to 21st Century) and shot these between 2013 and 2015, the images had little to no grain. Thanks mainly to the slow speed and large size. Plus it also allowed for both sharp images no matter which part you looked at, negative or positive. When it comes to contrast, the photos I would rate it as low-to-medium, although I’m sure you could increase it by allowing it to “cook” a little bit longer before peeling it apart. It certainly looks like a print made from a Kodak Panatomic-X negative. The one thing you do have to watch out for, however, is making sure to clear the negative to allow for better stability in the long term. Something like Kodak Hypoclear or a similar archival wash is recommended. I never did that to any of my negatives, and they have been slowly getting darker over the past years.

A Barn of Wood and Metal
Pacemaker Crown Graphic – Schneider-Krueznack Symmar-S 1:5.6/210 – Polaroid Type 55 @ ASA-50

When it comes to scanning Type 55, I always preferred to scan the positive prints over the negatives mainly because I exposed for the print rather than the negative. The print is rated for ASA-50 and the negative for ASA-25 (or ASA-32). I don’t remember having any issues with scanning the film stock, but that’s the trouble with writing a review of a film that I have not shot in five years. The one thing I do recommend is that if you are going to scan the negative, you clear it first as I mentioned in my previous paragraph and also to expose your sheet for that slower speed. I also recommend being careful with that negative, it’s a thinner base, and the emulsion is fragile. I scratched a good couple of negatives through carelessness. If you are scanning from the print, you need to let the whole thing dry for a good twenty-four hours. This will not only protect the surface but also keep your scanner clean; this goes for both a plain print and the ones that you want to leave that neat border from the film package. Trust me. It’s a hard thing to clean off your scanner if you plop it down wet. When it comes to post-processing, I had to play a little bit with the curves and levels in Photoshop but nothing too serious.

The Small Farmhouse
Pacemaker Crown Graphic – Schneider-Krueznack Xenar 1:4,7/135 – Polaroid Type 55 @ ASA-50

The original application of any Polaroid film was to provide a proof, an instant result to ensure that your exposure/lighting is correct and to help you dial in various settings. While I never used it for that fact, I had a digital camera that certainly provided that instant result, I can see the value of having that when working with 4×5. I found this film surprising for landscape work and mainly used it for that application. It also gave me plenty of time for fun out in the world because of the unstable nature of expired Polaroid it was always a guessing game of how the image will turn out. My personal favourite shot of all the Type 55 I worked with is just below this paragraph. An old tractor on the side of a highway between Listowel and Mitchell as you can see the emulsion or chemical spread failed to develop a section of the print, but the subject itself remained intact. However, I would never trust Type 55 (any longer) with anything important. Honestly, that last box I had about fifteen sheets left, only five worked. I had to shoot 2-3 sheets of total failures before I got one working sheet.

The Old Tractor
Pacemaker Crown Graphic – Schneider-Krueznack Symmar-S 1:5.6/210 – Polaroid Type 55 @ ASA-50

Final Word
You cannot just jump into shooting Type 55; you do need a specific accessory first. That piece is the Polaroid 545 film holder; it allows you to load in the film packet, pull the covering, expose, then pull to release the chemical package. And herein lies the problem today, most stocks of Type 55 floating around expired back in 2010. And while the negative included is probably still good, the chemical pack might be toast. If you are getting a box, make sure you know how it had been stored and try and get a pack that expired as late in 2010 as possible. Another thing to ensure is that the seller has at least tested one shot. Also, make sure the 545 back has been tested and is clean. New55 attempted to bring the stock back in 2010, and I did try to use their stuff having bought an early example of the film, sadly I never got a single working shot out of the entire box, and New55 stopped producing their films in 2017. I did, however, love their Atomic-X which provided the base for their instant film. And while I wish I had shot the stuff more when it was a little fresher, I know that I would avoid the stuff these days.

The Strathroy Brewing Company
Pacemaker Crown Graphic – Schneider-Krueznack Angulon 1:6,8/90 – Polaroid Type 55 @ ASA-50

Further Reading
Don’t just take my work on Polaroid Type 55, check out these other reviews on this iconic film stock.
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