Polaroid Originals recently brought back two fan-favorite films from the days of Impossible Project; Duochrome Pink and Duochrome Blue. These instant films use the same chemistry as the company’s black-and-white film, but substitute the white for pink or blue, respectively. Sounds predictably underwhelming, but the resultant images are just the opposite – unexpected, energetic, and unique.
But rather than just regurgitate Polaroid Originals’ press release, we thought we’d dive a bit deeper, shoot the film, show some results, and let you know whether or not this stuff is worth your cash. Let’s do that.
To start, I should specify that Duochrome is a 600 series film. That means it will work with older 600 series Polaroid cameras and with Polaroid Originals’ new OneStep 2, which we covered in great detail last month.
Polaroid Originals sent us four packs of Duochrome (two pink, two blue), and I shot them in all lighting conditions, indoors and out, with and without flash, in an old Polaroid OneStep 600 and in Polaroid Originals’ new OneStep 2. For the most part, the film worked beautifully, creating dreamy, saturated images with incredible pop and clarity. With Duochrome, I made images that are imbued with a natural playfulness, even though my subjects are almost terminally mundane when testing film. Shots of my dog in the backyard, friends in the office, and random cameras lying around the shop took on entirely new life simply on account of Duochrome’s inherent weirdness.
The film, much like Polaroid Originals’ current black-and-white film, is dreamy and contrasty with a delightful interplay between highlights and shadows. When subjects are still, well-illuminated, and within the camera’s focusing sweet spot, images are crisp and detailed. And when we make a frame in which darkness and light are in roughly equivalent balance, Duochrome really shines. As with most Polaroid cameras and film, more light equals better photos. Don’t be shy with that exposure compensation and built-in flash; using these will get you the brightest blues and pinks.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that along with these wonderful images came a number of technical failures ranging from minor imperfections to completely wasted frames.
Two shots suffered extreme chemical artifacts, and many of the rest showed aberrations in the form of spots and flecks. These technical imperfections, while somewhat disappointing (especially for those on a strict budget), don’t really detract from the final image. Polaroid Originals makes it a point of emphasis that their film is delightfully imperfect, a marketing angle I’m willing to buy into, as it’s actually true. The best Polaroid shots are the ones that look a bit spontaneous. Even when shots aren’t properly exposed, well framed, or clinically perfect, they work, and the punchy splash of wild color only adds to this charm of imperfection.
But then again, some shots failed in ways that are irredeemable even when we adopt Polaroid’s romantic perspective. Four shots from a total of thirty-two failed to develop into an image at all, leaving me with just a black image surrounded by a black frame. Averaging this number over the four packs of film we tested, that’s one wasted frame per pack. In reality, two packs worked perfectly and two packs had two bad frames each. Good news for whoever would’ve bought the two working packs, yes, but bad news for the other poor sap who would’ve only gotten six of his eight shots. And I should mention that in one pack, six of the eight photos leaked blue chemicals onto my hands, a situation I’m hoping is only mildly toxic.
This is hit-and-miss film, there’s no denying that. But when the new Duochrome hits, it hits hard. The film produces images that are gorgeous, incomparable, and worth making. It’s almost silly to say, but there’s a ridiculous amount of joy to be extracted from this film by the simple virtue that it makes shots that are primarily pink and blue. Without hyperbole, I love this film. Which is why it’s so depressing when a shot fails due to chemistry or for whatever other reasons Polaroid Originals’ shots seem to fail.
Are these occasional failed frames common enough for us to suggest you pass on Duochrome? Maybe, maybe not. If you love Polaroid cameras and instant film, and you’ve bought into the resurgence of Polaroid, you will surely regret not trying Duochrome at least once. But if you’re on a strict budget, there may be better ways to spend your film or camera cash; instant photography can be an expensive hobby, after all.
This film is something special, and longtime supporters of Impossible can attest to that. The old company’s Duochrome film (which came in orange, yellow, and other colored packs) was gobbled up immediately by ravenous fans, and expired packs still sell for rather ridiculous prices (when you can find them for sale). The fact that Duochrome has returned is great news for lovers of instant photography, and the film’s lovely tones, gorgeous saturation, and yes, its unpredictability, make it a film that’s not to be missed.