Saturday, May 17, 2008

Polachrome: FAIL

About a year ago, I bought some 35mm Polachrome film. Wassat? Polaroid made a 35mm instant slide film for a few years. Really...instant 35mm film. So I was like, wow! Instant 35mm film! Gotta have some of that. So I get it in the mail, and this is what I find:

My, that's a large box. Open it up and I find:

Prettiest 35mm cartridge ever. And a funky box. And some 'instructions' that explain absolutely nothing. What's the box for? How do you develop the film? I took a trip to the ever faithful interweb and discovered I needed an 'AutoProcessor' (capital A capital P). Straight to ebay, found one for 99 cents (and $20 shipping...not really, but certainly more than the thing cost). What's an AutoProcessor? This is an AutoProcessor:

It came with this useful set of instructions in Hindi or Farsi or something.

Actually, it did have instructions in English and 20 other languages, but they weren't much more useful than the above. They kept referring to some pictures I obviously didn't have...part F slides into part B, cranking L until you feel resistance, etc. Fortunately, it didn't seem particularly complicated. Or maybe it really was. Either way, I'll go through the basic process, even though we already know the outcome of my efforts. I kind of gave away the killer's name in the title of the story. But...for future reference, and laffs.
I shot the roll of 12 in my Holga 135BC. It took me about three months to finish the roll. I didn't want to rely on it in case it didn't work, so I mostly didn't use it at all. Finally finished it in a Food Savers parking lot. Time to develop!
So, first I open up the AutoProcessor (Again, capital A capitol P, trademarked as such, I'm sure. I will probably miss a capital P some time in this essay).

And, wow, it does look like a film processor. You look at that and think, yep, that looks like it should be used to develop 35mm film or something. First thing I did was clean the gunk off of that metal plate. The 35mm processor equivalent of Polaroid rollers.
Step one, put the developer box in the AutoProcessor. This is the funny little cube that came with my film.

Pull the processing pack leader out, keeping it flat...

And attach to the pear shaped hook under the clear lid.

Yeah, I know... duh, right? Why the step by step? You'll be thanking me some day when you have your own AutoProcessor and you aren't sure if the pear shaped hole goes over the pear shaped peg (they said pear shaped...I think it's more of a teardrop, but maybe pears are happy and teardrops are sad, and we don't want our customers to be sad). And I need something to fill this article out. And it's interesting in a very low-grade way. Maybe.
So the pack is in, next comes the film roll. Place it in the part with the little film drawing on it, hook the film onto the matching pegs, close the plastic lid. Yadda yadda...yeah, I'm getting impatient, too.

Close the lid to the Autoprocessor. On one side is a big flippy bar thing. The instructions say to push it down firmly at a medium speed. At this point, I can mostly follow the pictures on the front. Though the booklet specifies speeds for each action.

Turn the knob until you feel resistance or the ratchet sounds stop, which is the end of the roll. Okay, now I have some issues with all of this. For one, once I close that lid, I have no idea what's going on. I'm twisting the knob. I never heard an end to the sounds, and I never met resistance. So I just went through the steps, waiting the 60 seconds to develop, flipped the lever back up and wound the film back in. I opened it up, and had exactly bubkis. Nada. The film is back in the spool, and the processor pack is all wound in. I pulled out the film strip and saw nothing. There was a little smudge at the beginning where it looks like the developer started to spread, and then the rest is dry and black. Now...I maybe could have saved the film, but I have no way of knowing if it is developed or not until I pull it out and look at it, exposing it to light. So I have no idea what went wrong. Too old? Or was it the processor? There is an extra random bolt in the box. I don't know if it goes in the processor or what. I think it's probably just the developer, as it's all gunky when you pull the leader out. And it smells kind of like rotten vegetables. Ugh, rancid, I just shuddered. Seriously, like green beans left in the trash. It's probably very toxic, so know that I'm not a trained professional or anything and this is probably a stupid thing to mess around with. This stuff probably causes cancer or babies or something.
That being said, let's take all this apart and see what's inside. First, I'll try processing with the lid off and see if I can tell what's going on.

Okay, trying to twist the knob like it says just makes the film how do I make it wind forward? I'll close the lid and wind a bit and then open it up, see where it's at. After about three full turns, it is definitely winding. Flipping the lever on the side actually locks it, so I'm flipping it back up to open it.

I see it is working. See how far I can wind it...about 23 revolutions before I feel resistance (which I never felt in my previous attempt). So let's leave it for 60 seconds. Even though I won't get pictures, maybe it will develop the emulsion. Here's a picture of waiting 60 seconds.

Rewind it and see what we get. Well, there's your problem right there! You have gunk in your works. Gunk on your gunk. Looks bad, we'll have to kill it.

So the AutoProcessor was just bad developer. Bummer. Before I go, I'm going to rip that developer box open and see what's inside. I should probably put on gloves or something. Nah. I'll just keep from rubbing my eyes more than once or twice during the process.
Brute force and massive muscles open the concrete-like plastic box. Ugh. Gloop. And Gunk. Let's see of the cats like the taste of it (Kidding! No angry e-mails from rabid cat lovers...even rabid cats need love). I'll just taste it myself. Mmmm...minty.

Well, that told me nuthin' about nuthin'. Always fun to pull things apart, though. That was a long post without a satisfactory finish. Where else are you going to read a blog post from some jackass bragging about his failures? Happy to oblige.
So, what does Polachrome look like when it works? Something like this. I have another roll of 36 exposures...not sure what I'm going to do with it yet. Would be nice if there was another way to develop...maybe Diafine?
Not sure what I'll talk about next. Have an urge to write about my SX-70, but we shall see. Waiting for a fancy new skin to replace my rotting brown covering (I'm not getting all Silence of the Lambs on you, I'm talking about the camera), so maybe I'll show that off when.


  1. Anonymous6:17 PM

    Oh well, it's still fun to play and experiment. Great post.

  2. I think I Might just be staying in and reading your entire blog tonight. Its amazing... :) x

  3. 2 girls based in London, still half hangovered,and laying lazily on a sofa, found this article whilst trying to work out how the heck to use the polachrome and polagraph boxes that we have. We had great fun reading your article, which is detailed just spot on and does help. Do you want to recycle your AutoProcessor? we'll return it with a polaroid portrait of the two of us.

  4. From my experience it's doubtful that Diafine will work, since it seems to work on the standard Polaroid principle of trademark chemical goop being needed to activate the emulsion.

    In the event that you develop your next roll semi sucessfully, I have found that a short dip in fixer makes the black backing soft enough to wipe off with latex coated gloved hands after developing.

    I also found that I needed to over expose my stuff by at least a stop (if not more) to get anything to come out. Mine expired in the 90s sometime, though I've had one 'decent' roll, though nothing worth sharing just yet.

    I still have 18 rolls left I think, and I really should find some time to try it out...

    Thank goodness I have the later model processor which is all automatic!

  5. You're missing the thin metal tool the width of the 35mm film that has a tab on it. You insert the tool into the 35mm film canister to extract the developed film.

    Sounds like the film slipped off the tab the first time. You need to be careful that both are on their respective tabs and you are supposed to take the slack out by using your fingernail to rotate the gear on the right.

    Cranking should stop making the ratchet noise when you get to the end of the film. You need to crank at a constant speed to spread the developer evenly.

    I agree with the wolf brigade, you need to over expose by at least one stop or take photos in BRIGHT sunlight.

    Note the developer goes bad pretty quickly so I'd be surprised if you can get it to work!

  6. I found a couple of days ago the same type of processor and ten films (polachrome, polachrome High Contrast, polagraph, polablue) of this stuff. They are expired 21 years afo (1989). I thought it will not work but why not... Lets give it a try.

    I followed the instructions from here

    and overprocessed by 25%. Next time it will be 50%. I am surprised with the results. You can see them in my flickr account.

    greetings to everybody

  7. Anonymous10:39 PM

    Thanks for the detailed writing and pictures. Another photographer had given me a box with this mysterious Polachrome film and developer and I had been trying to piece together how it works. I haven't got an autoprocessor so I shall try to develop it by hand in a darkroom. With appropriate personal protection of course. The developing chemicals are reducing agents and according to the instructions '...contain lead in amounts above the threshold limits established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency...' If even Americans think it's excessively toxic then it must be pretty bad.

  8. I shot this polaCHROME in 1989 of a NY model leaving the studio in NoHo and I love it! Here is a link:

  9. Anonymous4:45 PM

    Thanks for give me more fun with this great Post...!!!