An Introduction to the World of Black and White Instant Photography (Premium)

Lead image by Doctor Popular

When we think about Polaroids and Instant photography, we’re sure to think about and associate most of our memories with color. But if you didn’t know any better, you’d probably just completely skip the fact that there is indeed black and white instant film out there. Though arguably mostly in use with artists due to its higher price tag, the various black and white instant films are capable of delivering really stunning photo results providing that you’ve got the other ingredients of the photo just right. Fairly recently, Fujifilm discontinued 3000B–which was the last and arguably the best black and white Instant film made. In its absence, other films have appeared on the market though nothing is really available for cameras that used the peel apart film.

If you’re looking to understand more of the black and white Instant film market though, then consider the following.

Fujifilm Instax Monochrome

Fujifilm took its sweet time getting a monochrome film out to the public. Why? I’m honestly not quite sure. But it’s a fantastic film overall that has interesting characteristics to it. Fujifilm Instax Monochrome is a film that is designed to be business card sized. The small size is loved by so many people and its main demographic are young adults. Additionally, photographers who just like black and white film may enjoy using it with a more advanced Instax camera of some sort. Fujifilm Instax Monochrome is unlike a lot of other modern instant films. Like the original Polaroids, they developed in a fairly quick amount of time and didn’t have much of any sort of problems doing so except in the cold weather. In cold weather, it still does a pretty decent job vs many other instant films. The reason for this is because the emulsion is just slightly different enough that it doesn’t totally completely freeze and can still do pretty well even when it’s just above freezing temperatures outside. It’s still obviously capable of freezing due to the fact that there are real chemicals inside of the pod though–so keep that in mind.

Fujifilm Instax Monochrome does a swell job with higher end Instax series cameras like the Mint TL70 2.0, Lomography Lomo’Instant, Lomography Diana F+ with the Instant back and glass lenses, and finally the Lomography Lomo’Instant Glass, Oddly enough, none of Fujifilm’s own cameras incorporate glass lenses. So to that end, the image quality won’t be that sharp. But if you’re looking to play with Instant film then chances are that you’ll really like the softness that the plastic lenses can give you. Fujifilm Instax Monochrome is a pretty standard contrast film. Essentially, it’s like taking the scene that you’re shooting and removing the colors. So to that end I honestly recommend sometimes underexposing the film just a little bit. However, it can also look pretty special when shooting it overexposed–if you’re into that look.

New55

New55 has a very interesting story behind them. You see, the Impossible Project went after the more conventional and famous films. But Polaroid also produced a Type 55 film that wasn’t as famous. So New55 took it upon themselves to go after that market. The results that I’ve seen with this film are absolutely stunning and part of this comes from the fact that it’s all available in larger formats that need to be used with fantastic cameras. New55 has been working to improve their film over and over again. With each generation it gets better. With their recent PN films, they were trying to improve the reliability and the quality of the pods which contain the chemicals. They don’t exactly have the pizzazz and wonder that the other brands can inspire and part of that is because they tend to stay a bit more quiet about their options. However, the quality issues are indeed something that they state they’re trying to work on. Besides this, you’ll really want to keep it in the fridge or freezer so as to make it last beyond the typical six month lifespan before expiration kicks in.

So what’s so special about New55? They’re the last film that easily produces one negative image and one positive print. This was always available with Fujifilm peel apart film for years but now it’s only available in large format instant for New55. To develop your negative, New55 sells a monobath as well though in many cases they recommend using Ilford’s option.

Impossible Project Black and White Film (Different Formats)

The Impossible Project has had it pretty tough for a while now. They were in the process of reverse engineering the original Polaroid film and after three generations of working with the product, they’ve finally got something that works in black and white pretty well. Previously, the images faded and really needed to be shielded from light after being shot. They don’t need the shield any more but I personally still recommend it. After a few weeks or months though, the film will turn sepia in color. Indeed, the Impossible project really does have an impossible task considering that what’s holding them back so hard right now are environmental standards in Europe (where the film is manufactured) that don’t allow them to do everything that they can.

With that said though, Impossible Project’s black and white film offerings come in a variety of sizes–namely 8×10, 600, SX-70 and Spectra. They’re known to be very beautiful but the issue is that most people haven’t seen what the film is truly capable of. To do this, I strongly recommend going to a gallery of prints where the film was shot. Additionally, using cameras with more manual control (like Mint’s SLR670) is one of the best ways to get the most from the film. With that said, obviously loading it up into an 8×10 camera will give you top notch results that digital files only wish they had. If you’re willing to trash your positive print, Impossible project film has a negative inside that’s pretty tough to get your hands on and requires more work than you may care for.

Like many of the other black and white films out there, the film has standard contrast. Like many other Instant films, it doesn’t handle highlights incredibly well. In fact, they’re pretty much going to be blown out with black and white instant film so you may always want to underexpose just a tad. With that said, working with the film can be a bit difficult because you never quite know what the results will be unless you’re in a controlled studio space.. Your best bet is to use a handheld light meter.