Is This the Weirdest 35mm Film That Polaroid Ever Made?

For the overwhelming majority of people, shooting on color film means dropping it off at a lab and waiting for it to be developed. But what if the film came with a weird box and some awful smelling chemicals so that you could develop it at home?

Film aficionado Willem Verbeeck picked up a roll of PolaChrome, Polaroid’s 35mm instant film, and now some 40 years out of date. It seems that Polaroid was trying to deliver the quality of shooting on color slide film but with the convenience of being able to achieve quick results.

PolaChrome is said to be Polaroid’s attempt at producing a 35mm version of Polavision, an “instant” color film stock that was designed for home movies. Launched in 1977, it proved to be a commercial failure and was discontinued after less than two years, largely because the results were simply too dark. I’m guessing that the tiny developing kits used in both of these stocks required the film sensitivity to be quite low, hence ISO 40.

As well as the developing box, PolaChrome required a mounting box — a lightbox with a tiny guillotine — so that you could slice up your film and project your photographs as slides.

Have you ever shot on PolaChrome? Let us know in the comments below.

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Mike Shwarts's picture

What do you expect from expired film and expired chemicals? Not that it was the best transparency film when it was new.

For maybe seven or so years, I've thought it would great if somebody made a new version of this film along with a similar method of developing it. I'd want it to have a quality similar to the E-6 films. However, it could be the same quality as new or expired PolaChrome and young film shooters would buy it. Based on blogs and facebook pages etc., poor colors and lousy contrast is what young people think film is supposed to look like.

Tony Clark's picture

I shot both the color and black and white versions but the B&W was my favorite. After buying the manual processor, I bought the electric version and still have it in a box at the storage locker.

Michael Del Rossi's picture

Loved the Polapan, but damn was it ever so fragile. Look at it wrong and it would scratch.

Michael Houston's picture

Yes, I shot a bunch of it. I was a portrait shooter at the time, and I rigged up a bracket that would hold my Nikon and my Bronica. When I was shooting large groups (sometimes with a significant number of people from out of town), I would shoot the Polachrome in the Nikon and negative film in the Bronica at the same time. (Somewhere I found a dual cable release for this purpose.) Then I would develop the Polachrome, set up a slide projector, and presto! Instant proofs. Clients thought it was really slick, I didn't have to mail proofs all over the country, I got paid on the spot, and I could make all the prints at once instead of a few now and a few more later. I know that in this digital age that sounds really Rube Goldberg, but I was the only guy around that could do instant proofs.

Andy Day's picture

Ha. What a great story!

Tdotpics photography's picture

yes love this

Simon Forsyth's picture

The lines on the film were the color. Instead of being like conventional film which had colour layers, the Polarchrome's colour was achieved by lines on the film. If magnified up as in a scan these lines brings up the image.

Roger Botting's picture

I used it once, on a rush real estate job. The printer hated it, ask me to never use it again. It was hard to make colour separations.
But I did know a couple of companies that used it for same day slide shows. This was about its only use.

Andy Day's picture

I read that the last-minute slide show changes were its main use. Polaroid must have been disappointed..!

Лазо Светлописац's picture

Shot quite a bit for demos in my workshops in the early 1980s. Even learned the trick to duping both the color and b&W for multiple-projector shows.

For sure, the emulsion after processing was quite delicate in either of the "flavors." However, when you had to do a presentation or training in but a few hours or the next day, having this film and processor was priceless!

The b&w was simply lovely and even doing b&w reversal on conventional film just never could beat the tonality if you were careful with the exposure.

The color, on the other hand, also had a unique look, quite like a late 20th century version of the Autochrome processes, complete with the pointillistic appearance with saturated colors despite the RGB lenticular screen.

And best of all, from camera to projector took but 5-10 minutes, mostly in the mounting of the slides -unless you used the 12-exposure rolls! And it wasn't until digital that we had such quick and easy turn-around!

What was cool about the color was that it was actually a b&w film that was shot through a RGB screen, sort-of like our digital cameras are simply light sensors that are shot through tiny RGB filters. From what I remember at the time, with proper care and storage, the color images would remain fade-free for decades compared to the E6 films of the day.

It was certainly fun while it lasted and is now one of scores of processes that came along through the nearly 200 years of photography. Although it became a technological dead-end, it was neither the first nor the last process to so.

Andy Day's picture

Thanks for sharing. 😊

Dermot McDermot's picture

Thanks for this post, I'd forgotten what the film was called. My girlfriend and I shot about half a dozen rolls of the colour stock back then and looking at the pictures now, they're some of my favourite images. You would not call the film great by any stretch of the imagination. Barking mad perhaps, but the images are amazing.

As has been pointed out, the colour is made up from tiny lines of pigment and in close up, looks like a TV screen or a Lumiere Bros autochrome image. This was something I had not twigged until now but it's a close description. Having visited their house/museum, a good autochrome print is really beautiful and the Polachrome comes wierdly close - instantly or nearly.

Yes, the slides are seriously dense and there's a lot of residual silver but close to 40 years later, mine are in perfect condition.

Scanning the images can be fun if the scanner gets in the way of the lines and thumbnails are rubbish but the images themselves are brilliant. There are some "filters" in software which can turn a DSLR image into something like Polachrome but it ain't the real thing. Especially when you look at the way the chemicals messed up the edges of the frame.

It would be difficult to shoot this film professionally because the results are so random but I would certainly buy it today if it was around just for the zany look. Shame you did not post some images.

Thomas McHugh's picture

Used all 3 types of Polaroid instant slide oilm including B&W, Color, and the blue and white. Was a instructor in a Nurse Anesthesia program and used alll 3 to make slides to illustrate my lectures with. Also used for personal projects that I am now scanning at 6400 dpi and have to say the color does not scan well. Otherwise they are holding up better then some Kodachrome and Ektachrome stored under similar conditions. Still have the manual processor and would still shoot this film if it was available.

Shirley Dulcey's picture

Polachrome used a very different color process that, as Dermot Mc Dermot pointed out, is a relative of the old Autochrome process. The film had an embedded RGB filter that you both shot the image and projected it through. The emulsion was black and white, but the color filter meant that each small area of film was only exposed to one color of light.

Polachrome had its own look that was unlike any other film (other than perhaps its movie relative Polavision, which I have never seen or used) that has been available in my lifetime. Unfortunately, that look is impossible to capture in any readily available way other than viewing the original slides. Conventional photography materials don't have the right color response, nor do readily available digital scanners. Dupes of Polachrome on conventional slide materials and digital scans viewed on your computer just aren't the same.

Aside from cost, Polachrome had two other problems, both of which were connected to the color filter in the film. It was slow (ISO 40) because the filter absorbed a lot of light, and the slides were dim for the same reason. You really couldn't mix Polachrome slides with other slides in the same show because the Polachromes would look so much darker.

The monochrome products that used the same instant developing process, Polapan (black and white) and Polablue (high contrast blue and white) did not have the same problem. Polablue was popular for making slide shows for presentations with nearly zero turnaround time until the rise of digital projection made it unnecessary.