Unlike other motion-picture film stock of the time, Polavision generated color using an additive process. It consisted of (essentially) a black-and-white film base and three-color filter layer. In this sense, it was somewhat similar to the much earlier Dufaycolor process.
The Polavision cartridge was a small rectangular box with the film reels self-contained, along with a small lens and prism for projection at an open gate. The film format was similar to the super 8mm format, but unless viewed in a Polavision viewer, the only way that developed films can be viewed was by destroying the cartridge and projecting in a super 8mm projector, a super 8mm telecine system, or other transferring procedures.
The Polavision system was a major commercial failure, and was discontinued in 1979. However, the underlying technology was improved and used as the basis for the Polachrome instant color transparency system in 1983.
Problems and commercial failure
Due to the light-loss caused by the filtering layer (only one of red, green or blue was let through for a given portion of film), the resulting film had relatively low light sensitivity (40 ASA) and the resulting footage was much denser than with other processes. As a result, Polaroid designed a standalone table-top projector/viewer, which was intended to reduce the problems inherent in projecting such dense film. The viewer used a translucent screen, projecting the image from behind, but critics from publications like Consumer Reports called the images "murky and dark." Despite this (or perhaps because of it), the format was used by artists, including Charles and Ray Eames, Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol.
One market niche Polaroid promoted was the field of industrial testing, where the camera would record, for example, the destruction of a pipe under pressure. This type of use was moderately price insensitive, with the ability to get the images quickly (thus reducing wasted crew time) a very positive selling feature.
In addition to the density problems, the process was late to market and had to compete with upcoming videocassette-based systems like Betamax and VHS. Unlike videotape, Polavision films, once developed, could not be reused nor played on a television, nor did it have sound. Polavision proved to be an expensive failure, and most of the manufactured equipment was sold off in 1979 as a job lot at a loss of $68.5 million. In the wake of those losses, Polaroid chairman and founder Edwin H. Land resigned the chief executive position in 1980 and left the company two years later.
Former Polaroid freelancer Paul Giambarba remarked,
I tried using the product but it was obviously a turkey compared to anything I was using that Kodak offered [...] Instant movie film was an engineering achievement but it's precisely what separated Polaroid techies from Polaroid pragmatists. There just weren't enough customers out there on whom to work the magic.
Polavision film is rarely screened in public, but it has happened, at such venues as Anthology Film Archives (in 1998 and 2007), the Blinding Light! in Vancouver, and the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema at Collective: Unconscious. Video transfers of Andy Warhol's footage have been shown at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and at the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in 2001.
Polaroid AutoProcess films (Polachrome, Polapan, Polablue and others)
In 1983 Polaroid introduced an "instant" transparency system for still photography. The unexposed 35 mm films came with their own processing pack. The films were processed within a dedicated, hand-powered, mechanical-cranked processing machine called an "AutoProcessor," into which an exposed film and its processing pack had to be loaded. The time to get from an exposed undeveloped film to a fully developed film ready for mounting varied from between two and five minutes, depending on the type of film.
Polaroid produced several types of AutoProcess-compatible film:
- Polachrome was an "instant" 35mm color transparency film. It was descended from the Polavision system and used the same additive color (filter) process. One difference was that with Polavision, the negative layer remained as part of the film after processing. It was of low optical density (max. 0.3), but nevertheless reduced the contrast of the image. With Polachrome, the black negative layer was discarded after processing.
- Polapan was a monochrome instant slide film PolaPan is a portmanteau of Polaroid and Panchromatic. (The "PolaPan" name had also been used in connection with Polaroid picture roll print films Type 42 PolaPan 200 (200 ASA film speed) (also Type 32) and Type 44 PolaPan 400 (400 ASA film speed in Daylight).)
- Polablue was an instant slide film with a particular blue cast
- Polagraph was a high-contrast color transparency film intended to reproduce subjects like graphs or diagrams.
- PolaScope (Type 410 10,000 ASA) was a high contrast film intended specifically for photographing oscilloscope ("scope") traces.
Polaroid AutoProcess slides could be viewed or projected in the same way as 35 mm slides made with conventional films.
- The Land List -- Film Index, The Land List. (Sections: "Type 608", Additive process, density problems; "Polachrome CS", Polavision/Polachrome negative differences.) Article retrieved 2006-12-01.
- Giambarba, Paul, "The Last Hurrah – Polavision, 1977", "The Branding of Polaroid 1957-1977". Article dated 2004-09-01. Retrieved 2006-12-01.
- Blumstein, Michael (1982-07-28) "Era Ends as Land Leaves Polaroid", The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-06.
- Tom Ang, "Silvery Sleight of Hand", in "Camera," September 1983
- Polaroid 35mm Instant Slide Film: Introduction and Overview, Jim's Web. Page no longer exists, accessed via the Wayback Machine web archive. Article retrieved 2006-12-01.
- "Self Service Polaroid Bravo Slides, Center for Instructional Support, University of Hawai‘i. Article revised June 1996. Retrieved 2006-12-01.