The world of online auctions will have you thinking quickly now and again, with too little time to really weigh out the value of a possible pickup. Before you know it, you've bought something that seemed like a great deal in the moment but worry about having some sense of buyers remorse afterwards.
Some of my camera acquisitions were snapped up in haste, and in spite of my follow up worries, have turned out to be favorites in my collection. But these hastily made purchases don't always result in happy endings. I've a nice little drawer of problem children that I'll have to document one day.
So when in looking about for film, I hit upon an auction ending within an hour for 22 12 shot rolls of 2002 vintage Polaroid Color 200 for about $16, I quickly piped in a bid and expected to be outbid. Instead, when the dust settled, I won the lot at opening bid. Whodathunkit?!?
All told, once shipping was added in, I paid just over $1 a roll for this little stockpile of film. Now the concern weighing over we was whether I had bought a stock pile of junk!
Packed in a box that proffers little in the way of marketing buzz, one wouldn't expect a vast amount of photographic character from shots taken on this film.
Polaroid Color 200 was typically sold in 25 roll boxes, with each roll containing 12 exposures. Its main purpose was to be able to quickly yield color images for businesses that needed photos. This might include realtors, insurance agents, or even press outlets. With an emphasis on simply getting a representational image for practical purposes, Polaroid Color 200 lacks any of the traditional marketing buzz that typically surrounds color films. There is no mention of vivid saturation, fine grain, or exceptional skin tones on the large box of this Polaroid film, but rather a no-nonsense "take it or leave it" box of film with a simple purpose in mind.
I asked around to see what I could find regarding this film, and got some response that it was decent film with a fairly coarse grain. However, when I spotted some on Lance Rothstein's Labeauratoire shop, I was actually pretty impressed with the look. There is a bit of a mystery concerning the film's origins, given that Polaroid didn't actually make their own color film. Lance noticed that the box had a "Made in Germany" label concealed by a "Made in USA" sticker, which would suggest Agfa as the maker. However, the stripes in the advice section, as well as the style of font and arrows in the frame numbering seems slightly closer in nature to Fuji. The mystery deepens.
Regardless, I hesitantly loaded one roll of the Polaroid into my Bolsey B2 to not only test the film but to give this camera another try as well. Leaving little to chance, it simply accompanied other cameras to ensure I didn't "miss" a photo op using this iffy camera or its unproven film. By and large, the Bolsey seemed to perform pretty well, and the 200 speed was never too high for any lighting situation it faced.
After developing the film in a Tetenal kit, I was pleased to see a roll of what appeared to be well exposed negatives that would be ready for scanning. I was also pleased at what I was unable to notice in my spot check of the negatives: excessive grain. What I couldn't determine from looking at the negatives however was how the color rendition of this film would be. Would it be dull and flat, or badly shifted from the age of the film. I'd soon find out.
Surprisingly, the film gave off an unexpectedly vivid palette that showed no signs at all of having sat dormant for a decade and a half. With each frame scanned, I began to appreciate that I had really scored an amazing win in snapping up this quantity of this color film. As for the Bolsey, the jury is still out. I seemed to avoided my previous issues with camera shake resulting from the long throw of the shutter release, but some of the images show some issues with distortion from film flatness. The photos below will certainly show this...
Pleasure and disappointment were the feelings surrounding the first shot. I was elated to see both the color rendition, grain, and contrast of the film, but dismayed to see the distortion that the Bolsey rendered outside of the center of the frame.
On the next shot however, this distortion may have actually worked in favor of the shot. Green tones are well rendered by this film, which seems to indicate either Agfa or Fuji as the true manufacturer.
Scenes didn't always render with the same level of intensity as the original scenes, but came reasonably close. The tree at right was nicely highlighted by the sun in real life, but that seems lost here, though part of that may be due to vignetting by the Bolsey.
As the film worked through the roll, the distortion issues presented by the Bolsey became a bit less evident, allowing me to concentrate more on the film's performance, though some processing issues began to materialize. Still, I was able to find a lot of satisfaction in the performance of this film.
Is it Velvia? No. But is it nice? Absolutely. Landscape scenes look more or less every bit as well rendered as they would be on fresh film, with nice blue and green tones.
Easily my favorite of the batch was this one, in which I ignored the general rule of not shooting into the sun. Love the color and tonality.
Admittedly a stretch on what was a forced shot on limited time. I'd hoped the flowering tree mired in the shadow would somehow be more evident. What was I thinking?
I wanted to see what I could do regarding scenes with out of focus buildings as backdrops with foreground elements in focus. This was my poor first attempt...
...and this was my better second attempt. In full sun, the Polaroid 200 really gives off an excellent color rendition.
My one night shot on the film wasn't done as well as it should have been, due to an issue with my tripod. At least I can see that the grain is pretty well managed in this scene.
I finished out the roll with some close up shots of different colors. A shot of some grape hyacinths showed some very nice color rendering.
After crouching for this shot, it seems that the "Bolsey Blur" once again got the best of me was I released the shutter. Still, I can only be happy about how this portrayed.
One last shot in which I have a challenge finding a truly sharp focal point for this photo. Still, I am quite pleased with the color rendition and contrast.
With a palette that is pleasing and vivid without being overly restrained or overly punchy, my little bargain stockpile of Polaroid 200 will be ideal for testing new cameras, or for shooting in square or half-frame cameras for which a 24 shot roll will take forever to finish. Despite it's cheap cost and lack of excitement, this is actually an excellent film that has weathered time remarkably well. Besides, it's Polaroid so it might actually make a hipster out of me yet!