At the end of last year, I was lucky enough to break away for a bit to visit my good friend Billy in San Francisco. He was the first person that I knew that was shooting Impossible Project’s film and he had been raving over it for months. I spent a handful of days there and ventured throughout the city with my Leica M2 and Mamiya C330. While I was there, we visited the coastal town of Pacifica and Billy had been shooting some IP film through his Polaroid Spectra AF. I was stunned by the results. The aesthetic qualities of the b+w’s are something that have imprinted themselves on my mind. Ghostly images bathed in degradation that I thought, up until then, only happened with time. He was shooting Impossible’s PZ600UV Silver Shade.
I started shooting IP’s films about a month ago and I’ve been actively looking for some other Polaroids to shoot their film with. I picked up a nice black Spectra AF from Ebay for about $20 a couple weeks ago. The day I got it in, my buddy at Archinal Camera, handed me another Spectra! And just the other day, one of my wife’s co-workers gave us another Spectra. I think somebody’s trying to tell me something …
The Spectra is a cool looking analogue camera. I’ve seen them before but never really paid any attention. They have a unique optical system utilizing a 135mm f/10 quintic lens. The focal length equivalency is about about 40mm in the 35mm format. Like most Polaroids, you don’t have a ton of control over the exposure. The most important options at your disposal are: an exposure lighten/darken switch, a switch to toggle the flash on/off, an AF override switch to set focus to infinity, a self timer and a tripod mount.
The autofocusing feature on Spectras, and many other Polaroids, is done by sonar. When you press the shutter halfway, it emits an inaudible sound wave to measure the distance between the camera and what you’re shooting. It sends the sound waves to the center of what’s in the viewfinder, the sound waves bounce back, and the distance is displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder (there is a little switch to toggle between showing ft/m on the camera). There is an autofocus lock feature, in the sense that after you press the shutter halfway, you can hold the shutter and move your viewpoint to keep that particular distance focused.
That’s basically the gist of the camera.
I picked up some film and waited for the right time to shoot it. A baseball game with some of my family came up so it was a great opportunity to test out some shots at The Ballpark. I loaded up my camera bag with the Spectra, a pack of PZ680 and an icepack to keep the film cool while developing. Why not right?
Before I left, I called the Impossible Project space in New York to ask them a quick exposure question. I doubled checked to make sure that the PZ680 I was about to shoot was indeed 600-ish speed film. The reason for the “ish” is that Impossible’s film speeds sometimes are a little faster than what’s intended. Up until this point, with the PX-70 film in a SX-70 camera, I have been cranking exposure wheel all the way down. She told me that with the Spectra and the regular PZ680, it was spot on and no adjustments needed to be made. She did mention that the PZ680 COOL that just came out was running a little faster than 680 ASA, so an underexposure adjustment might be needed.
With the SX-70, I use a dark slide to protect the film from any direct light the moment it ejects out of the camera. I had planned on using a home-made dark slide but I ended up ejecting the film directly into the box after the photo was taken. The Spectra’s have a cool feature with their self timers. If you shoot a photo and hold down the shutter button, you can switch the timer on and it will keep the photo inside the camera until you toggle the switch back off. Since Impossible’s photos are so sensitive to light, this is a great feature to utilize. I used this method for all of these shots.
I cranked the exposure all the way down for this image. Otherwise the sky would have probably been completely blown out. The rest were shot in the neutral position on the exposure slider.
Overall I’m pleased with the film. However, I do think that it’s still probably sitting about a 1/2 a stop faster than what it’s advertised to be. But otherwise, it gives you a unique, vintage palette of colors. I really do like how Impossible films render scenes. Yes. It’s not perfect .. but that’s the point.