There are many factors that can affect the performance of your Polaroid instant film, but the two most crucial are the age of the film and whether it has been stored properly.
Shoot it Fresh
Newly-produced Polaroid film is considered to be “fresh” up to one year after its production date. You can find the production date printed on every pack of new Polaroid film. Just to reiterate, the date printed on your new pack of Polaroid film is not the film’s expiration date - it’s the date that your pack of film was born at Polaroid’s factory in the Netherlands. So to put it simply, make sure to use your pack of film before its first birthday!
Reading the Date
Production date is an important distinction to take note of, because back in the day (i.e. before 2008 in the pre-Impossible Project era), Polaroid Corporation did indeed print the film’s expiration date on every pack. This can cause confusion if someone is not aware of the difference between new Polaroid film packaging (production date) vs. old Polaroid film packaging (expiration date).
Figure in Travel Time
If you live in the United States, most Polaroid film will likely be at least a few months old by the time it’s in your hands. This is because it’s produced in the Netherlands, shipped across the ocean via boat, and then distributed to warehouses and retailers across the country before it finally reaches you - the end user.
When Polaroid film expires, a variety of technical issues can arise with your final images. Film loses sensitivity as it ages, so the more time that goes by past your film’s expiration date, the more likely you are to experience some unexpected results while shooting.
A few common things you may notice with aging film: the chemical-filled pods on the bottom of each piece of film do not spread properly, resulting in uneven development of your image; decreased color saturation and/or contrast in your images; an overall “hazy” look; color balance issues (such as your entire image having a drastic tint to it); or a combination of all of the above.
This picture above was shot on film that expired in 2009. The image suffers from an overall burnt tint and uneven development because the chemicals were not able to properly spread across the image. This is seen in the heavy, vertical streaks across the developed image and in the areas at the top completely lacking coverage. Also of note, there is a stain on the white frame caused by aging chemicals trapped between the frames within the pack.
Although shooting with expired Polaroid film can produce some unique images, we only recommend doing this if you are well aware that expired film is unstable and unpredictable by nature. Your final images likely won’t turn out like you were expecting. This can be fun and exciting to some photographers—but extremely disappointing to others.
Shooting film several years past the expiration date can bring with it additional problems beyond the simple image degradation that comes with recently expired or improperly stored packs. The battery inside each pack depletes with time, which can cause mid-cycle failures / film feed failures after years of disuse. Also, age can cause the chemical pods in the film pack to harden or rupture, which can result in ejection issues or damage to the rollers in your camera. If a ruptured pod inside a pack causes the film inside to stick together, it can compromise the integrity of the very tight tolerances of the cameras pick system. So if you don’t know what you’re getting into, save yourself the heartbreak of ruined images—or a damaged camera—and always pay close attention to that production date printed on your pack of film.
Keep it fresh
Wondering how to properly store your unexposed film to prolong its life? Polaroid recommends storing your unopened film flat inside a refrigerator with a constant temperature between 4 – 18°C / 41 – 65°F. Keeping your film in a cool, dry environment helps keep the film’s chemistry stable for as long as possible, which will translate to better color, contrast, and detail in your final images. While cool is good, an important PSA: never freeze your film packs! This will negatively impact the film’s chemistry and cause your film to not perform as it should. For the best possible results, allow your refrigerated film to come back to room temperature for at least one hour before using.
The pictures above were shot at the same time, roughly 7 months after their production date. The picture on the left was stored as recommended, while the picture on the right was not.
Shooting with fresh film (and properly storing it, in the meantime) will put you well on your way to a magical instant film experience.
Running low on film? Check out our available supply.
By Haley Miller
Refurb Manager | Retrospekt
Haley is the human form an Animal Crossing character would pick if things were reversed and they had to play us. In addition to hiring and training dozens of new team members over the years, she is also the final quality check on nearly every camera that heads out our doors.