Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"It's easy" Fun with New55 PN (and a tip from Bob)

Today I decided to have some fun and shoot a box of New55 PN that I bought online. It is not unusual for a company to test its fulfillment system by buying some of its own product. I even paid full price.

Using the trusty Speed Graphic I shot this of some "sawbones" which are anatomical models made of foam that look realistic, along with Charles Fendrock's glasses and a cheap Halloween wig from Rite-Aid.

We like to say "A superb negative and a positive print too" and I do consider this negative superb. It's sharp, and good, and scanned in easily.

I see some results online that are not as good: Fogged, mottled, solarized - generally "Foggled". Not this one. Why? Because I followed the instructions which are:

1. Process for the time on the box
2. Immediately at peeling immerse the negative in fixer
3. Use only Ilford Rapid fixer 50/50 with water.

I also added a new twist, an easy one:

Peel the positive with the negative on the tongue face down and put the peeled negative and the tongue right into the fixer.

This works like a charm and makes it easier (in my humble opinion) to remove the goo and any tape. Toss out any paper now wet with fixer. After a couple of minutes of fixing, wash the negative in clear water for five minutes and dry.

Don't use "some other fixer" or sodium sulfite, or water and don't let the negative dry. Don't peel it and wave it around because just like old T55, it will solarize in sufficient light.

That's all there is to it. It is easy.  Click on the image to see it up close.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Rubicon

You are probably as tired as we are to hear about all the coating problems we have had with the receiver sheet. To recap, the receiver sheet is an essential component of New55 PN, as it produces the positive print.

New55 went through a huge R&D effort to formulate a safer formula for the coatings that works well and eliminates the need for solvent coating, which is bad for the environment. Scaling the process up has been difficult. We spent over a quarter of the Kickstarter funds at various vendors with little result, and today coating receiver sheets, by hand, takes us half our total week.

That means we could double the amount of New55 built if we did not have to hand coat them. It was never our plan to become coaters of anything. It was always assumed that there are coating companies capable of coating the materials, but we now have run out of time and money to keep trying to do something that doesn't look like it is going to ever work.

So out of desperation, we decided to try another way. The new way is to outfit our little production floor with a special coater made specifically for New55. This is also not without risk and entails spending more money than we currently have. We never planned this. We never planned to take it so far.

I added additional funding to New55, both before and after the kickstarter effort. Sam and the team have kept at it, steadily, laboriously. Despite all the difficulties, floods, supplier errors and setbacks, we have achieved 50% fulfillment of Kickstarter rewards. Repeat: We have achieved 50% fulfillment of Kickstarter rewards!  Photos from supporters look good with some superb shots being made. But we are stuck in an endless loop of hand-to-mouth production where every day hand coating is done, and that is very, very slow. We can't keep doing that, because we'll be out of business if we do. Something has to change.

The Thing

In the back, away from everything, I started on building a new machine. It isn't pretty, and in fact it is big and ugly and I call it The Thing. The Thing uses a long, curved ramp to bias the paper to help keep it taught on the surface, and it has drive and return wheels that allow the coated paper to pass through a long channel of heated blowing air to dry it just fast enough so it emerges dry at the end. A special newly invented vacuum slip system was added just yesterday to maintain a firm hold down. Everything on the Thing is made of wood, screws and tape.

Yesterday Charles and I did a dry run of a stuck-together plywood and tape coater Thing.  Charles, a real engineer, made many suggestions and pointed out some real risks that the Thing might not do what we need, but he spurred things forward. The entire team stood with apprehension as we flipped the switch. Would it work? It had to. And as that switch was flipped, a long roll of our special paper started to move. Slowly it traveled along a track to see if it would stay in position as it was wet with coating materials, rather than curl into a mess. The result: It worked. Paper stayed flat, driers dried, and still the paper moved forward, a few cm at a time. We then knew it could be done!

Now we are working at a hurried pace to make this new machine practical for manufacturing this necessary part of instant film. As we do, we suddenly realize that we have crossed over the 50 percent mark in our thinking too. We are a real photographic materials company now, still shaky in its legs and depending on support through early sales to the most devoted, but it is now all very real. New55 is real. Every day the pace quickens and the team of six dedicated people work better and harder as we all learn how.  We have passed the rubicon.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 31 News from New55 and update to Kickstarter backers

Dear Kickstarter backers and others,

We have some news and want to share with you this outline of the status of the various parts of the project.   

The slow fulfillment of packs as rewards to Kickstarter supporters in general order of pledge has continued. The current amount is 25% fulfilled, which is significant. 

Sales of a small amount of film online have made possible a steady effort. It has been tedious and expensive, but there is no alternative way to fund steady operations, and it is giving the team some actual commercial experience that presumably would be needed for a continued product.

The project still has the same cash shortfall that has prevented the paying of some bills and delaying needed purchases of materials, and there are end of year bills such as liability insurance (huge dollars) that will have to be paid.

Direct sales have been small, though sales in smaller amounts will help tell us if there is a real marketplace. Little batches of New55 PN have been up on the shop and sold out several times. This shows that some people are willing to buy and use New55 PN at its present stage and price to support the project and for their own purposes. This might be a good sign.

Field reports show that reliability has improved dramatically and that users have become more comfortable with the peel and fix part of the process. As expected, there has been a lot of learning, some failures, and many exchanges online as we dust off and attempt to repair our old 545 holders. The problem of bad 545 holders remains so we are going to put an extra effort into insisting that users know how to take apart, clean and reassemble the holder.  We want to overcome these startup failures in the future by offering fully checked out 545 film holders, but for now it remains a problem.

Supporters have started sending us some very beautiful photographs made with New55 PN. These are still few, as it is early, and not organized in any one place yet but a sampling can be seen on facebook or instagram.  This is encouraging.

The team has been producing a series of how-to videos that should improve the overall success rates. 

The latest receiver sheet coating exercise did not entirely fail and a small amount of good receiver sheet was made - enough for perhaps another 1000 packs. But hand coating has and must continue. The steady supply of receiver sheet remains a very annoying, expensive and distracting problem and the time and cost of all of it has put the project at risk.

The hand coated receiver sheets are works of art and produce rich full tones and good blacks now. A sort of silver lining, if there is one.

The negative stock we have is problematic. One batch was fine, another one has a tendency to fog chemically that can produce reversal in mid tones. The lead times for new negatives, and the cost, has us concerned about smooth production schedules. We are currently scrambling for new negative stock that does not have the tendency toward chemical fog. This problem might be mitigated by a reformulation of the reagent but lead times for reagents have been very long, to date. Bottom line: We need film to make the product, and the three film manufacturers that today make suitable film for New55 PN all have various problems associated with delivering a working product at a time and price that makes sense.

A fix for the mottled effect we sometimes see has been found and will be implemented. The addition of rails that space the receiver sheet from the negative involves further development effort, and we may print raised rails using expanding ink such as used in certain business cards. If that does not work we will apply strips of 0.0015” thick tape preferably by machine but possibly by hand if necessary. Expensive and time consuming, but an important product improvement that we feel must be implemented.

20X24 Studio has supplied the first tranche of bespoke pods at a specific transfer price. This is a milestone. Scheduled runs are planned and we hope all that goes smoothly.

The assembly stations for New55 work perfectly. There are two in use and one more planned. These are the so-called dark chambers that allow lights-out assembly of film like it is in daylight.  Great.

The team is changing somewhat with one key person moving on to another job and being replaced by another skilled person also with photographic experience. Congratulations and thank-you on a successful stint and best of luck as we evolve. Occasional staff  changes are normal and expected.

The assembly team consists of three full time and two part time people. The industrial production rate is about 100-200 packs per day and increasing. This can increase even more if we can get the supply chain to move more smoothly, which is critical to keeping the assembly team busy and productive. Once again, the slow supply of materials has affected this and is slowing everything down.

Every day is frantically busy with full time, part time and also volunteer staff working many hours making the product, and some vendors starting to produce and ship better parts to a cost and a schedule.   Users have told us that watching the project evolve, and new people using the product for the first time is "serious fun". While there is still no guarantee that operations can continue as they are today, we can certainly say we have put in place the industrial capacity to make the New55 PN (and other, such as 1SHOT) film products. That is what we said we’d do. That’s good, but we need to be able to keep going.

As always, we thank you for your continued support.

Bob Crowley

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A New Instant Film for 4x5 Cameras

A new film is born. An instant peelapart 4x5 sheet film that makes a superb negative and a positive print too. The art of the real without a darkroom. Scan in high resolution. Contact print onto cloth, metal or photographically sensitized object of your choice. This is real photography - instantly. Now for the first time since 4x5 instant films were discontinued by companies that couldn't make them anymore, a small group of dedicated photographers decided to make their own. And you can buy it while supporting one of the most interesting and challenging R&D efforts in photography here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mind the Gap!

Mottled negatives are a sign of a tight gap.

Some negatives produced with New55 PN can be seen to have a mottled look. This mottling is usually caused by too tight a gap in the 545 holder. The reason for this tight gap can be stiffening caused by age, or old, dried reagent in any of the rollers, or in the journals the rollers roll in.  Too wide a gap and the positive image will be blurry. The balance is achievable and over time we will get this more under control.  In the meantime, and going forward the 545 holder needs to be cleaned thoroughly.
Mottling. The gap is tight.

I have found a few decades-old 545s with very tight rollers. Make sure your rollers are free.  If you suspect that you have a tight gap, you can compensate for it by running a layer of thin masking tape down each side of the sleeve.  In the foreground is a taped sleeve to illustrate the point. You can see that an added edge of black masking tape has been added. It can be any color, of course.  You might do this if you suspect a too-tight 545 until we find a way to compensate for the variation of these somewhat elderly 545 holders.

The top sleeve has edge tape to increase the gap

Thursday, August 13, 2015

We must sell products to survive and grow

As most of you know, the sale of just a few New55 PNs does help the project and is consistent with the kickstarter goal to create an ongoing enterprise that would sustain 4x5 instant photography. The whole idea of New55's kickstarter is to get a sustainable thing going, not just a one-time project. How do we better communicate this ongoing goal again to those who are just becoming aware of the project? Maybe the larger question is about how well we understand the economics of small-scale products and how they might survive in the midst of a mass market culture that knows little about where the products come from?

Recently, a few supporters and onlookers have talked online about the project and asked why, for instance, their reward hasn't shipped yet when others have and some sales have been made. Like building a house, the roof can't go on first, there has to be a foundation and walls to support it. The analogy is clear when you look at how things are made. It is the capacity of manufacture, the know-how, and the money flow that make any sustainable business, project or crowd-funded effort move forward. A one-time project, like a book for instance, is written, goes to press, ships, and then is done.

Film, especially instant film, is just not like that. It would be a waste to apply the effort to assemble a finite number of units and then not be able to continue. One of the most explicit goals of the project (seen on this blog since 2010) is to find where the economic center - if there is one - can balance a sales price with a real world cost to manufacture.

Ladies and gentlemen, that time has come. New55 FILM is officially, though not yet robustly, commercialized. A substantial goal of the kickstarter effort has been met. No icing on the cake though, at least not yet. We produced well for two weeks before the shocking news of the coating failure stopped everything, and now we are at a crawl. But there are other things happening, too.

We are seeing the first reactions to the initial high prices as expected. We are seeing some impatience, as expected. We experienced more than the expected share of problems, but these have become interesting in themselves, and though daunting and still extremely risky, that is not something new either. Many people have found our several disasters to be instructive and even entertaining. They are, and we've all learned much.

New55 is at a very critical stage of commercial infancy and could be discontinued if the motives and money cannot continue to be aligned. That requires continued product sales and the support of the community, which I personally thank the many for. I would not have gone into this if that was not the case, and as many of you know, kickstarter only supports about half of the cost to get going. The other half comes from substantial six figure cash amounts, huge chunks of unpaid volunteer time, and sales of stuff.

So buy the stuff, Use it. Show us what it can do. It has warts and the recent failure of the coatings (which cost over $100,000) really threatened to end the project. Yet, as of today, we coated again, by hand. We made some full boxes. We made new pods, we did a lot of things, just a lot more slowly. And speaking of things to buy, the unexpected success of the Monobath Developer phenomenon has shown a lot of people how big the demand is for easy black and white processing. Something quick and easy that takes the same amount of time as instant PN is appealing. We've been experimenting in the background and have an even better formula that might reduce some of the shortcomings and make it even easier to use.

Rewards, when available, are shipped in the order of the pledge.  There may be a few minor exceptions based on logistics and timing of available materials, and of course a supporter poll went out and some people elected to have their rewards changed, which may accelerate the shipment of some. If you haven't responded to that poll, and have a moment, it would be helpful if you would. But you don't have to - it's optional and was put up in response to supporter suggestions, and sent out to all kickstarter supporters. We get a lot of good suggestions and the poll was one.

About 11% of all film rewards have shipped, and the non film containing rewards will have shipped fairly soon. That is real progress.  In the meantime we are going to try - within constraints of very limited available cash - continue to do what we said we would do - establish the means to produce instant 4x5 film into the future.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

On the Cusp

Here is the recent Kickstarter update dated June 9, 2015.

The key points:

Progress is being made and a few full assemblies will probably be ready this month.

The characteristics of New55 PN will require people to learn something new.

Old timers might want to look to new users for guidance.

There will likely be direct sales of New55 PN alongside award shipments.

Dear supporters,

Today we have some news for you that has been long awaited and cause for optimism but not yet celebration. New55 FILM will very likely have the first units of New55 PN built, in the box, and in regular production within three weeks. The first pieces will be a start and will likely need adjustments that will happen as we go through the first tranche of some 20,000 units over the coming months. Those of you who have been patiently waiting and encouraging us all along will already know that the road is just beginning and that what we do -- together -- to make New55 FILM YOUR success will depend on how we proceed to use it, show what it can do, learn it, and tell others who will have to follow.

There will be new things to learn: The balance of reagent to receiver to negative that we sometimes call “the wicked triangle” is OK and certainly good enough for artistic purposes, but the look, handling and results that you will get are unknown. If you are an old hand at T55, you will have to do some things differently. Unlearning can be almost as hard as new learning, something those of you who have never shot any 4x5 will probably learn faster than the old timers.

In the past we have discussed the need to continue to finance the project. That has not changed and we find ourselves with very limited operating cash. The many suggestions from you to raise funds resulted in 1SHOT and R3 MONOBATH DEVELOPER and it is very encouraging and telling to read the reaction to these two new products on the various boards. Something new is happening in film photography -- real photography -- and you caused it to happen. Now we are likely to take your suggestion to fold in sales of some of the early New55 PN assemblies with the Kickstarter rewards in order to raise some cash, an idea that was quite enthusiastically received by supporters and newcomers, too.

OK enough for now. We are fatigued but optimistic about this new and counterintuitive business we are forging with your help. As always, you are the first to know.

Bob & Sam

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New55 Releases New 4x5 Film Product

Just when you thought that all the film manufacturers were cutting back film production because of lower demand, along comes New55 and its "1SHOT" product aimed at the growing interest in large format film photography. The New55 Kickstarter project, which is directed toward producing a new instant film, released this non-instant product recently and found it could not keep up with demand. "We were surprised as anyone that 1SHOT was so enthusiastically received, given its "fundraiser edition" price" said Bob Crowley, founder of New55. The group recently announced the fundraiser to help the effort to make instant film that it started in 2010.

New55's 1SHOT film can be bought at

 *** YELLOW DOT FUNDRAISER EDITION *** READY LOADED 4x5 SHEET FILM IS FINALLY HERE! YOU ASKED FOR IT! Many supporters who have followed the New55 INSTANT FILM project have ALSO asked for a ready loaded 4x5 film pack like we enjoyed so much in the heydays of “quick loads” and “ready loads”. The New55 Team needs to raise funds to continue their excellent progress. Now, more than ever, the field of large format photography depends on you. 1SHOT comes from The Skunkworks, and while not funded by New55 FILM’s Kickstarter program, it does make great use of our capability! Won’t you help us bridge the funding gap by buying and enjoying this surprise from The Skunkworks, all for the benefit of New55 FILM, and you? The clock is ticking. New55 FILM project supporters will have the first shot at 1SHOT. With every box of 1SHOT you buy, $25 is contributed to the development of New55 FILM. THANK YOU!!! 1SHOT YELLOW DOT EDITION WILL BE SOLD IN LIMITED QUANTITIES TO New55 FILM SUPPORTERS We will produce 1SHOT with New55 FILM’s selected Atomic-X, cubic grained standard weight 4x5 sheet film that we rate at ISO 100. You can develop 1SHOT any way you like: monobath, conventional tray, or even send it out to your favorite lab. 1SHOT is not an instant film! But it is fast, and convenient. SPECIFICATIONS: 1 box contains 5 single-sheet packs 4x5 negative only works in the Polaroid 545 series holders for monobath or regular darkroom development Film negative: New55 FILM's Atomic-X cubic-grained black and white emulsion on a 4x5 standard weight polyester base Recommended film speed: ISO 100 Use 1SHOT with any Polaroid 545 holder in any 4x5 camera, pinhole camera, home made camera, or studio view camera! This offering is a test of the demand by serious photographers for an easy way to make large-format photographs, without having to load film holders. Many people have asked. Now it is up to you. 1SHOT IS NOT INSTANT FILM, OF COURSE! SPECIAL YELLOW DOT FUNDRAISER EDITION - LIMITED QUANTITIES The famous yellow dot of the Aero Ektar, and other dots like Gold Dots, Red Dots, evoke a special quality. It's here for the generosity of supporters, and those who believe that large format photography - real photography - is worth our every effort. The yellow dot also helps us commemorate and keep track of the first series of film products ever made at the new New55 FILM factory. Like “ready loads” or “quick loads” that are no longer produced, each pack contains one, single high quality 4x5 black and white sheet film negative. The premium price reflects the fundraising power of 1SHOT! Order 1SHOT NOW!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Silver prices affect the price of all film products

Here is a historical chart of the price of silver that shows the more recent spike in prices, and then the collapse.  Although plastics and sensitizing dyes can be as costly as the silver used, all film is subject to price spikes when and if the price of silver spikes. As you can see, it did that. Like oil, the price of the final product is quick to rise, and very slow to fall.