If “instant photography” to you means taking a picture and have it reviewed instantly on the LCD monitor, transferred instantly to your computer or tablet, uploaded instantly to your social site and/or printed instantly on your printer — then you have never heard of print instant cameras.
There was a time when “instant photography” meant that you could take a film picture and it would develop right before your eyes in about one minute. You would then hold a print in your hand. Studio photographers loved instant cameras because it gave them an immediate feedback of whether their composition worked.
Of course, today, with the picture appearing right away on the LCD monitor or tablet, an actual print is not necessary anymore. And so, the print instant cameras went into the history dustbin.
Polaroid pioneered the print instant cameras and now Fujifilm has continued manufacturing instant print cameras. Is there a need for such cameras anymore in the digital age?
I recently played with a Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 camera. It is also called the “Neo Classic,” a referral to its stylish two-tone “retro” look. It has more modes than print instant cameras usually have and the retractable lens means that you can actually carry the camera in a large coat pocket. With the lens retracted, camera dimensions and weight are 113.4 (H) x 91.9 (W) x 57.2 mm (D), 294g (4.46” x 3.62” x 2.25”, 0.65 lbs) (excluding the battery, strap and film). A shoulder strap is also included.
The retractable lens has a fixed 60mm focal length [which I understand is about a 35mm equivalent] with a built-in lens cover. A number of buttons give instant access to: a Macro mode that focuses down to 30 cm (to 60 cm), a Lighten/Darken exposure compensation, a 7-second self-timer, and a flash/red-eye control (Auto, Forced Flash, Red Eye, No Flash). It also has a couple of Scene Modes: Party, Kid/Action, Landscape, Double Exposure, and Bulb/Night Scene (only 10 seconds). The Scene Modes can be selected by repeatedly pressing the Mode button on the back or by twisting the lens ring (the “MODE dial”).
There is also a plastic tripod socket though it is on the side of the camera (i.e. the camera is to be used in the portrait mode). The camera can stand on its side and you are able to use the Bulb mode without a tripod as long as you put the camera on a level and stable surface.
When you select macro, the viewfinder shifts slightly to account for parallax because of the closer distance, though don’t expect any accuracy here. If you find that your picture comes out too dark (under-exposed), press L/D to lighten it (L/L+). If it is coming out too bright (over-exposed), press L/D to darken it (D).
HINT: You can even take 2 self-timer photos: press the self-timer button twice until you see a x2 displayed. The self-timer lamp will blink for 7 seconds for the first shot [remove that first print to give space for the second to eject] and 3 more seconds for the second shot.
The print size is credit-card sized at 86 mm x 54 mm (3.39”x2.13”) though the actual image area is only about 62 mm x 46 mm (2.44”x1.81”), that is, tiny. There is an approximately 1/2 inch (1cm) area where you can scribble a note. The film comes in a pack of 10 prints; you would want to carry at least 3 packs with you for 30 shots. Expect also to waste a couple of prints. At about $1 to $2 per print, it does get pricey.
As far as handling is concerned, you will quickly notice that there is simply not enough space to properly hold the camera the traditional way. There are two shutter buttons and you could, theoretically, hold the camera for a landscape or portrait shot. Since most people use an instant camera for people portrait shots, they would hold the camera so that the film exits on the top (and the writable strip would then be at the bottom). The power switch is on the front of the camera and you toggle it to turn the camera on/off. In its center is the second shutter button (the first one being in its traditional position on the top). Held in the portrait mode, there is then just enough space to more or less safely hold the camera. The optical viewfinder is small and can sometimes be difficult to see if you wear glasses. It’s all a matter of getting used to the camera.
It’s however a simple camera to use. Recharge the NP-45A rechargeable Li-ion battery in its convenient wall battery charger BC-45C and slip it into the back. Turn the camera ON. Open the back, align the yellow marks on the film pack and inside the camera, drop the cartridge into place and close the back cover. The film cover (that protects the film from being exposed to light) is automatically ejected when you close the back cover. You can dispose of that film cover. The film counter will display 10 and decrements by one as each film is taken and ejected. The battery is rated for approximately 10 packs of film (i.e., 100 images).
Be careful not to open the back cover midway or you will expose and ruin a cartridge of film.
Who would consider purchasing the Instax Mini 90?
It’s a great way to take a picture of say, some jewellery items, and write down on the white part of the print what it is, the date and the value of the item. For insurance purposes, you have a way to quickly inventory your assets. Throw all the pictures into an envelope and store safely in your safety deposit box.
For elementary schools, a teacher can snap the picture of each of her/his students, write down the child’s name and have a Presence/Absence Board right on Day One. [First, consult your school policy concerning taking pictures of students since some school boards do not allow it.] You could do the same thing using a digital camera but then you would need to print, laminate and cut to size — quite a hassle. It would also take a while, certainly a couple of days depending on the availability of the equipment and your time availability. It’s like magic as the children hear the motor whir, see an image slide out and count as the picture appears right before their eyes in about a minute. [See, they are learning to count to 60 already!] Using a permanent marker with a point tip, print neatly the child’s name. You get to easily remember their names, they learn one another’s name, and the children feel right at home in your class. All on Day One! [You may still want to laminate the prints later for extra protection from curious little fingers.] You can also use the camera to take pictures of projects and, with magnet strips at the back, have the pictures up on the board instantly.
Just had a baby? It’s an easy way to document baby’s progress day by day and put the photos up on the fridge for all to see.
Party-goers also love the instant cameras. A word of warning, though, because people have misused the instant cameras in these situations. You do NOT want strangers to snap your photo, write down your personal details and circulate that around without your permission. But, if it is a party where you know and trust everyone, an instant camera is lots of fun.
Going on a vacation trip with the kids? The Instax Mini 90 can become a handy way for the children to document their trip and stick the small prints into an album or glued into a copy book for an instant Show-&-Tell when they get back to school.
As you can see, there are many ways an instant camera can be quite handy. There’s no messing with a SD card, transferring photos, editing, cropping, printing. With the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90, press the button and it’s instantly printed.
As far as image quality is concerned, the colors are beautiful enough but don’t expect detailed images. Although the ISO is set to 800, this is definitely not a low light camera and you will need to use the flash in low light. Shutter speed is from 1.8 – 1/400 sec.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 instant camera is fun to use and very practical for the varied purposes described above. For even more fun, you can purchase a film cartridge with its own distinctively cool border: White, Rainbow, Pink Dot, Candy Pop, Pandora, Dalmatian and Wedding.
B&H Photo Video: