Remember all the fun you had with Polaroids? The instant gratification of seeing the chunky white-bordered print slide out of the camera right after the flash went off, and then crowding around to watch the picture slowly appear, as if by magic?
Of course, if you’re below a certain age, you probably don’t. Polaroid cameras became harder to find, and the film was almost extinct until The Impossible Project inspired Polaroid to bring it back. And with digital cameras, it’s instant gratification without even the short wait for the photo to develop. So, really, there’s no point to “instant” cameras anymore, right?
Photojojo, purveyor of fun photography tips and tech, begs to differ. They recently announced a new product in their store, the Fuji Instax Mini, and they loaned me one so I could try it out. The Instax Mini is to the old Polaroids what Eve is to Wall-E: sleek and white, cute and curvy. The prints are a smidge bigger than 2″ x 3″ (actually about the size of a credit card), and the camera is a breeze to operate. There are no fancy functions, no zoom, white balance, or macro: just a little dial to select the ambient lighting, and the shutter button. (The flash automatically discharges under all lighting conditions.) To turn the camera on, you actually just pull the lens hood out, and then shove it back in to turn it off.
But back to the question: does anyone want an “instant” camera these days?
Let me ask you this: would “Memento” have been nearly as memorable if Leonard had been sporting a slim little digital camera (or, better yet, an iPhone)? Do you think, when digital cameras are being supplanted by the next iteration of photographic technology, that anyone’s going to organize a new Impossible Project to save SD cards? There’s simply something wonderful about getting a one-of-a-kind print right after you snap the shutter. Waiting for the print to fade in really is a sort of magic, something that you just don’t experience with a digital camera. And everyone who’s seen it is fascinated, particularly kids who may not have ever played with an instant film camera.
Okay, so despite my adulations, the Instax Mini isn’t perfect, but it is a whole lot of fun. I’ll give you the bad news first. At $90, it’s definitely a luxury item, particularly because I can’t imagine it being a replacement for a standard digital camera. It’s going to be something extra. And the $20 film packages (two cartridges, ten exposures each) aren’t cheap either: a buck a shot, basically. (You do get a slight discount by buying the camera with film, or a few packages of film at a time.) Also, it’s a very light camera but kind of bulky: if you’re used to a camera you can carry in your pocket, this will seem huge. And the ease-of-use is a trade-off for lack of features. It’s truly a point-and-shoot, because you can’t do anything else. Need to zoom out? Take a few steps backward. Lastly, while most of my photos have turned out all right, at least one indoor shot was overexposed and turned out much too dark, and the colors are usually not very vibrant.
Now, back to more good news. The fact is that each photo you get from an Instax Mini is unique. There’s only one, and while you can scan it to get a digital version, it’s just not the same thing. It’s like a strip from a photo booth: the print is tied to the occasion, and as such it just feels more valuable. My wife remarked that it makes you want to do something special with the photo. You don’t get that from a digital photo. To me, the prints sort of look like they’re from the 1980s. Maybe that’s just more my own mental association of Polaroids with my childhood, but the color balance and slight graininess have that slightly aged feel to them. And we all know, of course, that retro is hip. One note: the photos can take as long as five minutes to develop (and the instructions say that the chemicals inside could be active for up to ten minutes), but it’s a neat process to watch.
Finally, it’s fun! Photojojo has done a great job of making photography (and photo-related crafts) enjoyable, and this is no exception. I mean, this is a company that threw in a small plastic dinosaur with the shipment. (The invoice read: “Rawr! $.00.”) My kids liked it, my wife liked it, the high schoolers who came over for game night liked it. And in case you need help figuring out what to do with the prints, this week Photojojo also posted a tutorial on how to make a photo-cover notebook, for which the mini-prints work great.
And now, the really good news: Photojojo is teaming up with GeekDad to give away one Fuji Instax Mini camera plus a 20-exposure package of film to one lucky reader. Post a comment about your favorite instant-film memory, or tell us what you’d do with an instant-film camera if you win. Deadline is midnight (PST) on Halloween, October 31, 2009, and we’ll randomly select one commenter to win.