Our everyday cameras are entertaining, but Fujifilm Instax cameras are a bit different from the ones we’ve grown accustomed to, and take fun to the next level. If you grew up in the digital era, this style of camera might be an entirely new concept.
There was a time not so long ago when a camera wasn’t something people had with them at all times. It was something you brought out for special occasions or vacations. It required film, and that film needed to be developed. Some readers will remember the birth of “1 hour photo” stores, where you could get your pictures back in 60 short minutes! Not all that impressive by today’s standards, but before that, film would get sent off to a lab and you’d get it back in a matter of days.
During that era of the film camera, there were also “instant” cameras that used a special kind of film that would develop itself… in a matter of seconds.
We’ve all gotten used to being able to view and even share our photos instantly, but what’s missing are those physical prints. There’s just something fun about being able to snap a photo and get a print that you can hold in your hands and pass around.
The good news for anyone feeling nostalgic, or anyone who wants to experience a little bit of life in the last century, is that the technology isn’t gone. Fujifilm instax (always lowercase) is keeping it alive with their line of cameras like the instax mini 9.
The instax film
One of the things that makes these cameras unique is that they still use actual film. You might be surprised to know that Polaroid, the best-known maker of instant cameras and film of the 20th century, is still around. Perhaps even more surprising, though, is that they don’t make instant film anymore. Instead, their modern instant cameras actually have a built-in printer that prints on their own proprietary paper.
Cameras like the Fujifilm instax mini 9 instant camera use real film. Photos are processed very similarly to those developed in an actual darkroom, giving results that are tough to reproduce using a printer and ink.
You are going to need to make sure you’re using the right film in your camera. There are three different categories of instax film: Instax Mini, Instax Wide, and Instax Square. Each is meant to work with the corresponding style of instax camera—Fujifilm instax mini 9 film isn’t going to work with an instax square camera, and vice versa.
The difference among the cameras and films is in the sizes and aspect ratios of the photos they produce. Instax Mini film produces a business-card-sized photo of 2.5 x 1.8 inches. Instax Wide film will produce something similar in size to a more traditional photo—2.4 x 3.8 inches. Instax Square film gives you, not surprisingly, a square photo of 2.4 x 2.4 inches.
Instant cameras are “hip”
You don’t have to be a hipster to appreciate them, but they will certainly appeal to that crowd. Their throwback feel fits well with the hipster aesthetic. With the Mini film, you even have the option of black and white film.
Hipster or not, people seem to love the “lo-fi” look of photos shot with a Fuji instax mini. Instagram filters can approximate the look, but with an authentic instant film camera, you get the real thing.
What’s special about the Mini 9?
The fujifilm instax mini 9 instant camera is their newest to use the “mini” format and has a lot of great features to play with. A nice upgrade over the previous Mini 8 is that the Mini 9 has a “selfie mirror” right next to the front lens. Since it’s not a digital camera, you don’t get that front-facing monitor that you’ve grown accustomed to on your phone. With the mirror, though, you can see exactly what the camera sees when looking at it from the front.
That makes it great for selfies of course, as the name implies, but it also allows the subject of your photos to see a “preview,” even if that subject isn’t you. They’ll need to be fairly close in order to get a good look, but it’s a really nice feature for portraits.
This is such a simple way to solve the problem—in the digital photography world, it’s more often solved by including a monitor that can be rotated. That works great, but it’s quite a bit more costly and is a feature that’s typically unavailable on less-expensive digital cameras. And with phones, you only get one view or the other; a mirror allows the the subject(s) to see what’s in the shot even while the photographer looks through the viewfinder on the other side.
Another upgrade over the Mini 8 is that the Mini 9 comes with a close-up lens. With the built-in lens, it can focus as close as 60cm (23.6 in.); the close-up lens allows you to focus in a range from 35-50cm (13.8-19.7 in.). It won’t quite get you in the “macro” range, but it’s perfect for selfies and for close-ups of larger objects.
It comes in several fun colors like Flamingo Pink and Blue, or you can keep it a little more neutral with a Smoky White shell. Even though it has a throwback style, those classic cameras it emulates rarely offered options when it came to the appearance of the camera itself. Now you get that classic feel, but with modern freedom of choice.
If you do a lot of shooting indoors or low-light situations, there’s a feature that you’ll love called Hi Key Mode. This mode reduces dark shadows and sort of “softens” the image. It works best in moderate shade or indoor situations.
Best uses of the instax Mini 9
While it’s not going to substitute for the digital shooter that’s built into your smartphone, this is a great camera for any time you want an actual physical photograph. It’s incredibly user-friendly and can have you capturing beautiful snapshots in no time.
- Kids love it – It makes a perfect camera for older kids and can be a great way for them to learn about the joys of film photography. It’s priced right for a first film camera, and kids love the novelty of nostalgic-style photos.
- Awesome for holiday parties – Pass it around and get lots of fun shots of and by your guests, and you’ll have prints that you can share and pass around too.
- Nearly ideal for weddings – Capture the moment, and hand a print over to the happy couple right then and there.
Getting the best shots
Aside from the obvious, there are a couple things that are a little bit different about instax cameras and your phone’s camera. It isn’t quite as automatic and won’t handle low light situations quite as well as a good phone camera might. It does have a built-in flash, but your best results will happen in good lighting.
There are also fewer adjustments available. You won’t be able to change the ISO or shutter speeds, for example. The camera does a great job of picking the best settings for the lighting situation that you’re in, but if you need a super-fast shutter in order to stop motion, a Fuji instax mini isn’t going to be your best choice. The instax 9 has a fixed shutter speed of 1/60 second, so if you want to show some motion blur in an action shot, this’ll do it; stopping the action, though, is not what it’s designed for.
Getting great shots, then, is a matter of good lighting and minimal movement. That makes it great for what most people will want this for: portraits of your friends and family.