Jun 292015
 
camera

Instax fun, fun, fun!

In memory of my father, Andre Lietaert.

By Ivan Lietaert

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On the 28th of February, my father, Andre Lietaert died. As my family and I were coming terms with this loss, we were going through old shoe boxes filled with pictures and old photographic albums, sifting through the pictures covering a whole life of 78 years. Then I suddenly came across a picture I had totally forgotten it even existed: a polaroid picture of me and my dad, shaky and awkward in color, between 35 and 40 years old. It must be the oldest picture I have of the two of us. In the days and weeks that followed, I was on an emotional ride, and my attention shifted to organising the funeral and more mundane tasks that needed to be done.

But that polaroid had nested deep inside my brain and soon after, I started doing research about instant pictures anno 2015. I quickly came across Fujifilm’s take on the instant picture: the Instax cameras. Until some weeks ago, I was so preoccupied with digital photography (and video), I didn’t even know that instant film is still around, or put to words even better: instant film is coming back. Polaroid stopped producing their instant film, but enthusiasts recreated the original film, and now have a huge following with their “Impossible Project”, I learned. And then there is Fujifilm’s Instax, quite popular in Asia, but less known here in Europe.

After quite extensive research, I decided to jump the wagon and I bought the Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic, Fujifilm’s most advanced camera, targeted towards the creative enthusiast.

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Now, the thing is that using this camera requires a whole different approach and technique compared to digital photography. There is no chimping, no snapping, no shooting tens or hundreds of pictures and then simply deleting the bad ones. No! Taking an Instax picture is an event, it produces a unique print, that will cost you about 1 euro or 1 dollar. So immediately it makes you much more considerate and careful about the framing and the lighting, and even then, you will from time feel guilty when a shot failed. Basically, as when shooting film, it slows down the whole photographic process, and then, of course, there is the exciting waiting game as the picture is developing right there in your hands. As the picture leaves the camera after exposure, a rolling mechanism spreads the developing chemicals across the photographic paper and the development starts. After a minute or so – speed depends on the ambient temperature – the first details appear, and the picture is fully developed after approximately 10 minutes, when the chemical process comes to a halt.

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So I took my little daughter to the park and shot my first packet of 10 instax pictures there. I soon found out that this kind of photography is definitely lo-fi, with quite unsharp results, and the lighting/metering is tricky as well, with various degrees of success. But I found the whole thing so intriguing, I was hooked, I guess, and by the end of the week, I had ordered an Instax 210 online, which takes Instax Wide pictures, double the size of the Instax Mini. Both Instax cameras have been around for several years now, and I find them to be both quite well built, though plastic, of course.

Instax has been marketed in various ways. First, there is the ‘fun approach’. Young children love instant pictures; they are fascinated by the pictures as they slowly, as if by magic, appear. Kids (and their parents!) will love it when you give them the pictures to take home, much more than staring at your phone, or the back of your camera. It is great fun at parties – for the young and the old – and the people take home a lasting memory of the event.

Second, Instax is also targeted towards the hipster crowd, male and female; the younger generation of creative people, fashionable, who appreciate the things that really matter. Especially the Mini 90, with its sleek, retro-modern Fujifilm design, seems targeted at young fashionistas and cool, macho hipsters.
There is yet another, more relevant argument to consider: Print It Or Loose It! As this campaign article explains, up to 70 per cent of the youth between 16 and 24 already have lost pictures of important events in their life (due to drive crashes, faulty memory cards, stolen phones etc). Not convinced? Read more about the phenomenon called data rot here. With the Instax camera, you get instantly printed pictures and they will last a lifetime, and beyond. So even in the scenario a global, cataclysmic event, in let’s say 50 years time, your Instax pictures will survive and be a testament to posterity! So here are a couple of my pictures that illustrate how families are likely to take advantage of the Instax cameras.

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None of the Instax cameras have a true manual mode; in fact, I tend to get good results in auto mode, but still the outcome of each shot is quite unpredictable. My Instax Mini 90 has a tendency to slightly overexpose, which can be a nuisance. Also, the flash seems to have a mind of its own, ignoring my input. Both cameras have a fixed aperture (F12), there is no zoom and there is little tweaking possible as far as exposure is concerned: one can darken or lighten a picture, and that is it. The Mini 90 has a built in macro mode which allows the closest distance to be 30 cm. The Instax Wide comes with a macro/selfie clip-on lens. The macro mode is interesting for detailed close ups, and it also allows to create a background blur… sort of.

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I have used both cameras for some weeks now, and I have still not made up my mind which camera I like best: they both have their positive sides, and their drawbacks. The Mini 90 is small and has lots of creative modes (macro mode, party, kids, double exposure, bulb, darken/lighten). The mini pictures are slightly smaller than a credit card. The Instax Wide is much bulkier, ridiculous really, but renders a picture double the resolution and size of the Mini; also, the great Robert Frank, yes the one of the legendary, groundbreaking photographic book ‘The Americans’, owns one and was quoted saying it takes pictures of “very high quality”. Mind you, this Instax 210 costs only about 70 euros… If you can’t seem to choose between the mini and the wide, like me, buy both because they are dirt cheap anyhow!

The Mini 90 has the most creative modes and my favourite is the ‘double exposure’; here are two results. Again, the outcome of the technique is quite unpredictable, which is actually a good thing, because it is all very exciting.

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Really, these Instax cameras stimulate creativity a lot, and soon I was laying out the pictures on my scanner, with various fabrics, cloths and shirts on top them giving this as a result, like a scrapbook. It is great fun, and if you don’t have a scanner, just organise the instants on a nice surface, take out your mobile phone, and take a digital picture of them. Remember: it is likely that the original instant picture will outlive yourself and the digital scan/picture you made of them!

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Admittedly, these two fun, dumbed down, plastic toy cameras had rekindled my photographic enthusiasm! I have even dreamed about them, really! But then I started wondering about how useful they would be in a more serious context. What about the unimpressive latitude/dynamic range of the Instax? And, when you start pixel peeping, these instax pictures are awfully unsharp, aren’t they? So my next step was to look at what could be done with them in post, creating a digitally remastered instant picture! I soon discovered that these Instax prints get even better when you add a bit of sharpness and detail. Then I discovered that they can be easily successfully worked upon in post, with various, very unique results. I prefer using the official Google+ app, these days, for my post work, and usually, adding just a few tweaks and effects, will give quite a spectacular, atmospheric result. Below is a picture I took at Polygon Wood, a World War One cemetery nearby where I live – the Ypres/Passchendaele region in Flanders, Belgium. The first is a scan of the original Instax. Those under that one are various tweaked images I got in Google+. Now, I’m not saying these are masterpieces, but they clearly illustrate my point.

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Finally, I must warn you, dear reader, on at least two points. First, shooting Instax is highly addictive, and it is not a cheap addiction. So before you go out with one of these, make sure you are in a serene, meditative, controlled mood; if not, Instax costs will eat your wallet empty soon enough.
Second, using Instax may open the gate to analogue photography. I may introduce you, like it did with me, to a whole different photographic universe of laid back, slow paced photography… which, of course, is not a bad thing, is it?

Ivan Lietaert,
Belgium

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ivanlietaert/

BUY THE INSTANX AT B&H PHOTO HERE

Jan 022013
 

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A quick look at the “new’ Polaroid Z340 instant print camera by Amy Medina.

So my quick thoughts on my new Polaroid camera…

It’s a “new” Polaroid. I do have a few old-school “real” Polaroids… this one is not that. This is the z340, which is a digital Polaroid and instant printer. It uses something called Zink (Zero Ink) technology (uses heat on special paper) to create a smudge-proof 3×4 photo.

It is also a 14mp digital camera that saves to internal memory or an SD card. The files are somewhat like you’d expect from a half-way decent point-and-shoot, with usable results up to ISO 800 (mostly), though it does shoot at higher than that if needed. I like having the digital “negative” but at the end of the day, this camera is really about instant-printing… and that’s the fun of it.

What I like:

The instant printing. Duh! LOL

You have the option to do it without borders or with the traditional Polaroid border (as seen in earlier examples from today – and below). There are also some other cheesy borders, but they are pretty useless. You even have the ability to upload two of your own custom borders to the camera (via SD card).

It takes about 45 seconds to print. It doesn’t spit the photo out as quick as an old Polaroid does, but it takes less time to “develop”… once it’s out, it’s done, dry and will not smudge. I ever had two of my prints out in the rain today and they are 99% of what they were before they got covered with water-droplets.

Physically, It looks like an old Polaroid camera, but has a nifty digital screen on it. Wish it had a viewfinder thought. It reminds me of the old Polaroid Spectra.

It also has built-in editing, so you don’t HAVE to print the second it takes the photo, or exactly what you already took and see on screen. You can shoot directly in B&W or some vintage color mode; You can also shoot in normal mode and then edit the picture after you shoot it and convert to B&W or one of the vintage color modes. You can also crop and reposition.

There are some basic camera functions… choose ISO or select auto, there’s different metering options, EV compensation and bracketing, different focus modes, different size options, a macro mode, different flash settings, and there’s also a digital zoom or intelligent zoom to choose from.

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Print Quality:

You aren’t going to use this to get the sharpest, most color accurate photos. The idea of it is to mimic an old Polaroid camera. Even when you shoot normal color prints (and the digital files will look typical to any decent pocket camera), there can be some odd color shifts. I’ve heard there is old paper and new paper but I don’t know much about that yet… I used what came with the camera. Sometimes you get streaks. Extreme heat or cold will affect the paper.

I would call the quality of the prints somewhat unique. They have a pleasant soft appearance (that is still somehow sharp, if that makes sense) and reminds me of an old Polaroid film print. The black and white prints truly look like something out of the 60’s or 70’s (and there are two B&W modes… one more contrasty than the other). There’s also a “LOMO” setting to get more saturated colors and a pin-hole effect, which is rather cool if you like that sort of thing ;)

What I think could use improvement:

Needs a real battery charger. The battery charges inside the camera and the whole camera has to be plugged in. However, I wouldn’t lose this feature as it’s nice if you’re just printing (which eats up battery life). It just needs a separate battery charger too. And while Polaroid is at it, they could make the battery and battery compartment a little easier to deal with. Getting the battery out isn’t all that easy.

Zink paper could be a little cheaper I think, even if the camera is just a bit more upfront. Currently, they end up costing about 60 cents per print.

I’d love to see a viewfinder on the camera. The camera is shaped to hold up to the eye, but you can’t really do that.

More “vintage” color options. The ones to pick from are a bit limited. Some customization of them would be nice.

Make the AUCTION MODE shoot at a higher resolution, and call it PHOTO BOOTH. People aren’t going to use this camera for product photography… that’s not the audience. Being able to use it like a photo booth with proper size photos would be AWESOME! If you’re wondering what I’m on about here… easy. This “Auction Mode” shoots 3 or 4 images and combines them onto one photo. Their idea in the manual is for selling stuff on ebay, so they limit the resolution to 640×480 for each photo. I instantly saw this as a photo booth opportunity… and it can work that way currently, but the photos aren’t clear enough when printed because of the resolution limit!

It needs a proper power button. The one on the camera doesn’t feel like it will hold up to the test of time. The other buttons all seem fine.

And lastly, if I choose to shoot with the official Polaroid border, the LCD should show me that, or at least the correct crop. Now, I’m pretty good at judging and guessing, but it doesn’t ALWAYS work out 100% of the time. When the paper costs what it does, I’d like to know what it’s going to look like ahead of time. At the very least, they could offer an option to turn on guidelines in the display (they already have an option for a rule-of-third overlay).

Overall…

It’s just a FUN camera… which is really what it’s meant to be. I posted some photos earlier today which I’ll include again at the bottom of this article to give you an idea of how it might be used in today’s modern age. I can also imagine at a family gathering it’s going to be a blast. I can’t wait to bring it to my in-laws in a couple of weeks! I also like the idea of giving photos to random strangers (which I did today). I’ll be giving more thought on other ways to use it creatively, but I’ve already had a great time using it in just 24 hours. We are a society losing tangible things — mp3 instead of CDs/tapes/albums — PDFs instead of books — and digital files instead of printed photos — I like the touchy-feeling instant nature of this, married to modern technology. It’s just neat.

First shot is just a picture of some of the prints I made, followed by a collage of the digital files straight out of the camera.

Printed Photos (no border)

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The digital “negatives” that came straight out of the camera, most at ISO 800

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The next two are photos I took today with my Fuji XE1, incorporating the Polaroids I had taken into the shot.

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LINK TO SEE PHOTOS BIGGER: You can also see all photos HERE

Feel free to ask any questions… follow me on Facebook (for my Picture-A-Day project and other photography related things). More links below to other ways you can follow me.

My websitehttp://www.DangRabbit.com/Photography

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