Fujifilm brings its instant camera to the US to fill the void left by Polaroid’s disappearing act. Should you care?
“What is that thing?”
“Is that a Polaroid?”
“Wow, that’s huge!”
“Um, Cool camera...?”
When I pulled the Fujifilm Instax 200 out of my camera bag at a recent Sunday excursion to a local minor-league baseball game with a group of friends, jaws dropped. This camera certainly started a lot of conversations. Most of these conversations went along the lines of “Polaroid isn’t making instant film and cameras? Get outa here!” and “Digital is also instant, and a lot less expensive—why would we even need another instant camera?”
And everyone thought it was a Polaroid, at first, until I explained that no, it’s an instant camera made by Fujifilm. Even after this explanation, they continued to refer to it as “Mason’s new Polaroid.” Such is the depth to which the Polaroid brand is seared into our collective consciousness.
To answer the question about the relevance of instant cameras, I took a picture of some kids and handed it to them. I told the parents to watch their kids. Most of these kids (some of them teens!) had never seen or experienced watching an instant photo emerge. The looks of wonder on their faces as the photo gradually took its form are what made me realize that in this age of high-tech and instant gratification, perhaps we’ve lost something. The Instax 200 can help us get that something back, something priceless.
My daughter (in the grey sweater in the photo above) poses with friends before a baseball game. Moments after I took the above shot, I handed it to them, and photographed the teenage girls’ reactions as the watched their first instant photo develop itself right before their eyes! (They had no idea I was photographing them.)
First, some quick, quirky facts:
- The Instax cameras and Instax film have been available in Europe since the late 1990s.
- The instant process is based on Kodak innovations that were said to be improvements over Polaroid’s system—which led to a patent violation lawsuit brought by Polaroid.
- As soon as Polaroid discontinued its line of instant cameras and film, Fujifilm brought the Instax to the US to fill the void.
- Pressure springs built into the Instax back (rather than integrated into the film pack, as was done with Polaroid SX-70 film) simplify film production and reduce the cost of film.
- Instant film photography has a loyal, fanatical following. Fuji knows this.
- Sorry, you can’t use Fujifilm Instax instant film in your old Polaroid camera. They’re incompatible.
Now, let’s look at the camera itself.
The Instax 200 is big. By today’s standards, it’s HUGE. Even compared to a Polaroid SX-70, it’s somewhat bulky. I carried my Instax in an Adorama Slinger camera bag, which was a perfect fit for the Instax, a zoom-lens compact digital camera, and 3 10-exposure packs of Instax 200 instant film.
Down the left side of the camera are four controls and a rounded LED readout that tells you what settings you have selected and how many shots are left in the film pack. A big red power button turns the camera on, and the lens extends out of its housing about 1.5 inches. Focus is divided into two zones: 0.9-3 meters, and 3 meters-infinity. (1 meter is a little longer than a yard). Exposure is optimized for a sunny day, or flash, but you can choose a slight over- or underexposure, and turn the flash on and off. It’s that point-and-shoot easy.
Arrows in the LED window point to which focus and exposure control is currently set, and whether the flash is on or off. Those are really all the options the camera offers.
To load the camera, simply open the back, place the film pack in, and close the back. Easy. Then, take a shot by pressing the generously-sized shutter release and the dark slide, which protects the film from accidental exposure pops out the top of the camera. Now you’re ready to shoot.
Really, that’s all there is to it. Compose using the reverse-Galileo viewfinder, and point and shoot. The 6.2x9.9cm picture comes out the top of the camera, and this is where the magic begins.
2 minutes in the evolution of an Instax instant photo!
Moments after the Instax photo pops out of the top of the camera, the image is blank...
After about 15 seconds, a faint image starts to emerge. At 30 seconds, you can start to make out forms and shapes…
After about a minute, the image is mostly processed, but it’s still light and blue-shifted. The red dyes start to kick in…
After two minutes, colors become more realistic and have more depth. The image continues to develop for a few more minutes minutes, although the changes are more subtle.
Instant camera as a social networking tool
Try this: As soon as you’ve photograph friends or family members, hand them the still-blank picture. Watch their reactions as the photo emerges. Even better: Take a picture of their reactions!
The bottom line
The camera is big, bulky and looks and acts nothing like any digital camera. Its feature set is limited. But, it draws interest. It’s different. Color quality is very good, and image quality is marginally better than Polaroid, although technical perfection is beside the point. If you’re looking to start up conversations and friendships, like to go against the grain, or revel in the simple creative joy of low-tech cameras and high-tech instant film that develops itself right before your eyes, the Fujifilm Instax 200 is a wonderful, simple, accessible camera.
An Instax portfolio
I took a Fujifilm Instax 200 out to a ballgame, between the Somerset (NJ) Patriots (managed by former Yankee pitching ace Sparky Lyle) and the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish (managed by Tommy John—yes, the very person Tommy John Surgery is named after). I gave away a lot of pictures, and made some new friends! Here are a few pictures I was able to keep…
Photographs for Adorama by Mason Resnick
QUESTION: Are you looking for a replacement for your soon-to-be-defunct Polaroid? Will the Instax do it for you? Leave a comment, below!
© 2009 Adorama Camera, Inc.