Instant photography refuses to die and Fujifilm is helping keep it alive with its funky Instax Mini cameras which help emphasise the fun factor. Report by Paul Burrows.

Fujifilm’s Instax instant photography system has been relaunched in Australia because, well, demand never really went away. The Instax Mini 7S is certainly eye-catching and the Australian model is a cool all-white without the coloured accents seen here.

After the demise of the original Polaroid (today’s operation simply bought the licence to use the brand), it looked like instant photography might soon be consigned to history. But instant photography is addictive and worldwide demand has been such that a private venture even recommissioned an old Polaroid manufacturing plant in Enschede (The Netherlands) and has begun making new SX70 and Series 600 films. It’s been estimated that around 300 million Polaroid cameras would still be in use around the world if film was more easily available.

The camera is switched on and off by extending and retracting the lens barrel.

Perhaps even more remarkable is that a company like Fujifilm with its huge commitment to digital imaging (and lab equipment to make photographic prints from digital files) has maintained support for its instant photography system called Instax. This means you can still buy a brand new instant camera (rather than a refurbished classic) and – perhaps more importantly – also find a ready supply of film. In the dying years of the Polaroid empire, the company tried to prolong things with a number of novelty cameras such as the i-Zone and the Popshots (which was a disposable). The tiny instant prints delivered by the i-Zone camera were a big hit for a while, but ultimately too small to hold back the onslaught from digital imaging. Fujifilm’s Instax Mini format uses the same idea, but the prints are much bigger – “credit card size” is how they’re promoted. However, the Instax Mini cameras are just as funky (although obviously bigger too) and the 7S is quirky with it... which means it’s the perfect camera for anybody seeking refuge from the clinical sterility of digital capture. Fujifilm Australia recently decided to relaunch the Instax instant photo system locally and the first new products available are the Mini format 7S and the larger format Instax 210 which delivers a semipanoramic image sized at 62x99 mm.

Space Saver

The Instax Mini cartridges contain ten self-developing prints which are 54x86 mm in size with an image area of 46x62 mm. The prints have a sensitivity of ISO 800.

Styling-wise, the Instax Mini 7S looks a bit like Yogi Bear’s head thanks to the ovoid-shaped lens housing and a bulging, cheek-like handgrip. The model selling in Australia is all white (without the coloured accents seen on the test camera) and so you do get the feel that preiPhone/ Pod/Pad-age school girls are the target market, but don’t be put off if you’re not in this particular demographic.

After exposure the Instax Mini prints are ejected from the top of the camera and then take around 90 seconds to actually develop (depending on the ambient temperature).

The tech-head element of the 7S is centred on just how Fujifilm packs it all into such a compact bodyshell given the Instax instant print system works on the same principle at Polaroid’s 600- series. This means the camera has to hold the film pack and the motor for ejecting the prints as well as all the other important bits (like a lens, viewfinder and built-in flash). What’s more, the Instax Mini pack doesn’t have its own battery so the 7S is powered by a quartet of space-hungry AA-size cells. Fujifilm’s approach is to orientate the film pack vertically so the prints exit from the top of the camera. The batteries are housed in the handgrip which is why it actually gives you something substantial to hang onto. Of course, by digital compact camera standards, the Instax Mini 7S is a monster, but then none of these can deliver you a 54x86mm colour print in under two minutes. If you want immediate results beyond simply seeing the image on a monitor screen then instant photography has it all over digital capture. Of course, the print is a one-off, but then for many that’s always been the appeal of these cameras.

In A Flash

The Instax Mini pack contains ten self-developing prints with a sensitivity of ISO of 800. The cartridge simply drops into the camera after you first align a pair of yellow index marks. After closing the camera back, pressing the shutter button ejects the cartridge’s protective cover and you’re ready to go. Manually pulling the lens barrel out of the camera body switches the 7S on and you’re then treated to a little LED light show around the selector dial (which is positioned alongside the print ejection slot). A set of alternating red LEDs show while the flash is charging up and these are then followed by a green LED to signal the camera is ready. Fujifilm’s Instax cameras have essentially the same exposure control system as was developed for the Polaroid 600-series models which means the flash unit is always charged and sensors ensure an accurate balance of flash and available light. The 7S offers the choice of four exposure ‘settings’ – ‘Indoor/Dark’, ‘Cloudy/Shady’, ‘Fine’ and ‘Clear’ – which are all related to just how much flash is used. The difference between the last two is essentially moderate sunlight versus bright sunlight, but be aware the flash fires all the time regardless of how much available light is around.

The exposure system actually works pretty well and our test exposures were mostly always pretty spot-on. What’s more, the balanced flash helps with both enhancing the colour saturation, maintaining a neutral colour balance and, of course, providing fill-in illumination.

After being ejected from the camera, the prints take about 90 seconds to develop and then another few minutes to ‘cure’ to the final colour saturation and exposure. During the ejection process a set of rollers break open a pod of powerful developer which is then dispersed very thinly and evenly. Consequently, like any Polaroid self-developing prints, the Instax versions can’t be cut, folded, punched or peeled apart, but they’re otherwise pretty durable.