Getting Started: A Guide to Instant Cameras

  Polaroids are the coolest, hippest thing at the moment, right? 

Polaroids are the coolest, hippest thing at the moment, right? 

Instant cameras were designed to capture the most memorable moments and to produce a photograph instantly to share with your friends or family. From the original Polaroid Land series to the modern Fuji Instax series, the same principle still stands, although the price tag might be different.

The biggest change in the Instant Photography industry occurred when Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and discontinued its production of instant cameras and film. Polaroid shut down its factories around the world, and the original Polaroid film formula was lost.

In an attempt to recreate the Polaroid formula, The Impossible Project (now Polaroid Originals) launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 - to fund their research and development of the original Polaroid SX-70 and SX-600 film, and to purchase an old Polaroid factory. They have yet to perfect the film, but it’s pretty much 80% near perfect at the moment - some may argue differently.

You’re probably thinking, why not pick up an original Polaroid fold camera like the SX-70 or the SX-600 and use this new near perfect Polaroid Original's film? Well, the price of film from Polaroid Originals is considerably more expensive than to Polaroid’s original film. The price of one pack of Polaroid Originals film is around £17.00 for 8 shots, whereas the original Polaroid film contained 10 shots and was much cheaper. The increase in price is due to The Impossible Project only having one factory which is producing the chemicals, the negatives, etc - whereas Polaroid had numerous factories around the world, each with a specific production purpose.

That’s enough about the history and the pricing of the film.

POLAROID ORIGINALS

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Polaroid Originals offers a wide range of film skins and accessories which Polaroid did not originally offer. Polaroid Originals offers skins such as; circular frames, animal prints, colour frames, floral frames ( Frangipani, and Fuschia), and even a bird frames. You can also pick up a wide range of accessories for your Polaroid cameras such as a flash bar with colour gels, and a set of lenses - that contains a wide range of lenses from fish eye, close up, ND, etc. 

Although Polaroid Original's formula is nearly perfect, it takes up to 30 minutes to develop, and the results from each batch still varies. Bare this in mind, the results won’t be picture/colour perfect photos, but photos with a slight blue-ish or yellow-ish tone, sometimes with undeveloped streaks. It will take a few packs of film for you to get used to producing consistent results.

Is the wide range of accessories and film available worth the up-marketed price of an almost perfect film? 

FUJI INSTAX

 

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Fujifilm has released their own version of instant cameras and film. They have a wide range of camera and film available that rivals Polaroid Original’s line up. Currently there’s the Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 (a basic instant camera), the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 (similar to the Mini 8 but with more functions such as; a double exposure mode, macro mode, a self timer, and the ability to turn off flash which the Mini 8 lacked), and the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 (a much larger camera that shoots wide film).

Fuji’s film formula is perfect, it captures colours and tones truly as seen. The film is considerably inexpensive compared to The Polaroid Original's - the cheapest I found the Fuji Instax Mini film was £13 for 20 shots on Amazon. There’s a wide range of film skins available like; Candy Pop, Comic, Dalmatian, Rainbow, Shiny Star, Stained Glass, and Wedding. 

The main downside I’ve come across with Fuji’s Instax is the size of the film, they’re very small - sort of like a business card size. They’re great if it’s for something personal, but for a professional project, the quality isn’t there. 

LOMO’INSTANT

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Lomography’s answer to the Fujifilm Instax is… an instant camera which also uses Fujifilm’s Instax film. To be fair, the Lomo’Instant does have new features over the Fujifilm Instax series, the ability to attach accessories such as flash gels, or to mount several lenses like; a wide angle lens (which is built in), a portrait lens, a close up lens and a fisheye lens. The Lomo’Instant also has multiple shooting modes, the ability to control flash, long exposure mode, and a ‘creative mode’.

Lomo’Instant could be considered an upgrade from the Fujifilm Instax series with the ability to mount different lenses and attach flash gels. The only problem I’ve had with it, is the bulkiness. It’s a slightly weird shape and a bit too big for me to carry around or even bring to a party. 

Sadly, the cost of one of these cameras is around £119 (Inc lens set, because without it - you might as well get an Instax) or even more for a different camera skin.

POLAROID SNAP CAMERA

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Polaroid (yes, the actual company Polaroid) announced their new Polaroid Snap instant camera. The difference between the Polaroid Snap camera compared to Fujifilm’s and the old Polaroid cameras, is the Zero Ink printing technology. Fujifilm and Polaroid Originals films uses chemicals in their film which raises the cost the film, but the Zero Ink paper is much more inexpensive in comparison. 

The quality of the images produced through the Zero Ink printing technology is a lot higher than Fujifilm’s Instax, and Polaroid Originals film (arguably, because different batches of film produce different results). 

However - there’s always a however, you have to be expecting it by now - there’s no traditional white border around the photos. How will people differentiate it as a Polaroid instead of a really small high quality print? The inner hipster inside of me is going batshit crazy. Would the high quality make up for the lack of nostalgia of having an authentic Polaroid picture? - I use the term nostalgia very loosely here, as I was born in ‘95 and I can’t really say I grew up with Polaroid.

 

CONCLUSION

  A fraction from my wall of Polaroids

A fraction from my wall of Polaroids

This is where writers usually give a very anti-climatic answer to what product you should get. They’re all good instant cameras, built for different purposes, with different results. I will give some useful advice (for once in this article…).

If you’re planning to get a camera to shoot Fujifilm Instax film, get the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90. I’m going with the Instax Mini 90 because I have the camera and I’m biased. The Mini 90 is very rugged, I’ve dropped mine from head height 4 or 5 times, and it still works fine. It has many more functions and modes that the Mini 8 does not have. It’s cheaper (even when bought with film), and it isn’t as bulky as the Lomo’Instant. 

If you’re set on using Polaroid Original's film because you obviously go on holiday in St. Barts, drink Grey Goose as casually as I drink tap water, and can afford £16 for 8 shots, get the Polaroid SX-600. Why? The camera is so so so much cheaper than the SX-70 even when you purchase a refurbished version. I bought the SX-70 for around £260, whereas the SX-600 is around £90. The film speed of the SX-600 is around ISO 600, and the film speed for the SX-70 is ISO 100 - which limits where you can shoot with the SX-70. Trust me, it will be impossible (pun intended) to photograph your hip roof garden parties with just the SX-70 on its own. 

Also, there’s so much more variety of film available for it. With a larger variety of skins (a previous one being a black and yellow film collab with Third Man Records), and a larger variety of cameras available (seriously, there’s so many types of SX-600 cameras, even a Barbie one!).

If you have any questions, leave a comment below. Also, let me know your thoughts and experiences with these cameras.

This post is from the archives of Eight Magazine