Well, I did it again – I came across a review on Phoblographer about the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S a few days ago, and wouldn’t you know I went out Wednesday afternoon and bought one.
Surprised? Of course you’re not.
There are several different models of these hipster-centric, cutesy mini versions of the old-school Instamatic cameras we all had back in the day.
Well, some of us still have them.
I was at least smart enough to go with the cheapest version available, which is the 7S (I found it for $55 at Best Buy). It was released in 2010, and was upgraded with a Mini 8 a few years later (which you can find for around $75-$80 online). There is also a pretty fancy model that has a less child’s-toy look and more cool features – the 90 Neo Classic – but that one is a bit overpriced at $200 considering the added features don’t amount to much more manual control over how shots actually turn out.
The camera is plastic, the controls are simple and few, it’s powered by four AA batteries, and the flash is always gonna fire. In other words, aside from the rather space-agey form factor, this is your mama’s old-school Polaroid shrunk down and given a cheery paint job (white was all Best Buy had, but I really prefer the pastel options offered – especially the yellow).
Four light adjustments – Indoors, Cloudy, Fine, and Bright. Switch to one of the four, then hit the shutter. Yep.
Now, the camera produces images using this thing called film, so I had to buy some of that. And Best Buy only had one box of two film cartridges, with ten shots on each cartridge. So for $20 I got to take twenty shots – that’s right, $1 per shot. This is probably about the same cost Grandma paid for photos with her old Instamatic in the 80’s too, so I am OK with the expense. But, there sure was pressure to take a perfect shot every time, since once those film trays ran out, I was done for the day; my standards did lower considerably when I had no choice but to deem every shot acceptable or lose money. Sadly, I still had to take practice shots to learn how to use the thing, so I basically threw twenty bucks down the drain testing this little guy out.
The film pops out of the top, unlike Granny’s camera that spit the print out at the bottom.
The camera is a mini, so the prints are too – vertical in orientation, they’re half the size of photos from the original cameras, if I’m being generous. But that’s part of what makes the whole experience so damn cute.
Know what else makes it cute? Pets.
Now for what is not so cute: visual displacement, first of all. Having not shot non-digital since the 1990’s (and rarely having taken photos then), I forgot about the fact that what I see through the viewfinder is not actually what the camera lens is focusing on, because the two are not connected to each other. This is corrected on digital cameras, but here you have to remember to think about where the lens is pointing, and not what you’re seeing through the viewfinder. When you don’t remember this, you waste $20 of film for shots like this:
Yep, it’s an Instamatic picture of Simon chewing on an Instamatic picture of himself. Is that meta?
When I saw that I’d managed to get my selfies framed properly but not any of my other shots, I realized what was going on. When I took selfies I aimed the lens squarely at my face instead of the viewfinder, and it finally made sense. Now, the fact that Simon looks like he is sitting on the edge of a giant pizza is the other not-cute thing: no real control over lighting and exposure or pretty much anything (and forget about autofocus), so the best laid plans might render a blown-out blurry poorly-framed photo regardless. In spite of what it’ll cost you, you do have to make a lot of mistakes to figure out how to best use this camera; for most of my first shots, let’s just say I did not use it to the best of its abilities and call it a day.
Instamatic picture of an Instamatic camera – that has to be meta, right?
Where I could see this little toy being useful is in social situations like family gatherings or, in my case, at the school where I work. I called it hipster-centric because I’m pretty sure a camera like this is a blast when bar-hopping, or doing whatever else it is hipsters do. Where this gets weird for me is when using this, I’ll be taking a bunch of photos that I immediately give away without any digital record of them. The way I got these photos was, believe it or not, to lie them down on a black blanket, ,take high-quality photos of them, and then process them – something I will not be doing again as it was a time-consuming PITA.
It did however lead to this, which I probably will do again.
But I love the idea of this camera in its own right, and I am interested by the completely different experience I can have shooting with it when I am in the right environment to do so. No thinking from the start how I will edit a photo or where I will share it, or what I will write about it on my blog. No taking numerous shots to get the ideal one I’ll process and perfect later. This is immediate, somewhat-crappy, just-for-the-fun-of-it photography, and I think the coolest part of it is that I’ll be giving most of it away. It feels free and friendly and completely without self-interest. And yeah, the photos I do take of myself are far from my usually closely-controlled idea of perfection.
See what happens when I aim the lens in the right place?
Much like the purchase of this camera brought back nostalgic memories for the Instamatic cameras of old (I had no idea we still owned one; my husband informed me of this and found it in a drawer) I think the Instax Minis create little memories on the spot; you snap the moment, you wait for it to unfold, then you send it out into the world, either by pinning it onto a bulletin board, sliding it into a wallet, or more likely, handing it to a friend and sending it on its way. No permanent file created, no pressure, nothing to deal with after the fact. It’s immediate and permanent at the same time, without the pressure to perfect it the way digital photography creates (at least for me). You do the best you can to preserve something, and then it’s done, one way or another. Not a bad occasional way for an obsessive-perfective photographer to spend an afternoon with a camera, no? There’s got to be something I can learn from it.
Like how to use Pixlr to spruce up a less-than-stellar photo? Oh wait, I knew how to do that already.
And speaking of that old Polaroid One-Stop 600, my curiosity about this whole instant film resurgence led to some research which revealed that film is still being made for those old cameras – at $25 for an 8-exposure pack, true, but still. The film is out there, and I have one of these old cameras, and you know at some point I’m going to be buying some of that stuff.
Apparently the film for the old cameras takes a whopping thirty minutes for one photo to develop fully, but this is not the case for the new Fujifilm ones as my shots only took a few. But I must say that waiting for the photo to reveal itself inside that bright white square brought up major waves of nostalgia. And of course I had to wave them around as if that actually sped up the process (did that ever help?) which made me think of the Outkast song “Hey Ya” instructing everyone to “shake it like a Polaroid picture” and then I had it stuck in my head the rest of the day.
Remember the little window that told you how many shots you had left? Yep.
So I’ll be out there from time to time, using my little Instax 7S camera (unless I give in and buy one of the newer models), and I won’t be creating any digital files out of the results, and my followers on Flickr won’t know about it, and neither will you, blog readers. And maybe that’s how it should be – this little camera will be my own well-kept secret from the virtual world, known only to my real-life followers. Of which there are no more than a few, to be sure, but at $1 a photo that’s probably for the best.