“That’s right – when I was your age, phones were stuck to the wall and you had to dial phone numbers using this big, er, dial!”
It’s endless fun. One of my favourites is reminding them that there was a time when screaming “let me see!” after someone takes a photo simply wasn’t an option.
Because my kids live with a tech editor father, they aren’t surprised when I come home with yet another shiny new gadget. You might even say they’re blasé about it. But when I brought home my review copy of Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 7s, I knew I held in my possession the power to amaze. Not because the Instax Mini is the latest and greatest, but precisely because it isn’t.
I sat down at the dining room table and pulled the chunky and somewhat bulbous-looking camera from my bag and beckoned both children to come closer. They’re so used to having a camera in their faces (I confess to being an unrelenting documentarian of our family in both photo and video) that they both instantly pulled their usual photo poses: My daughter dutifully smiled angelically while my son managed to contort his features into a face that, well, kind of makes you want to call a doctor.
Just as instantly, I snapped the photo. Then the unthinkable happened. Instead of that frozen moment in time appearing on a screen on the back of the camera, a small rectangular document emerged from the top.
The double-take that both kids executed was priceless. I wish I had had the presence of mind to capture it on video.
30 years ago, this was the quintessential Polaroid moment. Back then, everyone who witnessed what had just happened knew what came next: you grab the white-and-black flexible card and shake it in the air (to this day I still don’t know why we did this) and then wait – often impatiently – for the photo to emerge from the layers of chemicals embedded in the print.
But to a child who has never been photographed with anything other than digital technology, this was a new experience. Realizing I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do a “magic trick”, I asked the kids to step closer, placed the freshly snapped print on the table and proceeded to wave my hand mystically in the air over it. A few nonsensical incantations later and the image appeared.
My daughter rewarded my efforts with a giggle while my son, who was given a photo printer for Christmas this year, said “Cool, make me one too!” He was nonplussed to learn that not only was there no digitally-preserved version of the photo; there was no way to print any more – unless we took the same photo again.
Which brings us to the real question: Why, in this age of digital photography, when we never have to live with a photo that isn’t to our liking, or spend money printing an image we might not want to keep, would we want to bring back the instant-print cameras of days gone by?
The answer is simple: It’s still fun after all these years.
While the uses for an instant camera like the Instax Mini and it’s bigger brother the Instax 210, are limited only by the imagination, parties are the most obvious time to pull one of these cameras out and start shooting.
The memories can be shared immediately and unlike digital photos which can make their way onto the web with ridiculous ease, instant photos tend to stay in the real world where they are enjoyed by a select few – which is kind of the point.
The Instax Mini 7s, ($80.99 at Amazon.ca) when compared to modern point-and-shoots, is laughably big, and possessed of so few buttons and settings you’re tempted to start looking for hidden hatches. Other than the shutter-release button, there is only a small selector switch that lets you choose between 4 shooting modes including indoor, outdoor-cloudy, outdoor-sunny and outdoor-really-sunny. There isn’t even a power button – this is accomplished by pulling the lens out manually from its retracted/closed position.
The built-in flash fires for every shot, regardless of the shooting mode. When indoors, it’s a necessity but like most built-in flashes, its range maxes out at about 4 feet.
The prints are a credit-card sized 3.5”x2” with a generous white border that is slightly thicker on one side – just like the classic Polaroid prints you remember. Even the colours and skin-tones plus deep depth of field that kind of flattens the image all feels just like the original. You buy them in 10-print cartridges – which are going for $10 on Amazon.ca.
One thing that you will quickly find if you do a little googling, is that Polaroid themselves markets a camera in the U.S. called the ‘300’, which as far as I’ve been able tell, is a total clone of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s. When I called Fujifilm to ask what the story was, they kept the answer short and a little mysterious: Yes, Polaroid and Fujifilm have a partnership but the details are under wraps. Why the cloak and dagger? Who knows. My guess is that they want to keep the two brands very separate, to the point where they don’t sell the two cameras in the same market. Polaroid owns the U.S. while Fujifilm seems to be everywhere else.
On this note, Fujifilm claims that the Polaroid 300 film will not work in the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s. But I find that highly unlikely. If you ever find yourself in the U.S. with your Instax and in need of film, I say go ahead and pick up the Polaroid product. It’s probably made my Fujifilm anyway. I mean look at the cameras – they’re identical.
Get retro and have some fun. It’s what the Instax was made for.