Fujifilm Instax 200

Fujifilm Instax 200

The Instant Camera Alternative

by George Schaub

When Polaroid dropped out of the instant camera business it left lots of Polaroid camera owners holding the (camera) bag. Without the dedicated film, Polaroids became instant paper weights, interesting items for the MOPO (Museum of Photographic Obsolescence.) When Fujifilm recently announced they would be bringing instant film to our shores—they held the rights to make instant film in Japan—there was a quick glimmer of hope among Polaroid users that was quickly extinguished once it became clear that the instant film Fujifilm was introducing was proprietary to their camera alone. Nevertheless, here was an instant film system for those who just had to have their images developed on the spot.

The camera and film system they introduced—dubbed instax 200—turns out to be a largish plastic camera (7 x 3.7 x 4.6 inches, about 1.4 lbs) that kicks out a 2.44 x 3.89 image area print (larger with borders holding the developing goo.) When turned on the lens protrudes about another 2.5 inches. The film is loaded in the back and comes out of a top slot. There’s a comfortable hand grip on the side, with a built-in flash that shows little evidence of red-eye but that creates a true tunnel look to interiors with any background. The controls are simple enough—you can force flash if needed; you set one of two shooting distances (about a foot to 10 ft—the flash range--or 10 ft to infinity) and can, after the image is made on the ISO 800 film, choose to lighten or darken the next and subsequent shots. That dual-distance scale does allow you to make some basic decisions about depth of field, but only if you set the closer distance range and the main subject is close enough and the distance far enough in the background.

After exposure you wait about a minute for the image to fully develop but of course you can take another shot from the 10-shot pack film (sold as a twin pack for $28.99 retail or $1.45 per.) The operation is smooth and simplicity itself in this $69.99 (retail) camera.

I photographed with the camera but got the most fun when I handed it off to some kids who had never seen a Polaroid develop before; it was like the magic we older folks felt when we saw our first prints coming up in the developing tray. In fact, the kids eschewed their digital point and shoots (at least for the usual kid attention span time) for the novelty of getting actual prints quicker than even their docking digicams could provide and had quite a few giggles watching their friends slowly emerge from a blank white field.

Pictures were sharp enough given the fact that all instant film has fairly low resolving power and colors were true and vivid. Shooting flash indoors was fine for close subjects, but because there’s no way to set sync speed the backgrounds beyond the main subject do a very quick fade to black. In all honesty this also results from shooting many digicams on Program without setting a slower sync speed, but here, at $1.45 a pop, you don’t feel in the mood to have to reshoot or even reset the light/dark controls when you want to improve on an available (non-flash) shot.

I suppose there are those who still see the charms of an instant print system, though we all know that digital killed the instant print star. There are still functional reasons for instant as well, for quick insurance, real estate and record keeping shots, and kids do seem to have fun with the camera. And you have to admit that it certainly is an original, one-of-a-kind image, something purists and MFA photography students who yearn for that sort of thing will like. But you cannot do transfers or burnishing with this setup, once another artistic reasoning for using instant film. At these per print charges you probably need a very good reason to go the instant film route though, as I said, “functional” photographers who need a quick snap on the spot may find it more useful than a digicam.

According to Fujifilm, “All Fujifilm instant films imported into the US are professional grade films, and therefore are sold only to dealers and photo labs that support the professional photography market. Fujifilm instant films may be purchased at the same locations that sell traditional Fujifilm professional film.”

So, while I salute Fujifilm for maintaining a venerable photographic medium and filling a void that some folks might feel in their photographic tool kit, I have to wonder whether re-introducing an instant film system now is a case of closing the barn door after the horse has long ago left the stall.