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No filter: Why I dumped digital pictures for Instax on vacation

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Without fail, whenever I break out my FujiFilm Instax 210 wide instant camera at a gathering, the following happens:

1. People laugh and make a joke about its size (it’s gargantuan).

2. I take a picture and show it to them.

3. People ask me how much the camera costs and where they can get one.

The Instax is so much fun that it’s my camera of choice now. The image quality is fantastic, and funny enough, having an instant picture printed on the spot has made my photo sharing more social.

Wax is for Instax
The Instax is basically a Polaroid camera. Click the button, and it spits out a shiny print out of the top of the body (hat tip to Brian Lam’s The Wirecutter for introducing me to it).

Part of the immediate appeal is that the Instax 210 Wide is cheap, just $55 over at Amazon. The film is pricey, costing just under a buck a print (film is sold in “twin packs” of 20 total prints).

I will tell you up front that there are a ton of reasons to not get this camera. It’s ridiculously bulky, coming in at 4.6 x 7 x 3.7 inches and weighing 9.8 ounces. Unless you break out your old Hammer pants, there is no pocket big enough for the Instax. It’s clunky as hell to carry around — feels like you’re dragging a novelty anchor around your neck. There’s a lag between when you press the button and when the picture is taken. It can be hard to focus, and is abysmal in low light.

But it. is. awesome. So much so that on a recent vacation to Hawaii the Instax was my primary camera.

Shoot to thrill
Using the Instax requires an entirely new mindset when taking pictures. First, there is no preview. No screen shows you what you’re about to shoot — you have to press the button and give a silent prayer to the photo gods that you have the right amount of light, people are framed OK, and what you want is in focus.

It also redues the number of photos you take (a buck per print will make you think twice). With iPhones and digital cameras it’s expected that you take hundreds of pictures, mostly because there’s no reason not to and the law of averages says that at least one picture will turn out the way you want it to.

You have to let all that go with the Instax.

Instead of trying to take a picture of everything, I was more selective. What moments were most special? This meant that I missed out on some spontaneous photo opps, but I honestly don’t remember those and cherish the ones I did take.

Share printer?
Having pinched and zoomed through so many pictures over the past few years, there is something wonderful about holding a an actual, physical print. You don’t swipe through it. You can’t throw a filter on it. You can’t post it online for hundreds of friends to see.

You hold it. Pore over it. Stick it on a wall. Or best of all — hand it to someone.

And this is how using the Instax has made my photo taking more social.

Some of that is fleeting small talk. “It’s a camera… Yeah, it is huge… No, it’s not an antique, I bought it a few months ago.”

But then I ask them to smile and I take a picture. We chat as we wait for the small white square to fill in with a vibrant color image (fingers crossed).

And then I give it to them. “Keep it.” I think it’s an odd situation for most people. Like they aren’t sure what to do with it. I’m handing them something — not a link, not a file, not an email address. But the smile on their face is worth more than a million “likes” on any social network.

Tips and tricks
If you’re interested in trying out the tao of Instax, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up to create better images:

  • If you’re going to get close, use the “macro” “lens” (it clips on to the front) and set the focal length to infinity. This gets your pics in focus.
  • Always use the Flash indoors.
  • Even if it’s bright outside, if your subject is in a shadow, use the flash

The Instax is great, but I haven’t given up on digital entirely. My iPhone is always with me and is still perfect for catching something crazy that my 2-year-old does spur of the moment. And I use a higher-end camera to take pictures and video for work. But I’m hooked on the instant. I want to try out the Lomo Diana (and all those toy lenses) with the Instax attachment, but have read that doesn’t work very well (let me know if your experience says otherwise).

7 Responses to “No filter: Why I dumped digital pictures for Instax on vacation”

  1. It takes more time to get used to the Lomo Diana Instant Back+ and to get the exposure right. If you are using flash, you have to set the aperture to Sunny for objects 0.8m away. For things 2m+ away, you’ll have to set it to cloudy. When it comes to manual cameras, it’s all trial and (expansive) error.

  2. Ordered one immediately after reading this article. I got it in the mail last night and brought it to my adult kickball league game. It was raining, so it stayed in the car until after. But it was definitely a big hit at the bar. I think this is going to be a lot of fun for group events and parties!

  3. If you can get your hands on an Instax 500AF you’ll be even more thrilled. It’s a bit neater and lighter than the other Instax wide-format film cameras, (200 and 210), it’s got self-portrait, you can turn off the flash, and you can focus, press a button and refocus before taking the shot. As I’m sure you know, the AF stands for autofocus, from .6 m. to infinity.