Instax 7S, with Holga lens adapter.
There probably aren’t many hipsters or film camera enthusiasts that don’t know about Polaroids – the magical photo box that spits out instant nostalgia. Well, for the last few years, Fujifilm has been working away at bringing back all that fun with their Instax range. There are now a huge range of models under the Instax family name (including Rilakkuma, Kath Kidston and Hello Kitty versions), but one of the first massively popular models was the Mini 7S, which was kindly gifted to me a while ago. The Mini 7S has a 60mm lens and a fixed shutter speed of 1/60s. The film is apparently rated at ISO800, which makes sense given that you’ll be shooting indoors and outdoors.
And man oh man, is it a blast to use. The camera spits out charm-filled credit-card sized photos that will develop in front of your eyes. It may also lead to hilarious arguments from friends about whether you should leave it in the light or leave it in the dark for optimal image quality. I can tell you now that it makes no difference, but back in the day, the Polaroids needed to be developed in a dark bag. Back to the point, the camera is also dead easy to use. The Mini 7S takes 4x AA batteries, which is super convenient – keep in mind that some of the other models take strange battery types, but those cameras are also smaller.
Operation of the 7S is dead easy, too. Drop the batteries in, put in the film cartridge, pull the lens outwards, wait for it to charge and you’re good to go. Pulling the lens out conveniently doubles functions as a power-on trigger, and retracting it turns it off. Neat! You only really have one thing to worry about, which is the aperture setting.
The actual dial is at the top, but this diagram explains it well. The little black circle at the bottom right helps you keep track of how many shots you’ve taken/have left
Basically, you just flick the indicator to the corresponding level of light around you. The back of the Instax has a handy sticker that does a pretty good job of explaining how it all works, but the symbols are fairly self explanatory anyway. For all you camera geeks out there, they apparently correspond to the following aperture values:
- Indoor – f/12.7
- Cloudy – f/16
- Fine – f/22
- Sunny – f/32
One thing to keep in mind is that the built-in flash will always fire, no matter what setting you have it on. You will want to make sure you have the right aperture setting though, otherwise it will turn out to be quite over/underexposed. For example:
The above photo was taken on the cloudy setting. As you can see, there was way too much light around for that and the photo has turned out super overexposed. Here’s the same photo, after fiddling with the aperture settings:
As you can see, it looks far, far better, with more detail. When you buy an Instax, you’ll have to expect to have a lot of photos turn out weird. For one, there’s obviously no built-in light meter or anything like that, so you kind of have to just look around and make your best guess at the which cute icon best represents the available light. As above, you’ll get it wrong. A lot. Secondly, the viewfinder (which is portrait by default. super cool) doesn’t do the best job at actually matching up to what you see. There’s also no macro mode, which may or may not bother you, so you’ll want to be at least ~0.8m away from your subject.
But you know what? That’s all part of the joy of shooting film anyway. Besides, all of these niggling issues pale in comparison to the pure joy being able to combine the joy of shooting film with the instant gratification of digital cameras. Not to mention the super cool factor of bringing it to social gatherings and being able to hand out photos on the spot.
One of the smartest business moves that Fujifilm made is that they’ve kept the technology the same through all the Mini models, which means that you can use the same film in any of them. This also means that there is a huge range of frames that you can buy to spruce up your photos. I like the classic white border, but that is far from your only choice. You can get anything from the licensed ones like Winnie the Pooh, Disney Princesses, Rilakkuma, Marvel, Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, through to pattern frames like the dalmation spots, stripes, dots, etc. The film can be expensive to buy locally depending on where you live, but it’s not too bad if you shop smart on eBay and buy in bulk.
There are also more accessories than you could shake several sticks at. If you look at the top photo, I’ve got a Holga lens adapter on it, which allows the Instax to hook into a couple of Holga lenses (wide and tele), but I’ll go into that in different post.
Overall, the Instax Mini 7S has brought more to the table that I was expecting. It’s dead simple to use, spits out fun photos, and works pretty well under a wide range of light. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is oodles and oodles of fun to use. And at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.