Instant film is the largest selling film in the world right now, with over 95% of film purchased being of the instant variety. Today we take a brief look at why you need an Instant camera to compliment your digital camera.
What is an instant film camera?
The name is a little misleading in one respect. Basically, an instant film camera allows you to take a photograph and the instant you press the shutter release, the image will be produced and pop out of your camera on film. That is the instant part, as after that, it can take around 90 seconds or more for the film to then develop.
Instant film cameras are made by Fujifilm (who own 99% of the instant film market, and for a very good reason), Polaroid and Kodak among others, although Fujifilm with its Instax cameras and Polaroid are the most similar in the technology they use.
Why do I need an instant camera?
As a photographer, it’s always good to push yourself to become a better photographer. There are a number of ways that using an instant camera can help you appreciate the skills of photography, more than any other form of photography
Firstly, instant film has a very low tolerance of different intensities of light, and compared to other film stocks, it has quite a low dynamic range. Because of this, you really have to think about the conditions you are shooting in. The cameras need light, and loads of it, and many of them don’t allow you to even turn off the flash. Master this, and understanding light and dynamic range on other cameras becomes a breeze.
The cameras are usually fixed focal lengths, with a viewfinder that’s generally slightly off parallax to your image depending on how far away they are. It once again forces you to think about your composition, and photography is all about composition!
Because there’s a cost involved, you have to think about every image you take, a great reason to slow down when compared to photographing using a digital camera.
I believe the biggest factor in why you need an instant camera though is quite simply because they are so much fun, and you’ll fall in love with photography even more. You have all the benefits of an analogue looking image, complete with all the imperfections that that can bring, plus the bonus of instant gratification of the digital world. It’s a win win situation!
Are instant cameras any good though?
An image speaks a thousand words, and that’s particularly true of instant film. When you look at the results of instant film, the image will take you back to the time and place in a way a clinical digital image never can.
As mentioned, dynamic range is not what you’re used to, there’s generally no focusing, so that can be hit or miss, the viewfinders can make it hard to get your composition perfect at times and the film is expensive to purchase even compared to buying and developing 34mm film. But, and it’s a huge BUT… There’s a charm to the images that can’t be recreated anywhere else.
What do I recommend?
There are a huge selection of instant film cameras available. Fujifilm make their Instax range (available in mini, square and wide formats), Polaroid have their Now+, OneStep and Go ranges (plus more they’ve discontinued) and Kodak have their Mini Shot, Printomatic and Smile range.
I currently own Fujifilm Instax mini and square cameras, plus have owned many Polaroid instant cameras. I ruled out the Kodak range due to its different printing technology over Fujifilm and Polaroid so I’ll let you read up on that particular format.
For people who just want fun with the family, I highly recommend a Fujifilm Instax mini camera. The images are small, and can fit nicely into a wallet, so you can hand them out to your friends and they can have keepsakes wherever they go. The cameras are also very small and can fit in your pockets. I use the Instax Mini 70, but there is a huge selection of mini cameras, the choice is yours on colour, design and budget!
For people who still want the fun, but also want to take more serious images, I recommend the SQ series of square film. This film seems to have slightly better characteristics, and the film is approximately the size of two mini films side by side. I own the SQ6, and there’s a good reason I chose this over other models. It’s purely analogue, and the newer versions tend to have digital sensors.
On the subject of analogue and digital, although most Instax cameras are analogue (press the button and the image is taken straight into the film, with no digital process involved), there is a range of digital Instax cameras that allow you to take the photos and then choose which image you want to use. This could be handy for those of you who don’t want to waste the (expensive) film.
Fujifilm also make the Instax Wide cameras and these produce a wonderful large, wide film image. They look brilliant, but the cameras are much bigger. Again, I’ll advise you to research these before buying.
Of course, Polaroid makes great instant cameras too. However, they are generally much larger than the Instax, although the resulting film image is also bigger. They are also far more expensive to buy film for, and you only get 8 frames per pack (as opposed to 10 in the Instax cameras).
Looking back to your childhood, you probably remember the family having an instant camera, but it didn’t get used much after the initial fun of having one, mainly because the film was expensive and 35mm cost and development was much cheaper. The same can be said today, as unless you shop around, there is an ongoing cost involved.
Fujifilm Instax film comes in cartridges of 10 frames. The average price for these (depending on border type, as other than just white, you can have different types of borders) is £13. That’s £1.30 per image you shoot.
For Instax Square film you’re looking at prices around £15 per 10 frames, so roughly £1.50 per shot, while Instax Wide film is roughly the same price
Polaroid only comes in cartridges of 8 frames, and you’re talking around £16 which is roughly £2 per image you take. That’s one of the many reasons I didn’t get another Polaroid!
On the plus side, instant films shelf life goes well beyond the expiration date, so purchasing out of date film can save you valuable pennies, as can buying in bulk.
So, if you want to either push yourself in photography, or simply have fun and share your images instantly with people, an instant film camera should be your next purchase! You’ll often see instant cameras at events and weddings for this very reason!
Whatever you choose, enjoy! And let me know your experience with these magical pieces of technology! (You can still see both adults and children alike being amazed at an image developing in front of their eyes).