The Return of Instant Photography
By James Grahame
My family and I spent the last three weeks wandering the wilds of Europe, visiting with family and splashing around at the seaside. The whole thing went exceptionally well until I lost our digital camera filled with over 1000 irreplaceable images of kids, grandparents, childhood haunts and countless friends.
Back in the old days, the loss of a camera would be disheartening but not the end of the world -- I'd still have a small heap of exposed film canisters. But I'd chosen to store everything on a single massive memory card. I felt like a dolt. And my wife informed me that I should feel like a dolt.
Which got me thinking (in part because it was 3 am and I couldn't sleep). On the trip, I had a chance to flip through family photo albums containing photos spanning the last century. Digital photos, on the other hand, are often at the whim of online services like Flickr and Facebook, not to mention the vagaries of electromagnetic storage media.
There's a more serious problem with digital images, though. Cameras (or camera phones) are cheap and plentiful, and it no longer costs an arm and a leg to snap hundreds of images. We tend to underestimate the importance of the snapshots we take these days. Most are deleted within weeks and only a precious few survive more than a year or two.
That's why I think the Fujifilm Instax Mini 50s might not be as insane as it seems at first glance.
It's a surprisingly small instant camera that uses miniature 10 exposure packs of film about the size of a credit card. The thing is extremely simple to use, with a built-in flash offering several modes (fill and intelligent). It comes with a tiny macro lens that allows you to snap images from as little as 30 cm away. There are two shutter release buttons to make it equally easy to shoot in portrait or landscape, effectively solving a problem I never knew existed.
The images it shoots are tiny - only 2.4 x 1.8" (62 x 46mm). So what's the point? Well, it turns out there's something indescribably satisfying about being handed a physical snapshot while still out and about. It doesn't matter that the image is minuscule, or that it's impossible to email or copy it. What matters is that it incorporates a tiny little white border that allows you to scribble something meaningful (assuming you still own a pen, that is).
The Mini 50s is receiving rave reviews everywhere because it's different. Yes, it's old fashioned and each snapshot costs almost a dollar. There is no digital viewfinder, and it most certainly doesn't shoot video or incorporate a zoom lens. What it does, however, is provide irrefutable proof that images on paper are still magical.
The Instax Mini 50s is available from Amazon for just over $100 and I've recently seen it in several department stores. I never thought I'd be able to write that about an instant camera again.
As for my lost digital camera, we retraced our steps and found it late the next morning. Next time I travel, I'll take along several smaller memory cards and make backups whenever I can.