25 June 2012

Photography: shopping for an instant camera

One of my best friends, Vanessa, is getting married in September and asked me to help her out with a few wedding planning items.  One of these items is a photo booth that I will be manning during the cocktail hour between the ceremony and reception. 

Vanessa wanted to buy an instant film camera to use for the photo booth to double as a photo guest book, but got cold feet about which one to purchase and asked me to do some research for her.  I wanted to share some of my findings with my lovely readers in case any of you are also in the market for an instant camera and might be interested in the opinion of a photographer like myself.  :)

First up: the Fujifilm Instax series.

The newest member of the Instax family is the Mini 50S in a sleek black finish (they call it "piano black").  Simply put, the 50S has the best shooting capabilities of the Instax instant film cameras because of its capacity for controlled exposure (so you can adjust for light vs. dark settings).  Reviews remark that the flash is pretty good for an instant camera and the images themselves are among the best produced by instant film.  Drawbacks, however, include the size of the print -- with borders, prints are about the size of a credit card (which means the actual image is even smaller than that) and the 50S requires CR2 lithium batteries, which aren't quite as widely available as AA batteries.  20 frames will cost you $22.00 (a little over $1 per print).

The Instax Mini 7S and Mini 25 also give you credit card-sized images and preceded the 50S in release date.  The 7S gives you four manual options for exposure setting, while the 25 selects settings for you based on detected conditions (in other words, you don't have to choose or do anything yourself with the 25).  The 25 also boasts a "smarter" auto flash and an optional close-up lens, but also pains its owner with having to hunt for CR2 lithium batteries.

{ Fujifilm Instax Mini 25 and Mini 7S }

These all seem like decent options for the casual instant film user.  Expect to pay between $50-60 for the 7S, up to $100-125 for the 50S (depending on where you buy).

Moving on to the widely-accepted master of instant film cameras, Polaroid...

Personally, I'm totally sold on the Polaroid Z340 Instant Camera, but the biggest drawback on this one is the price.  The $250 price tag is easily justified, however: this instant camera prints better quality (14 megapixels) and size (4x3") on smudge-proof, water-proof, tear-proof paper AND stores images on a digital memory card so you can also edit and print later on.  There's also a digital screen so you can peek at your images (and crop or make adjustments) before you print.  You can print instantly, save for later, or both.  You can also apply effects like fisheye or Lomo modes and can opt for a classic Polaroid border (or no border at all).

Even with all these exciting features, though, I know Vanessa (and every other bride in the universe) is on a wedding budget, so I'm not about to recommend the priciest option without also suggesting alternatives.  The PoGo™ Instant Digital Camera - ZCAM is a nice compromise between the Fujifilm Instax 50S and the Z340: it has the digital display and editing options of the Z340 at a slightly lower price point (and from what I can tell, you can't save images to a memory card for later edits).

The final option I investigated are the classics: refurbished instant cameras made available by The Impossible Project, which saved the last Polaroid factory from extinction in 2008 (and thus continues to create classic-compatible instant films).  From Impossible, you can score goodies like a refurbished original summer sun Polaroid 660 kit or a Red Stripe 600 OneStep kit.  Prices vary based on the camera itself and availability, as well as whether or not the camera comes with film or not (though most of them come with at least a single starter pack of film).  Impossible also offers hard-to-find professional-grade Polaroids, but for our purposes I won't get into those details in this post.  You can explore for yourself if you're so inclined.  :)

Classic Polaroids can, of course, also be found on eBay and at flea markets all over the place, but the working condition of these will be a much bigger gamble than buying from Impossible, which tests the heck out of each camera before they ship it to your door.  I also found an interesting selection on Etsy, but the same concept applies here: working condition (as well as return policies) will vary considerably.

The verdict: Personally, I'd opt for the Z340 just because it offers so many attractive modern features and thus has wider applicability than a wedding photo booth.  In Vanessa's case, though, and for her purposes, I'll probably recommend the Mini 25 as a good "middle ground" option.

Would you ever buy an instant camera, or is Instagram on your smartphone good enough for you?  What would you use a Polaroid or Fujifilm instant camera for if you had one?


  1. Love this post! We've been wondering about getting an instant camera 'round here-- thanks so much for the info~*

  2. Saving this post for when I'm looking to get one!! I mean Instagram works for now, but you never know! I love the idea of it being instant but also saving a digital copy.

  3. What a beautiful blog you have! I adore photography!:) New follower* from the Gussy Sews Community. Stop by my blog at http://uniquemargarita.blogspot.com/

  4. I love instants but I don't think I'll ever get one myself. The fact that every single picture costs you so much money is a bit of a dealbreaker. Perhaps someday though... ;)


  5. A digital/instant film camera hybrid? That is so cool! I totally want one! Instagram is great, but sometimes I long for the good 'ol fashioned instant prints.

  6. I would love to have an instant camera, just so I wouldn't have to remember to actually print off all my photos, LOL!!!! Thanks for linking up at Loves on a Thursday!


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