More than a year ago, the death knell of the Polaroid camera was widely documented. In February, Polaroid began shutting down its film factories, as the technology faded to black.
But lomographs, take heart. Fujifilm has stepped in with its line of Instax Mini instant-film cameras, which can be purchased for about $100 or so: a bit much for an impulse buy, perhaps, but cheap enough that a true fan can resuscitate some childhood fun without paying an arm and a leg on eBay.
While this isn't your mother's Polaroid camera, at least on paper the experience is the same: you take a picture, the camera ejects the film, and in a few minutes or so you have a color picture. What Fuji has done is to take that basic experience and added a bit more sophistication. ( (It should also be noted that in 2009, Polaroid will release a digital camera with a built-in ZINK printer.)
What you can buy and where you can buy them go hand in hand. Until now, the only place to buy the base Instax Mini 7S was at YesAsia.com, where the camera ships in both pink and chocolate colors, for about $76. A ten-pack of film adds about $10, bringing the total package price to $85.98.
Lomography.com said Tuesday, however, that it has added the Fuji's full line of instant-film cameras to its Web store. I'm not sure why, but the Instax line is also alternatively referred to as the "Cheki" line on the site.
For comparison's sake, Lomography offers the Instax Mini S Chocolate/Fuji Cheki 7 for $100, although the site will throw in a free film package for today only, Nov. 26. (Each film pack contains ten exposures, so it appears that a "twin pack" includes two 10-exposure packs.) The camera weighs 320g, uses a f=60mm lens, focusing from 0.6 m through infinity. basic exposure compensation is included, along with a low-light flash and an electronic shutter. All of the cameras include a nifty little mirror for taking pictures of yourself.
Normally, adding an additional twin film pack costs about $25, with discounts for bulk purchases. All of Fuji's cameras appear to produce prints that are credit card sized: 6.5 cm wide by 4.6 cm high. Special widescreen (6.2cm x 9.9cm) film is only compatible with the Instax 200. All of the Fuji instant film for the Instax/Cheki cameras is ISO 800.
The $135 Instax Mini 25/Fuji Cheki 25 adds an additional shutter button for vertical or horizontal shooting, a rudimentary range finder, two focus modes, a programmed electronic shutter, intelligent flash, and even an LCD counter of the available shots.
The $200 Instax Mini 55i/Fuji Cheki 55i adds a self-timer feature, as well as a two-shot mode, where you can set the camera up to take two quick shots -- a good way to burn through your available supply of film. The camera also includes a "close up lens" for focusing from 35 cm away.
It goes without saying, of course, that shooting and printing digital camera prints are far cheaper than these cameras, whether you choose to print at a retail store or at home. But that's not really the point, is it?