Three months ago Fujifilm announced the release of Instax Mini Monochrome, a new instant film. It is important and wonderful that they are making new kinds of film, though the pleasure is much diminished by their discontinuation of several other film types in the past year or so.
This film is already easy to find in my area; in fact I found some on sale for a couple of dollars off, which is a good thing as it is quite pricey at CAN$13-$14/pack, or with tax, $1.50/shot. Even so, instant film is fun, especially with an almost 4-year old in tow. And, trying out different cameras and finding how to make the most of them is also a lot of fun – perhaps more so where the “most” is pretty hard to come by.
There are quite a few things I did not know in enough detail until I started writing this post, and had I known them, I could have done a better job of taking pictures. Even with good exposures, the film and lens combination makes for very soft images. There is no way around the softness even with high contrast subjects so it just needs to be exploited rather than battled. That is something I will be trying with future packs.
I shot this film in an Instax Mini 8 which I bought a few months ago for a bit less than &10 in a thrift store. That particular thrift store nearly always over prices cameras, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this well below second-hand value (around here they go for $40-$60 used, or at least that is what people seem to ask for them which may not be the same thing), The camera is a very simple, even too simple.
The shutter always fires at 1/60th and all the film is ISO800 and the flash always fires. The flash can be a pain and is a waste of batteries in most daylight situations. I would guess the rationale is that this camera is designed for use by the younger set taking pictures of their friends at close range, and thus fill flash will often be needed. This kind of photography is what the camera does best, so perhaps it all makes sense. For greater control one can cover the flash with a finger, or something else, but getting this right takes some experimentation.
The saving grace is that one can select one of 5 apertures, The camera’s light meter indicates with one of four orange LEDs one of 4 aperture settings to choose. One then selects the indicated setting by turning a ring around the lens. The user can also choose a fifth aperture, “High Key”, which is not suggested by the light meter.
The camera also warns if the flash is still charging with a blinking red light just below the viewfinder. There is a window on the rear door showing a film counter. Focus distance range is 0.6m to infinity. To turn the camera on press a lever on the lower outside of the lens housing and the lens pops out with the lens cover open. To turn it off, press the lens back into the body, this shuts the lens cover as well. It takes two AA batteries.
From what I can find on-line the aperture settings are, more or less, the following:
- Sunny and Bright = f/32;
- Sunny or Slightly Cloudy – f/22;
- Cloudy or Shade – f/16;
- Night or Indoors – f/12.7;
- High Key – f8
The value of knowing these settings is that the light meter is not very reliable, and one can meter independently and choose an aperture. Had I known this info when testing the camera, i could have used the (more reliable, but not perfect) light meter in my smart phone to choose the setting for the first shot, instead of not getting as close as I would have liked.
A flash light shows that the light meter is in the lower of two openings in the center top of the camera, above the lens. The best guess for the other opening is it meters flash output – though I am not sure if it meters it while the flash is firing, or in advance and tells the flash what to do. I suspect it is the former as otherwise there would be no real need for two sensors. It should be possible to use a finger over this opening to increase flash intensity, though one would have to fool around quite a bit to learn how to do that, and the per image cost discourages a lot of experimentation.
So, the main thing I did not know and which could have been useful are exposure details, especially the f-stops and shutter speed because the camera did not give great suggestions for exposure (and has a reputation for this problem). The shots of the storm drain for instance the meter flickered between sunny and bright and sunny slightly cloudy. I think this was because the clouds and water were quite bright, but not the main subject. Because these indicators were obviously wrong, and because I had peered in the lens and seen that the High Key setting was the most wide open, I first shot with this setting (above) but if very much overcompensated. High Key in all but rare lighting is going to be over exposed (hence the name of the setting). My second shot (below) was on the Sunny, Slightly Cloudy setting.
All my other shots were made indoors, on the appropriate setting with no attempts to modify the flash.
I quite like the film – it has a lot of potential once I master how to use this camera. I want to try it with a light meter out of doors. I expect there are some flash tricks to learn too. The softness is quite appealing and though soft it is not that subtle. The grain is gentle, the indoor flash photos are a bit contrasty, but then most flash shots area. I will go on using this camera for fun, and maybe will find a more serious photographic purpose for it too, over time. But I won’t use it a lot – it is too expensive for regular shooting.
When I photographed the prints (my scanner is temporarily inaccessible so I used a DSLR) I did not see I was getting some reflection in the lower right parts of the images. It was only after I was all done copying and had edited quite a few files that figured out it was not some strange lens effect, but my own incompetence. Please try to ignore those blotches of light when considering how the shots look, with my apologies. While I was copying those I also did four remaining images from a colour pack I shot in the spring, the first four of which showed up on a much earlier post.
To see an enlarged version of any image in the gallery below, click on it and then navigate to others with the arrows or with swiping.
2016-41: Instax Mini 8, Instax Monochrome, prints photographed with DSLR