Update: Preparing to Test a Digital Instant Medium Format Film Camera System

So here we are. As promised at the end my GF 80mm ƒ/1.7 lens review, I’ve received the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-3 printer and 8 film packs totaling 80 exposures.

I haven’t been out yet to photograph strangers directly from the camera and lens combo to the Instax printer. Since I’m due to receive my second COVID-19 vaccine injection in about 10 days, I’m going to hold off on this endeavor until I’ve been fully vaccinated, for my own personal safety.

Until then, and because I’ve never owned or printed using Instax, I decided to use one pack of film to print a full spectrum of recent shots; a couple of portraits with 2 printed directly from the camera, monochrome, vivid color, high contrast, golden hour and my personal processing style. I wanted to get a good feel for the film’s dynamic range, color, contrast and sharpness. While the film is traditional instant pack film, the printer works by projecting the image on an 800 x 800 dot, micro-OLED display that exposes the film, basically a digital form of the optical projection used to expose pack film in a traditional Polaroid Land camera. Because it’s not fully optical and the micro-OLED is so, uh, micro, I wanted to see how far I could stretch it so I can make adjustments to my shooting style for the best results.

The printer itself worked flawlessly. You either transfer from your smartphone or choose the print option on a Fujifilm camera’s playback menu. Initial connection was a bit finicky but not difficult, relying on the serial number printed on the printer and using the default, 4-digit passcode you’re able to change on demand. Both the Instax Share app and compatible digital camera connect in pretty much the same way, differing only in the camera connecting automatically while the iPhone requires manually connecting to the printer’s ad-hoc network whenever you want to use it. Battery life is claimed at 160 prints and uses the NP-50 battery.

To ensure I can keep the printer always on and connected while on the street, I’ll probably buy a couple of spare batteries to carry with me. The only unfortunate “feature” I found was the inability to print immediately when a photo is taken. You must select the photo from the playback menu, taking some time and attention away from taking photographs and completely breaking the illusion of using an instant camera.

Despite that, the printer prints quickly, since it’s technically not a printer but is an automated exposure lab. It takes a few seconds to transfer the chosen photo and even fewer seconds before the film is exposed and automatically ejected from the top of the printer. Finally, like the Polaroids of yore, the film slowly develops over a matter of minutes.

So, now that it’s all set up and I’ve gotten a feel for the prints, I’m ready to go “photo busking.” I’m even more interested to see if the combo with the GF 80mm lens can produce the sort of medium format pack film look I remember from back in the day.

On a related note, I’ve also printed a few “social media” cards to hand out in case potential subjects want the original, high-res digital photograph. QR codes printed on the cards will make it easy for them to access the gallery and grab the file.

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