Is an instant camera worth it?
I’ve gotten this question a few times as well as others related to my instant film obsession. People often wonder why a Millennial like myself would embrace seemingly outdated technology, much less a younger photographer.
So I wrote the list below in the hopes that it inspires you catch the analog fever yourself. Instant film to me represents more than fading nostalgia; it’s an ideal medium for experimental photography. Plus it’s damn addicting. Anyway, keep reading, scope out the examples, and judge for yourself.
#1 Instant film photos are one of a kind
While it’s true you’re able to scan your instant prints to create digital copies, those files still won’t beat the real, tangible frame you can hold in your hand. Even if you choose to print those scanned images, they’ll lack the solid feel of film and the colors will be a bit off because let’s face it, film renders color in a way digital cannot replicate.
#2 Instant film cameras cost less
Stop and think about the relatively inexpensive price tag on instant cameras compared to their digital counterparts. For instance, the new Fuji Instax Mini 9 runs about $69, ditto the Polaroid Pic 300 I own. Both models are basically point and shoot cameras; now your average decent digital point and shoot runs well over $200 these days due to lack of demand. For advanced instant cameras i.e. cameras with manual control capabilities, such as my Lomo Instant Wide or the Mint InstantFlex TL70 2.0 twin lens camera I’ve been lusting over, you can expect to pay about $400 at the most.
Think of how much film you’ll be able to buy with all the money you saved! Now you might be thinking, ‘That’s nice Katherine, but I’ll eventually eat up the savings to buy film.’ I can’t argue with that. You will have to keep buying film and batteries. At the same time, you won’t need to pay for a Creative Cloud subscription, new memory cards, or additional storage space to hold those giant digital photos. I think it’s safe to say that the costs are comparable at best when you consider the big picture.
#3 Instant film encourages you to stay in the moment
Being present in the present gets complicated when you’re staring at an LED screen in my experience. The quest for the perfect lighting, angle, etc. may distract you from the spirit of the moment. Instant film adds a sense of welcome unpredictability to your photography, which keeps you grounded and focused on capturing what you see.
#4 Zero post processing
Don’t get me wrong here. I love Photoshop as much as the next graphic designer/photographer. I also appreciate darkroom editing because that shit requires technical knowledge, refined skills, and creative vision. Yet both methods of post processing take up time that could be spent making new memories. And if you’re concerned about money, standard film will likely exceed your budget because you’ll pay a lot for darkroom chemicals to develop your own film. Should you want to pay others to develop your film photos, you might have a hard time finding a reliable provider as I did. Just be forewarned that your irreplaceable photos could get damaged or lost and that developing a roll of C-41 film costs about $20 everywhere I’ve checked.
Of course, you’re free to scan and edit your instant film photos in Lightroom or your preferred editing software. I simply have no desire to do so because I think that defeats the purpose of shooting on film in the first place.
#5 Contemporary instant film looks great
Old school Polaroid cameras produced pictures that many people found disappointing. They tended to have a washed, fuzzy look and degraded to a yellowish tint within a few years. You needed to shake them to make your image appear as well. The shaking kinda added to the excitement of watching your photo come to life in my opinion, yet the other drawbacks legitimately suck.
Thankfully today’s instant film offers superior contrast, colors, and longevity. Depending on what kind of camera you’re using, you may be able to shoot with different ISO levels or on monochrome instant film. You’ll find lots of Instax mini film featuring playful designs from colorful borders to Hello Kitty themed frames. These are great for kids or for giving your prints a little extra pop. I prefer the subtler varieties, such as the Candy Pop polka dot pattern as it doesn’t overwhelm the photos.
#6 Instax Mini film fits in your wallet
Instax film prints are about the same size as a business card. In other words, they’re super cute and totally shareable with your friends and family. Wallet sized prints make awesome personalized gifts or keepsakes and you’ll be able to produce them effortlessly without any cropping or scaling.
#7 Instant film is fun to display
Why tuck away your prints when you can arrange them in creative ways for everyone to enjoy? Digital images tend to be forgettable in the sense that after you upload them on Instagram, you never look at them again. They stay hidden on your hard drive, in your phone, or in cloud storage. Few people bother to print them at all.
Instant prints are made to be passed around and put on display. From photo albums to scrapbooks, collages, and photo clips, you’ve got plenty of options besides shoving your memories into an old shoe box.
#8 Instant film challenges your photography skills
Many photographers stress that shooting on film changes your entire approach because you only have a limited number of frames. This sense of scarcity forces you to pay more attention to your compositions and try to nail the shot the first time or to just give up trying to control the outcome altogether. Either way, the film presents an excellent learning opportunity for you to develop as an artist.
#9 Modern instant film cameras offer advanced capabilities
Instant film cameras of old largely left you at the mercy of auto exposure, which renders night photography almost impossible. Without manual controls over your camera, you cannot shoot traffic trail long exposures or light drawings.
Those days are long gone because several instant film cameras feature bulb mode as well as remote shutter control for long exposures. Here’s a short list of models with bulb mode: Lomo Instant & Lomo Instant Wide, Lomo Instant Automat, Lecia Sofort, InstantFlex TL70 2.0 & InstantFlex TL70, I-1 by Impossible Project, and Instax Mini 90.
Along with the shutter and aperture flexibility, you’ll find select brands (mainly Lomography) offer lens attachments for fisheye, macro, and wide angle focal enhancements. Gel flash filters, splicers, and multiple exposure modes further expand your creative horizons at economical prices. The equipment equivalent for a DSLR would cost you an arm and a leg. Now I’m not saying that these macro lenses are of the same caliber as a $3,000 Nikon. That’s just silly. My point is that instant cameras and accessories have come a long way.
#10 Instax Wide film gives you larger prints
As much as I love Instax Mini film, I wanted a bigger canvas for light drawing and long exposures. The small Instax size just felt too small for detailed light painting, which is why I got the Lomo Instant Wide. The 2.4 x 3.9” image surface looks incredible, almost cinematic. The Wide Fujifilm works well for other types of experimental photography, such as spliced images and multiple exposures. Go Wide if you’re into that kinda stuff.
Note: Instax Wide film costs more than Instax Mini film… for obvious reasons, right?
#11 You’ll get the retro effect you crave
How many Instagram filters simply mimic film? Digital edits can be cool, they’re just not, well, the same. Instant film captures vibrant colors and deep contrast in ways digital does not. I’m not saying one look is superior to the other, they’re just different in ways I think you’ll appreciate.
#12 If you’ve got instant film, you’ve got a party
Whip out an instant camera at a party or event and people usually want in on the action. Instant film is exciting and everyone enjoys the thrill of watching the pictures appear. Your instant snaps will get passed around and some of your friends may bicker over who gets to keep a photo. Trust me, instant film starts conversations that lead to smiles.
#13 Instant film is timeless
If you’re like me, then you’ve bought new digital equipment only to feel as though your tools are already outdated six months later. Digital photography equipment is super expensive, which feels off putting to those of us who aren’t rich. You really can’t afford to chase megapixels and would prefer reliable equipment that will last for decades.
Instant film seems stable by comparison. I love the way Mint sums up this sentiment on its website:
“TL70 is meant to be a timeless camera you will still be using a decade from now. Forget about chasing megapixels. TL70 can be your companion for life.”
That’s what I’m talking about. No matter your age, you’ll always want something tangible to hang onto. And instant film kinda makes you feel giggly like a kid again.
#14 Instant film is ideal for portraits, street photography, and travel
Instant film gives your images a consistent look well suited for a photo series. Advanced camera models give you freedom to adjust your focal length and shutter speed for street photography. Lens attachments enable wide aperture for shallow depth of field portraits. I wouldn’t go on a beach day or vacation without packing at least one instant film camera. Instant pics are the best way to document your travel adventures.
#15 Instant film photos are as authentic as it gets
We live in a world of digital manipulation. Instant film stands in stark contrast to the HDR stock photos plastered all over the internet. It feels defiant in a way; shooting in a deliberately imperfect manner rejects digital perfection in favor of something closer to reality. The fact that instant photos can’t be repeated only adds to their genuine appeal.
By now you should be stoked on your newfound passion for instant film. What’s your favorite thing about instant film photography? Share your analog obsessions in the comments below!