As much as I love my purple Polaroid 300, I crave more control. Don’t get me wrong—the Polaroid 300 is a sweet retro instant film camera for everyday photography. It’s also a big hit at parties, and its creative potential recently expanded when Fuji released monochrome Instax mini film (review coming soon).
The Polaroid 300 will likely fulfill your needs unless you’re addicted to light painting as I am. I haven’t bothered to try any outdoor night photography with my Polaroid since there is no manual control or tripod mount. A fixed shutter speed of 1/60 renders long exposures virtually impossible, and doesn’t let in enough light to capture twilight scenes anyway. Oh well.
Comparing advanced instant film cameras
Thankfully, several manufacturers released instant film cameras with additional features to satisfy advanced photography needs. In my search, I discovered the Lomo Instant Wide by Lomography, the Impossible Project’s L-1 Instant Film Camera, and the new Sofort by Lecia. I chose the Lomo Instant Wide for a few reasons. First off, the Impossible L-1 only allows for full manual control through an app. This was a big turnoff to me because I think using an app defeats the whole analog photography concept. Besides, my Android phone camera already includes manual settings, and there are tons of apps for mobile light painting. Then there’s the fact that I don’t want to drain my phone battery just to use my “analog” camera. You can purchase black and white film for the Impossible L-1, which I found enticing. Nevertheless, negative reviews online convinced me to steer clear of this $300 device.
The Sofort by Lecia wins in terms of its stylish appearance and color choices. This compact beauty comes equipped with bulb mode for long exposures, a self-timer, and the ability to shoot double exposures. The controls have a distinct digital camera feel, and it uses the same Instax mini Fuji film as my Polaroid 300. Film compatibility makes the Sofort an attractive option, yet the price point and picture size are big drawbacks in my mind. The small image area feels like a major limitation when it comes to long exposures. I just can’t see a 2” x 3” image as having enough detail for those types of shots. Plus, the Lomo Instant Wide kit gives you all the same enhanced features, along with fun colored flash filters and multiple exposure capabilities, for about $60 less.
My awesome husband ordered the Lomo Instant Wide from Samy’s Camera, an LA photographic institution, on Cyber Monday for my Christmas gift It arrived the next day with free 2 day shipping; great job, Samy’s!
Lomo Instant Wide camera photos
I’m going to structure this review to demonstrate features and accessories with examples. For the record, the kit I received comes with the camera (35mm equivalent lens built-in), a wide angle lens attachment (21mm), a close up lens attachment (focal distance .1m), a lens splicer for multiple exposures, 4 color flash filters, and remote control lens cap. 4 AA batteries and Fujifilm Instax Wide Film not included.
I feel obligated to point out that this device isn’t really a good fit for beginners. Sure, the automatic shooting mode works well under most conditions with a shutter speed range of ⅛ to 1/250. Still, you can get roughly the same quality images from less expensive models, including the Polaroid 300. You could learn to shoot long exposures via bulb mode, but I fear you’d be sorely disappointed with the results without prior light painting experience. For instance, you really need a tripod to pull off long exposures, and most beginners don’t own tripods yet. Understanding the mechanics of photography is vital to successful night shots because you have to know how to work with low light. In other words, the Lomo Instant Wide would only be suitable for a beginner with extreme patience and an unlimited film budget.
That said, let’s discuss my creative adventures! I eagerly started shooting in Auto mode with the attached lens. Right away, I found framing images challenging because the viewfinder doesn’t accurately reflect the lens view. This seems to be a thing with analog cameras, and takes a bit to get used to. You have to compensate by moving your camera in ways that seem wrong, but end up being correct. Personally, I gave up on getting perfect pictures shortly after I clicked my first couple of shots. This felt liberating and allowed me to appreciate the random, chance aspect of working with film. If perfection is your goal, then you should stick to DSLR photography because instant will likely never produce the controlled results you’re after.
Truthfully, I wasted plenty of exposures on poorly constructed images as well as accidental errors. As other reviewers have noted, the shutter button is extremely sensitive. Don’t make my mistake of tapping the shutter button to activate your camera after an automatic shut off. I admit this habit comes from my DSLR, which also shuts down automatically after about 5 minutes of idleness. You simply press the shutter button to awaken my Canon, and it doesn’t actually take a picture. Not the case with the Lomo Instant Wide. Use the flash button to wake your camera up instead of the shutter to avoid misfires.
I wasted the most film playing around with indoor light painting and double exposure experiments. I’m new to deliberate double exposures, at least, those that do not occur naturally in camera due to shutter speed settings. So I expected to get a lot of bad shots; I highly recommend stocking up on film for this reason, at least until you’re comfortable with the camera. I did my first light painting session indoors in an almost completely dark bedroom. I kept the flash on, and tried the color filters to see what would happen. I had the hardest time learning to use the splicer, and didn’t realize you can rotate it to reveal a larger window or decrease the frame size. Once I figured out how to divide the the splicer in half, I got some decent double exposures.
I’m also new to macro photography. I’ve never owned a dedicated macro lens, and I’m not generally a fan of nature photography. So my experiments with the close up lens attachment were by far the least successful of my ventures. It didn’t help that I tried the close up lens on a relatively windy afternoon either. I ended up with an entire roll of blur before I finally realized I needed to turn the flash off and decrease the exposure to -1. When I finally solved the light problem, I dared to get even closer to the subject. This proved fruitful and I’m genuinely surprised at how close the little attachment lets you get. Hopefully you’re able to see its potential in the above image because I didn’t want to keep wasting film due to wind conditions.
The wind stuck around till the evening yesterday, but it was too warm to stay inside with my new camera. I screwed on my ultra wide angle lens, and rode over to the Chatsworth Metro station, a favorite local shooting spot for long exposure traffic photos. I forgot to shut the flash off at first in bulb mode, and had a lot of issues with the remote sensor. With the flash off, I got a couple of decent light trails, but the 800 ISO and f stop (fixed at 8) definitely worked against me. Normally, I’d have my settings at 100 ISO and smaller aperture, say 11-22. I decided that by standing on the well lit corner, I had way too much light for clarity.
I moved my equipment over to the Brown’s Creek Bike Path, which runs parallel to the station like a dark alley. I’ve shot many light paintings on the bike path with my DSLR, but couldn’t get the Lomo Instant Wide going because of the lens cap control. The remote shutter seemed spotty in my dark bedroom, and proved to be even worse in a street setting. I’m not sure why, but the remote wouldn’t fire the shutter even when I pressed the button directly in front of the sensor. I thought the batteries might be dead, and tried moving my tripod back towards the street. I managed to capture some trails on Lassen St. from a distance, which inspired me to press on. I positioned my tripod on the sidewalk about ¼ block away from the curb where I stood before. With less light competition in the scene, I managed to capture some fairly clear light trails from cars as well a couple of double exposures and one legit light painting with my red flashlight. The heart light painting made the whole night worthwhile in my book.
I continued to have problems with the remote shutter, though. It fired once for literally no reason, wasting an exposure. It’s super hard to hear the camera register a click with street noise all around, and I wish the remote sensor blinked the way it does on my DSLR. At least on my Canon I know for sure the sensor made contact.
Overall, I’m very satisfied with this product. It presents a welcome challenge; the fact that this kind of analog photography takes real skill to master makes the finished product quite rewarding. I’m excited to explore more of the Lomo Instant Wide’s creative possibilities, and already have a few ideas in mind. In my opinion, this camera lives up to its promise of being the most creative instant film camera on the market.
I hope this review helps you find the best camera for your instant film needs. Happy shooting!