Polaroid Week 2023 – Lomo’Instant

In anticipation of my film packs arriving today, I’ve gone ahead and fished a couple instant film articles from my archives.

As you might have already read, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Instant film photography. It’s expensive, and the results are so unpredictable I can’t justify the cost. But then again, I love Lomography. That, in itself, is unpredictable and expensive. So it should come as no surprise — or maybe it should — that I picked this new Lomography Lomo’Instant camera, and I think I’m starting to dig it.

The Specs

 The camera is stuffed full of interesting features, but let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. It’s an instant camera that uses Fujifilm Instax Mini cartridges. The picture essentially is the size of a business card, and you get ten shots in each cartridge. It runs on four AAA batteries (not included) and they’re somewhat of a pain to figure out which way they go in. I kinda looked like one of those gorillas at the zoo with a new pumpkin full of treats, trying to figure out how to get them. The camera has a built in flash and a 27mm equiv wide lens. It shoots with +/- 2 stops by a little wheel on the front of the camera above the lens. It allows you to over/under-expose by actually adjusting the aperture. It reminds me of the exposure setting on the Polaroid SX-70, except instead of a filter over the aperture, it actually has an aperture wheel that selects f/8, f/11, f/16, f22, f32, and you can see the aperture change in the lens.

Multiple-Exposure Mode

The camera has a switch on it labeled MX which allows you to make multiple exposures to a single picture. The upside is you can shoot some interesting shots. The downside is that guessing a stranger’s birth year might be easier than guessing correct exposure on this camera. The guide has a nice scale, but it’s not always reliable. I shot the below photo in a warmly lit room with the flash on at f/16 and 1/125sec (i.e. Auto mode). It’s really dark. I get it, f/16 indoors is just dumb, but I was taking into consideration it’s in Auto mode, and that it would compensate. It doesn’t. Even in auto, it’s manual. hah!

This next shot was taken outside, overcast day, with +1 exposure, and flash on 800 ISO film. Still almost unusable, but I’m starting to get better at judging exposure.

The other cool part of this feature is that it will keep taking exposures until you flip the switch away from the MX position. Then it ejects your photo!

Vignette, My Lovely Friend

Oh the vignetting in the corners is pure joy…if you are into that kinda thing. Even wide open with flash it’s going to give you some darkened corners, and if you drop one stop you’ll get this cool oval frame effect. Along with the vignetting, is the touch of exposed edges that are uneven like the camera doesn’t squish the chemicals all the way to the edge of the frame.

Along with the vignetting and edge issues, there is the soft focus of the lens itself. It actually has adjustments for 1m-Infinity and 0.4m – 0.9m for close-ups and portraits.  It does close-ups pretty well. In the photo below, I was 6 inches or so from the statue when I pulled the shutter release, and the photo is still pretty cool.

Creative Modes

The power switch sits on one side of the camera and it has 4 options: Power, Auto, Creative w/ Flash, and Creative (no flash). The Creative modes give you control over exposure time by allowing you to utilize yet another switch on the bottom, the infamous N/B switch (Thanks Holga!). Flip it to C on the power switch and B on the N/B switch and as long as you hold the shutter release, the lens stays open. There is even a lens release cable attachment, and some newer models have a remote in the lens cap.Speaking of creative modes, it also comes with flash gels in red, yellow, blue, purple, and green. These give a nice little hue change (see the Multi-Exposure shot at top) and give the camera even more opportunities to make interesting photos.

Worth It ?

Is it worth the expense ? The camera, new in box, runs between $50 and $150 depending on where you get it and what comes in the box. The film is about a dollar a shot (less, if you find a bulk sale), and producing multiple of the same photo requires a decent flatbed scanner. But yeah, I think it’s worth it if you like Lomography and think the Instax Mini is a little too Hello Kitschy bubblegum-looking for you. It maintains all of the traditional eccentricities of Lomography-style cameras (read Holga) with the vignetting, soft focus, rough edges and the plastic feel, but gives you instant satisfaction. It’s certainly something different to pull out on the next photo walk.

Polaroid Week 2023!

While I await the arrival of my SX-70 film and some Instax film, I’m digging up and sharing some older reviews of these cameras. Hopefully they’ll inspire you (and me) to get out and shoot some cool photos.

 Possibly the most expensive camera I own simply due to the cost of a photo: ~$3Meet the SX 70 II. This camera was produced between 1973 and whenever people realized instant film was godawful expensive. In its youth it was $180 new, and a 10-shot cartridge was $6. That’s 1970s money. You could fill your land cruiser’s gas tank cheaper than you could fill your land camera’s insatiable need to produce soft, over/under-exposed bulky single-shot images that couldn’t be duplicated. What a deal! Yet Polaroid somehow managed to keep the momentum going. Today the momentum has shifted to Fuji with their Instax line; Polaroid seems to kinda half-halfheartedly have one camera out there hanging in plastic packaging at your local retail chains. But I digress.This particular SX 70 came to me, as several of the cameras in my collection have, from my dad’s closet. I think this was my Grandpa Etzel’s camera. I have it on good authority that he became very fond of instant cameras. Regardless of the original owner, this camera had seen better days. The leather/leatherette covering had deteriorated to the consistency of stale chocolate chip cookies, and was crumbling into pieces…on everything. What a mess! I spent nearly two hours carefully removing the remnants of 1970s leather and adhesive. 

As it turns out, the SX 70 is a popular camera with the hipster crowd. A refurbished one will set you back a car note nowadays, and film… well I will get to that shortly. Being a popular camera meant new leather in the original color was readily available and inexpensive. for $21 shipped I had brand new clothes for my naked patient. 

 I re-skinned the beast and ordered some film for it. Being a bit on the conservative side with my money…just kidding, I shoot film so there’s no such thing as “conservative spending” … I only ordered two packs, sixteen shots, for $50. That’s right. $50. Let me math the shit out of this for you. $23.98 per pack + $6.99 shipping = $54.95 / 16 shots = $3.43 per shot. Three Fitty a shot, folks!Well, you can guess how that turned out. I loaded the color film in it and the first 5 shots: over-exposed. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t nail exposure. So $17.50 worth of shutter presses gained me nothing. After fiddling with the exposure compensation wheel, I discovered the camera can occasionally take a good photo. 

 So yeah, ouch. One magical shot out of 8. $23.98 + shipping well spent. Not willing to admit defeat, I ejected the spent color cartridge and reloaded with Impossible Project Black and White. By now I simply hoped to get something worth keeping for my investment. I realized that the exposure wheel on the camera is great for compensating when backlighting is harsh. Putting the sun behind Roman and cranking the wheel to 100% dark … the wheel I keep mentioning operates a little ND filter over the light meter which is totally not intuitive, Google it … and I got a shot I felt redeemed my faith in Polaroid and instant film. 

 Feeling better about my understanding of the camera, I took a few more head shots, only to realize I’m no good at this instant camera thing. 

 To say it was a disappointment would be an understatement, but I really shouldn’t have had much expectation. Instant cameras were expensive and limited when they were introduced, and they haven’t changed. Even the newest model Fuji camera is going to land you at a couple bucks a shot for something the size of a business card. The upside to modern instant cameras is some offer things like double-exposure, and bulk packs of film. However, this old dog of a camera, new skin and all, is headed for the display shelf. It was fun while it lasted.Ok, it sucked, but I’m over it now.

P.S. 2023 is here and I’m giving this another go for Polaroid Week. I’ll be shooting the SX-70 and the Lomo’Instant. I eagerly await photos to share!

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