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Review: Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 90 is Vintage Inspiration for Modern Times

The Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 might just be that unusually sexy gem that will intrigue the masses and add a dash or two of fun into your photography. A camera that is going to have clients talking and friends gawking.

The one thing I love to do when dealing with clients of any type, be it commercial or wedding, is have something to show off and perhaps surprise just a tad, topping up their waning focus throughout a full day shoot. Occasionally a simple fisheye lens will do the trick.

The Fujifilm X100 did the job when it first launched, conjuring many a “what is that?” and “ooh that looks so cool” with people. Like some of the other party tricks photography can be known for the X100 was a great conversation starter and it shot a great photo too.

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But nothing thrills people more than film. It is a phenomenon that continues to grow the more film itself continues to fade. What better way to blend the desire for immediate results with the olden days of film than via the Instax Mini 90. Yes you can shoot digital, chimping to see immediate results, but people — this guy included — love to watch an instant picture come in. Developing from nothing to a picture before their very eyes, “Back To The Future” style.

When Fujifilm first announced the Instax Mini 90 near the end of this summer I wanted to pre-order right away. It hadn’t quite launched in North America yet but in the meantime they could be had via fleabay for a lot more than retail. I almost bit. I was close, at least twice. But patience and my bank account’s loud shouting (in the voice of Fran Drescher no less) won out and I held off till the official North American release. Was the wait worth it?

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Nearly the size of an old school Sony Walkman, the aesthetics of the Instax Mini 90 are quite eye pleasing. A classy wrap of faux leather book-ended with the unmistakably token Fuji silver lid and base.

Though it’s 99% plastic it’s important to remember that it weighs just over 300g when including the battery. There are moving parts — so it’s not indestructible — but when the inevitable call of gravity kicks in, seeing your Mini 90 off to a downward tumble, one would hope that after a bounce survival is had. It’s a well packed little box with a spot on feel when held correctly. More on that shortly.

It’s also light enough to toss in your shoulder bag or jacket pocket and literally forget about. As I did… on several occasions… one of which almost resulted in an impromptu demonstration of its ability (or inability) to survive a washing machine.

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In the hand it’s good news bad news. Hold it oriented for portraits and it’s perfect. Hold it for landscape and you will want to get in and out as quick as possible.

Frankly if the strap mounts, tripod thread and rear thumb rests are anything to go by (as well as Fuji’s own sample photography) then it’s really meant to be shot portrait 99.999% of the time. It does have dual shutter release buttons but the one attached to the power lever is what you will use most.

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Ability is pretty standard for a Fujifilm Instax camera. The flash is more than capable and “Party” mode allows for background compensation when shooting in dark scenes — thus still giving you some background definition without blowing out the foreground. Its macro mode works as it should and “kids” mode is great for snagging a solid snap of Timmy riding that new bike.

It also offers the ability to over and under expose the shot via the Light and Dark button, offering 2 over and 1 under. Finally, you can do double exposure and bulb mode for those moments when you really want to explore the limits of Instax photography.

The learning curve is virtually zero. It might take a box or two of film to get a feel for which modes work best in certain scenarios but from then on it’s smooth sailing.

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What I didn’t like? Aside from the grip when shooting in landscape there isn’t much not to like. The silver “mode” rocker at the base of the lens is somewhat redundant, as you still need to refer to the back and the un-backlit LCD to confirm which mode you’re in. So why not just press the mode button at that point?

Visually it rounds out the look of the Mini 90 but it could easily have served another purpose, such as flash on or off. If it were complimented by an LED near the viewfinder for clear indication of your flash status, the lens rocker would have a worthwhile purpose.

Lastly, the viewfinder doesn’t appear to be made for actually looking through, especially if you wear glasses. In a rush I found it quite tricky to correctly line up the Micro SD sized viewfinder. Could it be better? Certainly. Does it matter? Nope.

The lone circle in the middle acts as the only guide for which to align your shots. It’s field of view is significantly larger than the frame it’s about to spit out so that after a few hours of use it really becomes quite easy to shoot from the hip.

For $199 it’s a true point and shoot. Twenty shot boxes run from about $10 to $15 and even though the results might be ridiculously awful, that’s half the fun!

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Conclusion

Busting those winter blues isn’t always easy but break out the Mini 90 at the Alpha Kappa Alpha kegger this weekend and those blues will be long gone. It might feel a little out of the ordinary on a commercial job and that’s the beauty. It’s something different and that’s one thing clients are always looking for.

I’m not suggesting you shoot an entire job with this, let’s not go mad here. Take it out, put it in their hands to get the laughs rolling — burn a few frames of nonsense and then it’s back to business. This time with interested, included and happy clients.

And that isn’t to say this vintage camera is a gimmick, far from it. It’s a neat tool and could easily spark the creative flow and still allow for a little fun during an otherwise bland gig.

It even came in handy when at the last minute we realized we had no pictures to give to our friends and family in our Christmas cards this year. A few quick snaps utilizing the inbuilt timer and job done. No visiting the nearest drug store in a mad rush. No faffing about with an inkjet printer that’s so dry it will require a jackhammer to repair.

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And now for the big question: should I buy it? Well, yesnoyesyerrrr… maybe. Personally, the answer is yes. I will use this for wedding receptions. The late night, 1:00 AM stuff when people are lose and having fun. Heck, it’s the kind of thing that I could put in a guest’s hands — a non-photographer even, one of the bridesmaids — and let them burn through a box while I’m off doing something else.

It’s just that simple to enjoy.


Video credits: Video by Colin Peddle and Justin Tobin/Creative by Culture


 
  • Brian Fulda

    Wish you would have touched a little bit more on the bulb mode, but good review nonetheless!

  • Jersey Joe

    Cool looking camera, crappy pictures. How long will the images remain – and with how much saturation – after a year? Or even after a month near a window?

  • http://www.colinpeddle.com Colin Peddle

    Honestly I’d written a paragraph touching on bulb mode (and how disappointing it kind of was) but I was almost 1200 words deep on a $199 instax camera. Given that the bulb mode feature is pretty limited and Fuji’s own marketing speakers to the bulb mode abilities pretty, so the paragraph was cut.

    But here’s the less well written version on the topic of bulb mode. :-) You have to hold the shutter down, with your finger or perhaps a rubber band and a pencil eraser depressing the shutter. That in and of itself is pretty crappy. But, it’s not meant for shooting 2 hour long star tails. It’s meant for arsing about with the girlfriend at the beach, enjoying the complete randomness you’ll produce hand holding a maximum 10 second long shutter.

    Hope that helps paint a better picture of the bulb mode Brian!

  • Renato Murakami

    I’d love to have something like that with a front facing LCD that prints/gives you card sized photos. It’d make an awesome business card of sorts. Might just get one for it.

  • Tristan

    took photos on the instax during my wedding reception. 2 years on and the photos are looking as good as the day they were taken. =)
    fyi: i display them using magnetic ropes on a the wall beside a window.

  • malez

    wow, you’re making this sounds like a totally new cool invention of 2014

    when, Fuji actually been selling its Instax line since nineties

  • Brian Fulda

    Ah, thanks so much! That was kind of you. That’s a bummer that you have to hold the shutter down. I figured it wasn’t good for anything longer than 10 seconds. Much appreciated, Colin.

  • Hahjajjajajja

    What if the bridesmaid is a photographer?

  • Sky

    Fun fact: Last year Fuji sold more of it’s instax cameras than X-mount mirrorless.

  • Carl Meyer

    Not that hard when cheapest X-mount camera, X-A1, is sold at threefold the price of “premium” Instax Mini 90.

  • Andrew Sherman

    I would recommend this camera to anyone. Actually, I would recommend any camera these days that can still produce an instant print at that. But, break one of these out at a party and everyone is intrigued and loves the instant little photos. You can easily give them out to friends, scan them and print them larger or post them to social media. As a professional photographer my only complaint would be that some of the color balances of the film are a little dull or muddy, but having an instant photo beats out all the negatives I can come up with.

  • tmronin

    I have one and love it. the bulb function is pretty awesome actually – i’ve had more fun with that than anything else new on this camera. throw some light trails from traffic and it’s even more fun.

    also, the macro mode is actually useable. always was a crap-shoot on the earlier Mini models and annoying as hell on the instax wide.

    Easily one of the most fun cameras I have owned (just behind the X100s)

  • jaroos

    Looks like a fun little camera, but for that price I’m sticking with my Land cameras…

  • Leo

    Cheaper, larger film, and pull a parts are so much more fun!

  • fred

    I’d sincerely suggest the SX-70 as an addition to the Fuji Neo 90. I’ve had one for years and it remains in the same bag as my trusty Nikon FA and my Leica M8. That is a testament to instant photography and I have created insanely amazing images with it.

    If only, people could see just how amazing it is to fit an SLR into a foldable/flat-pack, they would truly be amazed.

  • wayne.carroll

    Shot a wedding using the couple’s Instax camera and it turned out to be a great ice breaker with the attendees. Not sure about the “portrait only” form factor of the Mini 90 though. Seems rather limiting for anything other than selfies & single portraits.

  • James

    Nice Model, It takes skill to hold any pose for long enough to get light trails.

  • James

    Then maybe you’ll get something to frame. Wouldn’t bet on it though.

  • James

    This would be perfect if it saved a digital copy of every image taken.

  • tmronin

    the author is making the “portrait only” point a little too hard with the Mini90, shooting wide is fine and not a problem. there’s 2 shutter releases.

  • tmronin

    eh, yes and no. that’s a 2nd curtain flash on Rivi (who’s an awesome model and did hold the pose), so for the first couple seconds she didn’t have to be a statue.

  • tmronin

    if the film wasn’t so expensive, i’d agree. $24/8 shots is a deal-breaker (i have a gold SX-70 and two 600s that spend a lot of time sitting while I shoot my cameras that take Fuji instant).

  • James

    Ahh well good job on both your parts none the less.

  • tmronin

    hope you stocked up on the FP-3000b before they discontinued it last year. most fun you can have with peel apart instant film.

  • Broseph of Arimathea

    Screw you, Fuji. Update the Instax Wide.

    (i love you fuji)

  • Cscamp20

    true i have the instax wide. these are too small