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Review: Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s

by Chris Gampat on 10/07/2010

The Fujifilm Instax Mini 7s is a small, simple, alien looking camera that also carries a sense of fun hipster-like appeal to it. This is perhaps the most non-traditional camera I’ve ever reviewed, but I can honestly tell you that I’ve never had this much fun reviewing a camera, ever. As a guy that tests cameras out for serious use, this was a great and welcome change of pace.

Editor’s Note: A full field review was not given to the camera simply because of the toy-like nature to it.

Ergonomics

The front of the camera features a unique grip that is quite literally a bulbous area of the camera that reminds me a bit of an enlarged tumor. There is very little space in between the grip and the lens—which tells me that this camera was designed for users with smaller hands. Nearing the top of the grip is the shutter release button which needs to be pressed in as opposed to being pressed down as is the style of many traditional DSLR cameras.

Above the shutter release is the viewfinder, which takes time to adjust to. The reason for this is because the viewfinder does not show the user what will be shot through the lens. If you’re confused, think about the design of a DSLR vs a small instant film camera: a DSLR has a mirror and pentaprism. This camera just has a lens, a release and a film loading area. You’ll need to compensate a bit when shooting photos, but not by much.

Next to the viewfinder is the flash and lightmeter. The flash always fires no matter what. Below this is the lens. To turn the camera on, the user just needs to full the lens out. To turn it off, push the lens back in.

The back of the camera has the film loading bay and the viewfinder eyepiece. Loading film is very simple: just line up the yellow lines and insert then close. You’ll need to fire a shot first in order to have the camera remove the cover through the top printer. Next to the loading pay is the shot counter.

The top of the camera has four different settings: indoor, cloudy, sunny, and really sunny. The user adjusts these according to where they are and the lighting around them. Next to these is the printer. The camera prints business card sized images.

The right side of the camera is the battery compartment.

Overall, the camera is very small and fits nicely into my M Classics camera Compact bag. Further, it will fit into one compartment with four packs of film.

Autofocus

There is so focusing, per-se, on this camera. I actually believe that it just has a very small maximum aperture (perhaps around f/11, f/16, or f/22) and so the camera tries to get whatever is in focus very nearby. The results are very interesting and very close to the way that the cameras originally functioned because of that.

More about this later on in the in use section.

Features

There are none. It’s an extremely simple camera that appeals to users that just want to take pictures and those labeled in society as hipsters.

In Use

Indoors

During my testing in a bar, the best quality images are captured when the subject is about three feet away from you. This way, the image has the best chance of being a balanced exposure. Then I realized once again that this is a camera that isn’t meant to take magazine quality images: and so trying to get great images was thrown right out the window.

When taking photos, warn the user that the flash is extremely bright. At the same time, it would probably be best for you to just leave the lens extended. This is a tip best targeted towards impatient users, because the camera takes a couple of seconds to actually powerup when the lens is extended. You can gauge its progress but looking at the top of the camera: when the lens comes out, there are red lights that blink until the green light activates and tells you that the camera is ready to take another photo.

Just a warning, Indoors isn’t even great for shooting outdoors at night on a city street. In fact, your images will still come up mostly dark.

Additionally, it will only be able to capture subject within a few feet away from you. I tried taking a picture of a sign in the elevator of Will’s apartment, and it failed terribly.

Cloudy

This setting is a little different than the others. It it essentially the middle of the spectrum. For example, when I was at Canon EXPO at the Javits center, I shot in this mode while in the press lounge: which was brightly lit by the glass windows of the center. In this situation, I didn’t quite need the low-light abilities of being inside but the area wasn’t quite sunny. Because of this, I was able to get a decent photo of Brad Balfour from the Huffington Post. Brad told me all about his love of polaroid film and his years of photography; which included shooting the guys from the Sex Pistols and others.

I was in total awe when I heard this as I grew up as a punk rock kid, so I’m anxiously awaiting Brad’s book to be released publishing all of these photos.

Anyway, cloudy won’t work very well even when it is cloudy. Granted, my subjects in this photo were around seven feet in front of me, and the details on them cannot be made out.

Sunlight

The sunlight setting is perhaps best used when it is nice and sunny out, but there are lots of shadows around. This is when you’ll actually be able to capture some really, really lovely photos. In fact, I’m compelled to say that this is where the camera really shines, no pun intended.

Really Sunny

Here’s some advice: don’t fire into the sun. Otherwise you’ll run into problems like the one presented in the photo with the Empire State Building.

Image Quality

Well, the prints are comparable to the polaroid cameras from very long ago. Users that love the look of polaroid film will be smitten with this camera. I’m using Instax Mini film with the camera that comes in packs containing 10 shots each.

When looking at the prints, I actually realized just how much detail the film can actually capture. It’s actually insane: a photo the size of a business card with an effective area even smaller than a business card can clearly display text. Additionally, the photos usually tend to render more towards the bluish areas even when trying to warm them up while developing.

That said, keep in mind that it can be difficult to pull off truly amazing image quality from this camera. Also, the images are nothing like the 20×24 camera we blogged about earlier.

Conclusion

As a digital photographer for serious and commercial work, I’ve always been on the hunt for a digital camera that I could use for fun or when I’m out with friends. The problem with this is that I’ve been so used to pixel peeping and ensuring that the quality is excellent with each image.

With this camera, I can’t do that. It needs to be accepted that you will get flawed images. And I’m fine with that. Because of this, I am actually very close to purchasing the camera for personal use and fun. Of course, my 5D Mk II and 7D will stay around for more serious work, as they should be.

Now, the long term expenses associated with film are a real factor to consider. However, I’ve trained myself to be able to get a nearly perfect image in one frame and so I won’t be shooting and reshooting with this camera. If anything, I’d probably go through one pack of 10 images a night.

Further, the camera is great for marketing yourself because of the uniqueness. It always turns heads and gets conversations started. Additionally, I’ve taken to pasting my business cards on the back of each image I shoot—which is great for marketing.

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