DPReview Gear of the Year Part 3: Sam's Choice - The Fujifilm Instax SP-1
On the face of it the SP-1 seems costly and pointless; it costs $0.75/shot to use, which is a unit of measurement long forgotten by hobbyist digital photographers who already share their images digitally. Plus, the prints are smaller than the venerable square Polaroids that have been nearly beaten to death in the fine art photography world. Even with their higher-quality origin, the digital files end up printing at a similar not-very-sharp quality that an instant camera would produce. And compared to an instant camera, the SP-1 printer requires more steps to produce the final result. It all sounds a bit fussy, expensive, and with little reward.
However, after using the SP-1, I believe it to be a unique little bridge between the digital and analog worlds that can be just as useful as it is nostalgic.
It can be used it to print one’s phone images with the Wi-Fi app, but I don’t believe that’s the real way to get the most from the printer. At that point, a better choice would be skipping the phone and printer and buying a dedicated instant camera, like Fujifilm’s Instax Mini. The real joys of the SP-1 come with a prerequisite; a Wi-Fi enabled Fujifilm X-mount camera. When paired together they become a digital instant camera with interchangeable lenses, which is a big deal, especially when considering the X system takes its lenses seriously. Additionally, the printer takes up very little bag space and weighs a negligible amount. While the process could be improved, printing is relatively quick and easy through a Fujifilm X-T1 or X100T. Plus, the initial cost is the same as a cheap lens but produces results that aren’t limited to the rear LCD out in the field.
Admittedly, there is plenty of room for growth in terms of image quality and consistency. Sharpness is never perfect and leaves a bit to be desired, and sometimes a JPEG will need a quick re-process in the in-camera raw converter to get it looking right in instant format. With that said, I don’t think the Instax Mini format is meant for a photographer to print images with for themselves, and looking at the prints with a pixel-peepers fine-toothed comb is going about it the wrong way. These images are best for what made the square format inspired Instagram popular in the first place: sharing.
When was the last time most people have had an instant image taken of them? Sure, there are ways of doing it if you look. Photo booths, for example, still offer that immediate tangible souvenir. People don’t expect results like that from a photographer using a digital camera these days, as I learned when I brought an XT-1, X100T and the SP-1 to my sister’s wedding in March.
After the ceremony there was a little lull in mandatory precious wedding moments as tables and chairs were re-configured from ceremonial purposes to a more social setup. I took the time to shoot and print a handful of candid images before doing groups. When the images were completely developed, I made a couple duplicates and handed them to their corresponding subjects.
Those exchanges were priceless. At first there would be a perplexed look on their face as they realized I wasn’t showing them an image on the back of a camera. That moment then led to even more confusion as I handed them a credit-card looking sort of thing. Then, after a closer look, eyes widened, smiles grew, hugs were exchanged, and ‘brownie points’ were earned. I had my party piece, and the shoot was in the bag. Plus, people left the wedding with tangible mementos tied to a happy memory. Isn’t that what a photographer’s job is? Also, my thrilled sister had 40 or so prints in her hand to hold her off until I could finish editing, which took a little pressure off me.
This writer is joining the ranks of X fans that are begging for an Instax Wide format instant printer, just for the extra bit of size and quality to possibly match those venerable Polaroid Land Camera square images. Either way, Fujifilm is on the right track with the SP-1 and the Instax printer lineup deserves all the R&D money they can throw at it, if only to make the output slightly sharper. For now, it is doing a great job of freeing photography from the screen and bringing us back to a tangible medium, digitally.
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