Comparative review: The best pocket printer of 2019
|From left to right: Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2, Canon Ivy, Polaroid ZIP|
With the resurgence of the instant camera, photographers and non-photographers alike have found a new love for printed photos. Enter pocket printers, a recent addition to the accessories market that offer portable, fast and simple photo printing. These pocket printers all work in basically the same way: They're powered by rechargeable batteries, and once you connect your smartphone or camera via Wi-Fi/Bluetooth you pick your image, make an edit via the app (if you want to) and then click print.
Our selections were the Polaroid ZIP, Canon Ivy and Fujifilm Instax Share SP2
For a lot of photographers, these printers will feel a little gimmicky, but that doesn't mean they aren't useful and fun. So, we took three of the most popular models and played around with them to see which one we like best. Our selections were the Polaroid ZIP, Canon Ivy and Fujifilm Instax Share SP2, though it should be noted that many other brands have comparable offerings including HP and Kodak.
|Polaroid ZIP||Canon IVY||Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2|
|Dimensions||2.9 x 4.7 x 0.9 in||3.2 x 4.7 x 0.7 in||3.5 x 5.2 x 1.5 in|
|Weight||6.6 oz. (186g)||5.6 oz. (159g)||8.8 oz. (250g)|
|Powered by||Micro USB||Micro USB||Micro USB|
|Battery||Rechargeable 500mAh Lithium Polymer battery||Rechargeable 500mAh Lithium Polymer battery||Rechargeable 500mAh Lithium Polymer battery|
|Charge Time||1.5 hours||1.5 hours||1.5 hours|
|Prints per charge||25||20||20|
|Print time||~45 sec||~51 sec||~20 second + ~5 minutes to develop|
|Print paper / ~cost per shot||Zink photo paper / ~$0.50 per shot||Zink photo paper / ~$0.50 per shot||Instax Mini /
~$0.50 per shot
|Print format||2 x 3 in||2 x 3 in||1.8 x 2.4 in|
Spec-wise, the Canon and Polaroid are virtually the same (this will come up again). With that out of the way, lets start with the obvious. The Fujifilm is a bit thicker and heavier than the other two. While the Canon and Polaroid are pretty comparable to a portable hard drive, the Fujifilm feels closer to single-serving cereal boxes in size. While the size is definitely noticeable, the weight difference is pretty negligible given that none of these printers are heavy by any stretch of the word.
|To get an idea of their size, here's all three printers next to a standard pack of playing cards.|
The other major difference comes down to the printing format. The Polaroid and Canon both use ZINK paper (meaning, Zero Ink). This process works through cyan, yellow and magenta layers within the paper that respond to heat provided by the printer, making your photo possible. Meanwhile, the Fujifilm uses the same instant film as the Fujifilm Instax Mini line of cameras. (Note: Fujifilm also offers a square format printer that we assume works identically) ZINK paper prints as a 2" x 3" image with no border (by default, more on that later) on a sticky backed paper (read: sticker) while the Fujifilm instant film prints a 1.8" x 2.4" image with the instant film border that we all know and love (or maybe just know... I love it, but that's just me).
|Polaroid ZIP||Canon Ivy|
Design wise, the Polaroid and Canon basically just look like cute little hard drives and the Fujifilm has kind of an odd sleek sci-fi aesthetic to it. The Polaroid and Canon are available in a couple of colors (mostly pastels,) while the Fujifilm is available in silver or gold. The corners on the Polaroid and Canon are very round while they are a little more angular on the Fujifilm but still not sharp in any sort of way. The Canon also features a small loop for a strap.
Ultimately, these three printers work in very similar ways. Of the three apps the design on the Canon app is definitely the most attractive though the Polaroid app is in a close second with just little bit less attention paid to how things flow. The Fujifilm app is ugly with colored tiles that feel like they were picked with very little design intent. That being said, I actually found that the interface of the Fujifilm app was the best when it came to usability. The differences here are minimal and in the end each app worked just fine.
One nice touch on the Fujifilm is that it will display the number of prints left
The apps feature a slew of options and customizability including: frames you can add to your photos, filters, basic color and exposure adjustments, cropping, and "stickers" you can add on top of photos. Outside of the frames, I didn't find much appeal in most of these features. The color and exposure adjustments I tried seemed to only degrade the image quality and didn't improve things much. I would say you're better off using whatever editing software your smartphone comes with and just printing the edited photo through the printer's app.
|An example of one of the many lovely border options on the Polaroid ZIP app. Note: the sticker peeling after ~2 weeks.|
Physically, they're all fairly portable (though again, the Fujifilm less so), charge with a simple Micro USB cable, and use a variety of green, red and white lights to indicate their charging status or if there's an error. One nice touch on the Fujifilm is that it will display the number of prints left in the pack when you turn it on. Loading film into all three of these is as easy as can be though the Fujifilm requires some reading/fiddling to figure out the first time.
The Fujifilm also allows you to remove and replace the NP-45S battery
Another nice feature on the Fujifilm is that it stands up on it's own, taking up less desk space. The other two can only lay flat. The Fujifilm also allows you to remove and replace the NP-45S battery while the other two don't have removable batteries.
|All three of these printers were fun and easy to use.|
In terms of the print time, there's a clear winner: Fujifilm. If you're looking to hand out prints fast, the SP-2 can churn them out in 20 seconds. That said, the 45-60 second range of the Polaroid and Canon didn't feel excessive at all.
Lastly, the Fujifilm has one very big feature that only applies to those that own other modern Fujifilm cameras. Unlike the Polaroid and Canon (and most other pocket printers on the market) the Fujifilm can print directly from a handful of Fujifilm cameras. The compatible models are as follows: GFX 50S, GFX 50R, X-H1, X-Pro2, X-T3, X-T2, X-T20, X-T100, X-E3, X-A5, X100F.
|The prints are just a bit smaller than an average playing card (left to right: Fujifilm, Canon, Polaroid).|
Well let's just get this right out of the way - compared to a dedicated inkjet photo printer, they all suck. These 3 pocket printers are exactly that, pocket printers. If you're expecting true high quality prints out of these things then you'll be disappointed.
Let's talk about the Polaroid and Canon prints first. I noticed a lot of over-sharpening in these both. Interestingly, despite the near-identical design, they show a really obvious difference in their prints; the Polaroid leans warmer and the Canon leans cooler. The Canon prints also seem to have a bit less of that over-sharpening which definitely helps in making people's skin look more natural. Definitely keep in mind that these are small prints. Not your standard 4x6 but rather, half of that.
Keep in mind that these are small prints. Not your standard 4x6 but rather, half of that
As for the Fujifilm, because it uses instant film as opposed to photo paper, there's a much different look to these prints. They're soft and almost blurry, especially in comparison to the look of the Canon and Polaroid. The color seems to lean a bit cooler as well but I found that the color reproduction on the Fujifilm prints was without a doubt the best of the three. The Fujifilm prints also have a glossier finish than the others.
And the winner is... Fujifilm
|Film (or paper) will cost money.|
The Polaroid and Canon are extremely portable and if nothing else make for a really easy way to print custom stickers that reference specific memories you've captured on your phone. But the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 produced the most-pleasing images, prints the fastest, can connect to Fujifilm cameras and indicates the number of prints left. For that reason, it's our choice.
Our pick: Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2
What we like:
- Most pleasing print-quality
- Prints in 20 secs
- Indicator for number of prints left
- Stands up-right
- Print directly from Fujifilm digital cameras
What we don't:
- Larger and heavier than the competition
- App design is ugly
- Prints are pricey
Note: All of the images printed were taken with and printed from the apps on a Samsung Galaxy S9.
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