I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend! We sure did. This was probably one of the best Mother’s Day I’ve had yet, and I’m not just saying that because I got all sorts of new photo-toys. I’m saying that because it was a weekend with my family, and it was awesome.
I know you stopped listening at “photo-toys”.
I received two amazing gifts this weekend. The first was a Cisco Flip UltraHD (yes, we already have one, but Brie ripped it out of the computer around Thanksgiving and we’ve been Flip-less ever since. It’s been tough) from my folks. Super special thanks to my dad, because not only was it his idea, but he went all out. Car chargers, a super-wide lens attachment, AC charger… not to mention that this Flip is 2 years newer than our other, and it is thinner, lighter, and has a way better LCD screen. To top it all of, he got us the one that has more storage. Holy crap. I’ve already shot a gazillion videos!
The second gift I received, and what I’m going to talk about in this post, is the Fuji Instax 210 Camera. I have wanted this camera for months and months and months (and months and months), and I am super excited that I received it from Matt and the girls.
Instax 210 by Fuji
It would be silly if I didn’t mention the cost of this camera, including the cost of the initial purchase as well as the ongoing cost of film. Anyone who shoots with film understands that there is a bit of an investment with the hobby, and usually your only return will be awesome photos An elite few are able to make it lucrative. So, cost wise you are talking about $65 – $70 for the camera itself, and then $17.88 or so for a twin pack of film (2 packs at 10 exposures each, so 20 shots at $0.89 an exposure). It pays to buy the film in bulk, and some companies sell up to 500 exposures worth of film. I don’t have that sort of money laying around, so the most I’d probably be able to spend is enough to buy me about 5 twin packs, or 100 exposures (which goes for around $85.45, or $0.85 an exposure – though this fluctuates, I have seen them for as low as $76.99)
- In case you’ve missed it being said by every other single person who has seen, held, or received this camera, you need to know that the camera is big. This is NOT the Instax Mini 7s, or its newer counterpart, the Mini 25 (also referred to as the Mini 25 Cheki). The Mini is a smaller white camera that produces credit-card size photos. This is the WIDE version, and in turn, the camera is bigger (though from what I hear, the mini is no light-weight either). Bigger than my Polaroid SX-70 and Polaroid Spectra. The body is relatively light weight, but it is even bigger than body of my 5D Mark II. It’s big.
- This camera takes 4 AA batteries. This is different than how Polaroids function. With Polaroids, the power supply is in the film pack, but this is not the case with the Instax cameras. There is a power button on the camera, and after a period of being inactive, the camera will automatically turn off to preserve battery life. It is even recommended to remove the batteries if you are not going to be using the camera for awhile.
- The Instax 210 is, in most respects, an automatic camera. I personally find this to be limiting and liberating (try to figure that one out), but there are a few options that you have at your disposal that allow for some control.
- Focal Length: Essentially you end up with 3 distances that you can set. Now, when you look through the viewfinder, there isn’t an indicator telling you whether or not your subject is going to be in focus. You sorta have to wing it. A button on the side of the camera allows you to choose a focal length of either 0.9 meters to approximately 3 meters (about 3 – 10 feet) OR a distance greater than 3 meters (10 feet and beyond). Included in the packaging is a “macro” lens. When your camera is on and set to a distance of 0.9~3m, attaching the “macro” filter to the lens will allow you to get closer to your subject – 40 to 45 cm (or about 1.5 feet). I’ve had to do a bit of experimenting with this, and honestly I didn’t really pay much attention to this in the first place so I have a few throw away pics. Here are some examples of the distance (and how clearly I was off with them):
In the next image, the wall in the background is relatively in focus, Matt is a little more in focus, and the girls are even less in focus. I love the picture, but I was too close to them. I would love it even more if their smiling faces were in focus. The camera was set at the 0.9 – 3m range, and I was just about 2.5 feet away.
Let me be perfectly honest with you. I took a lot of pictures “too close” before I realized what the issue was. As a self-taught photographer, I have drilled it into my brain to “fill the frame” and “step closer.” This camera is a challenge for me at times because it goes against what I am so accustomed to doing. In the next image, you can see that I finally took a deep breath and took two steps back. Hurrah!
Greater than 3m:
Ok, this is something I could handle. Almost all of the pictures that I’ve taken like this have come out, because it is much easier for me to judge whether or not my subject is within 10 ft of me. Some examples:
In the next image, I put on the “macro” lens/filter, but Thaya was about 6 – 8 inches away from the lens. Too close. I keep putting “macro” into quotes because it is obviously a term that Fuji is using relative to the other distance options on the camera.
The following image shows another attempt at the macro, but I was slightly out of the range of focus – I was standing about 2.5′ away. If I took about a half a step forward, they would have been a little sharper. Now the reason why I know that I was too far back (opposed to too close) is that everything in the picture is blurry/soft, so I can come to the conclusion that the plane of focus is slightly in front of my subject. If I was too close, than something behind them would have been in focus – the top of her head, for example, or the shelf of the cart behind their heads.
In this next image, I stepped a bit further back from the azalea (and it was hard. I wanted to be all up in those azaleas) to shoot the blooms, and as you can see I was in a better range. I was smart enough to take a minute to read the ridiculously vague “instruction manual” at this point to understand that “macro” meant about 18 – 24 inches, not 6 – 12. Now of course, on the camera
- Exposure: The camera automatically sets the exposure. On the side of the camera (right near the distance button) there is a button that allows you to stay at this exposure on “normal” or stop up or down by toggling to “darker” or “lighter”.
- Fill Flash: Now listen carefully. This is VERY important. The flash on this camera is automatic. There is a bit of conflicting information going around on the internet about whether or not you can turn the flash off/on. The answer is yes and no. Ugh, right? Here’s the scoop:
Flash and Low Light:
The slowest speed that this camera will shoot is 1/60th of a second, and when it shoots at this speed, the camera “thinks” that the flash needs to fire. This basically means that if you are inside or in some other low-light situation, the flash is going to go off and there is nothing you can do to stop it, short of covering it with your hand, paper, or tape. See the image below? I covered the flash with an envelope, and then used the settings on my scanner to brighten it. This image is really very dark in hand.Inside in a room filled with indirect light? The flash will probably fire. Inside and there is low-light? The flash will definitely fire. At a rave and people are doing things that people do at raves with glo-sticks (omg so 90s), flash will fire. Personally I like the aesthetics of “no-flash,” natural light shots, but the shot above did not have enough light. This is because the camera believed that the flash was going to fire and the shutter speed was set accordingly (by the camera). Next time I’ll have to just diffuse the flash, not block it, in order to maintain a strong enough light source. Even then I’ll have to hope for the best. Flash blocking is not for the faint of heart. The next image is an example of one that I took with the flash (below).
(as an aside: this is about 12 hours after she split her head open on the coffee table and required 3 layers of over 20 stitches)
Flash and a good light source:
When you are in a situation that there is a fair amount of light, the flash will not fire because the camera will choose a faster shutter speed (up to 1/200th of a second). Outside on a sunny day in (or out) of the shade? The flash will not fire. You can see an example of the flash not firing in the image below, as well as the flower images in the beginning of the post.
Outside on an overcast day? The flash will probably not fire (EDITED TO ADD: I actually tested this theory. The flash DID fire. It also fires around sunrise/sunset, but I believe it is difficult to know for certain in this “gray area” when it will fire or not). For some strange reason you are in a well-lit operating room with your Instax 210 (or in a not-so strange situation with “continuous lighting”)? Flash will not fire.
Once again, Fuji has given you a limited amount of control by allowing you to toggle the flash on or off as a “fill” when in a well-lit situation (when the flash is NOT going to automatically fire). Having the option to toggle the flash on or off would be used for a variety of techniques, including compensating for back-lighting. In the following image, the flash fired regardless of the fact that I was standing in the sun. Now, unfortunately I cannot remember if I toggled the flash on or off in this shot (as it was shot over a year ago and I did not take notes. Bad photographer, bad.), but from what I can remember I was standing right under the edge of an overhang, I was in the sun, the pavement was in the sun, and the Dahlias were part in the sun, part in the shade.
Now, the next thing that I am going to tell you is very important. Please sit down. Despite what some people are insisting through the interwebs, you cannot turn off the flash in low-light situations or those “in-between” situations where it could go either way.
It is not possible.
Misc. Exposure Options:
What you can do, however, is use the button on the side of the camera by the focal length adjuster to toggle whether you would like your image to be lighter or darker.
- Lighter: I have found this to be useful when I’ve been in a bit of shade and have found that my image came out too dark. If that fickle little flash did not fire on its own, and I do not want the flash to fire, then I will toggle “lighter.” The camera will over expose the image for you, if the light is right (meaning it isn’t so dark that it makes the flash go on instead. Like I said, fickle).
- Darker: This is much easier to gauge than the lighter option. Use this if you are in full sun in the middle of the summer and your highlights and midtones are blown. It will slightly under expose your image.
I love the camera, but I’m being perfectly honest with myself about what the camera is capable of and what it is not. The camera is not a DSLR. The camera is not manual. The camera is not able to steep my tea and bake me scones. The camera is fun, quirky, and stylized. It has character and personality. Like any camera, there is a bit of a learning curve, especially when it comes to focal length and finding the “sweet spot” for sharpness at a specified distance. Otherwise you will get an out of focus image, or a soft focus (which both can be used for a certain aesthetic). Truth be told, there is also a learning curve for understanding the flash and exposure, particularly in instances of low-light and “in-between” light.
Please remember: when you see all of these beautiful images that people are taking with their Instax, they are not showing you all the throw-away images that they have taken to get the handful of lovely ones. We all have rejects, and though every photographer has a different ratio of good to bad, we all have that ratio. Your ratio will improve the more you practice with the camera and the stronger your relationship with it becomes. A photographer who is walking away with successful shot after successful shot has taken the time and energy to understand how the camera responds in different situations. When all is said and done, with a little practice and an understanding on why the camera acts the way it does in different lighting scenarios and focal lengths, you can walk away with some fun, interesting, and dynamic images!