Hands On: Fujifilm instax 200 Instant Camera
The digital revolution answers our need for instant gratification in almost every pursuit except photography. It takes more time now to capture, transfer, and print an image using a digital camera than it did 25 years ago to snap and pass around a Polaroid.
So, while introducing a film camera these days may seem like a throwback to the eighties banter of James Garner and Mariette Hartley, there's still something compelling about owning an instant film camera.
The Fujifilm instax 200 is hard to miss. Pronounced IN-STACKS (as in where librarians put books), the camera is 6.5-inches wide, 5-inches tall, and weighs 1.65 lbs with four AA batteries. This is a two-fisted shooter.
The instax 200 holds 10 instant color photos available in the Fujifilm Instax 200 Instant Color Print Film Twin Pack. (There are 10 film sheets in each pack.) You insert the included batteries under the grip, drop a film pack into the back of the camera, and you're ready to rock. The most difficult part is attaching the neck strap, which I failed to master.
The camera offers basic but simple controls. Press the red power button, and the two-position lens pops out. A gray button lets you toggle between a subject that is 0.9- to 3 meters away or 3 meters or more away. (Labels on the camera controls are in meters only.) Another lets you lighten or darken a print, useful for reshooting a picture. There's also a switch for the built-in flash. An oval LCD indicates your choices and the number of remaining shots. The camera retracts the lens and powers off automatically when idle for five minutes.
Upon taking my first picture, I noticed the flash didn't go off despite having turned it on. The reason became evident a second later when the black paper that had covered the front of the film pack was ejected from the napkin-size slot atop the camera. Then I snapped my first picture. It took more than a minute for the image to fully develop. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the print. Colors were accurate, and the resolution was as good as the glossies I recently picked up from the B&H photo lab that had been shot by my wife with her film camera. (I've vowed to convert her to digital on her next birthday.)
The instax 200's moderately wide lens (around 35mm) is convenient for photographing a group of people at relatively close range. The print image occupies 3 7/8- by 2 7/16-inches, which approximates the aspect ratio of a widescreen TV. These are not the square-like images of a Polaroid Swinger. Including the white borders, the photograph is 4 ¼ by 3 6/16-inches. The non-glossy space below the picture is ample for penning a caption.
The film is usable from 41 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. When I took a picture outside by a fruit stand with the temperature hovering at about 41, the image didn't appear until I went inside. You can't use the old Polaroid trick of sequestering an undeveloped photo in the warmth of your armpit since there's no protective sheet to peel away.
What I don't like about the instax 200 is that there's no zoom capability (the Empire State Building appeared lost in a photo taken from two avenues away) or tripod socket (the plastic casing is uniformly smooth). Also, the camera is much too large to slip into a pocket. At first glance, it appears to be an oversize theatrical prop designed to widen the eyes of small children.
Yet, the instax 200 is the kind of camera you could easily keep in your car to document everything from an accident to a house find. Among Fujifilm's targeted markets are law enforcement, insurance, real estate, modeling agencies, event marketers, party photographers, and auto repair shops. To that list I'd add the casual photographer like myself who misses the pleasure of being able to take a picture and pocket the tangible results or hand someone a photograph on the spur of the moment. Also, because the camera is relatively inexpensive and built like a tank, it makes a great gift for children as well as adults who want to have prints in their hands right away.