Hands-On Review: FUJIFILM INSTAX Mini LiPlay Hybrid Instant Camera

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FUJIFILM INSTAX Mini LiPlay Instant Film Camera

FUJIFILM’s series of INSTAX Mini cameras have been some of the most popular cameras of the past few years, despite their being instant film cameras. There is the simple pleasure of producing a physical print after each photo you take; it’s a unique keepsake of the moment. But for those times when uniqueness might not be the ultimate requirement, when you want to be able to share your images with others, there’s the INSTAX Mini LiPlay. Part instant film camera, part digital camera, the LiPlay takes the best of both worlds of capture and manages to combine them into the smallest INSTAX camera ever.

Print on Macaron Film / Original Digital File

I got to play around with the new LiPlay for a week and, to sum up my experience quickly, I would say it is a fun camera. Simple, but fun. It’s exactly what it should be and provides an alternative to the traditional INSTAX Mini without being too convoluted or complicated. What I mean by this is that the traditional INSTAX Mini cameras are essentially perfect as is, and to add a wealth of new features along with an entire digital imaging system has the possibility to ruin the simplicity and enjoyment of the Mini. Luckily, FUJIFILM walks this fine line perfectly with the LiPlay and manages to retain the intuitiveness of the original experience, but bumps up its capabilities a bit with some digital technology. 

Print on Sky Blue Film / Original Digital File

FUJIFILM first explored this hybrid approach with the INSTAX SQUARE SQ10 (since updated with the SQUARE SQ20), which not only saw a new style of instant film camera, but was also the introduction of square-format film in FUJIFILM’s lineup (and subsequently it has also since released a traditional, non-digital square-format camera with the SQUARE SQ6). With all of this in mind, it should come as no real surprise that the company has decided to bring this hybrid mentality to the INSTAX Mini format—it’s the most popular instant film format and the format with all of the cool border styles, like Macaron and Sky Blue. Also, besides being the most popular film format, it is also FUJIFILM’s most compact film format, with prints measuring just 2.1 x 3.4". Coupling this with the fact that using a digital imaging system replaces the need for a larger lens and longer lens to film plane distance, FUJIFILM is also able to make the LiPlay the smallest INSTAX camera yet. Finally, it’s something that is essentially pocketable and matches with the ethos of the INSTAX system. More than the digital factor itself, this reduction in dimensions is what truly sold me on the LiPlay after use. Compared to an INSTAX Mini 9, which measures 4.6 x 4.7 x 2.7", the LiPlay is a mere 3.25 x 4.8 x 1.4"; nearly half as thick and more than a full inch narrower.

Print on Macaron Film / Original Digital File
Print on Macaron Film / Original Digital File

OK, so the LiPlay is half digital, half film, and it’s smaller than any other INSTAX Mini… but what else does it have going for it? Well, as a consequence of going digital, the optical viewfinder has been replaced with a rear 2.7" 230k-dot LCD, which is used for composing your shots, reviewing images before printing them, and for navigating the menu (just like any other digital camera, except for the printing part). The screen becomes a critical component when printing your images because, unlike traditional INSTAX, you are afforded the ability to print whichever images you choose, as many times as you want. So, if I took a group selfie with 9 of my closest friends—using the front selfie mirror, of course—I could pop in a new pack of film and print this image 10 times to give everyone their own print. Also, while the LiPlay’s built-in memory can hold up to around 45 shots, it also has a microSD card slot for expanding your storage. Some other quick features of the LiPlay include a built-in flash on the front, a 28mm equivalent wide-angle lens with a 3.9" minimum focusing distance, and a built-in rechargeable battery that is rated for around 100 prints per charge.

Print on Macaron Film / Original Digital File

Making use of the digital capabilities, this camera also features Bluetooth connectivity, which works in conjunction with the dedicated INSTAX Mini LiPlay app. Using Bluetooth with a film camera is a bit amusing, but the features of this app are quite fun and unique. There’s remote shooting from the phone—a given—but then the app also lets you print photos from your smartphone using the LiPlay. So, if you have some mobile snaps you’re especially fond of, feel free to share them as instant film prints, too. The app also lets you apply 10 creative frames and 6 filters to your images and you can program the three shortcut buttons on the side of the camera body for quickly recalling your favorite frames. Finally, one of the most unique features is an audio-recording feature. On the front of the LiPlay body, where you think the shutter button should be, is a large audio recording button—press this button to record audio from the camera and then, using the app, you can create a unique QR code that can be printed onto the final print. When this code is scanned with the LiPlay app, the recorded sound can then be played back.

Print on Sky Blue Film / Original Digital File

Using the LiPlay, I found myself being a bit more “shutter happy” than I typically would be with a traditional INSTAX camera. Since it’s a digital camera at heart, I wasn’t worried about blowing through film too quickly; I’d continue to shoot whatever I wanted and worry about the printing later. And this is another plus, too, for if you want to shoot a photo but maybe it’s not an opportune moment to have a delicate print dangling out of your camera, with the LiPlay you can wait till whenever it’s more convenient. As with the SQ10 and 20, there is a unique look to the prints due to them being derived from digital files. They are definitely a bit more crisp and color accurate in my experience; however, the resulting digital files themselves are nothing to truly write home about unless you’re shooting in perfect light. But there’s something about these over-sharpened digital files that make impressive-looking filmic prints, which is perfect for what this camera is meant to be. It’s a fun, relatively compact camera that offers the convenience of shooting digitally, but the novelty and satisfaction of receiving a real instant film print.

Print on Macaron Film / Original Digital File

What are your thoughts on a hybrid instant film/digital camera? Do you like this melding of technologies or do you prefer to stay purely in the film realm? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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