The Fuji instax mini 90 is probably the biggest value you’ll get out of a new camera right now. Sure it’s a small instant print with detail you would expect from an ISO 800 film but what most expensive and advanced DSLR cameras lack, this little plastic camera brings to you in an instant, fun.
When was the last time your friends were intrigued and excited when you brought out your camera to take a picture of them? Probably never unless they’re one of your photo buddies. If they’re anything like my friends, they cringe when they see me bring out my DSLR for a picture. Bring this simple instant camera out and when the first picture slides out the side with an audible mechanical sound, they’ll start smiling.
At a very small fraction of the price of a DSLR, this camera can accomplish some things that your expensive camera can’t. It makes your photography social, it’s not intimidating looking, and it will make you think about your photography in a whole new way. All this, for $180. You can’t even buy a lens for your DSLR at that price yet alone get a complete system of photographic fun.
Designed for Portraits
This design of this camera is clearly for someone who has never worked with a DSLR. For those seasoned DSLRs users it’s a constant moment of disorientation as your hands brings up the camera to your eye and you search for the viewfinder. It will continually remind you this is not a regular camera but it’s an instrument for fun & creativity.
The design of the case is reminiscent of the very popular Fuji x100 with the silver top and black body with matching built in flash on the front and viewfinder in the corner. With the oversized silver mode ring around the lens however it makes it look a bit comical and reminds you this feels more like a plastic toy camera than a serious instant camera like the old Polaroid cameras from the 70s.
The camera is designed for taking fun pictures of your friends which is why when in portrait orientation everything is in its place. The strap attaches on the side facing upwards when in portrait mode, Fuji added a second shutter button to the front in a convenient location when you hold it on portrait mode, and the instant print pops out the top when in this mode. When you use it this way, it really works well.
When you hold the camera in portrait orientation and use the second shutter button on the front, your hands end up in a familiar, comfortable position on both sides of the camera just like when you hold it in landscape mode. But that’s the problem with DSLR users, when we hold a camera this way we expect to find the viewfinder on the left. Holding Instax Mini 90 this way places the viewfinder on the right making it slightly disorienting trying to find the place for your eye to compose your photo.
To further this argument the tripod mount is only on the side for portrait orientation mounting and the back display is read while in the same position. You’ll also notice a couple of things when you use this camera in landscape orientation which support the portrait design theory. Your grip when used this way is not comfortable in the right hand as there’s not much to hold on to. The lens area has a large round protrusion which prevents your hand from making a good grip on the right side which is where most DSLR camera designs put a hand grip for easy handling. There’s even a few ridges on the back for your thumb to grip the camera when using the second shutter button. These are all the physical cues that this camera is designed for use in portrait orientation and not landscape. This is also why you must abandon all your familiar camera techniques you’ve learned and embrace this camera as a unique tool which requires a different kind of thinking.
Using the viewfinder can be a challenge if you wear glasses and finding your optimum view inside of the eye piece can take a little work. Once you have the view centered you’ll have to start compensating for the parallax error found in most rangefinder type cameras which this is no exception. There is a mechanical optical alignment adjustment that slides in front of the viewfinder when you switch to macro shooting mode which is a nice feature for such an economical camera. You also get a found overlay in the center of the viewfinder which I assume is more of a target area than any helpful focusing point.
Despite the simple design and purpose of this camera Fuji has added a few creative functions that can help you keep making this process a lot of fun and really add value to the camera. There’s the basic functions needed like landscape & macro mode to get better focus but there’s a couple of functions which I find unique like the double exposure and bulb mode. Some expensive DSLRs don’t even have the ability for double exposure which brings a whole different creative process to explore when photographing with this camera.
It keeps your mind working trying to understand the way it meters light but it’s also a refreshing way to make a photograph where you have to really compose a frame and visualize the way the camera will see the scene instead of the way it will end up in Lightroom or Photoshop. Once you press the shutter with the Instax Mini 90 the moment has been captured and the print will not be changed with any software. This is a refreshing idea in the digital world.
One of the functions you’ll find interesting is the ability to adjust exposure of your prints. You can push it two steps brighter and one step darker. That’s not a typo using the word step instead of stop, these are not adjustments that a photographer would be familiar with but more of a layman’s way of understanding you can make it brighter in two steps or darker one step. They’re merely a slight move in exposure which probably equates to about two thirds stop for each step.
The Fuji Instax Mini 90 does come with a surprising collection of shooting modes to help dial in your exposure and to help get better results for certain shooting conditions. It’s great that such a simple inexpensive camera has these extra features but you’ll have to experiment with each one to see how they affect the final print. Here are my thoughts on each shooting mode.
The party mode is designed to be used indoors with flash but with a slow sync shutter to bring in more ambient light. The flash does it’s job well but the slow sync does let some ambient light in but probably not as much as you’d like. It’s a subtle change that won’t make a huge different in your print but it will help in some situations when you want to see a bit of the environment your subject is in and not float them on black.
This mode is useful for capturing fast moving targets in low light conditions or even in cloudy situations. This sets up the camera for a faster shutter speed and turns on the flash. As you can see in this photo it stopped the action very well as my 5 year old subject played Evel Knievel flying down the stairs.
If you’re not photographing people you’re probably going to have to set it to landscape mode. This mode sets the camera focus from 10 feet to infinity. You may not notice the difference looking at the small print but if you look at it under magnification you will see crisper details in distant subjects compared to the regular mode.
The double exposure mode was one of the more intriguing features of the camera and I was quite excited to play with. This was a pretty common feature in non digital DSLRs from the past but it’s not too common in current digital cameras. This adds a whole different kind of creativity to your photography. One which requires you to really think about how you want to match up two subjects in your photo.
It’s a difficult task to master but if you can understand the process you can start to get interesting results. You will burn a lot of prints trying to get a good picture but when you nail it the picture looks cool. You’re probably better off keeping it simple using a dark shape as a silhouette then exposing something inside it. Otherwise you will be struggling with this feature to get a good print but you’ll have lots of fun trying.
This is a surprising feature to have in a camera like this. Not just because it’s a feature mostly used by more advanced photographers but because there’s some things missing to go along with this feature. The bulb mode will allow you to expose up to a 10 second exposure which should be more than adequate with the ISO 800 film and the only way to get this exposure is to hold the shutter button with your finger the entire time. Trying to hold any camera still for any length of time beyond a fraction of a second is really difficult and it’s certainly not easy with this camera.
If this feature were properly designed to be used with this camera you would at least have some way to open the shutter without touching it such as an option to attach a cable release. But there is no such way of performing this task without touching it so you’re left with trying to keep the camera still on a table or other stable surface while pressing and holding the shutter button.
Sure there’s a tripod mount on the camera but only on the side when in the portrait orientation and that still does not help with the problem of keeping it still while holding the shutter open during the exposure. To make it worse, the bottom of the camera when in landscape orientation is not flat which makes it even harder to keep it still during long exposures on a flat surface. Once again, great to have the feature but really difficult to use effectively.
You can see in these two pictures below how the long exposure did at night in downtown Denver. The first one below is exposed for 10 seconds which you can see the camera shake because of the long duration. The second one below is for 5 seconds which seems to be plenty of exposure time for this scene.
The macro function works well with the focus range from 12-24 inches and the flash works well this close as well. You will have some quick fall off from the flash when in portrait mode and taking pictures of your favorite restaurant dish but it meters the distance great.
The flash on this camera is the shining light of this system and because this camera is designed for indoor low light snapshot use, it gets worked hard. I’m pleased to say Fuji made this flash work well. The camera detects the subject with precision and properly exposes the subject from 1 to 30 feet every time. It’s really impressive. I give Fuji credit for making this work well.
The battery life of the Instax Mini 90 is superb. If you’re familiar with other Fuji cameras you may know it’s wise to have extra batteries on hand when going on a photo walk. Because of this past experience I was inclined to buy an extra battery but the Instax Mini 90 has a great battery life and you will have no problem getting through a night of pictures or a day of picture taking on a single battery. With my testing I was able to get through over 60 photos of mixed conditions before the battery got low. I’m glad to see this part of the camera become a non issue and one less thing to think about while you make photographs.
This is where you’re going to burn some film in the name of experimentation. Or as some of us call it, learning. The camera can be predictable in some ways which to start with you can pretty much plan on it being a bit bright. This film works best as a flashed portrait camera while taking pictures indoors. Take it outside and you can expect those areas lit by sun to be fairly bright. and barely hold on to detail. It does not have the range like good film and Its too bad the Instax Mini 90 has only one step to make the exposure darker because it seems to have no problem with making bright pictures.
The sunset scene here was metered too bright to get all the colors of the sky even with the exposure set darker one stop. The Broncos Fan in the next picture looks good but any whites in the picture are a bit too bright to hold detail.
Working with back-light outdoors is problematic. Color will be washed out and cool and you’ll be lucky to get the subject exposed where you want. Your best bet is to use the sun as main light either in the front or side of your subject.
You will want to pay attention to your subject distance when making photos because the primary focus is set for 2-10 feet. Anything beyond 10 feet and you will need to switch to landscape mode which can get cumbersome. It does make a difference so pay attention to your subject distance.
This is what its all about right? That’s why the film the Instax Mini 90 uses is the real product you end up with in the end. There’s no digital file to look back on later on down the road or to show your friends on your phone. The print you have in your hand is the only copy of the moment that exists. That is until you scan it. The entire print is almost the same size as a business card with the paper measuring 2.125” x 3.325” and the actual image area measuring 1.875” x 2.5”. Its not huge but big enough to get everyone excited.
I would describe the Fuji Instax 90 film are a cool bright world when photographed outdoors in the sun and perfect indoors. Commonly blowing out highlights when used in daylight, this film will feel heavy in cyan and always feel brightly exposed. I would love to experiment with other film types from Fuji, I mean they do make some great film, but the single option of film for this camera is one place they should enhance the user experience. The use of different film types has always been a fun way to play with the look of the print and it would allow the photographer to take their creativity to another level. Lets hope Fuji hears this plea for more film options.
The color looks great when you use the flash indoors and you’ll end up with great photos from parties and events inside. This is obviously what the camera was designed for and you will not be disappointed.
If you want to exercise your photographic eye this camera is a great tool for exploring your creativity and having a lot of fun along the way. You’ll not only get an appreciation for prints but everyone involved will also get a kick out of watching the prints develop. I’ve watched a lot of people look in amazement as they stared at the developing image. This is especially true for the younger ones who in this digital age have never seen such a thing happen before their eyes. Its pure amazement and a whole lot of fun. If you want to get your party started with some fun then this little camera will put smiles on everyone in an instant.