Fujifilm has been making its instax cameras since the late 1990s now, but the popularity outside of Japan has been slow progress. I still remember back in 2009 when I had to order my brown instax mini 7s directly from Japan via an ebay seller.
Thankfully the global popularity of these cameras has significantly risen and they are now (easily) available from most stores that deal in photography. Of course I can’t speak for other countries, but here in Belgium most photography stores as well as bigger chains such as FNAC and MediaMarkt at least carry one, and often several, of the available models (7s, 8, 25, 50s or 90 NEO CLASSIC and then the wide version) as well as film for these cameras. Prices, however, vary greatly from store to store, so it’s best to take some time to look around so you can find the cheapest option.
Today, however, we are going to restrict the review to the only model with a proper retro look: the Fuji instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC. What’s in a name right?
The NEO CLASSIC is not only the newest camera in the range, it’s also the most expensive.
But it is worth the added cost for the features.
Contrary to the other models, that work on various types of “regular” batteries, this one has a rechargeable lithium ion battery (included, as well as the charger, with the camera, obviously).
It also has two shutter buttons (making it easy depending on whether you want a portrait or landscape format photos) and a whole slew of new settings.
The most practical ones are no doubt the macro and landscape ones. Aside from that it offers a kids mode for subjects unlikely to stand still (not only kids but they had to call it something), a party mode to make sure you get a clear view of the entire surroundings and not just the main subject, a bulb flash option and, wait for it, double exposure.
True to instax form this one has several flash settings, but as opposed to indoors, cloudy, bright sunlight and regular sunlight this works with regular flash, D (for very bright surroundings), L (regular) and L+ (dark). On top of that you can actually turn the flash off (at your own risk as it tends to turn your photos on the blurry side unless you have perfect light and a very steady hand) or set it to red eye reduction.
The camera has excellent battery life. It is reported to last several cartridges and I have to say that mine is currently on its fourth and I still have about 90%ish of the battery life left. So you don’t have to charge it much at all. But then again, I didn’t have to replace the batteries in my 7s for over 3 years either. I’ve only charged it after I bought it, but the charging itself went really fast, so I wouldn’t say that the lithium ion battery is any kind of downside. You just have to be careful that when you need to charge it you don’t accidently open the cartridge section if you still have unused film in there I suppose.
The two shutter buttons are a great addition. I never had any issues with just the one on the 7s, but I have heard several of my friends complain about the button placement, especially in combination with sensor placement so Fujifilm really stepped up and sorted this out. It’s practical in any case.
It uses the exact same film, that produces high quality credit card sized photos, as all the other instax mini cameras (only the instax wide has a different format) and prices of that honestly depend on where you buy them. It’s also compatible with the film of the Polaroid 300 (which is basically a rip of Fujifilm’s instax cameras). I personally haven’t used any of the Polaroid film so I can’t compare the quality of Fuji’s own film to that.
Another advantage is that this camera is incredibly lightweight. Especially compared to the older models 7s and 8. It’s the lightest camera in the series, which only adds to its portability. It’s small and practical to stow away in your bag or backpack.
Furthermore it comes with a handy, and long enough, neck strap, which sadly is a bit of a hassle to get attached (and probably is an equal hassle to get off again), which is also quite practical. But it isn’t quite as sturdy as it’s bulky predecessors 7s and 8 and I personally would advise taking it along in some sort of protective bag. It’s easily solved though by going on ebay and buying a “hamburger case”. They resemble little flight cases and will keep your camera safe.
There’s also a variety of other, often very steampunk and dieselpunk looking, (fake) leather covers and bags available, so it’s really a matter of personal preference. Some people also just get a regular camera bag that’s big enough.
Now I own both the 7s and the NEO CLASSIC and I can honestly say that photo quality wise, Fujifilm has really improved. Whilst the 7s is fun to use and doesn’t make bad photos, the ones made with the NEO CLASSIC are really rather sharper (unless you fail at the settings or shake the camera when taking a photo of course) and I do think that the new features are a strong advantage.
Comparison photo of both my cameras, the 7s on the left and the NEO CLASSIC on the right.
Would I recommend it to the casual instant photographer?
Not really, because if you’re just going to take a photo once in a while and just want to have a bit of fun with one, it’s probably best to look into one of the other models online and see which ones you like best.
Whilst the photo quality of the NEO CLASSIC is better, it’s not so much better that it’s worth the added cost for the casual user I think.
If you, like me, drag your instax around to social gatherings and events and thus use it on a very regular basis, I would recommend shelling out a bit more for this model. I haven’t regretted doing so for a single moment.
Plus, this one looks really cool with steampunk and especially dieselpunk outfits, which is always an added bonus.
In short: Fujifilm really stepped up with this first model in the new generation of instax cameras, both in look, user friendliness and overall quality. It does take a while to get used to all the features, but not long enough for you to ruin tons of photos. And especially if you’re used to similar settings on other (analogue) cameras you’ll get the hang of this in no time. So if you’re serious about instant photography, this is definitely a camera to look into.
And two photos I took with this camera so you can see how good it is, sorry I haven’t taken it to many events yet so I’ve mostly victimised my pets and friends. I must admit I have a bit of a weakness for their novelty film (they don’t just come in blank, they come in a whole variety of different frames: design, art, comics, Marvel heroes, cartoon characters, holidays, just look on ebay for “instax mini film” globally and you’ll know what I mean).
You can see more on the portal site, and I can attest that they’re actually accurate representations of photos you can take with this kind of camera.