There is no denying that the Instax Mini 90 “Neo Classic” is the coolest looking instant camera! After the rather bulbous and toy-like looking cameras in the rest of the Instax range, this looks like a proper camera! Taking cues from the Fujifilm X-Series range, which is exactly why I thought it looked great and drew me to it! I’ve been wanting to get hold of one of the Instax cameras for a while, but none of the rest of the range have really appealed to me.
Holding the Mini 90 in the hand it is a lot smaller than I expected it to be, which came as a pleasant surprise as I didn’t want something too big to carry around, and I was able to fit it into my coat pocket. It’s all plastic, but feels well made and quite solid and has a slightly rubberised feel to the parts of it that you’ll be holding whilst shooting.
I unpacked the battery and was disappointed to see that it was so small, until I remembered that there was no screen to power, no sensor, no complex processor! The battery doesn’t need to be big. I’ve put four films through the camera so far, most shots taken with the flash and with a lot of messing about at the start fiddling with the camera, playing with buttons and settings. The battery is yet to drop on the level indicator from full, of which there are four bars. Given that each film takes 10 shots I’m guessing that you’re probably good for at least 10 films (100 shots) even if that’s mostly with flash before you’re likely to need to think about recharging the battery.
Inserting the film is straightforward, line up the yellow indicators and drop it in. The camera immediately ejects the black slide protecting the film and the indicator on the back shows the number of shots you have left. The indicator is persistent, even when you remove the battery for an extended period for charging. Be aware though that there is nothing stopping you from being stupid and opening the back half-way through a pack of film and ruining it. If you want to be careful, a piece of gaffer tape across the sliding catch would prevent that.
Films come in packs of 10 and are around £12 for a two-pack on Amazon. This makes prints around 60p each, which I think is quite reasonable, and approximately half that of the Polaroid equivalent. I have seen packs of 10 films sold for as little as £45, meaning you could go as low as 45p per shot if you look around. There are also some fun film designs, with different borders as you can see here from the Fuji page.
The camera is fairly straight forward to use, but the manual is absolutely awful! It is in multiple languages, as many are, but in this pull-out manual all the languages are displayed together so it’s really hard to discern and decode. For the most part you can figure out the camera for yourself, but to avoid wasting film I wanted to read it to make sure I was loading the film correctly and that I had it set up properly. It wouldn’t be difficult to have made it far easier to read by separating the languages and providing a little more information. The biggest frustration for me is that the different modes aren’t explained very well at all. The manual tells you what they are for, but not really how they work. Without the convenience we are used to in digital, it would be nice to know a bit more about exactly what each different option does without having to fire off several prints and guess what is happening! Perhaps I’m being a bit picky coming from cameras that allow me to set them up to do exactly what I want?!
Controls are simple. Flick the Power button on the front to turn it on/off. There are two shutter buttons, and obvious one on the top, and a second inside the power button, which I only discovered later on and is located in the centre of the power button. It is useful when the camera is in portrait mode. A ring around the lens rotates to a stop in either direction and is used for changing the mode of the camera – more on that later.
On the back there is a panel in the centre which removes for the battery, and five buttons along with two LCD displays. One of these displays shows the remaining frames and the second the mode, battery life, flash mode, self-timer, macro and exposure compensation settings.
Macro mode allows you to focus close-up – as close as 30cm, although you’ll have to be aware of parallax at that distance. The Macro mode should be used when your subject is 30-60cm (approx. 12-24 inches) away.
The L/D button allows you to do some basic exposure compensation with options of (L)ight (L+)ighter and (D)ark though it’s going to be a case of trial and error as the manual doesn’t say how much lighter or darker the image gets! A nice touch though and if you’re using it regularly you will get to know when to use this and when not to. Certainly not something you’re going to see on any other instant camera and sets this Instax up for the more advanced user.
It’s not totally clear in the photo of these prints, but the top image is in standard mode and the bottom one is in D (dark) mode, you can see much more detail in the face and the clouds. In my experience, if you’re shooting in sunlight you need to set it to D mode to avoid blown out highlights.
The self-timer mode gives a 10 second delay and has a option of taking a second shot. I’m not sure when it takes the 2nd shot as the manual says “about 3-6 seconds” plus another “about 3 seconds”! I haven’t tried it to be honest and I’m not sure what happens to the first piece of film when the second one comes out behind it whilst you are still in front of the camera waiting for the second exposure.
Flash mode button gives four modes, forced flash, red-eye reduction, forced off and auto. The auto mode is active by default, so when there is no flash symbol on the LCD that means it is in auto mode.
Finally, there is a Mode button. Press the Mode button and use the rotating ring on the lens to change this mode. Modes to choose from are as follows, Party, Children, Landscape, Double Exposure and Bulb.
Explanations of the modes are sparse, but I’ll run through them here and try to explain them if I can!
Normal mode (no mode selected). According to the manual the flash fires or the shutter speed varies according to brightness. The shutter speed is fixed at 1/30th in dark places, which is a good combination of allowing enough light in whilst giving you a chance at holding it still enough to get a sharp shot.
Party mode is a slow-synch shutter speed mode where the flash fires, but the shutter speed is deliberately slow to allow the background to come through too. In my experience if the background is too dark then you’ll still just get a dark background. I imagine at a wedding it will probably work quite well indoors if the venue is lit well enough. I tried it in a museum and just got black backgrounds.
Kids mode. The camera tries to use the fastest shutter speed it can to catch fast moving objects! Also a mode to choose if you’re taking photos of anything that is on the move, animals, cars etc.
Landscape. For shooting subjects from 3 metres to infinity. There is no explanation that I can find and I’m not quite sure what the camera needs this mode for! Perhaps the lens only has three fixed focussing distances? 30-60cm (macro), 60cm-3m (normal) and 3m-infinity (landscape)? Again, a little more detail in the manual would be handy.
Double exposure mode allows you to shoot two frames on the same piece of film. You can get some nice effects with this, but you’ll have to be pretty good at a remembering what your first shot was and where you lined things up to get the look you are after. You have to shoot the second exposure whilst the power is still on or the film will be ejected when you power off. Should be fun for some creative shots.
Final mode is Bulb. This lets you hold open the shutter for as long as you keep your finger pressed on the shutter release button. Handy to have when shooting at night, but a bit of guesswork will be required and a steady hand to get the shot. Still a nice, unusual, feature to have in there and again showing that this Instax is for the more advanced user.
The Instax Mini 90, as the name suggests takes the mini version of the Instax film. This gives prints of approximately credit card size, which makes them an ideal wallet carry around size.
The lens states on the front that it is 60mm, but remember that the ‘negative’ in this case is the size of the print, so that 60mm doesn’t relate to the 35mm equivalent, and looking at the prints, it probably around a 35mm lens in 35mm negative terms. The large print also accounts for the fact that the lens is actually quite big on the front of the camera as it has to fill the entire print area. The lens pops out quite a way when you turn the camera on and it is impressive that Fujifilm have managed to get it to collapse well into the body, keeping it quite compact when switched off.
You can shoot in either portrait or landscape. Hold the camera in the obvious sense (top plate at the top!) and it takes landscape shots. It took me until the 3rd shot to figure out which way up portrait was though – here again is where a good manual would help! I was thinking along the lines of the traditional Polaroid cameras where the film comes out of the bottom, but on the Instax Mini 90 if you want your portrait shot to have the wide strip at the bottom then you need to orientate it so that the film comes out of the top. If you look around the camera carefully, this does become obvious when you notice a tripod socket on the opposite side to the film slot, which naturally orientated the camera into the correct way up portrait mode. A really nice touch to see a tripod socket on there for those low light and night time shots.
The viewfinder is useful for lining up shots. It’s quite small so you have to get your eye just in the right place, but once you get used to it there is nothing that causes a problem.
The shutter buttons fall to hand, and it’s quite an easy camera to hold and shoot with, although feels more natural in landscape mode. In portrait mode there is a little strip of raised rubber ‘bumps’ to give your thumb some grip, a nicely thought out addition.
Prints from the Instax do vary depending on the conditions you shoot in. They can vary from average to pretty good. I suspect part of that is a case of getting used to how to shoot well with the camera, and the more I used it, the better they started to come out. The flash can wash out faces if you get in too close, so you just learn not to do that. I’d say the ideal distance is around 1 metre (3ft) away for portraits.
In the age of digital we find ourselves printing less and less, viewing on a monitor and sharing images online, with it just seeming to be too much of a hassle to print our images out. There is a certain sentiment surrounding film, and this is exactly where the Instax cameras appeal, to our emotional side that wants to look and hold something physical. My wife and daughter love this camera, especially my daughter who is always desperate to watch the image appears in front of her eyes – “The magic!” as she calls it! It’s also great to watch her get excited with the traditional idea of photography too and nice to be able to share images around straight away. Any frustration with the manual and not being able to do exactly as I’m used to with my other cameras melts away when you see people with the images in their hands.
We were able to put some prints into a small album for my daughter to take to school to show off her first trip to London. There was much fun doing it this way rather than stress of getting the printer up and running, and not having to worry about the ink running out half way through!
With the Instax Mini 90 being for sale at a premium price with the mini 7 and 8 cameras can be had for around half the price, this camera has to have the extra features and looks to make it worth paying double the price of its cheaper siblings. In terms of looks it is certainly there, but it’s a bit of a shame there isn’t a little more control over the camera. Having said that, with the mini 7 and 8, you are limited to a fixed shutter speed of 1/60th and can only adjust the aperture for brightness, and this is where those extra pennies go in the 90. You do have more creative control over your image and if you’re looking to be a bit more serious about your Instax prints then it could well be worth you spending that extra.
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