In my bag this week No. 14: Polaroid Mio and Fuji Instax Mini film

Polaroid Mio and first test shots
The Polaroid Mio camera and a couple of my first test shots. The lens scoots out like a lot of modern point-and-shoot cameras. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Sometimes I let my love of film get the better of me at the thrift store, which is how I wound up with 50 frames of Fuji Instax film. And eventually, a Polaroid Mio camera.

I found the film in a big bin with some other junk and though I was unclear on what Instax was, I couldn’t pass up any film that was only $1.99. I didn’t know at the time that Instax was becoming such a thing or that the cameras were so expensive.

So what is a Polaroid Mio? Well, it’s basically a Fuji Instax Mini with a Polaroid badge, and some slightly less tacky styling.

Fujifilm started with Instax Wide cameras and film. They competed with Polaroid Captiva cameras in the late 1990s before being released in the U.S. in September 2008. Captiva and Instax wide film makes images a little smaller than classic Polaroid Type 600 and SX-70 squares we all grew up with. But coming out shortly after Polaroid officially killed all the classics gave Fuji a quick foothold in the recently-vacated U.S. niche.

A year later, Fuji brought the Instax Mini 7 series to the U.S., along with its business card-sized photos. In early 2010, the new owners of Polaroid cut a deal to rebrand the smaller Instax film as Type 300, and a slightly redesigned version of the Mini 7 camera as the Polaroid 300.

All that’s neither here nor there because the Polaroid Mio was introduced way back in 2001 and used Polaroid Mio film. That Instax Mini was Fujifilm’s version of Mio film, so it seems things came full circle in the end.

The Mio still doesn’t look particularly grown up with its strange, rounded body and bubble-inspired styling. But it makes up for it by being as close to idiot-proof as possible, without being totally condescending, nearly 15 years ago.

What I mean by that is: it’s not completely, ridiculously automatic. Heck, it has five buttons (not counting the film door latch). Actually it’s not all that bad at all.

It lets you control your focus a bit, with two modes — near-ish and far-ish. Press the button with a mountain icon to toggle far-ish mode, which focuses from 10 feet to infinity. Normal mode focuses from 2 to 10 feet.

You can also control the flash a bit — press the button with the lightning bolt icon to enable fill flash.

The lighten/darken button works similarly to the knob on so many old Polaroid cameras; press once to lighten or twice to darken.

The remaining two buttons are power and the shutter releases, which shouldn’t need much explanation.

The camera features an image area about 6.25cm by 4.5cm, very similar to a 645-style medium format camera. The lens is a 60mm with . . . an aperture. Reportedly the aperture maxes out at f/12. Shutter speeds range from 1/30 sec. to 1/400.

The little LCD next to the power button counts down from 10 shots after you load the film and press the shutter once to eject the dark slide in the front of the film pack. Ejecting the dark slide is a terrible process, aurally — it’s crunchy and grinding and scary, but it’s supposed to be like that as far as I can tell.

Make pictures by deciding on a focus range, setting the fill flash on if you want it, framing the shot through the simple viewfinder and pressing the big black button on the front of the camera. After pressing the shutter release, the film slides out the top of the camera. 30-45 seconds later, you have a tiny picture!

I got the Polaroid Mio, refurbished and in an original box, for about $65 on eBay. The seller included two packs of fresh Fuji Instax Mini film — putting my collection at 70 frames. I’ve shot one experimental pack — 10 shots — of film already; 60 to go.

So far I’m not massively impressed, but I’m no more disappointed than I ever was with older Polaroid films. The sharpness is reasonable, the contrast is pretty strong and the color is so-so. I’ll know more after some further experimentation. Here’s an early sample shot you might recognize:

Polaroid Mio test shot
A quick test shot of the Republic Plaza food court in downtown Denver. You may recognize the subject from my Yashica-A post last week. (Daniel J. Schneider)