#InstantApril 2016: Fuji Instax Mini and Polaroid Mio

Bonnie Brae Tavern
Super-saturated sky and great color on the Bonnie Brae Tavern, but a little overexposed and low on contrast. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The third camera and film combination I blasted through in April, 2016, was my Polaroid Mio camera and some expired Fuji Instax Mini film.

In addition my previous posts about Fujifilm FP-100C and Impossible Project Color Protection film, I pretty much explained my day in my recap, so here I intend to focus a little more on the film and the images.

Purples door
The purples (the darker color is a nice indigo in reality) on this door should’ve been much more purple. This is under a dim porch cover with the flash enabled. Also a bit overexposed. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Polaroid Mio, and the Mio film marketed in North America by Polaroid, were made by Fujifilm. Fuji’s instant offerings, some of which were every bit as good as Polaroid’s products, were occasionally sold under the Polaroid brand in the U.S. and Canada starting in the 1980s, after Fuji’s self-branded attempts fell flat.

Instax Mini film was marketed by Polaroid twice, in fact: First in 2001 under the Mio banner, and again in 2010 as Type 300. The matching cameras — the Polaroid Mio and the Polaroid 300 — are both Fuji Instax Mini guts with a different case for the American market. The Mio is probably the least cartoony of all the cameras that can use Instax Mini film.

I’m going to say this for both you and Google: Polaroid Mio, Polaroid 300 and Fuji Instax Mini do work together. The cameras and films are all interchangeable.

Of course, the Mio brand was discontinued a decade ago. Given the typical shelf life of integral instant films — usually even less than other films — expired Mio films are unlikely to be usable today. The chemistry pods are most likely dried up and crunchy, like the Polaroid 500 I tried last year in a Polaroid Joycam.

Polaroid 300 and Instax Mini are both still in current production, and at an average price of about $1 per shot, I think it pays to buy fresh. Buying in multiples can net big savings, too. A quick search reveals 5-packs (50 shots!) for $35 and lower — that’s just $0.70 per shot.

Tree through blue fence
This tree grows through a teal fence — a fence that is much bluer and less overexposed in real life than in this image. (Daniel J. Schneider)

My experiences with Instax Mini film have been good. Not great. Just good. Maybe just OK. I have two main beefs.

First, it’s simply not that sharp. I’m sure some of that can be attributed to the inexpensive lens in the Mio camera, but even Googling around I haven’t found any examples that were much more sharp than my results. Polaroid and Impossible integral films aren’t all that sharp, either, so part of me thinks it has to do with the technology.

Second, the color is usually a bit washed out. Well, maybe not all of it — bold reds and greens seem to render pretty true-to-life, as well as dark blues and some middle hues. Light greens, yellows, pinks and lighter blues tend to be desaturated in my experience, and a bit shifted. I’ll point out the blue and yellow shifts I find disappointing in the images below.

In part, I think the Mio tends to overexpose the film a bit most of the time. Otherwise, though, it’s a great little camera and a blast to use. There are still plenty on eBay in their boxes — a warehouse full of reconditioned cameras must’ve been left behind after the Mio line was killed off, because I got mine refurbished with all the packaging, and it even had a fresh battery.

1961 Cadillac Fleetwood
1961 Cadillac Fleetwood — much less purple than reality. (Daniel J. Schneider)

But that’s not really the point, is it? What I love about Mio/Instax Mini is that it’s ridiculously easy, and frankly, just plain fun.

Even at a dollar a shot, it’s not so expensive you can’t take multiple photos of a subject and then give some away. Being just about the size of a business card, they’re a great way to share an original work of art with friends and family.

Unlike Impossible films, Instax is a truly well-researched, full-formed product. You can count on the chemicals spreading evenly and completely virtually every time. You can predict what colors and lighting are going to do on the film with a high degree of accuracy as you learn the film’s characteristics.

Don’t take this as an indictment of Impossible, whose philosophy on their releases has simply been very different than what we expect from an established behemoth like Fuji. It’s merely an observation about the reliability of a product from an established manufacturer, with millions of dollars’ worth of research and decades of development behind it.

Monogrammed porch light
This yard light appears to be almost monogrammed. Maybe it is? The orange and steel-blue lenses fared well on the Instax, however. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Just like a full-sized Polaroid photo from years past, the integral film has a white border — wider on the side where the chemical pod is — perfect for writing on. And Fujifilm has a great track record of releasing colored and themed borders throughout the year.

Best of all, I expect the support to not only continue, but likely expand. Fuji in 2015 shipped 5 million Instax cameras — and only 1.4 million digital cameras — according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2004, Fuji shipped only 100,000 Instax units, but they expect to ship 6.4 million in fiscal 2016. No wonder the best-selling photographic item on Amazon last Christmas was Instax film.

Of course, these great Instax numbers don’t quite make up for Fuji’s near-annual discontinuations — this year, the last peel-apart instant film fell victim — but it’s better for us film aficionados than if the digital market were expanding (it’s not).

Anyway, let’s look at the rest of the pictures I made with Instax Mini film for #InstantApril, when I expected it to be a last stand — using up all the remaining instant film I had and putting away those cameras forever (it wasn’t quite, but that’s another story).

Turquoise liquor store
The turquoise trim on this liquor store is a bit faded compared to reality. The “R” on the sign is every bit as faded in real life, however. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Fence-post toppers
Glazed ceramic toppers adorn all the fence posts around this South Pearl Street home. Sadly, close-ups with the Mio are tough (and everything is overexposed). (Daniel J. Schneider)
Bonnie Brae Ice Cream
Bonnie Brae Ice Cream, with a line stretching out the door and down to the street on the first warm day of 2016. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Little Free Library
A very tiny Little Free Library on South Pearl. Overall good colors here, if slightly overexposed. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Campus Lounge
Campus Lounge near the University of Denver. Vintage marquee for the win. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Planter box
A planter outside a South Pearl Street business. The green is washed out compared to reality. The sides appear to made of stamped steel ceiling tiles, which are rusting elegantly. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Pearl Street corner
A corner on Pearl Street. The sky isn’t as saturated as I expected, but overall the colors are quite true. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Pink faces
A kid-sized bench and some of the pink doll faces that have been turning up glued to things all over Denver. Color is pretty good here. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Tiny garden
Tiny garden frogs and turtles — less deeply green than reality. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Pearl Street planter
The red door and blue planter came out well, but the wall — a deep, saturated purple — seems washed out. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Gaylord Street stand mixer
The pink on this old stand mixer isn’t that bright, but it nevertheless looks desaturated here. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Steam Beechcraft
A Beechcraft fuselage as yard decoration at Steam Espresso Bar. The green interior and brown stripes are fairly true, but the photo is slightly overexposed. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Blue garage
Faded and grey, this garage is almost painful in reality, so vivid is its blue paint. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Pearl Street bricks and blues
Bricks and blues — not nearly as brilliantly turquoise as in real life. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Bardo Coffee House
Bardo Coffee House. The pale greens are very true, if a bit overexposed and out-of-focus. (Daniel J. Schneider)