Dear Fujifilm, on behalf of all instant photography fans, please give us a decent Instax camera — one that excites us, one that inspires us.
I love Instax. I really do. It gives more reliable results than Polaroid, but the choice of cameras we have is rather limited.
Polaroid shooters are spoiled for choice, from the revolutionary SX-70 to the SLR 680 and dozens of models in-between. That's a legacy that Instax shooters don't have. Yet, it started off so well.
In 1999, they produced the Instax 500AF. Autofocus and auto-exposure in an Instax camera, imagine that. To this day, the 500AF has held its value and remains a much-loved model by instant enthusiasts.
Every few months, there's a new announcement out of Japan, and we try not to get our hopes up: a new look, a new feature, a new name.
In the last few days, images of the Mini 40 were leaked online. The most exciting thing about the announcement was not the new camera, but the new contact sheet film. It's nice to see they've reintroduced auto-exposure with their latest models instead of making us choose between a sun, a cloud, and a house.
Auto0exposure is also featured in their best instant camera of recent times, the SQ6. It even had a double exposure mode and came with three colored flash filters, giving us hope that things were getting better and they were listening to us. But with all the latest Instax models, such as the Mini 40 and the SQ1, it's all style over substance. Not quite good enough, Fujifilm.
Why am I expecting such big things? Here's why.
They make a lot of money from Instax. The company reports show that it's the cash cow of their imaging division. Instax generates way more income than the X Series and GFX lines combined and always will.
Although sales were down in 2020, they still managed to ship more than 8.5 million Instax cameras. These are sales figures that other camera manufacturers can only dream of.
There are no figures for how much Instax film was sold, but it has to be in the hundreds of millions of sheets every year. For all the animosity directed at them from the film community, they're still the biggest show in town.
They know how to make beautiful cameras and stunning lenses. X Series cameras effortlessly blend cutting-edge technology with retro charm. GFX cameras have made medium format accessible to thousands of professional photographers.
On top of that, they've also produced some of the most iconic film cameras in the last quarter of a century, from premium point and shoot cameras such as the Klasse S to the stunning GF670 rangefinder. Even the Hasselblad XPan was designed and made by Fujifilm in Japan.
I know that Instax was more or less a hand-me-down technology from Kodak and Polaroid. So, I won't hold my breath waiting for a revolutionary camera like the SX-70.
But in the not too distant past, they've teased us. In an interview with DPReview in October 2018, a senior Fujifilm spokesperson said: "Maybe we should think about interchangeable lens Instax".
That would be a huge step in the right direction, but two and a half years have passed, and still, nothing.
In recent years, others have filled the gap in the market. MiNT Cameras has models for all three Instax formats. This includes excellent manual focus rangefinders for wide and square formats. Instant Options modifies your ho-hum Instax offerings with much better lenses.
I know there can't be much money in selling an advanced instant camera to enthusiasts. But come on, Fujifilm, give us something.
Until then, Instax is a film format that has yet to reach its true potential, forever synonymous with toy cameras, tween birthday parties, Hello Kitty, and Taylor Swift. I think it deserves much more than that.