Film photography is back, and one of the biggest pushes of the analog format comes from the especially and newly resilient surge of the instant photograph. Impossible Project is now the new Polaroid (literally), Fujifilm has found success with the Instax format, and Kodak is pushing right along with its Printomatic. How does this option compare with the former two? We have a hands-on review of the Printomatic right here.
Regardless of the print size, there’s something inexplicably exciting about taking a photograph and having it print out instantly in front of your eyes. Instant cameras — even and especially today — are always the life of the party. And the Kodak Printomatic is no exception.
Compared to the familiar Polaroid or even Fujifilm’s Instax line, the Printomatic’s main differentiating factor is in its “film” technology. Indeed, the Printomatic is actually not a film camera. It features a 10-megapixel sensor, a compact point-and-shoot body, and a “zero ink” technology called ZINK that uses heat-sensitive paper to create a color image. That image can be black and white with the flip of a switch if you prefer a more “classic” look.
While some have called the Printomatic a rebranded copy of the Polaroid Snap, it’s actually reasonably different with, at the very least, an updated design and button layout, a faster f/2 versus f/2.8 lens, the lack of a screen on the back, a different viewfinder, an integrated flash, and a more affordable price point. How much of the rest of the camera is identical is unclear.
In any case, the Printomatic features no rear screen. A power button turns the camera on along with three small LED lights on the back, each marked with a different function of notification. With three red-to-white LEDs (one each under battery, memory card, and print status icons), the Printomatic can tell you almost everything you need to know about your camera’s status. While it’s not entirely intuitive without some extra thinking, this isn’t a complicated camera, so you probably already know if you loaded film recently or need to insert a memory card; if the battery icon is red instead of white, that’s pretty telling.
This camera will also give you audio cues in the form of high-pitched beeps. While there’s no light or shutter-emulating sound when you take a photo, there is an audible beep which takes some time to get used to. But it’s fairly obvious what’s going on at that point. It’s worth noting that I did have a few people staring at me as I put my bag, constantly beeping with a three-tone chime, into an overhead bin on the plane. No matter how I put it in, the power button on the back side of the camera would constantly be triggered, resulting in a repetitive startup beep that definitely reminded some more pessimistic souls of a Jack Bauer-esque backpack countdown. Needless to say, a way to lock the power button would have been great with its current placement.
Taking and Printing Photos
When you take a photo, it will automatically print an image out in approximately 10 seconds. Because there’s no ink to dry or film to develop, the 2- x 3-inch print is immediately visible and can be handled on the spot. That part is certainly neat. Meanwhile, the digital image is saved to a microSD card (supplied separately) that you don’t need to run the camera or print one-off images, but that will enable you to do more with the images later, of course. In a way, this is a smart implementation of both digital and analog technologies.
Unfortunately, I did find the quality of the print’s color to be relatively lacking in brilliance. Images did not seem very saturated, and they all had a gray-magenta tint to them. While printing an image instantly is still a novelty that did not go unappreciated at a Thanksgiving party, there were a few comments from those more familiar with Polaroids that wished for the original instant format. But how much of that was borne out of nostalgia versus objective quality comparison is hard to say, especially when there isn’t a Polaroid to compare to nearby.
Thankfully, the digital images do not have this tint, so the image quality imperfections seem limited by the ZINK technology. That’s not to say it’s useless — far from that, in fact. But it’s worth noting that it’s still imperfect (as is essentially every instant film technology in at least some way). The sensor is still small, so don’t expect any images to be DSLR quality. But compared to a modern iPhone, the quality is perhaps only slightly behind.
Where the Printomatic really stands out doesn’t become apparent until you consider its price. With the camera starting at $69 and photo paper at just $0.50 per print regardless of which quantity you purchase, the Printomatic is the most affordable way to get into the instant photography space. While the Instax Mini system might cost slightly less for the camera at about $50, its $0.60 to nearly $1 exposures are pricier and even smaller still than those of the Printomatic, although they do feature a more “photographic,” truly light-sensitive print process. But the price difference per exposure is something that definitely adds up (the difference in camera price would be made up after only 60 printed images at most).
A nice and unexpected feature of the ZINK paper is its peel-apart sticky backing. While I’ve seen a number of weddings use a Fujifilm Instax Mini to create welcome photos that are then put into the guestbook, it could be a lot faster and easier to stick on Kodak’s ZINK paper prints compared to fumbling around with double-sided tape or the glue stick with the Instax Minis.
What I Liked
- Affordable camera and film pricing.
- Compact size.
- Catchy, contemporary design.
- Digital option alongside printing physical images.
- Unique, sticky back side to each photo allows for easy applications as stickers.
What I Didn't Like
- ZINK paper/print color quality could be better.
- Shutter release button too easy to press (was inadvertently triggered by people who were unfamiliar with camera upon picking up).
- Power button too easily depressed from rear, causing inadvertent power cycles, beeps, and battery drainage during transport.
- The relatively small print size doesn't feel as premium as the more expensive and larger options.
It’s hard to say how much better or worse the Printomatic is than its competition. In the end, it really depends on what you’re looking for. The Fujifilm Instax Square and Wide both feature larger print sizes in a real instant photograph, but at nearly three times the size, weight, and both initial and ongoing operational costs. The Polaroid system, if buying new, features nearly the same cost-benefit scenario related to what it takes to produce prints of that size. And the Printomatic, in spite of its faults, remains the compact, affordable, small-print option that’s more relatable to the clunkier but still different Instax Mini. No matter how you look at it, there’s no doubt that the Printomatic simply fills a gap by lowering the entry-level price of getting into instant-print photography with a neat device that isn’t awkward to throw into a purse.
The Kodak Printomatic is available in multiple colors for $69.99. Packs of ZINK paper cost $10 for 20 sheets. I recommend the $89.95 option with the camera and discounted 50-sheet pack, which figures to a slight discount when purchased as a kit.