Film review: Fuji Instax Mini Monochrome
Welcome to – to the best of our knowledge – the world’s first review of Fuji Instax Mini Monochrome!
Technically the film isn’t supposed to be released until some time in October 2016 but I’ve no word of an embargo, so here goes.
Fuji Instax Mini is hands-down FUN to use and whilst Instax Wide – with its increased resolution – produces images of an arguably higher quality (in relative terms), the Mini format has its charms. Sure the camera’s are mostly fully automatic but it’s only a matter of time before someone sees sense and gives us the option of manual control.
Speaking of charms, they’re not just limited to the color and design of the cameras..oh no. There’s also a mind-boggling range of licensed and color options for the film itself.
When combined, the collective power of Disney, Rilakuma and Hello Kitty make the Instax Mini machine totally unstoppable. In fact, if my memory serves, Fuji Instax as a whole was the best selling “Camera and Photo” brand for Amazon over Christmas 2015.
For those of you without a clue as to what I’m on about, put on your shades and scroll down…
I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a desire for a black and white version of this teeny-tiny instant film format for nearly as long as the film’s been on the shelves. So much so that many people have driven themselves to near insanity in order to reproduce it in-camera (don’t try it at home, it’s simply not worth the effort).
In recent years, with the release of the Instax Share Printer, cunning photographers have found a way to create black and white Instax pictures but it’s not what one would call instant, if I’m honest.
So, when Fuji announced in early September 2016 that they would be releasing Instax Mini Monochrome in October 2016, I think it’s fair to say that fans were overjoyed. In fact, I know that it caused many fans of Fuji’s now dead FP-3000B to do the same. Perhaps it was the hope that peel-apart black and white instant film wasn’t really gone but simply on hiatus. I’ll be honest, I didn’t go crazy over it myself but that’s another story.
It’s my gut feeling that this new black and white Instax wasn’t the result of consumer demand but more the result of the cannily timed leak and subsequent announcement of Leica’s first Instax compatible instant camera, the Sofort.
A company known for it’s near religious pairing with black and white film releasing an
Instax instant camera with their own branded black and white Instax instant film? It’s a little close to be a coincidence, especially as I’m 100% certain that Fuji would never license their manufacturing technology to a third party. I humbly stand to be corrected.
When I was lucky enough to grab a few boxes of Instax Monochrome a few days ahead of release, I nearly tore the sales rep’s arm off and decided that a quick review was in order.
To the best of my knowledge this is the first review of Instax Mini Monochrome anywhere, so let’s get stuck in.
I’m not one to be swayed by packaging – don’t read a book…etc. – but looking at the boxed product it’s hard to think this was made by the same company responsible for the abominations in the ensemble image above.
Where Instax Color generally seems to try and relate to the fun, youthful crowd, the understated packaging communicates something a bit more adult.
Interestingly, the inner foil wrapper still states “Color Instant Film”. This screams of a rush to market to me. The volume of Instax product Fuji produce is not insignificant to say the least, so surely they must have had time to print the correct materials?
Take from it what you will.
Otherwise, the Instax Mini Monochrome cartridge is identical to Instax Mini Color and the box-inner content is pretty much the same. Nothing to see here.
Loading and unloading the cartridge is also identical, as one would expect, although I wish Fuji started printing funny asides, or slogans on the dark slide that pops out of the camera when you close the film door.
Shooting conditions and samples
On the box, we’re told the film is the same ISO 800 speed as its color cousin. Being black and white film, I decided I’d shoot my first cartridge with and without an orange filter (#21 in case you’re wondering).
The entire cartridge was shot within about 20 minutes and each subject was shot twice – one without the filter and once with. When using the filter, I decided it would be best to compensate and use the “Light” mode on the camera to over expose the frame. The filter also covered the light meter on the lens barrel of the camera, which was a two year old Fuji Instax Mini 90.
Now you know the conditions, I guess it’s time for the images. The samples you see below were captured using a 2016 camera phone. They have all been cropped, straightened and color corrected in Lightroom. My color correction only went as far as making the images appear as close to the real thing under natural light.
You can expect higher resolution scans at a later date.
Thoughts and considerations
Looking at the results above, I wish I’d used the “Light+” mode on the Mini 90 for my filtered samples. The sheets where I used the filter came out much darker than I expected and even though the filter covered the meter’s sensor, the camera didn’t compensate enough – or even at all.
Next time round I’ll be switching between an orange #21 and yellow #15 filter, as well as using the aforementioned “Light+” mode – no unfiltered shots for me.
Disappointing experiments with the orange filter aside, there’s promise in the results.
The blacks aren’t really jet black but more of a 90% gray and the resolution is…well, the same as normal Instax Color as far as I can tell. But, the black and white emulsion gives the final images a character I find lacking in Instax Color, or unedited black and white prints from the Instax Share Printer.
Where I normally find Instax Color produces low contrast images, my experience thusfar with Instax Mini Monochrome is one of slightly higher contrast and some pretty nice grey tones.
I found the Mini 90 camera to be rather fond of blowing out highlights, which you can see for yourself in every image above that features even a glint of open sky. Using the orange filter helped control this somewhat but as you can see, the end result isn’t fantastic. I have a feeling that the combination of a lighter filter with the extra over exposure mode might help control highlights, without underexposing the rest of the image. Time will tell.
Speaking of tones, the tones from Instax Mini Monochrome are pretty cold. You shouldn’t expect warm black and white based on my results but as with the additional filter tests above, I’ll be trying to see if it’s possible to change the color temperature of the film using filters at later date.
One final note on tones before I wrap up: the sheets shot with the orange filter also have a grey/green tint to them – something I didn’t expect at all. I’m nor sure where this comes from and would appreciate any thoughts you might have.
Retail prices will no doubt vary from market to market but I picked up my stock at around the US$10 mark per box. This runs in line with what I’ve seen the film go for on shopping websites and sits at about US$6 below the cost of Leica’s own version…though theirs does have a cream/ivory colored borders instead of Fuji’s brilliant white.
It remains to be seen if Leica’s film is substantially different. I hope that the extra few dollars per box translated into research on getting deeper blacks from the film, and not just on fancy packaging. I guess that remains to be seen.
My personal feelings about this film are mixed. On the one hand it’s a great evolution of the Instax Mini brand but until the cameras catch up, I’m still not 100% sure I’ll shoot a lot of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I REALLY LIKE these results and they’ve gotten me excited about shooting Instax again – this is the first box I’ve shot in over a year. That said, I’d like to feel a bit more in control of the process.
I sincerely hope that it’s a hit and that we see it making the leap to Instax Wide and the recently announced Instax Square (spring 2017). If it does remains to be seen. It might not be much comfort to those still stinging from the discontinuation of Fuji’s FP-3000B but look at it from this point of view:
Fuji have announced two new films this month.
Fuji. Two new films. In one month.
Sure, it’s not a new 135, 120 or sheet film and it’s certainly not the return of Neopan but it is progress and it shows that if there’s a perceived market, we can get new toys to play with.
And with that this mini review is over. Thanks so much for reading and please add any questions or comments below. If you’ve shot this film already, I’d be especially keen to hear what you think and whether your experiences match with mine.
I’ll be following up in due course with better images and results from my next box.
Until next time, keep shooting, folks!
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