Black and white Fuji Instax photographic experiments
Versione in Italiano e qui: https://emulsive.org/experiments/esperimenti-fotografici-con-fuji-instanx-in-bianco-e-nero
My name is WhatsBehindThat and I make photos.
I took my first shots with a Yashica film camera (after my brother explained me how to read the table of values behind the flash and how to set up the right aperture).
Some time later, I moved up and over to a small second hand Kodak digital camera, which allowed me to experiment and learn a lot about ISO, aperture and shutter speed without spending too much money – maybe this was a sign of things to come.
At some point, after discovering Lomography and learning a lot about film photography, I approached instant photography with very high expectations. Polaroids as medium, gave me the idea that photos are there to capture moments which are often not “posed” or prepared; spontaneous and not edited photos that represent reality as beautiful or ugly as it is 🙂
After taking a few hundred shots using Fuji Instax, an idea popped up in my mind: what about black and white instax film?
I knew that Black and White instant film existed at that time (Fuji FP-3000b, Impossible BW), but I had to face a horrible truth: there was no such instax film…and there probably would never be.
A friend of mine, in front of a Finnish lake, once told me that nothing is impossible if you really care enough.
Nothing is impossible
I decided to “cheat” a bit and buy an Instax Share SP-1 and use it exclusively to print black and white instax photos.
The Share SP-1 is a small printer that using a phone, allows one to print any digital photo in Instax format. It is small, easy to set up, light and a set of batteries will last forever.
It’s the perfect companion and discussion generator, especially if you love to work on your photos in a coffee bar.
The first subject I printed was the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco. The first picture came out decent enough, but not perfect.
For some reason there was some “depth” missing in the blacks, and what was perfectly contrasted and detailed on my screen appeared a bit flat, losing that touch of contrast that makes the black and white really stand out.
The Fujifilm phone app that you need to print the photos with the SP-1 contains few easy out of the box filters to enhance the photos, but I was not satisfied with the results since the control you have on the filters is basically zero: it is a mere on/off filter setting.
The so called “smart filter” represents a good solution for quick adjustments but for optimal results, it is not the best option in my opinion due the lack of any kind of setting to increase or decrease the effect applied.
If we think about the fact that the Instax medium is meant to be easy to use, I can’t blame Fujifilm too much for this choice. The total loss of control on the filters makes the app super intuitive and approachable even for a person with no experience at all in photography.
But! If someone from Fujifilm is reading this, pretty please, consider how much passion so many photographers are putting in to using Instax film. If you need a beta tester, here I am!
Hordes of photographers would appreciate it and be thankful for a bit more creative control directly in-app 😀
Back to my tests and I decided to first edit the photos a bit in thendigital darkroom in order to be able to refine the perfect recipe to get the maximum out of Instax film and push it to the digital limit.
As I said, the first time I printed something out the result was flat, washed out, but what hit me the most was the lost details. Everything looked very detailed and crispy on my monitor but not on my print.
I wanted to investigate this further and is seems that this behaviour occurs simply because of the transformation from digital to analog, as well as the natural tendency of the Instax film to slightly overexpose the images.
The Instax data sheet indicates that it has a resolving power of 12 lines per mm, which means that the capability of the emulsion is to “refine” the details of the image.
As a comparison, a film emulsion like Fuji Velvia 50 has a 80 lines per mm, at minimum contrast value.
This does not mean that instax film does not have high resolution, it is just a bit lower than usual film. You will not be able to see any line or dot not even with a magnifier.
It’s worth noting that the Instax share app also reduces the resolution of the photo you want to print in order to match the resolving power of the medium. So, if your source photo shows very little details…you are going to lose them during the conversion.
Another factor is related to the way the image is it transferred to the film, and looking at patents – yes, I really wanted to understand how this device works – I found a patent called registered to Fuji called “ Transfer apparatus – US 20020067440 A1“.
It describes a small device containing a “light source, a transmission type image display device in which a liquid crystal layer is held between two sets of substrates and polarizing plates and a photosensitive recording medium.”
Am I 100% sure that this is the right device? No. But I am pretty sure this is the basis that was used to create the SP1. This device allows the display of an image sent from a phone much like a scanner in reverse; one that instead of reading data, displays it.
This also explains the characteristic scanner-like noise that is produced when a picture is printing with the Share-SP1 🙂
On to one of my test shots to verify how far we can go with detail: original digital image vs printed Instax black and white.
The very detailed wall of tiles on the right side lost a lot of detail on the Instax film. It simply retains a memory of the original pattern. The detail on the fronts of the balconies, which show the same pattern as the wall, is completely gone. There is no real solution to mitigate this limit of the film. But the results are not bad at all and as far as your subject is not too small.
I tried different tones in order to find the best balance but in the end – this is just my personal opinion, of course – a pure Black and White conversion will work a lot better on Instax film.
The sepia tone for example removes something from the whole thing making the photo look less contrasty, or maybe distracting:
Also, it makes the Instax look less “artificial” and this to me is a very important point: The result I want to achieve must be natural, in pure Instax style, as plain as possible. This is what makes Instax attractive to me. Even more for black and white.
Let’s remember that we are using a medium that is usually NOT subject to post processing and is framed in white 😀
Some of my test shots sometimes popped up with a very subdued greenish sometimes reddish tone, but my results with this have not been consistent, I didn’t find a proper reason for this
Temperature in the room and software used have always been the same, so I cannot really figure out why. In some photos, the border on the right sometimes contains something that looks like a light leak. Nothing that major anyway, that in my opinion makes the film even more unique.
Overall, as Instax film is not optimised for black and white pictures, I guess I should maybe expect some sort of unexpected results (Did I just write that?). But I believe that my first round of testing – carried out in an effort to start to know this film better – has been more than successful!
Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you have any question 🙂
And remember: shoot film, stay broke.
P.S. Here are some more examples to tide you over until you get a printer and start your own experimentation!
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