May 21, 2017
Fujifilm instax SHARE SP-2 (Mobile Printer) Review: The Inescapable Allure of Physical Media
As an avid photographer, I’ve long enjoyed the experience of having prints made of photos I’ve taken. I’ve experimented with a number of different services, usually looking to produce some thoughtful gifts or mementos for my own personal enjoyment. My current favorite is undoubtedly Artifact Uprising, a print company that began independently but almost immediately joined together with VSCO. As you may remember, VSCO is my preferred lossy image editor on Android, and also has some of my favorite subtle photo filters, with a vast majority modeled after different types of once-popular films. Artifact Uprising conveniently integrates with VSCO, allowing you to instantly select which photos to print from those you’ve uploaded to VSCO. Their smaller prints pair perfectly with smartphone photography and provide an impressive amount of detail at an easily palatable price.
However, there exists one glaring weakness in these online print services: they take a considerable amount of time to both print and then ship to your location, and expedited shipping costs are unreasonably excessive for most budgets. Instant cameras have long been popular for this very reason. Polaroid, while now a distant shell of its former self, is almost timelessly famous for its Polaroid instant cameras, and the act of shaking a print to quickly develop it has been recorded ad infinitum in many a mediocre pop song throughout the past several decades. There is simply something deeply and intrinsically satisfying about taking a photo and immediately having access to a physical print of that photo. It can almost instantly make photography a deeply enjoyable and social activity for almost anyone, and particularly those who tend to get overwhelmed by the apparent complexity of more manual photography and print-making.
Enter, Mobile Printers
Sitting somewhere in between the quality and price of online print services and the instant gratification and pleasurable experience of using an instant camera, one finds a relatively recent creation – the instant printer. Over the last 5 or so years, Fujifilm, Kodak, and Polaroid (as well as several others) have all made efforts to make the nostalgia and convenience of instant cameras accessible and relevant in the age of smartphones. Here we arrive at the title’s namesake, Fujifilm’s latest mobile instant printer, the instax SHARE SP-2. While a little thick, it is undoubtedly pocketable and is approximately the size of your average 5-inch smartphone in terms of length and width. The build quality can be easily summarized as “plastic”, and while you wont want to carelessly toss it about or sit on it, the benefit of the plastic construction is that it is extremely lightweight for a mobile printer. At around 300 grams, the SP-2 is just a bit less than twice the weight of my OnePlus 3T.
The Mobile Printer Experience
Regarding the print quality, the SP-2 does a great job at rapidly producing prints. While the resultant prints are size-capped at about 2.5″ by 1.5″, they are printed at 320 dots per inch.The small size and relatively high resolution of the prints produces a very film-like effect where you cannot see any pixels with the naked eye, and the 800×600 resolution is capably dealt with by partially smoothing out edges. It is very much reminiscent of the aesthetically pleasing imperfections found in film prints, rather logically as a result of the fact that each “print” is instead a film exposure produced from digital media. The process of printing is quite simple as well, with the user installing an app on their iOS or Android device and then connecting to the printer’s WLAN link over WiFi. The app is simple and has a handful of options, allowing users to make small edits to the photos they wish to print or add small snippets including the date, time, weather, or certain social media features (as if the print were a small Facebook post, for example). You can choose a photo from your phone’s gallery, and the option to take a photo simply opens your default camera app. This last feature is a boon for the process, as apps that are designed to control external hardware often include half-baked efforts at reinventing things that don’t need reinvention, particularly the camera interface. That is the extent of the instax SHARE Android application, with the iOS app being effectively identical. The battery life of the SP-2 is another positive aspect, I saw no signs of the battery being drained at all even after 20 prints. Fujifilm gives a vague description that seems to imply a battery life of 100 prints in the user manual, so a given user is far more likely to run out of the money needed to buy more film before they run out of the battery life needed to use that film.
The main downside to present day instant printers is their consistently subpar build quality, a subsequent lack of durability, and finally the ever-present price and chore of buying more proprietary film packs from the printer’s given brand. Fujifilm’s SP-2 is no different. The build quality leads one to assume that it is not going to last much longer than its 1 year warranty, if that. While the prints are beautiful and quite satisfying, each pack (enough to print 20 photos) costs around $15, or a bit less than $1 per print. If one chooses to buy 5 packs at once, this improves to approximately $0.60 per print ($65 for 100). It is unfortunate that modern instant printers have yet to agree upon a standard for the film they use, as this would significantly simplify the process for consumers and likely make the prints themselves a more affordable and interesting proposition to consumers. The printer itself also currently sits around $150 and those interested have a choice between the white version in this review or a pale gold alternative.
An Heir (semi) Apparent
Altogether, for the build quality (and the price of the film packs it requires) to have any purpose, the SP-2 seems far more expensive than it ought to be with a suggested price of $199, though you’ll probably find it sold at a discount. Nevertheless, for those looking for a simple instant printer as an enjoyable novelty, I can certainly recommend Fujifilm’s SP-2. There is a certain joy to be had while taking photos and printing them, and the act of having quick access to physical prints may offer a unique and social experience to differentiate certain moments from the forgettable act of relegating potentially enjoyable photos to the dark corners of one’s smartphone gallery. For this purpose, the inherent downsides of modern mobile printers are rather unimportant when compared with the joy they may bestow upon select moments, and in this sense Fujifilm’s SP-2 most certainly succeeds.