July 2, 2016
Print everything, have fun
In a world full of smartphone photography and digital cameras, shooting pictures on film has become a niche endeavor. Instant film, popularized by Polaroid in the mid-to-late 20th century, is an even deeper niche. But Fujifilm’s newest product, the Instax Share SP-2 printer, is a smart little bridge between the digital and analog worlds.
Fujifilm’s first Instax Share printer — which, like this new version, prints on Fujifilm’s 2-inch-by-3-inch Instax “Mini” film — was a clever idea and pretty fun to use. But it felt like a beta version of the idea. The hardware was forgettable and it was slow. Now, two years later, we have the SP-2, and it finally feels like Fujifilm has nailed the execution.
The new Instax Share printer still has a few faults — and at $199, it’s not particularly cheap — but it’s the most fun and immediate way to turn the photos on your phone into something tangible, especially if you stick to the basics.
The most important changes with the new version of Fujifilm’s printer are that the photos print faster, the overall quality has improved, and the connection between the phone and the printer is better. I used it with a Galaxy Note 5, iPhone 6, and even an old iPhone 4S and never had trouble quickly connecting to the printer. At one point I was even in the middle of using the new “split” feature — which lets you print one photo across two different prints — and the connection timed out, but when I reconnected the printer it picked back up in the right spot.
It now only takes about 10 seconds to print photos, which is great — that’s almost twice as fast as the original printer. The photos look better this time around, too, because Fujifilm now uses OLED technology to expose the film, and the resolution has been bumped to 320 dpi. (The SP-1 used LED tech and printed at 254 dpi.) Prints actually look crisp — or as crisp as an instant photo can — and the colors are vibrant.
THE APP IS STILL THE WEAKEST PART OF THE EXPERIENCE
Fujifilm made a number of software tweaks, but the Instax Share app is still the weakest part of the experience, especially if you’re trying to do more than just print right from your camera roll. For instance, the app offers a lot of different frames and designs that you can overlay on whatever image you’re printing, but you have to toggle through them by tapping a single button. That means if you see one you like but you skip past it, you have to cycle all the way around to get back to it.
Of course, that’s assuming you want to use these frames in the first place. It’s a matter of taste and how you decide to use the printer, really — a “Happy Birthday” frame might help you in a pinch, for example — but I found them to be garish and overly simple. This applies to the Facebook and Instagram tie-ins, too — you can print photos directly from those accounts, but they show the caption, number of likes or hearts, and the logo of the service you printed them from, all in about as unsubtle a manner as possible. And if you have a lot of photos on either service, you’ll have to be patient — the app struggles under the weight of downloading all those thumbnails.
Fujifilm nailed it with the hardware, though. Instead of a looking like a shiny plastic toy, the pinter now looks pretty sleek, with a polygonal design and (a choice of) either gold or silver accents. The only downside of the new design is the power button, which is so mushy and has so little travel that it’s hard to tell if you’ve turned it on, or whether you’re pressing the right part of the printer to begin with.
FORGET THE FRILLS AND JUST HAVE FUN PRINTING
I enjoyed using the Instax Share printer the most when I just stuck to the basics. No filters, no editing — just taking something digital and turning it into a real thing. There’s just something inherently thrilling about that, even if I don’t have any idea what to do with them after they’ve printed.
And I found joy in this in ways that Fujifilm hadn’t prepared me for. Fujifilm is trying to sell people the idea of the Instax Share printer as being a way to bring your smartphone photos to life, instead of forgetting about them the moment you close the camera app. While that is mostly the case, I also got a huge kick out of digging through and printing out photos that were stored on my phones (or on Google Drive), especially the ones that I took with other cameras.
Concert photos that I took years ago — and hadn’t seen since — took on a new life. Pictures of family members and pets when they were younger now had a place to exist outside of a forgotten cache of ones and zeroes. I especially took joy in finding photos, memes, and other web detritus that I didn’t own (oops) and printing out those — something I’m guessing Fujifilm might officially frown upon. “Here come dat boi, ready to be pinned to your mood board,” if you will.
This is the best part about the new Instax Share printer, especially now that it’s finally out of its awkward first phase and has become a polished product. It’s not just a way to make tangible the digital photos you take with your smartphone, it’s a conduit to the physical world for any digital image. There may not be a ton of purpose and practicality in that, but it sure as hell is a lot of fun.