Professionals, especially in the industry of photography, tend to lean towards one school of thought I’ve come to realize. When it comes to equipment, cameras, lenses, etc, they take the “whatever piece of equipment gets the job done” approach. That makes sense, as client, readers, or viewers don’t really care what camera was used, and the photographer doesn’t either. As long as he gets the shot, that’s all that matters. The features that are going to get him or her towards that end goal are the ones that will be used, regardless of size, weight, or how they make the photographer feel.
There is another side to the equation though. Film cameras have made a major resurgence the last several years. It seems that as digital photography advances further and further, a certain segment of people want something different. Call it hipster, or maybe it’s the satisfying feeling of shooting on film, but it definitely makes one feel different than shooting digitally.
A subset of film photography is instant film. Recent years have seen the Instax film, a type of instant film made by Fujifilm that almost died out, make a major resurgence. Fuji started making several Instax Mini cameras that have done well, with several million cameras sold in the last few years. It looks like Instax Mini film is here to stay. Because of that several companies have taken a shot at making cameras that use Instax Mini film, in an effort to make a cooler camera. My absolute favorite company that has done that is Mint Camera.
Mint Camera, based out of Hong Kong, loved the classic Polaroid cameras, and wanted to make their own line of products in the same classic, timeless way. Mint Camera now carries a few classic Polaroid style cameras, but my favorite is the InstantFlex TL70 2.0. The InstantFlex TL70 2.0 brings the unique look and feel of a twin lens reflex camera in an Instax Mini delivered package.
InstantFlex TL70 2.0 – On The Surface
This twin lens instant camera benefits from an extremely simple design, but executed in a fantastic way. The viewfinder on the InstantFlex TL70 2.0 is nice and bright able to be seen easily in daylight. Just like a twin lens reflex camera, you open the top of the camera to peer in. Opening the viewfinder also doubles as the on/off function for the camera. I really appreciate this design, as the camera won’t turn on in your bag by accidentally hitting a button. While the resolution of the screen isn’t extremely high, it is easy enough to see what is in focus. A cool feature that Mint added is a flip out magnification eyepiece. I personally like to look through the viewfinder with the magnification piece flipped out, as it is a little bit easier to see the screen, and I feel more immersed in the shot.
The logo portion of the top of the camera can be pushed down and if you choose you can look through it like an optical viewfinder. I don’t know about you, but the joy of using this camera stems a little bit from looking through that top down viewfinder, so I never find myself using this feature. The film is also ejected out of a slit in the bottom of the top-down viewfinder. Quite often when using the camera around someone who is never seen it before, this film ejection gets some oohs and ahhs.
There is a small toggle switch near the top of the camera on its side for switching between aperture priority and bulb mode. I actually didn’t use the camera in bulb mode at all, and stuck to shooting during the day. The only thing on the right side of the camera is a small window telling you how many shots you have left in your pack of film. The left side of the camera features the focus dial and exposure compensation switch. I find focusing to be quite easy on the camera. If your focus is a little bit off, you probably won’t notice anyways, because this camera isn’t going to give you the sharpest image in the world. That’s not why you should buy it though, but I’ll get into that later. Because you’re shooting with ISO 800 film, if you are in bright conditions you will want to use the negative side of the exposure compensation switch, and visa versa for dark conditions. Also on the left panel is the film projection button. I had read that some people would accidentally hit this button on occasion, but that hasn’t happened to me yet in several rolls of film.
The front of the camera obviously has the twin lens design. It also has a red shutter release button, and also a front dial under the bottom lens for changing your aperture. A cool thing that Mint added to the InstantFlex TL70 2.0 is a hidden flash, which sits behind the logo. Hit the little button to the left of the logo and the flash will pop open. It isn’t the most high-powered flash in the world, but it will get the job done in a pinch. The flash is a little tough to get closed, and it typically takes me a few tries to get it to snap closed though. The rear panel of the InstantFlex TL70 2.0 is dedicated to loading the Instax Mini film. It really is a no-brainer when loading, and you always want to make sure to eject the rear plate of the film before you start shooting. The bottom of the camera takes three AA batteries, and there also is a ¼-20 tripod thread.
InstantFlex TL70 2.0 – The Magic
Now that we have done a rundown of where everything is located on the InstantFlex TL70 2.0, let’s get into why you might need this camera in your life. Are there less expensive Instant cameras out there? Yes, there are. Are there instant cameras on the market that are easier to use? Yes, there are. Would I want to another instant camera after having used the InstantFlex TL70 2.0? No, I wouldn’t. Are you asking yourself why yet? The simple, shortened version, is this. I have never had so much fun shooting photos than I have while shooting with the InstantFlex TL70 2.0. It’s pure magic shooting with this camera. My wife recently threw a surprise retirement party for my parents, with family and friends making the trip for a fun afternoon at their coast house. Every single time I took the camera out to shoot, I received a comment or question about it. That doesn’t happen with any other camera, pretty much ever. It is a conversation starter, especially with the older demographic. No one had any idea it was an instant camera either, and it brought a little bit of joy to them to see that Instax Mini film get ejected. This wasn’t a photography loving crowd either. But the combination of a classically designed camera that is also an instant camera elicits an emotion out of people that I never would have expected.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what photography is supposed to be about? It has the magic to elicit emotion from someone, just like a good movie can. Seeing that moment in time immediately after it happened brings emotion out of people like no digital camera ever could. I don’t have any proof of this, but I don’t think that a new instant camera would elicit the same emotion from someone either. Seeing that top-down viewfinder, holding still while I focus, then seeing the photo eject from a camera that looks like it came from their childhood ticks all their boxes. That’s why I am willing to overlook the camera’s downsides, such as the following:
- It is expensive for an instant camera
- Shooting with it is slow
- The film is expensive
- Images are often blurry.
- No timer for self or family portraits with you in it
Like I said though, none of that matters, because of the simple point that it brings people joy. For that reason, I commend Mint and their creation of the InstantFlex TL70 2.0.
Adding a strap to the camera is a must, and my favorite is the BOA from Monarch VII. I would also be remiss if I didn’t tell you some other things that I love about the camera other than the joy of using it. Once you get used to the metering system, it is really quite simple to use, and you’re shooting time speeds up drastically. Another major pro for me is how bright the top-down viewfinder is. I am told that the first version of the InstantFlex TL70 2.0 had a much more dim viewfinder, and Mint really solved that problem with the second iteration. The film is also very easy to load. I’ve gone through several rolls of film, and the batteries, which are regular Duracell AA batteries, have lasted just fine. I don’t see how this camera could take up very much battery life, so I expect the power to last for quite sometime. Some shallow depth of field can also be achieved with its widest aperture of f/5.6. I wouldn’t expect an instant camera to have a manual aperture control, but I absolutely love that the InstantFlex TL70 2.0 does.
The InstantFlex TL70 2.0 is so fun to use. I really believe that using this camera actually helps create memories. I think that Instant film has a way of keeping us in the moment and supplanting that memory, because we are able to see it on film right then and there. Shooting digitally, we snap the image and then quickly forgot about it, and possibly print it in the future. It just isn’t the same though. Shooting with the InstantFlex TL70 2.0 isn’t cheap, with the price coming in at $389. Add Instax Mini film on top of that, and it does get a little costly. Fujifilm does have a mildly classic looking Instax Mini camera that runs about $130, but it’s nothing like the look and feel of the InstantFlex TL70 2.0. It is a choice that you will have to make if you want to shoot with instant film. If you can swallow the price though, I think that this camera can be an investment into memories, and that is priceless.
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