The Fujifilm Instax SP-1 is one of those fairly unique products that has managed to find itself a great niche within the market amongst a wide variety of photographers, both professional and amateur alike.
There have been similar ideas around, most notably in the form of the Canon Selphy, but that is a much larger device and outputs standard 6×4 size prints. Those have their place, but what’s great about the [easyazon_link asin=”B00HYAL84Q” locale=”US” new_window=”yes” nofollow=”default” tag=”m06d-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]Instax SP-1[/easyazon_link] is not only the small camera-bag friendly size, but the Instax Mini prints are just perfect for the wallet or purse.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who have fallen in love with my SP-1 printer and the subsequent prints from it. It isn’t about image quality or anything like that as the image quality from this is, expectedly, not exactly up to usual professional standards. The novelty factor is an instant draw to anyone who hasn’t seen it before, and that’s something which never appears to fade even after watching it do it’s thing many times! What people really love are the little credit card sized instant souvenir prints that this thing produces. Just seeing someone light up as they hold a physical print is worth buying it for alone. The rarity of physical prints these days adds to the enjoyment and excitement despite the lack of a high quality image there is just something about being able to show off the print that doesn’t give the same feel as showing it on a mobile phone screen. It goes a little beyond that though, it is the whole experience of being photographed, watching the image develop and having something to carry away within moments of having the photograph taken that I think appeals most, then comes the realisation that they are the ideal size to carry around with them daily.
The batteries are two CR2 lithium ones, so not exactly standard fit, but they do last a long time and there is an external power supply should you be using the SP-1 on an industrial scale! AA’s would have been nice, but that would have come with an appropriate increase in size I imagine. CR2’s aren’t the most convenient batteries to get hold of if you’re out and about, but it isn’t a huge deal to order a spare set online and have them in your camera bag. On the top of the printer is a 3-bar power meter, so it is obvious when the batteries are getting low. Across the top of the printer are also ten green LEDs which show the number of remaining film slides left.
Loading the film is as simple as it could be, flip the release catch and line up the yellow markers. When a new film is inserted the dark slide is automatically ejected. The films come in packs of 2 lots of 10 prints and vary in price in the UK from around £14-20 per pack depending on where you purchase it from and when. This has increased quite a bit since I got the Neo 90 when it was around £12 for a pack of 20, making the print cost at the time around 60p. This can now vary from 70p-£1 per print so it you are printing a lot it can get expensive. I’ve found prices tend to vary depending on current supply, so if you see it cheap then I recommend buying a few packs at once. Film is foil sealed and appears to have approximately two years shelf life so you’re unlikely to be stuck with expired film.
Prints take 10-15 seconds from hitting send to them being ejected by the printer. As it operates you can hear the print head move over the film. Below you can see the print head. It isn’t possible to remove a pack of film part way through, so once it is in the printer you need to use it until all 10 images have been printed. Removing the film part way through will spoil it. That said, it is surprising there isn’t a locking mechanism on the sliding latch that opens the door. In practice it isn’t something that I’ve found knocking accidentally so perhaps it isn’t as necessary as I may feel it might be.
My own SP-1 is mainly used at family and friends events rather than for professional use, although even on the professional shoots I’ve had it on everyone gathers around and are keen to take something away with them! Typically for me I have the printer out when there is a family/friends gathering. I shoot with the X-T1, which, thanks to a recent firmware update, can print directly from the camera to the SP-1 without having to go via another device. The X-T1, X100T, X-M1, X-A2 and XQ1/2 all have access to this direct print feature. To activate it you simply enter the serial number of your SP-1 into the camera settings and when in playback mode choose the print option from the playback menu.
Sadly as I found out, if you shoot with another camera and then put the SD card in the X-T1 it refuses to allow you to send the files to the printer. I guess this is to make you buy an X-T1 or other Instax compatible camera, but I’m really not sure why they would put this restriction in place as if you’ve bought an X-T1 and SP-1 then you’ve already spent your money on Fujifilm products and if, as I did, you want to direct print some images taken on the X-Pro1 it is very frustrating as I thought it would be as easy as putting the SD card into the X-T1! To get around this I WiFi transferred the X-Pro1 images from the X-T1 with the X-Pro1 SD card in it to my phone and printed them from there. Please get this restriction removed Fujifilm as it is pointless! Also note that it can only print JPEGs, so if you shoot RAW only then you’ll need to convert these to JPEGs in-camera before they can print, although that is an understandable restriction.
If you don’t have a Fujifilm camera of any sort, or one that isn’t compatible with the direct WiFi facilities you can print from a mobile device such as an Apple or Android phone and tablet with the Fujifilm Instax SHARE App. Access to the SP-1 is restricted through the use of a PIN to prevent just anyone connecting to your Instax and rapidly emptying it of film!
The App works very well in practice. After connecting to the WiFi hotspot of your Instax you can either take a shot or choose one from the gallery on your device and then optionally add from a selection of borders or even a real-time template showing the time, location and current weather. To do this, you have to choose the real-time location template before you connect to the SP-1 because it uses the Internet to generate the information for the print. Once you’ve got that information you have only a limited amount of time to print the photograph you take on your device before the live information expires (so you can’t cheat it I guess!).
The possibilities of the Instax printer are pretty much endless and at your own imagination. Wedding shooter?… hand out a few instant mementos from the day for the bride to take away and the groom to keep in his wallet. Street shooter?… give your victims their own copy of the image. My daughter has “show and tell” every Monday at school, Instax prints are great for her to take in to show what she has been up to on a weekend. On Christmas day all invited guests were ushered into my spare-room studio and had a 30s portrait done, individually or as family groups, everyone went home with their favourite prints. Be sure to have enough spare film as people do have a tendency to ask for more once they’ve seen them!
One of the other great things about the App is that it could be used to create instant business cards, or at least a memorable image for either clients or just someone you want to keep in touch with. You can add text to images, so that could be anything you like, your name, phone number, website etc. Can you think of a more memorable way to hand over your details to someone than a personalised Instax print made before their very eyes!?
What’s great about the Instax SP-1 is that unlike the Instax cameras you can print multiple copies of the same image, or shoot a series until you get the shot you want and just print that one without wasting precious film. I have the Instax Neo 90 and found exactly this issue whilst visiting my in-laws. They would want a photograph to keep, but then so would we, which meant that I had to take two shots each time and you never get the same image twice, which with very active little children can be a problem! With the SP-1 you can simply take as many shots as you like, choose the best one and make multiple prints of that same image. The printer even has a “Reprint” button on the side to make a copy of the last image without having to re-visit the camera or App.
Colours are vibrant if you print something with punchy colours, although if possible it is worth adding a bit of contrast and vibrance to the images before printing as a general rule. There is a filter option within the App that has a ‘Intelligence Filter’ which appears to do pretty much just that. Other filters are B&W and Sepia. Pay a bit of attention to the highlights as lighter areas tend to wash out easily. Mono images develop nicely, albeit with a little colour cast. Most of my own personal images I print to keep are done in B&W. The colour cast is a fairly consistent inclination towards green, which isn’t the most attractive rendition, but with a bit of experimenting and pre-print adjustment towards magenta that can generally be corrected for. I tend to find that for Fujifilm JPEGs a +4 colour balance shift to yellow and approximately +20 tint shift towards magenta in LR produces nice clean B&W results. You can see the difference in the central portrait photo below after that correction. This may seem like a bit of a pain to go through, and for one-off’s I wouldn’t normally bother, but if you’re planning on producing a framed gallery of B&W Instax images it is worth doing for consistency and better looking images.
Although the prints are visibly developed within a couple of minutes, I tend to find that the final image can take up to around 5 minutes for them to become fully developed and fixed. Until then they can look a bit washed out. A little experimentation with your first pack of film and you will soon have an idea of how to get the best from the printer. If you’re unsure then simply use the Intelligent Filter from the mobile App to get good results.
With only two buttons and a pretty much infallible WiFi connection it is hard to really go wrong with the SP-1. Fujifilm have made it as uncomplicated as it gets and that is just what is required from this type of device when you’re using it in the field, whether you’re printing directly from your camera or through the Instax SHARE App.
The Instax SP-1 makes for a great compliment to the Fujifilm X-Series shooter, especially if you have a camera that is compatible with the direct print feature, but even if you don’t own any Fujifilm camera equipment, the fact that you can print instantly from your phone or tablet makes this a fantastic device for sharing images that will give the recipients something that they will cherish much more than an electronic version of the file in their e-mail or buried on their hard drive, something that they can prop up and put on display anywhere, or carry around with them to show off to whoever they want. At £129.99 in the UK it isn’t a cheap product, but it is well made, unique in its position in the market and given the enjoyment it gives that makes it worth the price tag alone.
The SP-1 is perfectly portable and endlessly enjoyable!
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