Few things in this world are as fun as an instant camera. Just try holding back a smile while watching a camera spit out a white piece of paper on which an image magically materializes. If that doesn’t move you even slightly, you may be in the wrong hobby.
It’s no surprise that a fun-loving company like Lomography has latched onto the post-Polaroid resurgence of instant film. Lomography’s irreverent, devil-may-care brand of photography is a perfect fit for the casual nature of instant photography, and of the many instant cameras offered by the company, the one that stands out from the pack is the Lomo’Instant Wide.
This camera is (predictably) the largest member of the Lomo’Instant family, shooting frames printed on Fuji’s biggest instant film, Instax Wide. As a fan of older Polaroid SX-70 and 600 formats, the bigger Instax Wide format is a welcome sight, and it immediately places the Instant Wide into my good graces. Bigger prints are always good, even if the camera itself is fairly large. And it is. It’s a big, clunky camera.
Which launches me right into my first nit-pick. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of its design. Lomography laid the plastic on thick with this camera, and more than a few of its components feel fragile. And if I’m being brutally honest, the camera’s faux-vintage trappings wouldn’t look out of place next to a six dollar latte, a piece of avocado toast, and a VIP ticket to Coachella. But even though I might not jive with the design personally, I can see others really appreciating its style, especially compared to the undeniably dorky Fuji Wide and its bulbous protuberances. I gotta hand it to Lomography; they know their market and have capitalized on that knowledge for years with great success. Can’t knock the hustle.
Where the Instant Wide looks objectively attractive is when viewed at a technical level. It promises much, featuring a wide 90mm f/8 lens (35mm equivalent), a programmed auto-exposure mode, a multiple exposure mode, a long exposure (bulb) mode, built-in flash, exposure compensation, a selfie mirror, and a smattering of accessories including a combination lens cap/remote shutter release/self timer, an ultra wide-angle lens (21mm equivalent), a close-up lens, colored gel filters, and a image splitter filter. Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff. The Instant Wide is a very capable instant camera. Stack its specs up next to the Minolta Instant Pro from back in the day, and even the Leica Sofort released last year, and the Instant Wide compares pretty favorably. And when we compare it directly against competing Instax Wide machines, it offers about the best bang for your buck.
For casual shooters, it can play the role of an everyday instant camera as well as any other machine on the market today. It’s incredibly simple to use – just press the shutter button and the camera somehow manages to spit out a perfect image nearly every time. The Instant Wide’s meter performs admirably in even the most confusing lighting situations, and the Lomo lens ensures some adequately sharp results despite Lomography’s reputation for (artistic) softness. The packed-in accessories are useful and well-designed, and increase the sheer volume of work we can produce with the instant camera.
Where the Instant Wide inches ahead of the pack is with its creative controls. Not only are they more plentiful than what we find on similar instant cameras, they’re also incredibly easy to access. A simple flick of the control dial switches between programmed auto-exposure, bulb, fixed shutter speed, and multiple exposure modes. And because the camera still does most of the thinking, nobody need worry about wasting frames on even the wackiest idea.
The Instant Wide’s easy-going yet flexible nature might just be its greatest asset. It’s a camera that practically begs you to try anything and everything. Want to leave it twenty meters away, set the shutter to bulb mode, run by, and use the remote shutter release to get that sweet motion blur selfie? Sure, why not. Want to take a gajillion exposures of an unremarkable water bottle at different angles just because? Knock yourself out. Want to take an ultra-wide, incredibly unflattering multiple exposure split portrait of your worst frenemy and a certain unnamed orange-faced world leader? Go for it. It encourages playfulness, creativity, and experimentation in a way that makes most other instant cameras (and cameras in general) seem puritanical.
But just like that friend who looks like they’re just a little bit too happy, the playful Instant Wide has a couple of underlying problems. As creatively freeing as this camera is, it’s unusually restrictive when it comes to the fine manual control that experienced photographers crave. It offers no fine manual control of either aperture or shutter speed, apart from the fixed 1/30th of a second shutter speed setting, and these control limitations really show when we compare it to something like Fuji’s newest Instax camera, the SQ10.
Additionally frustrating is how badly the Instant Wide suffers from parallax error due to its extremely offset viewfinder. Usually we can forgive viewfinder cameras for a little bit of parallax error, but when a camera makes me give up and guess my framing half the time, it’s a serious problem.
And we can’t ignore the fact that at prices between $200 and $260 (substantially more than than Fuji’s own Instax Wide camera) you’re paying a premium for the Lomography pedigree, the packed-in accessories, and the company’s take on the instant camera lens. It’s a different beast, and whether the visual style of the machine itself and the “Lomo” images it makes are worth that premium will be a matter of individual choice and preference (their white version might put it over the top for me).
It’s true, the Instant Wide is an imprecise camera in the tradition of many instant cameras. Judged against its contemporary competition and cameras of the past, it’s a good camera, a fun machine that makes large prints. And when looked at from this perspective, the Instant Wide does its job admirably. Beyond the obvious millennial marketing hype and you can find a truly fun shooting experience with the Instant Wide. It’s one of the few cameras that successfully captures the joyful, irreverent spirit of instant photography. And that’s about all I can really ask of any instant camera, past or present.
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This review was produced with a sample camera provided by Lomography.