Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic

Specs and Usability, Plus: How It Holds Up to iPhone and Polaroid SX-70

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Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic is a relatively small, versatile instant camera, built for the ISO 800 Instax Mini film. It features a 60mm (comparable to 35mm on full-frame) 𝒇12.7 prime plastic lens that stops down to 𝒇22 on “macro” mode; the lens can focus as close as 0.3m/1ft. When the camera is turned off, the barrel folds in via motorized bellows. Mini 90’s shutter can fire anywhere between 1.8 and 1/400th of a second. On top of that, there’s a built-in flash, battery charger, and a viewfinder, but there are no parallax markings.

There are two shutter buttons, one on the top, one at the front, which is quite helpful when taking selfies and shooting in portrait mode. The shooting modes can be switched with either the silver ring around the lens or the buttons on the back of the camera — they will be reset after power off. A timed shutter release is also available.

The camera comes in black, golden orange, and red finishes.

Fujifilm’s incredible instant film format, known for superior colour reproduction compared to Polaroid brand, has seen a remarkable amount of innovation around it. From the iconic brands like Leica to the lesser-known but far more inventive MiNT, to the analogue world’s famous Lomography, to the hand-made pinhole project ideas, it’s been widely adapted and experimented-with.

My wife’s Instax Mini 90 with a banana cloth pouch we bought in Thailand.

Still, the Fuji’s lineup for this particular film size consists of mostly odd-looking bodies which provide little creative control beyond composition. Mini 90 bridges the gap with the competition by adding features like double-exposure, macro, bulb, fast shutter mode (i.e., “Kids”), and “Landscape” — which locks the focus on infinity. Plus, the camera looks more “grown-up” (stylish).

If you’re looking for ways to get creative with your Instax film, this camera may be it.

Build and print quality.

The camera is mostly made of plastic, including the lens. It’s reasonably lightweight and well-built. Though it may not feel as exquisite in-hand as the German-made Voigtländer Vitessa, it’s quite sturdy, having served my household over five years with zero issues.

The 𝒇12.7 plastic lens isn’t nearly as good as most mid-range film cameras can offer. It works well, considering the size of the print its meant to produce, though enlarging the scans may reveal plenty of softness. Remarkably, colour aberration and barrel distortion seem to be sufficiently corrected. Not all plastic lenses are made equal; considering its limitations, this one is fairing remarkably well.

The nature of instant film process yields no grain. Enlarged, colour emulsions do lack some detail, with slightly better results on monochrome. The speed of the process, and the relative consistency of the results, combined with strong fade resistance from direct light exposure, is where the film shines. This is the most stable emulsion of the sort on the market.

The menu on the back of the camera features a simple no-frills LCD. It’s monochrome and lacks backlighting, but it’s not hard to navigate — a common issue with these kinds of systems. A large counter shows the number of frames left.

The rechargeable battery on this thing is incredible. It hasn’t lost its ability to hold the charge in over five years, and, at the rate we’re shooting it, lasts more than a month on a single charge.

If there was one thing that I would have liked improved, is the viewfinder. Mini 90 comes with a squinty little hole that’s borderline useless when taking pictures up-close.

Instax Mini 90 on colour film scan shows soft focus and some loss of detail in the shadows. Landscapes are tricky with this film but are not impossible.

Getting creative with Instax Mini.

The camera is built for parties, taking pictures of friends, and vacation shots. It’s fully automatic; anyone can use it. Despite the intended demographic being beginner photographers, Mini 90 comes with a few tweak-able features that make it useful in the hands of someone who’d like to express themselves creatively.

Multiple exposures of the prayer offerings.

Double-exposure, a technique that involves combining multiple photographs on a single frame, is a simple yet powerful way for experimentation. However, there’s a limit to how many exposures you can get per frame: two. Note that the camera will automatically power down after about five minutes, which means that your second exposure has to happen rather quickly. Otherwise, the power will go off, and your unfinished frame will get ejected.

If you need to have more time between your first and second exposures, you may try taping your mode selector ring around the lens in a turned position.

The bulb setting may help you grab night-time shots and blurred motion stills. You can even combine them to go beyond the ten-second limit during which the shutter can stay open.

You may also control your exposure by setting it to either +2 or -1 stops. While this Instax camera has a decent dynamic range, it may still suffer from blown highlights and crushed shadows. The ability to adjust the amount of light Mini 90 allows onto the frame can be a lifesaver in some situations.

Double exposure + bulb (left). Bulb (right).

Best of all, you can buy black and white film for your camera. The tones on monochrome Instax are impeccable; it looks noticeably sharper than its colour counterpart. Its chemistry produces beautiful, clean shading in place of muddy undertones (no colour casts!) and boldly drives attention to the subject. A powerful way to express your vision that goes far beyond hitting that “B&W” filter button on Insta.

Double-exposure portraits on monochrome Instax film.

Instax Mini 90 vs. an iPhone.

Any smartphone can take high-res photographs for “free” — given that you don’t anticipate paying for cloud storage — and fit comfortably in a pocket. Modern devices often boast better lenses and a virtually unlimited toolbox of editing options. Getting an Instax camera for snapshots and light experimentation on top of that may seem like a waste.

A delicate statue at a Northern Thai temple.

Here’s the thing: even though you could print images from your device, I have never seen anyone do that, except for special occasions. Most images these days reside on a screen, for mere seconds, as we are to scroll past them or stow away along with thousands of others on a far-away server to collect “digital dust.”

Instant film makes every image a special occasion. A physical print makes discarding memories much more difficult while giving them as a gift a lot simpler. Seeing the emulsion develop, turning from pale white into a complete colour rendition is exciting.

The tiny prints make “sharing” feel like you’re giving away something precious, rather than merely performing a computer-assisted act of allowing others to see, but not touch.

It may take a little longer to turn on your camera, frame the shot, and double-check everything ensuring that the precious film isn’t wasted. With this experience, however, you may learn how to be a better photographer and become the party favourite as your friends gather around your exposures to see them come to life.

Instax Mini 90 is a reasonably versatile camera, though it won’t work on all occasions. It’s a lot more challenging to take close-up shots than a smartphone since the viewfinder introduces a parallax error at shorter distances. It won’t be as useful in the dark without a flash. The size of the photos you get is quite small; thus, delicate details won’t look as good as expected; you will need to make sure you have a defined subject/object close for best results.

Stray dogs of Nyang Shwe — a small town in Myanmar.

Instax Mini 90 vs. Polaroid SX-70.

Polaroid SX-70 is considered to be one of the most technologically-advanced products ever created. The camera debuted in the ’70s with an 𝒇8 manual-focus glass lens and through-the-lens viewfinder. This marvel of innovation sold for something like $1,000 in today’s dollars, but, unfortunately, the brand that created these machines died in the early 2000s.

Instax Mini film is noticeably smaller than that of Polaroid. Instax Square film is still not as big, while Instax Wide has the same visual area with skewed proportions.

The comparison against a relatively-cheap Mini 90 may not sound fair. Still, I think it’s worth a try. The camera itself may not look as sleek as the Polaroid’s marvel; however, Mini 90 comes with a strong advantage: Fujifilm’s emulsion is a lot more stable under direct sunlight, it has a more realistic colour reproduction, it’s faster to develop, has better dynamic range, and is considerably cheaper. Polaroid film’s merits are emulsion lifts, larger frame size, and, as strange as it may sound, its failures looking much more interesting than the misfires on Instax film.

An unmodified SX-70 camera may be limited or tricky to work with. Its top shutter speed is restricted to 1/175th of a second with an ISO 160 film. Combined with the maximum aperture of 𝒇8 and emulsions that do not respond well to bright light, without flash it is only useful in light shadows or overcast days. Mini 90, on the other hand, can work in a much more extensive array of conditions, save for the brightly-lit snow.

In the end, it all depends on the budget, and how much work you’d be willing to do to capture your shot. SX-70 is an instrument with a “mature” creative potential and a more luxurious feel to the device; Mini 90 is for everyone who’s willing to accept a plastic lens and credit-card-sized prints.

Instax Mini 90 and humans.

The camera tends to make even the least photogenic people look attractive. The small format and soft-focus smoothes out the blemishes, while the organic nature of film ensures that these effects do not look “fake” or overly-processed. The lo-fi nature of Instax is more pleasant than faulty.

My friend and I don’t always appear on film properly exposed.

The flash on the camera is excellent for portraits. It tends to soften facial features on both light and dark skin tones.

In certain situations, the flash is necessary: when my wife attempted to take a photo of my friend and me, the film would not have enough dynamic range to capture both of our faces. Either I looked like a ghost, or he would appear invisible — depending on whom the camera would focus on. Thankfully, the flash can resolve things like that.

Though you may not be comfortable with handing an expensive film (or digital) camera to a stranger, Mini 90 makes that easy. When asking someone to take your photo, remind them how to use a viewfinder, which power button to use and demonstrate where the film will be ejected from.

Having placed Thaya closer to the camera, and its flash, Betty took the winning photo of us where both of our faces are clearly visible.

If there’s no one around to help you take a selfie, you may hold the camera at an arm’s length and check own reflection in the tiny mirror that is the shutter button.

At a party, in class, or at the office, Instax Mini frames make fantastic souvenirs. They are small, cheap, and easy enough to produce. The kids love ’em.

Being physical objects, Instax prints could also make for great fun when organizing into a photo album. I recommend getting sticky photo corners and a drawing pad with pages thick enough for watercolours. The plastic sleeves sold specifically for this film, do not look nearly as interesting or attractive.