Update Spring 2017: Fuji has released Instax Mini Monochrome film, which is the perfect film to use with the Neo 90.
The Fuji Instax 90 Neo Classic is Fujifilm’s newest instant film camera, and one of the most interesting instant film cameras to be released in the past decade. Unlike the other plastic blobs that make up the Fuji Instax line, the Fuji Instax 90 takes its design cues from the metal and leather finish of the popular Fujifilm X100 digital camera line.
It’s a tempting package for an instant film enthusiast to say the least. But appearances aside, how does the camera handle and how good are the pictures it takes? Most of all, does it justify its premium price of 150 USD?
The Fuji Instax 90 is a good looking camera, there’s no doubt about it. In fact, I would argue it is probably the best looking instant film camera since the venerable folding Polaroid Land Cameras were still in production.
The best thing about the design of the Instax Mini 90 is its size. It may be the first instant film camera that actually feels small enough to be considered a pocket camera. There’s no wasted space that’s taken up by plastic lumps like older Fuji Instax models. I wasn’t expecting to like this camera that much, but the size is what what truly won me over. The Fuji Instax 90 is an instant camera that isn’t a pain to carry around, which is crucial for a film type that shines in events.
Despite its premium appearance, this camera is plastic like all the rest. The silver body is supposed to be reminiscent of metal… but it’s still just plastic painted silver. The ‘leather’ portion of the camera is texturized soft plastic that feels great to the touch. ‘Hand-feel’ doesn’t have much to do with a camera’s actual usability, but when a camera feels good to hold, I’m much more likely to actually use it. The Instax 90’s soft plastic goes a long way towards making it feel better than the unpleasant plastic bodies of most instant film cameras from both Fuji and Polaroid.
One big surprise in the Instax Mini 90 is a modern lithium-ion rechargeable battery. To my knowledge, it may be the first and only instant film camera that uses a modern battery like this. These batteries are usually used in power hungry digital cameras, so I have a feeling they are overkill for a simple film camera that doesn’t have an LCD screen. Also, this battery will be much harder to replace in the future than simple AA batteries.
Controls and Handling
As is unfortunately rather common for Fuji, controls on the Instax Mini 90 are an inconsistent and counterintuitive mess. While a Polaroid camera is about as simple as things get, I had to bust out the instruction manual to figure out what the buttons all do. For a genre of cameras that usually only have a shutter button and maybe a exposure compensation dial, that’s quite a feat.
On the plus side, the camera has two separate shutters, each positioned for either portrait or landscape use. One of the shutters contains the power switch, which will be familiar to anyone who has used a Nikon DSLR.
On the back of the camera are five buttons, and that’s where things get much more complex than they need to be. There is a macro button, a L/D button that means ‘lighten/darken’ (I had to consult the manual to figure this out), a timer button, flash control (appreciated), and mode, which houses even more options. The features all work, but things like the L/D button make simple operations much more complicated than they need to be.
There is a large ring around the lens, which is the biggest missed opportunity in the whole camera. It does nothing except change useless ‘modes’, and will only do this if the mode button is pressed at the same time. Using it to control exposure compensation would have been a much, much better use of this ring.
The viewfinder is rather small and difficult to see through, but it gets the job done. The digital watch grade LCD on the back is large and easy to read, which is about as much as one can ask for on a camera like this.
Film is easy to insert into the back, just use the yellow mark to make sure everything is lined up just right. Pictures pop out of a silver slot on the side of the camera.
The Instax Mini 90 is just as good as the cheaper Fuji Instax mini cameras out there. The major limitation is in the film format itself. Fuji Instax Mini photos are simply too small for optimal sharpness and quality. It’s good enough for fun, casual portraits, but it’s not going to replace Impossible Project or even Fuji Instax Wide film for more serious use anytime soon.
The Instax Mini 90 is a perfectly competent instant film shooter right on par with its less glamorous (and much cheaper) little brother. The Instax Mini 90 won’t give you better pictures, but it will make getting those pictures a bit more fun if you like cool looking cameras.
It’s hard to recommend spending $150 on a camera like this with a straight face when the perfectly competent Fuji Instax Mini 8 is just as good, except a whole lot uglier. However, if you see yourself shooting a lot of instant film at events, parties, or just while running around, it might be a worthy investment. Personally, I laughed at the idea of a premium Fuji Instax Mini camera, but its charms have won me over.
This is a great camera to have in your bag to take pictures of friends. If you’re looking for a instant film camera for a wedding or other event, this is probably the best bet out there if price isn’t a huge concern.
Good luck and happy shooting!