Fuji Instax Wide has always been an awesome film format in need of a great camera. Fuji’s wide cameras are nowhere near as good as the ones they build for the Mini format, and Lomography has a unique opportunity to fill in a crucial gap in the Fuji Instax Wide line. Lomography has been making cameras for the Fuji Instax Mini line for some time, so they are perfectly poised to jump in to the world of Fuji Instax Wide.
Lomography itself is an interesting camera company. As one of the few camera companies that are still creating and innovating in the film space, I adore them but can never shake the feeling that their cameras are more ‘toy’ than ‘tool’. Their new, incredibly ambitious instant camera for the Fuji Instax Wide format has an overwhelming amount of features, but many of them are novelties that feel like they’re there to distract from some major basic flaws.
So is the Lomo Instant Wide system the long awaited savior for the Fuji Instax Wide format? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fascinating piece of equipment that may have a place in your bag, especially if you’re the type who loves to tinker and experiment. There’s a lot of stuff to go over with this camera, so strap yourself in for a deep dive into the Lomo Instant Wide.
Camera Build Quality
This is a cheap camera. No, the price is definitely not cheap, but the build quality is very low. The body is hard plastic with a fake ‘pleather’ sticker that covers the back and much of the front. Before I even took a single picture I managed to somehow scuff the back, so don’t be surprised if the camera looks like it’s been through a war after a few uses. It won’t affect the performance in any way though. Fuji’s cameras are certainly not fashion statements, but the Fuji 300 especially feels more solid and substantial.
The Lomo Instant Wide has a shorter lens than the Fujis do, which is a nice touch that’ll make it easier to fit into a bag. The back is a bit wider. Unlike the Fuji cameras, there’s no handle or specific way to hold the camera. You just kind of… do.
A strange aspect of this camera is that the viewfinder is on the opposite side of the camera from where I would typically expect. It’s on the right instead of on the left like most instant cameras I’ve used. It’s not a huge problem, but I certainly put my eye up to a spot on the camera where there is no hole more than once.
The camera swallows four AA batteries, which is preferable to using a proprietary rechargeable battery pack like some Fuji cameras. I’ve not had the camera long enough to get a feel for battery life, but I expect it to perform like most film cameras and last many packs without a problem.
Buttons and Controls
One of my biggest complaints about most Polaroid cameras is their lack of control over basic functions like the flash. One thing that the Lomo Instant Wide does not lack is controls. There is an entire panel of buttons and switches all over the back of this thing that allow you to use the camera however your heart desires.
I consider myself fairly experienced when it comes to using film cameras, but I was lost without the manual with this thing. Lomography certainly anticipated this and the camera comes with several extensive manuals and even a thick pack of cards that show off the many, many different ways the camera can be used.
With some help from the instructions, you’ll be able to make sense of the buttons fairly quickly. There is a flash on/off button with status. It’s a bit confusing that the button is labeled ‘flash off’ when it should just be ‘flash’ since it toggles the switch, but just know when the light is on the camera is going to flash. It’s on by default, which is normal for instant cameras.
The MX button is for multiple exposures, which is a fun option and something that I feel many Lomo fans will appreciate. Below that is a great exposure switch that is set up exactly how instant cameras should always have this (it’s even better than Polaroid’s sometimes confusing ‘black to white’ slider.
Finally, at the button is the power and mode switches. If the switch is at the power icon, that means the camera is off (this is very confusing, it should just say ‘off’). Next is an A with a circle, which means autoexposure. After that is a B, which stands for Bulb exposure. Finally, there is a 1/30 which locks the shutter in at that speed. The aperture doesn’t change on this lens, so this is essentially fixing exposure.
The front of the camera there is a shutter button that does the job. There is also a spot to accept a remote shutter, which is a nice touch.
Lens and Picture Quality
The biggest feature of the Lomo Instant Wide is its three (count ‘em!) different lenses. This is perhaps the closest we’re going to get to an affordable interchangeable lens system for instant film cameras besides using special backs for medium and wide format cameras.
Unfortunately, none of the lenses are very sharp. Image quality overall is far softer than the Fuji Instax cameras, and that’s when you’re able to get anything in focus at all. I’ve never been a fan of Fuji’s two focus modes, preferring either a fixed focus or autofocus lens, but the completely manual focusing on the Lomo is by far the worst of the bunch.
I go into much greater detail about the difference between the Lomo Instant Wide and the Fuji Instax Wide cameras in this post.
The Lomo is technically a ‘rangefinder’ camera, which means that the little eyepiece that you look through to compose the image is completely separate from the lens itself. This means there is no way to check to see if things are in focus or framed right. Your best bet is to have an assistant with a tape measure figure out the distance of the subject, but that is not exactly the kind of shoot most people are going to be doing with this camera.
There are three different marks on the focus ring, .6m for portrait, 1-2m for a subject, and infinity for landscapes. Despite my best efforts, I managed to only get things in focus about 50% of the time, even with the wide lens attachment on. Make your best guess and hope for the best.
Before we delve into the individual lenses, I’ve noticed in my camera that the camera roller doesn’t quite make it to the two side edges of the image, leaving a bit of an undeveloped patch that will be very familiar to users of Impossible Project film. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (I kind of like it), but it’s an issue that is not present on Fuji cameras.
Also, I’ve noticed that the flash and images themselves tend to be warmer when shot on the Lomo camera than when the same film is shot on Fuji’s cameras. I count this as a big plus, as I’ve always found my images from the 300 and 210 cameras to be a tad too blue for my tastes.
A semi-wide angle lens comes default on the camera. It’s 90mm, or approximately what a 35mm lens would look like on a full frame sensor or 35mm film camera. It’s not terribly sharp, but it’s the sharpest of the three lenses.
The wide and macro lenses only come in some of the more expensive Lomo Instant Wide packages. If you don’t have them, don’t sweat it. The default lens will pretty much do everything you need it to do. And besides, the other two lenses leave a little something to be desired.
The other lenses don’t ‘replace’ the default per se, rather they just screw on the front as adapters. This isn’t the path to optimal sharpness, and it shows. The wide lens gets the job done, but it’s extremely fuzzy around the edges. Personally, I like the look, as it livens up the typically dull image of the Fuji Instax Wide film a bit.
However, don’t think just because it’s wide that you’re going to have a more forgiving depth of field. Finding focus with the wide attachment is just as frustrating as it is with the default lens.
The wide lens attachment comes with a viewfinder that you can swap out. It’s easy to forget to swap viewfinders since there’s nothing indicating which one you’re looking through. The difference isn’t big enough to sweat though, as the viewfinder is already so off from what the actual lens is looking at. This is not the camera for precise framing.
This works as advertised, although it’s extremely difficult to use. Because focus is so close to the camera, you can’t use the viewfinder to compose the image at all. Essentially you just hold the camera up to whatever you want to take a picture of an hope for the best. Luckily Fuji Instax Wide is relatively inexpensive, because you’re going to blow a lot of shots trying to get macro to work. Also be sure to keep the flash off or it’ll simply blow out whatever you’re looking at.
Honestly, this camera made me realize how good we have it with the Fuji Instax Wide 300 and 210. For all their flaws, they have outstanding image quality and are relatively simple to use. Both Lomo and Fuji still have a long way towards achieving Polaroid’s brilliance though, which is why I’m forever grateful for the Impossible Project keeping those cameras alive.
This is a great camera for those who like to tinker and play with lots of different camera tricks and techniques. There is a bonanza of options and ways to use the camera, and with enough patience you can probably get it to do exactly what you want. It’s the opposite vision than that of Edwin Land’s focus on simplicity and intuitiveness, but there is certainly room for both approaches in the world of instant film. Now that film is almost entirely the domain of artists and enthusiasts, Lomography’s kitchen sink approach is laudable and points towards the future of the format.
However, this is not the camera for those who just want to take a picture quickly and be done with it, confident that they got the shot. The Fuji 210 and 300 still stand as my favorites for event and family photography, as they are far more reliable and easy to use than the Lomo Instant Wide. Personally, I still prefer the combo of a Polaroid camera with Impossible Project film for my artistic purposes.
If money is no object, or if you’ve been hankering for Lomo’s 35mm goodness to come to Fuji Instax Wide, this is the camera for you.