Probably one of the biggest surprises of this Fujifilm Rajasthan Photo Trek was my last minute purchase of the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1 Smartphone Printer. This printer opened so many doors with people to photograph that it should be considered a must have for any photographer traveling to new places.
I have written on this blog before, about how photography is full of very aggressive terminology. We take photos, shoot photos, capture that perfect image, we hunt down the subject, we even chase the sun. I am as guilty as the next for using these terms. Most of us use these in the most benign way. But it does show that we can be perceived as aggressive and even predatory at times. It’s nice to be able to give back if we can. Even something as simple as giving back a small photograph can go along way towards repairing some of this aggression. But giving back a photograph has not always been the easiest thing to do.
Once you leave the country and you’re back home, you have to make an effort to print or to go to a lab to get small prints made. After that you have to take the time and effort to package them up and label the envelope – if you can find the address – the one that matches the photos, and then send it off. The beauty of the Instax printer is that it makes all of this unnecessary. At the very moment you take the photo you can simply print it out and pass it to them immediately and share the moment. Even the name is cool: the Instax printer is named the “Instax Share”. It really is an appropriate title for this device.
You will recall in past blog posts 1 how I have used the Polaroid Zink Pogo Printer print to pass out photos along my trips. The Pogo was a great idea as far as it went. To print you hooked it up via a tethered USB cable to your camera, in my case it was a Canon 5D MKIII. You used PictBridge in the camera to find the printer then selected the print and prayed that the Pogo’s batteries made it through the print job. The Pogo was a thermal printer and as such it used a lot of juice to heat up the printer. On a very good day I would get 10 prints out of it, and I am being very liberal. Realistically I got 5 to 6 on any given day. If it was a cold day it might give me 2. It was very frustrating. But it was the fulfillment of something many of us had wanted, a way to give back prints to people immediately. No more taking down names and complicated addresses and hoping that you could be true to your word and send back a print.
The Instax Share SP-1 is so much simpler to use and it produces a real photo, not a thermo-print like the Zink does. The photo is very similar to the old Polaroids of the past. This was actually a small issue when we passed the prints out to people. The printer would make a whirring sound and then pop out a small business-card size print. But the print, like the old Polaroids, was nothing but white at first. Often times the subjects would hold the print turn it upside down and over with a quizzical look on their face wondering where’s my photo? I would say in Hindi, “this is like the old instant photos. You remember the kind that you used to blow on, and shake up-and-down till the image appeared.” Soon they smiled and began shaking the print up and down. At first, I tried to explain to them that there was no need to shake the print up-and-down, but soon realized that was part of the fun. Thinking that they were in fact helping the image develop. Within 30 seconds of the print popping out of the printer an image would slowly start to develop. Their eyes would widen and then they would start shaking the print faster. Within three minutes most of the print would have emerged to show the photo of themselves. They were often so excited to receive the print they would invite us into their homes. Often times other people would crowd around to watch the print develop. It only took seconds before they would be saying, “take a picture of me!” It was at this point that things shifted. The subjects now became our clients and we were able to direct them to some degree. We often would say something like, “Okay, instead of just standing straight up at attention – why not go back and continue to cook your meal and we will take a picture of you doing that?”
The Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1 Smartphone Printer takes two 3V CR2 lithium batteries. They say you can get as many as 60 prints from one set of batteries before having to replace them. I found this to be pretty accurate. The paper is not overly expensive but it is not cheap either. Each print runs, depending on where you live, anywhere from .49¢ apiece up to a dollar. Frankly, I don’t mind the cost because it really is about the photographer giving back.
So here’s how it works. Instax Share was developed to work with smartphones or tablets like the iPad. To use the Instax Share you need to link the printer with your smartphone through Wi-Fi. Simply by turning on the printer it sends an ad hoc WiFi signal out – so you can do this in the middle of nowhere. You need to then open your WiFi settings on your smartphone, find the ad hoc Wi-Fi signal and select it. Now that you are connected and you’ve taken a photo you simply open up the Instax Share app and browse to the photo that you want to print. Once you have selected the photo you have several options. You can just hit print and most of the time this is enough. But if the photo needs to be cropped you can edit its size. You can also choose from several themes to print from. These vary and frankly I never used any of them. There were a few that seemed to have some possible application for a serious photographer. For instance, you can type in your name and web address which would then be printed on the photo. I love this, but the problem, and why I never used it, was the app would not retain this information; therefore, I needed to type into the small screen my name, and web address, and this just didn’t happen very often. It would be nice to have an option to edit and save templates in a future version of the app. You can add one of two filter choices to your image Sepia or Black and White. The editing function is limited but functional. You can zoom in, move the image to the left or right or up or down. Let’s face it: the software is not designed to be something like Snapseed. It really is just meant to be what it is, an app to print a smartphone image.
Rumor has it that any Fujifilm camera that is WiFi enabled will soon be able to print directly to the printer. Right now that is not possible, but once this is enabled, those of us with recent X-series cameras will be able to really put this printer to use even more. As it stands now, you have two options in the field to print a photograph. Print a smartphone photo, or take the extra time to connect your WiFi enabled camera, like the X-M1, X-E2 or X-T1 to your smartphone. Then send the photo from the camera over to the phone, then disconnect and reconnect to the Share printer. This is quite a convoluted process to just give out a photo. I rarely take that kind of time. Most of my subjects don’t want to wait. So after I photograph a subject with my X-E2 I quickly take out my iPhone and snap off a quick portrait and print it for them. They really don’t care if it was taken with the X-E2 or the iPhone. They just want their portrait. For some of them it might be the first photo they have ever had.
I know two or three photographers who use the Fujifilm Instax cameras in the same way that Piet and I used the Instax Share on this trip. I almost went that route. I bought the Share while I was shopping for the Instax camera, but the fact that the Share can deliverer multiple copies of the same image, coupled with the option to use an iPhone or camera to retake an image if not right the first time, really sold me. I only wasted one frame of this paper. It was the very first time I was printing on it. I printed a photo of my wife Alou and went to turn the printer off and pushed the re-print button that is situated on the side of the printer near the power button. One more image popped out. Now I know better and I have an extra photo of Alou that I go old school with and keep it in my wallet.
This might have been designed as a toy, but for me has already become an indispensable tool.
- See the section titled “The Give and Take” in the post titled “Be a Cultural Insider and get better photographs. (pt.2)” ↩