Instax Monochrome: A Brief Review

Last month Fujifilm introduced a long-anticipated product for fans of Instax Mini cameras: a monochrome instant film. At the time of this writing, they have not yet released an Instax Wide version of the product, which many instant shooters (including myself) would love to have as a more grown-up option.

Packs of Instax Mini Monochrome currently retail at $14.95 on Amazon for a single 10-pack, notably more expensive than its color predecessor. However, you can take advantage of some bundle offers that will reduce the cost a bit. I recently purchased a bundle of 3 10-packs for $40. If the new film follows the pattern of the Instax Mini color film, it's probable prices will drop as demand drives sales. Early adopters of any new technology tend to pay a steeper price for the privilege.

I've shot a couple packs so far of this film using my Neo Classic 90 camera. My initial impressions are generally good, with a few caveats regarding performance and the purity of this monochrome offering.

The first thing you should know is that, like the color film, Instax Monochrome is an ISO 800 speed film. That means it is best suited for conditions with less than direct, mid-day sunlight. If your camera model allows it, I'd suggest setting your exposure to "Dark" in moderate-to-bright lighting conditions. (Sometimes even using your flash from 5-6' indoors will inexplicably blow out your subject; oddly enough. my Neo Classic 90 seems to use the perfect amount of flash in the macro setting.)

Another thing you should know about Instax Monochrome is that it doesn't seem to be a true black and white emulsion. Whatever recipe Fujifilm has cooked up to produce this film, there's a noticeable color tint in the photos. It's not terrible, but it's there. I'd characterize it as subtle cyan. If you like to scan your Instax Mini photos like I do, you could work around it by scanning as, or converting to, grayscale before saving.

If you're looking for a "true" black and white image to hand to friends, this may be of concern. For whatever reason, Fujifilm has not produced an instant film that resembles their much-loved, FP3000b peel-apart pack film which they discontinued a few years ago. Nor is it as contrasty as the FP3000b. For good or bad, Instax Monochrome is an entirely different animal.

All photos in this review, except where noted otherwise. are "straight out of camera," meaning that I've not manipulated the images beyond scanning and resizing for this article. All photos were scanned at 2400 dpi, in color mode, using a CanoScan 9000F Mark II flatbed scanner.

Miniature donkeys, as they appear in the original Instax Monochrome print.

Miniature donkeys, converted to grayscale mode using GIMP. It's only when you see the image devoid of its default color that the cyan tint becomes obvious.

Tomatoes on our window sill. Shot in macro mode using the built-in flash.

Tired pups. Shot in near darkness with the built-in flash turned on.

Fort Dickerson Park, Knoxville. This shot was taken in late morning, with the exposure set to Dark.

View from the site of the old Baptist Hospital in Knoxville. This was shot close to noon. Even with the exposure set to Dark, the scene was just too bright for a decent shot with that ISO 800 film.

I was curious to see how Instax Monochrome would respond to the use of a filter. As there are no threads on the lens for a filter, I had to improvise by holding a filter against the lens. In this case, I used a 67mm Sunpak YA2 orange-yellow filter - more than large enough to cover the lens and (hopefully the little AE light receptor holes adjacent to it). The only difference I could tell was that highlights were slightly brighter in the filtered version; blacks seemed unaffected.

Will I buy more Instax Monochrome film in the future? Most likely so, even though it seems to me that the film falls a bit short of its promise. It is, like its color Instax film sibling, capable of delivering beautiful images as well as frustrating you with its somewhat unpredictable response to light. If you have an Instax Mini camera, it's definitely worth trying a pack to see if it works for your style of photography.



Try some Instant Film this Summer!

People above a certain age will remember Polaroid pictures.  Others have probably heard the Outkast song telling you to "shake it like a Polaroid picture" - which, it turns out, was never actually needed.  Depending on the specific camera, you loaded the film, pressed the shutter button and moments later you held a finished print.  What you may not know is that instant film is still alive and well in the digital era.  In fact, instant film has enjoyed a quiet but steady resurgence in the past few years.

Whether you're looking to rejuvenate an old Polaroid camera you found in your grandparents' closet, or if you're in the market for something new, there are a healthy variety of options to choose from today.  Polaroid itself is out of the film business, but that doesn't mean instant film has disappeared.

My Polaroid Land Camera 100, made circa 1963-1966.  I've had to make some repairs to the bellows using liquid electrical tape, but it works just fine.  I also performed a simple battery conversion so it can use cheap AAA batteries. You can buy original type batteries but they're a bit pricey.

For older Polaroid Land Cameras (with model numbers like 100, 250, etc), you can buy pack film from Fujifilm; FP-100c is a color, peel-apart film designed for the Land Camera series that makes for beautiful prints.  (Fujifilm recently stopped producing their FP-3000b, a high-speed black and white peel-apart film, but you may be able to buy some from online retailers before it's completely gone.)  When you consider that these cameras were manufactured around 50-60 years ago, it's impressive that fresh film can still be found for them.

If you have a later model Polaroid camera that uses integral film - the more familiar kind that pops out and develops magically before your eyes - there's a good chance you can buy brand new film from the Impossible Project.  Impossible is a company that arose from the ashes of the old Polaroid film production, and has succeeded in reformulating these old film types from scratch.  Not all of the old cameras are supported, and the film isn't cheap, but it's a fun way to bring new life to an "obsolete" camera today.  Impossible has a dedicated and growing following, and they are continually refining and improving their product line.  While early product runs were billed as "experimental" and were thus unpredictable, pictures made on IP film today are excellent.  You can buy refurbished, vintage Polaroid cameras and accessories from the Film Photography Project.

Instax Mini photo of my friend Chris, shot using the Instax Mini 8 camera.  I find the color palette of Instax film very pleasing and slightly old-school.

A third option is to buy a new camera to use new film: enter the Fuji Instax Mini and Instax Wide cameras and films.  Fujifilm currently makes several models of camera, and 2 sizes of film.  The Wide film is about the dimensions of old-school Polaroid photos, whereas the Mini is half that size (about the size of a business card).  These films are relatively inexpensive and even optionally offer colorful, themed designs on the borders.  The Mini 8 camera is a chunky, basic camera that runs about $65 online.  It comes in assorted colors and is clearly designed with kids in mind.  Fujifilm has recently introduced the Mini 90, which offers more sophisticated features and a retro design for "grown-up" photographers.

So if you're looking for a way to make taking your summer photos more interesting, consider buying an instant camera, and / or pick up some instant film for that old camera and wow your friends and family with real pictures - delivered instantly!