Fun to use. Powered by AA batteries. Optical viewfinder. Selfie mirror. Includes macro adapter. Color and black-and-white film available. Lots of color options. Inexpensive.
Not fully automatic. No tripod socket. Shutter placement makes landscape shooting uncomfortable.
- Bottom Line
Whether you're looking for a new creative outlet or just want to share physical images with friends and family, Fujifilm's affordable Instax Mini 9 camera delivers.
Fujifilm didn't make many changes when it rolled out the Instax Mini 9 ($69.95), the replacement for its former entry-level instant camera, the Mini 8. The only difference on the body is the welcome addition of a selfie mirror. You also get a clip-on macro adapter for close-up shots, and the camera is available in a different array of color options. This update is enough to make the Mini 9 our Editors' Choice for low-cost instant cameras.
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The Mini 9 measures 4.7 by 4.6 by 2.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 10.8 ounces. Its edges are rounded, with no sharp angles, giving it a very friendly look. We received a Lime Green camera for review, but you can also get it in Cobalt Blue, Flamingo Pink, Ice Blue, and Smokey White. It has a built-in flash, which always fires when you take a photo, and is powered by two AA batteries.
The 60mm lens has a narrow f/12.7 maximum aperture, so you'll appreciate the automatic flash when taking photos indoors—it's downright necessary. Its field of view is a moderate wide-angle, about the same as a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera. To put it in perspective, that's a little tighter than most modern smartphones, which typically boast a wider 25 or 28mm prime as the main lens.
Fujifilm includes a clip-on macro adapter. It attaches directly to the lens and keeps subjects from about 13 to 19.7 inches in focus. Anything closer or farther away will be blurry. It's a solid addition, as without it the focus is limited to about 2 feet (0.6-meter) to infinity. The small add-on lens looks like it might be easy to lose, but if you're able to hold on to it you can use it to shoot close-up images.
New to the Mini 9 is a selfie mirror. It's a simple, tiny mirror next to the lens. Point the camera at yourself and hold it at arm's length and you'll be able to frame up a selfie with ease. The tighter, 35mm field of view makes it tough to shoot and image with two people in frame, unless you get really close together, and I've yet to see a selfie stick for this camera. But it's a nice addition for anyone who likes to snap their own photo. Take care to hold the camera as far as you can and tilt your head back, or hold the camera closer and use the macro attachment for selfies, in order to get a crisp shot.
Turning the camera on is simple—just push the button next to the lens and the lens will pop up and the flash will power up. A light at one of the positions at the ring around the lens indicates you're ready to snap a photo. You'll want to line up the exposure control ring that surrounds the lens with the light. It indicates what the Mini 9's ambient light sensor thinks the surrounding light is like, including indoor, cloudy, sunny, and very sunny conditions. There's also a Hi-Key mode that captures an image that is intentionally overexposed for a brighter look.
If you think the light meter is wrong—say you're shooting a subject in the shadows but standing in a bright area—you'll need to use your best judgement and pick a more appropriate setting. The Mini 9's meter takes an ambient reading—that means it evaluates the light hitting the body of the camera, rather than taking a reading through the lens like you get with a digital camera or an advanced film SLR. Meters of this type are par for the course with modern instant cameras—even the pricey Mint InstantFlex TL70 2.0 uses an ambient meter.
Like the Mini 8, I found the Mini 9 to be most comfortable to hold in portrait orientation. The viewfinder is at the side of the body, directly above the front shutter release. In testing, putting the camera to my eye and keeping my finger on the shutter while holding it in landscape orientation was uncomfortable. I wish Fujifilm had moved the shutter release with this update.
Film loads in the rear. Instax Mini film is about the size of a credit card, but has a border, so the image area is about 1.8 by 2.4 inches in size. Costs vary based on how much film you buy at a time, but the basic two-pack of color cartridges nets 20 shots and sells for around $12.50—about $0.63 per shot. You'll pay more for black-and-white, about $1 per image. There's an analog counter on the rear, next to film the door, that lets you know how many shots you have left in the loaded cartridge.
Instax Mini isn't the only instant film format out there. I'm a big fan of Instax Wide, which is about twice the size and doesn't cost that much more to shoot. But it requires a much larger camera—Fujiflim's low-cost Instax Wide 300 is a big beast.
Fujifilm also makes Instax Square that, you guessed it, is square—just like you get with an old Polaroid. It's a new format and it's pricey, about $1.50 per image, and there's only one camera out right now that supports it, the Instax Square SQ10. The SQ10 is unique in that it captures images digitally and then lets you print on demand, so it's a bit different than a purely analog shooter like the Mini 9.
If you have an old Polaroid camera you can still buy film for it from Impossible Project, but it's very expensive to shoot. Impossible's latest black-and-white film is very good, but its color film isn't on par with Instax when it comes to color fidelity or contrast. You end up paying a serious premium for Impossible film—roughly about $3 per image. Impossible has one modern camera, the I-1, but the first-generation hardware has some room for improvement. If you're on a budget, classic Polaroid format is not for you.
Instant film is a lot of fun. You can snap a picture, watch it develop before your eyes, and immediately hand it off to a friend (or stranger), stick it on a fridge, or tack it up on a bulletin board. The Mini 9 isn't the best camera out there for demanding, artistic photographers—I recommend the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide and its larger format to shooters with a serious artistic bent, or the Lomo'Instant Automat if you fit that bill and want a smaller camera; they use Instax Wide and Mini, respectively. But if you want an instant camera for family snaps, travel photos, or to capture candid campus moments, the Mini 9 is a solid option. And it's one that falls into the impulse buy price category, making it our Editors' Choice for affordable instant cameras.
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By Jim Fisher Senior Analyst, Digital Cameras
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H Photo, where he wrote thousands upon thousands of product descriptions, blog posts, and reviews. Since then he's shot with hundreds of camera models, ranging from pocket point-and-shoots to medium format… More »
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