Lomography has built its brand on rejuvenating what some would call outdated forms of photography, and its latest camera doesn’t do anything to rock that particular boat.
Aptly named, the Lomo’Instant Wide is an instant camera that uses Fujifilm’s Instax Wide film; its photos pop out as soon as you’ve taken them and develop in a matter of minutes. The “Wide” in its name isn’t a reference to the lens’ focal length, which is equivalent to 35mm and about as close to “normal” as you can get, but to the fact that the photos it produces are landscape rather than portrait in format.
Unusual? Sure, but this instant camera is no mere gimmick.
Pulling the Lomo’Instant Wide out of its box for the first time, you’re struck by its size. This a large, hefty camera, even by Lomography standards. It needs to have the necessary space for a bulky instant film cartridge and the mechanisms that push each exposure out of the camera after a shot. You’ll almost certainly want a decent, roomy bag if you’re going to carry it around all day.
As for its styling and build quality, it’s something of an acquired taste. I personally think it possesses a certain utilitarian retro charm, as well as a more solid construction than the half dozen or so Lomo cameras I’ve encountered in the past (while still being almost 100% made of plastic).
A lot of people who saw me using it, however, felt the need to point out that it was huge and ugly. Probably because you rarely see anyone taking photos with a camera this size outside of a studio. Anyway, you can look at the pictures and decide if you agree with me or come down on the side of the detractors.
You don’t have to buy the Instax Wide film from Lomography’s web or brick-and-mortar stores – in fact, it’s available on Amazon in packs of two (20 shots in total) for £13.99. Which means you’re paying around 70p per shot. You’ll also need four AA batteries – and neither they nor the film come in the box with the camera.
Despite its heft, the Lomo’Instant Wide is more user-friendly than previous Lomography cameras I’ve tried. That’s partly down to the fact that it uses instant film and the instant gratification that goes along with that, but it also has a lot to do with its automatic exposure setting.
Generally, Lomography cameras require you to use your knowledge and judgement to work out if a shot will be exposed correctly – you know, depending on the sensitivity of the film you’re using, the amount of available light, the aperture setting etc – but this one is designed to take much of the guess work out of it. Flick the rear switch to “A” and it’ll go fully automatic, taking a measurement of the ambient light and controlling the shutter speed to suit the conditions.
It’s not foolproof, of course – and you’ll still need to use the flash when shooting indoors and at night. I also found that the Lomo’Instant Wide tended to overexpose; usually, this could be counteracted by flicking the exposure compensation to its “-1” setting. At times though, for instance when I was outdoors on a sunny day, I found it difficult to get a picture that wasn’t totally blown out.
Instax Wide film is 800 ISO, so fairly sensitive, but sometimes pictures exposed correctly and at others they didn’t – so in my opinion the camera can’t be totally relied on to expose properly using its automatic mode.
You can also shoot using two other settings on the mode dial. “B” is bulb mode, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter release button – useful for light painting. And there’s also “1/30” mode, which shoots at a fixed shutter speed of 1/30 of a second. There’s a button for switching the flash on and off, and also an “MX” button for taking multiple exposures – tap it and you can overlay several exposures on a single image.
Add in the optional lens attachments (allowing for wider angle shots and close-ups), not to mention the lens cap which doubles as an infrared remote shutter control, and you’ve got a camera that gives you a fair bit of creative freedom with your images.
There’s a manual focus too, as with all Lomo cameras, and if you shoot subjects at the minimum focus distance of 60cm you can achieve a slight short depth-of-field effect, depending on the lighting conditions (in bright light, the camera sets its aperture to f/22 and that puts everything in sharp focus).
Image quality? Well, this is a (relatively) cheap analogue camera that spits out small 99mm x 62mm prints, so it doesn’t deliver anything on par with even the most basic of DSLRs. However, this is analogue photography, which means there’s a near-indescribable difference to the images’ tone from what you'd get on a digital print. There’s just a clarity to skintones and lighting that often seems to be lacking in straight-from-the-camera digital JPEGs.
Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide verdict
Of course, you probably don’t buy an instant camera for its true-to-life image quality as much as for its immediacy and fun factor, and here the Lomo’Instant Wide excels. Bring it on a night out and it’s guaranteed to provide a few laughs as you pass it around and view your snaps moments after taking them.
No, it’s not a particularly great camera for anything beyond snapshots and portraits, and I found its outdoor daytime performance to be generally unimpressive. But now that I’ve sent the Instant Wide back to its makers, I’ve found myself missing its analogue charms.
In short, this is Lomography’s most accessible camera in a long time. That'll do for us.