Lomography's Lomo'Instant is the most advanced instant camera yet, and the result of a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign.
With the rise of the selfie and concerns over cloud storage of digital snaps, Polaroid-esque instant cameras have made something of a comeback. This model from analogue camera expert Lomography is the latest version to hit the shops, but what sets it apart from the others?
The Lomo'Instant offers far more control than you get with any other instant camera, including a selection of removable lenses, different shooting modes, aperture control and the ability to take multiple exposures.
The first models went out to Kickstarter backers in October, and the Lomo'Instant is now available to everyone.
The Lomo'Instant sports a pleasingly retro design, although the box-like design means that it’s rather bulky. With the exception of the incredibly cool Fujifilm Instax Mini 90, instant cameras in recent years have tended to feature slightly ugly, uninspiring designs, but the Lomo'Instant is cool and blocky.
The camera sports a similar faux-leather covering to the Lomography Lomokino and Belair models, and is available in black or white. There’s also a model that’s covered real brown leather with a slightly higher price tag of £109. We like the white version best, as its shows off the minimalist design more, but the finish is rather prone to picking up marks and scuffs, and there’s no protective case available to keep it in.
The only accessory that is available – aside from the optional lenses which we’ll look at in more detail later – is a shoulder strap (£8.90), which is good news as it makes the hefty camera slightly less cumbersome.
As with most Lomography cameras, physical controls are kept to a minimum, but these all feel well placed and intuitive.
The key control that you’ll need to get to grips with is the mode switch, which enables you to choose between having the flash on, off or on auto, where a sensor will automatically set the flash to the most suitable level based on the ambient light.
If you want to keep things simple, you can just set it to auto each time, but it’s worth experimenting a little – after all, the whole point of this camera is that it offers you the flexibility to do just that. There’s even a handy chart on the underside of the camera that tells you which settings to use for which shooting conditions. The chart is cleverly moulded into the plastic casing, so it doesn’t mess with the camera’s design.
The next major control is the shutter release lever, which is smooth and offers just the right amount of tension not to jog the camera when you’re taking a shot. A simple, sliding focus switch lets you choose from two options – 1m and below for close-ups and 1m to infinity for everything else. Setting the focus to close-up makes the front portion of the camera body protrude slightly, leaving it slightly vulnerable, so make sure you switch the focus back to infinity before plonking the camera back in your bag.
A ‘B’ (for bulb) switch means that you can snap long-exposure shots – ideal for light streaks at night.
An MX control lets you take multiple exposures – just flip the switch before taking a snap and you can take unlimited pictures on the same frame before the picture pops out. While you can take as many multiple exposures as you like on one frame, you’ll get the best results from just two or three.
The exposure-compensation dial can be used to adjust the aperture from -2 (f/32) up to 2 (f/8) – the largest aperture range currently available on an instant camera, which means that you're more likely to get the right amount of light into your shots.
The settings need a bit of trial and error to get right, but you’ll soon be glad of the control offered when you see how opening up that aperture makes a big difference in dark shooting conditions.
Perhaps the most basic, yet effective, feature of all is the tiny round mirror on the front of the camera, which is great for lining up selfies. For conventional shots, there’s a straight-through optical viewfinder, but it’s rather on the small side.
The camera uses the Fujifilm Instax Mini instant film, which is readily available, albeit rather pricey – especially as you only get 10 shots per film. Hunting out bulk buys on eBay is a good way to go.
Loading up the film is as easy as on any Instax-toting cam – you simply tear open the foil wrapper, plonk the cartridge in, making sure that the yellow stripe matches up, and take a picture to eject the cover sheet.
Further adding to the flexibility offered by the camera, the box contains a set of colour gels that can be placed over the built-in flash. As with any colour gels, the lighter colours tend to give better results, as they give a subtle filter effect rather than an overbearing hue.
The camera’s fixed 27mm equivalent wide angle lens is really rather good – it works well on portraits and selfies and also means that you can pack a fair bit into long shots, too.
A bundle pack with three additional lenses will set you back an extra £30, though the lenses can’t currently be bought separately – so you need to decide at the start whether you want the camera with or without the extra optics.
The portrait lens is the best of the three and works well on mid-range photos of people, while the fisheye is probably the lens that you need the least – it’s good for some novelty shots but unlikely to be your ‘go-to’ lens, plus it needs plenty of light to get good results.
The close-up lens attachment is a bit trickier to get good results from – largely because you can’t use the viewfinder to focus on anything that close, so you’re shooting blind. It’s also best to steer clear of the flash on close-ups, with bright daylight giving the best results.
Naturally, all images are slightly on the soft side, but getting the right combination of lens and aperture gets picture as sharp as is possible.
The camera is powered by four AAA batteries, so swapping in new cells is easy and you don’t have to remember to take a charging cable around with you.
Overall we like the Lomo'Instant a lot, despite its flaws. The design is cool, but for something so bulky, it feels a little flimsy and the faux-leather finish is slightly prone to marking. The amount of manual control is good but not too overwhelming, even for photography newbies.
We love what’s been accomplished in terms of an instant camera, but we’re hoping for a second-gen model with a few refinements, including a more robust build and a more resilient finish.
We also like that the camera uses easy-to-find Instax film, but the costs do rack up as you rattle through those shots.
If you fancy diving into instant photography, the Lomo'Instant offers great control and is capable of great results – especially if you splash the extra 30 quid to get the additional lenses. If you just want to dip a toe, some Fujifilm models offer better value.
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