Two of the most important things about film photography for me are the process of making something unique that you will always be able to keep, and to actually enjoying doing so.
I’ve shot a lot of 35mm and some 120 film in various cameras – some more sophisticated than others – but I’m not sure any can match an instant camera like the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 for those two things I just mentioned in the last paragraph.
As much as I like walking the city alone doing my street photography, making instant photographs of friends and family and seeing the results right away is more fun. You also get a genuinely one-of-a-kind print for someone to treasure too.
Having played with our own Instax Mini 9 at home and in the making of a Shanghai street project, I think it’s time to give it a review and help you decide if you want to pick one up too. And to know right away how much one will set you back, you can head over and check the prices on Amazon.
Get Your Instax Mini 9 Today
What is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9?
The Instax Mini 9 is the entry-level instant camera from Fujifilm, the current leaders in the instant photography niche, and is the successor to the Instax Mini 8.
It’s an inexpensive, simple to use camera that is a lot of fun to play with and gives great results from Fuji’s own Instax Mini film.
Instant photography is a market Fuji seem to be shifting their analogue efforts more towards, as they continue to discontinue many of their best-known and most-loved 35mm films while producing more and more Instax models.
As well as this Mini version, which takes film around the size of a credit card, they produce the larger Instax Square and Instax Wide cameras that you could opt for instead. But they’re for other reviews that we might get around to another time.
If you’re new to instant photography or are looking for a fun gift for a friend or relative, the Mini 9 is a great place to begin. This review will tell you all you need to know before buying one, or all you need to know to get started if you already have one.
How to load film into the Instax Mini 9
The best thing to go through first in this Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 review is how to load it so it’s ready to use. After that, we’ll go through how to shoot it and a few things not to do, before getting to what you could actually shoot with it too. There’ll also be a round-up of the camera’s technical features later on.
You’ll need to put three things into your Instax Mini 9 before you can make any photographs with it. They are two AA batteries and one pack of film. Your camera may or may not come with these, but you can buy the film here if not and probably find some batteries in your house somewhere anyway.
The battery compartment is on the bottom corner of the camera. If you’ve ever put batteries in anything before, you’ll know how it works.
To load the film, you need to open the large hatch on the back of the camera. The film is safely encased in a black plastic cartridge, so you won’t have to worry about light leaks when loading. Having said that, loading in direct sunlight is never advised.
The yellow marks on the cartridge and the camera show you which way round it needs to be. Simply line them up, push the cartridge in, and close the hatch door. A little window shows you this yellow notch so you can easily check at any time if there’s film in your Mini 9 or not.
Each time you load new film, the first shot you take will eject the cover from the film cartridge. Once that’s out, the film counter will have wound itself to 10 – as you have ten exposures in each film pack – and you can begin to make actual photographs.
How to use the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
You turn on the Fuji Instax Mini 9 by pushing the button next to the lens. Doing so will make the lens pop out, although you’re not quite ready to shoot yet.
Wait a few seconds until one of the lights on top of the lens is illuminated. This is the camera using its light meter to tell you which of the exposure settings to choose with the dial on the front of the lens.
Your options are as follows:
- Indoors, Night
- Cloudy, Shade
- Sunny, Slightly Cloudy
- Sunny and Bright
Hi-Key is a special setting that your camera will never select by itself. It makes your photographs softer and brighter and is especially good for portraits. Note too that the flash will always fire whichever setting you choose.
Every time you turn on your Instax camera, it will be set to the Indoors exposure. If your light meter is suggesting something different and you forget to change it, your shot will be overexposed, as you can see an example of with the red building below. So always remember to check.
Once your exposure dial is correctly set, you’re ready to start making photographs. The biggest thing to look out for here is the parallax error that can lead to your compositions being a little off-center until you get to used to it and compensate when framing your shots.
This happens because when you look through the viewfinder, you’re not actually looking through the lens. As they are in different places on the camera, they’re framing your scene slightly differently. You’ll soon figure out how to negate this, though.
Because the lens is to the bottom left of the viewfinder as you take a shot, you can just compose a little low and to the left. As you use your Instax Mini more, you’ll get better at knowing how much to offset your frame.
Once you’re ready to shoot, press the button on the front of the camera, wait for your photograph to slide out of the top, and push the lens back in to turn it off.
What not to do when shooting your Instax Mini camera
Instax Mini cameras are simple to operate and get great results from, but there are still a few things you need to be careful not to do when using yours.
The first is to not accidentally cover the lens, the flash, or the light meter – the two holes next to the flash on the front of the camera – with your fingers when shooting.
Covering the lens will mean having your fingers in your frame, while covering the flash will mean blocking the light it throws out, which will mean your shot comes out too dark.
Covering the light meter will fool the camera into thinking there’s less light than there actually is, which will cause it to choose the wrong exposure setting.
The second thing to never do is open the film compartment until you’ve finished the whole pack of film. I have experience in this and can tell you the next film in the cartridge will be exposed and so useless, while the ones after that could display light leaks when you shoot them too.
Finally, I’ll repeat what was mentioned earlier. Always check the exposure setting before shooting and adjust the dial accordingly. You’ll be frustrated about wasting a shot if you don’t, although do it once or twice and you probably won’t forget again.
What you can shoot with your Instax Mini 9
The first thing to comes to mind when I think about when and where to use an instant camera is at gatherings with family and friends.
I’ve certainly used this one save memories from Christmases, birthdays, and anniversaries. It’s just nice to have them visible every time I look at my pinboard instead of being digital files that are buried beneath hundreds of others on my phone.
I’ve also used this Instax camera to make photographs in and around Shanghai, in a project I wrote about here.
In truth, your creative options are limited only by your own imagination. If you’re struggling, Fujifilm themselves have put together a nice collection of ideas.
Of those, the thought of documenting a special trip or time on the road with an Instax camera sounds the most appealing to me.
Instax pictures of me holding an Instax camera, à la the girls on the box, less so. But that’s the beautiful thing. You’re free to do whatever you want with yours.
Fuji Instax Mini 9 technical specs and features
The Fuji Instax Mini 9 has a 2-component, 2-element Fujinon 60mm f12.7 lens, which is a strange looking bunch of numbers if you’re at all familiar with regular camera lenses.
If you’re used to shooting 35mm and think 60mm is too long, fear not. As Instax Mini film is roughly 6 x 4.5cm, we’re talking medium format equivalent focal lengths here. That means the lens is more like what a 37mm lens would be on a 35mm camera.
The maximum aperture of f12.7 isn’t very big, which explains why the flash is always necessary indoors or in poor light. For reference, here are the aperture values for each exposure setting:
- Indoors, Night – f/12.7
- Cloudy, Shade – f/16
- Sunny, Slightly Cloudy – f/22
- Sunny and Bright – f/32
The lens has a fixed shutter speed of 1/60 of a second. It allows you to focus from 0.6m to infinity, although there is a macro photography attachment bundled with the camera that lets you take closer up shots too.
It also has a selfie mirror on the front. Regardless of your thoughts on the proliferation of people taking photos of nothing but their own faces, I challenge you to own a Mini 9 and not find this mirror useful at some point.
The viewfinder on the Mini 9 is not big, but it does have a handy magnification factor of 0.37x – this means the world appears to be smaller when you look through it, which helps you to compose your shots more easily.
The Mini 9 flash has a recycle time of 0.2 to 6 seconds, which means you never have to wait too long between shots, and an effective range of 0.6m to 2.7m, so make sure your subjects are within this when the flash is needed.
With a brand new pair of AA batteries, Fujifilm say you should be good for around ten packs of film. With ten exposures per pack, this is around 100 photographs. If left alone, the camera will shut itself off after five minutes to save power.
Finally, the Mini 9 measures 116mm x 118mm x 68mm, weighs 307g without film or batteries loaded or strap attached, and is available in Lime Green, Ice Blue, Cobalt Blue, Flamingo Pink, and the Smokey White that you see here.
Fuji Instax Mini film review
Fujifilm Instax Mini cameras take, unsurprisingly, Instax Mini instant film. It’s a film that’s used in plenty of non-Fuji instant cameras too, like the cool Lomo’Instant Automat and the high-end Leica Sofort.
As mentioned, each shot is around 6cm x 4.5cm. If you’re having trouble imagining how big that is, remember it’s about the size of a credit card.
Fuji Instax film comes in colour and monochrome versions, as you saw with the project shots earlier in this review. Both are rated at ISO 800 and the colour one is daylight balanced at 5500°k.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure what that last bit means. Some films, like CineStill Tungsten for example, are made to be shot under artificial light and can give strange, blue-tinged results in daylight.
As it’s daylight balanced, Instax Mini film is designed to be shot in regular sunlight and give the kind of results you expect. When your exposure is right, they’re contrasty, punchy, and have a surprising amount of depth to them – especially if you’re used to just viewing photographs on your phone.
Having said that, I did find the camera and film combo had a tendency to overexpose in really bright light when I was out shooting for my Shanghai street project, as you can see in the statue and promenade shots below. The view across the water and the man on the walkway show how it looks when you get it right.
I suppose this occasional overexposure shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. You’d expect normal cameras to use a much faster shutter speed than 1/60 of a second when using ISO 800 film in bright light.
Fujifilm have had to find a balance between film sensitivity and shutter speed that works in as many common use situations as they can for the Instax Mini. If shots in strong sunlight fall just outside that, so be it. It works so well in all other situations that I’m not going to complain about this one thing.
Your Instax Mini may or may not come with film. If it doesn’t though, or if you need to buy more, you can easily find it on Amazon.
Instax Mini 9 vs Instax Mini 8
If you’ve been looking at other instant cameras and think the Instax Mini 9 looks similar to its discontinued predecessor the Mini 8, you would be right. They are very alike.
The main differences really are just those aforementioned colours that the Mini 9 is available in, the addition of the selfie mirror on the front of the lens, and the macro attachment that comes bundled with it.
If you do find a new – new as in unused – Mini 8, it’s going to be a similar price to a Mini 9 anyway, as you can see on Amazon.
There’s really no point buying an older camera with a few less features for around the same price as you can get the newer version.
Having said that, if I already had a Mini 8, I’d be thinking long and hard before upgrading to a Mini 9. And then I’d probably decide not to.
Instax Mini 9 vs Instax Mini 90
Searching around for the Instax Mini 9 might have led you to stumble upon the similarly-named Instax Mini 90 too. Unlike the Mini 8, there are lots of differences between the 9 and the 90.
The Mini 9 is the basic, entry-level Fujifilm instant camera with few real features to play with. You choose colour or monochrome film, change the exposure mode, and shoot.
The Mini 90 is a more advanced model with lots more of the settings you’d expect to see on more regular film and even digital cameras; things like party, kids, landscape, macro, and bulb exposure mode.
There are also different flash modes and an exposure control that lets you change the brightness of your shots. Perhaps the most interesting feature of all, if you want to get really creative, is the ability to shoot double exposures before the camera ejects the photograph.
The price reflects these additional features, as you can check on Amazon, but I think it might be worth it if you want a more grown-up looking instant camera that gives you more control and creative options with what you can do with it.
Quick pros and cons of the Instax Mini 9
If you’re skimming this Fujifilm Instax review, and I wouldn’t blame you given the size of it, here are some quick pros and cons of the Mini 9.
Let’s begin with the good stuff:
- the most inexpensive Instax camera and Instax film on the market
- very simple to use and get good results from
- a lot of fun to use, whether for personal projects or at a party
Here’s some of the less good stuff:
- parallax error needs compensating for when shooting
- can often overexpose photographs if the light is too bright
- inexpensive but do need to constantly buy film to use it
There are other factors to consider too that may be seen as good or bad depending on your point of view. Using AA batteries means you can easily buy more when they die, but surely a rechargeable lithium-ion one would be better for the environment.
The camera’s aesthetics may put some people off while being loved by others, too. I don’t hate it. In fact, I’d say it’s got toyish good looks. But it definitely fits the fun photography crowd more than the serious.
The lack of creative options is another thing you might desire or detest, again with regards to how fun or seriously you take things. Some people love point ‘n’ shoots, others like to shoot fully manual. This thing is designed for the former.
Finally, the size of the images may affect whether you want an Instax Mini or an Instax Square or even an Instax Wide instead. For little keepsakes, Instax Mini film is ideal. For more meaningful photography projects, you might want something bigger.
Final thoughts on the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
I started this review by talking about two things the Mini 9 brings. That any instant camera brings, really. Those things are tangible prints that you can hold and keep, and the fun you’ll have in making them.
As a basic instant camera with almost no creative controls, the focus really is on picking it up, pointing it at something, and making your image. After checking the exposure dial, of course.
It’s lightweight enough to take most places, be they social events or days spent on the road, and its cartoonishly curvy body is actually pretty ergonomic once it gets in your hands.
As the most inexpensive Fuji Instax out there, it also makes a great gift if you’re struggling to think of what to get your friend or relative. Making real photographs is a rarity today, and an Instax camera is something that will often show up at family gatherings.
I bought this one as a Christmas gift for my better half and we’ve preserved plenty of memories with it since. I’m looking up at some of them on the pinboard behind my computer even as I write this.
However, with all that said, if anything happened to our Instax Mini 9 and we were to buy a new instant camera, I think I might go for one of the more advanced types like the Instax Mini 90 next instead.
But that’s just me. If all you want are the simple photographs and the fun, the Mini 9 is absolutely enough. And if you want to get those soon, you could do worse than checking the latest prices on Amazon right here.
Get your Instax Mini 9 today
… p.s. if you found this Instax Mini 9 review useful and think others will too, why not share or pin it?