CES 2014 isn't really a photo show. We've got CP+ and Photokina coming up later this year, and the big camera makers are undoubtedly holding back so that their latest cameras can shine at a less noisy, more industry-focused event.
But earlier this week we came across a photography product so unique, so cool, that we're absolutely giddy to share what we learned about it. Fujifilm's Instax Share SP-1 (MSRP $200) takes your smartphone photos and prints them onto Fujifilm's Instax film—and it works way better than you'd think.
Merging the best aspects of smartphone photography and classic instant film photography, Instax Share had us seriously excited.
The smooth, pocket-sized Instax Share is a neat piece of industrial design done up in pearlescent white paint. The color was probably chosen to make the printer more cute and approachable, but it's an attractive paint job that looks subdued from far away and sophisticated when you turn it over in your hands.
Like a photographic toaster, the Share pops developed photos up from a top-mounted slot. Beneath the slot, on the front, are indicator lights to let you know how many pictures are left in the film cartridge and how much battery life is left.
Since the printer is WiFi-enabled, you won't find a USB port anywhere on the device.
A high-tech route to old-school results
Fujifilm's expertise in instant photography has obviously informed the design of the entire product, from the printer to the Instax Share App on iOS and Android.
Unlike other instant digital printers on the market today, the Instax Share prints images onto real instant film. It's not an inkjet or something like Zink technology. The cartridge of film you load into the Share is the same as what you'd pop into one of Fuijfilm's traditional Instax instant cameras.
Using a thin strip of backlit LCD pixels on a motorized arm, Instax Share prints from the bottom of the frame to the top before ejecting the photo. It's a bit like a digital flatbed scanner in reverse—instead of copying a picture line-by-line, this contraption exposes a piece of film. It's a high-tech process, but we have to say that there's still something wondrously analog about watching a blank picture develop before your eyes.
And the best part? Image quality is good! The printer's resolution is only 640 x 480, but because of the medium, the finished photo isn't pixilated or overly soft. The photos Fujifilm's engineers took of me for demonstration purposes show plenty of detail, even preserving the fine check pattern of my shirt. You'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between a printed Instax Share photo and one taken with a film camera like the Instax mini 90.
Battery life is a bit below average for a modern device, with Fujifilm quoting 100 shots on a fresh pair of CR2 photo cells. Out of everything we learned about the Instax Share at CES, the power source was the most disappointing. We would have greatly preferred a rechargeable internal battery with a USB charging port. CR2 batteries aren't cheap. Those who (for some reason) prefer to run the Instax Share on AC power can purchase an optional adapter.
The Instax Share App
A simple, yet feature-rich user experience
The Instax Share App is where the magic really comes together. You can print photos from Facebook and Instagram, with overlaid information from those services. Likes, faves, and a truncated description all appear on a bar above the 1:1-aspect photo.
The one-of-a-kind nature of instant photography is retained in some of the Share App's functionality. The Real Time Template prints the location, date, time, and weather on the top of the photo. For sharing with friends, a Limited Edition template lets you print duplicates of a photo in a numbered series, making them unique.
In both of these cases, the reprint button will not summon up an additional copy—once they're gone, they're gone. And oh yeah, they're also deleted from your phone(!). You can also print photos in a square template, with custom text inside a colored portion of the frame.
Nothing revolutionary, but a whole lot of fun
Cynically, we weren't very impressed with the idea of the Instax Share when Fujifilm sent us the press release. While it was a unique idea, we didn't expect it to work nearly this well. This is a product you need to explore in order to understand it fully. Getting a demo at Fuji's booth was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
It's not just the overall idea of printing to instant film that is an exciting one. The Instax Share App brings the concept home with its social network integration and limited-print options. Fujifilm knows exactly what makes instant photography magical and it's embed this Instax Share printer with those properties. $200 might be a little steep for some, but, the price tag hasn't dampened our excitement one bit.