Verdict: Four stars ★★★★
The purchase price and running costs get in the way of giving the instax SP-3 a five-star rating, but as a concept it’s beyond price. It lets you print, keep and share life’s key moments in a way that a Facebook post, an Instagram or a regular photo print delivered five days after the event just never will. Its tiny square prints are expensive and priceless, all at the same time.
You might be wondering why on earth anyone would want to pay almost £1/$1 for an instant print measuring just 62 x 62mm, when you can get much bigger, better, cheaper prints by uploading them to an online photo lab or by printing them out on a desktop printer.
It boils down to two things: immediacy and uniqueness. If you’re at a social event with your friends or family, what could be better then an a small, printed memory they can take away, there and then, as a memento of the experience?
The Fujifilm install SP-3 isn’t trying to offer technical quality, value or any other kind alternative to a regular photo printer. It’s there to produce an instant print, quickly and simply, for the pleasure and memories of the people who were there at the time.
It’s easy to forget just how important these simple momentos can be. So often it’s the tiny faded print in the bottom of a shoebox that brings back our memories, not the glossy, polished photo enlargement. And giving your friends or guests one of these little square prints to take away can mean so much more than messaging a bunch of smartphone images or posting pictures on social media. It’s a permanent physical momento rather than one of an endless stream of fleeting social posts swallowed up in our daily digital deluge.
This is why instant cameras are making a comeback. The difference with the instax SHARE S-3, though, is that you can get the instant print without wrestling with an instant camera. Via the Fujifilm instax app, you can print straight from your smartphone’s camera roll. Or, if you have a recent Fujifilm camera, you can print straight from that too.
How it works
The instax SP-3 printer is a free-standing vertical plastic box with its own rechargeable battery that sets up a Wi-Fi network you can access with your smartphone. This part is a little bit of a faff, admittedly, since you do have to manually select the network on your smartphone each time you power up the printer. It only takes a few moments, though, and from then you can keep printing for as long as the printer stays on – or until you run out of paper.
This comes in packs of ten, typically costing £9 or $12 for a pack of ten sheets. Yes, that makes each print pretty expensive, but this is for special occasions, not everyday penny-pinching.
The sheets are light-sensivite, but they come in a light-proof pack that slots simply into the printer. Once it’s in and the lid closed, though, the printer spits out the film pack’s protective sheet and you can’t open it up again until all the prints are used, because if you do you’ll spoil any unexposed prints remaining.
Printing from the app takes just a few moments, and once the print is ejected from a slot in the top of the printer, you can then have some fun watching the image slowly emerge from the initially white surface.
It’s no more complicated printing straight from a Fujifilm camera. We tried it with an X-T20, and once we’d entered the printer’s model number and the four-digit password, the camera recognised the printer’s wireless network and printed without a hitch.
There’s really nothing else to know. On the top of the printer, just above the output slot, is a row of ten small white LED lamps that tell you how many prints you have remaining. Next to this is a battery status lamp that glows green, amber or red to indicate the battery charge level – you recharge the battery in situ, via a USB cable.
Our prints came out a little softer and warmer than they looked on the screen of a smartphone, with a little less detail in the highlights. Honestly, though, that’s not an issue. This isn’t about colour fidelity and accuracy, it’s about preserving moments with the unique look of an instant print. And these are at least a half-decent size, rather than the tiny prints of regular instax mini cameras and film.
If you want, you can experiment with the app’s small selection of image filters and adjustments, but we liked the look of the prints just as they came out.
If anything, the image imperfections are what give the instax medium its charm. These don’t look like clinically correct modern digital prints, but like something older and more timeless. Even the format is beguiling – a classic square composition with an elegant, glossy white border and space below for writing a note or a message to your future self.
Fujifilm instax SP-3 verdict
It’s almost impossible to offer any practical arguments in favour of the instax SP-3. It’s expensive to buy, fearsomely expensive to run and produces tiny prints which can’t even approach the quality of a regular lab photo print.
But its appeal is emotional, not practical. It provides an instant, permanent record of fleeting life moments that might otherwise be consigned forever and unseen to your smartphone’s memory. Photographs are meant to be looked at and treasured, not stockpiled in their thousands and glanced at in less time than it takes to swipe a screen.
The purchase cost, running cost and print size make it difficult to give the instax SP-3 a five-star review, but as a tool for properly enjoying your key life moments rather than just stockpiling them, it’s priceless.
Rating: Four stars ★★★★
Price: £165/$185, film 10-pack £9/$12
More information: Fujifilm website