With the popularity of digital cameras and, subsequently, smartphones, it might be difficult to see where instant cameras and their various accessories can fit in in today’s world. Digital photography led to Polaroid’s bankruptcy in the early 2000s – or its failure to innovate amid the changes the new technology brought to be more accurate – but the subsequent rise of the smartphone has provided an opportunity for that technology to stage a comeback.
And come back it has. Fujifilm’s Instax range has steadily grown the line, branching out from simple point and shoot cameras to bluetooth-enabled photo printers.
So where exactly does the new Instax Square Link smartphone printer fit in? The bluetooth-enabled printer offers a larger print format, using square film that is 1.5 times the size of the original Mini film and gives you more space for your photos. But the printer is designed to be taken on the move. Lightweight and compact, it has a rechargeable battery so you can take it with you. Once you have downloaded the usual accompanying app, the printer can be connected over bluetooth to different devices.
The popularity of these mini photo printers may baffle some. They aren’t as flexible as an A4 printer, with only one function in their life, to print photos. And those photos are generally small, using proprietary film.
Yet Instax keeps producing them, so there is something in it for the company.
Having a physical photograph is something special. On one hand, digital photography has changed what it means to get the perfect shot. No longer limited by the constraints of film capacity or capability, you can take as many photos as you like until you get the one shot that you wanted. Or apply a few filters, do some retouching and create the perfect photo from the best of a bad bunch.
On the other hand, it has freed those of us whose lack of photography skills would have meant a roll of shots that were out of focus, underexposed, or not what we were going for. Unless you were hoping for three shots of your finger covering the lens, and several of unidentified blurs. With digital, you know instantly what you’ve captured without waiting for the local photo lab to develop them and deliver an envelope of disappointment featuring some “helpful” advice labels.
— More useful was the ability to choose between natural colours and a more vivid print
But though digital photos often get put on Instagram or Facebook, shared in WhatsApp groups or left in cloud storage, future generations may not have access to the same digital services we have now.
An instant photo printer means you can get all the nostalgia of the past, but with the benefits of digital, picking the perfect photo to print and have in your hand in under two minutes.
The Instax Link Square is easy to use. Once you have run through the initial set-up – an easy process that takes only a few minutes – and given the relevant permissions to access photos, you can reprint photos easily or send new prints off with a couple of taps. You can also create collages with up to nine images, although they might end up rather small if you try to shove the full nine photos on to the film format.
As you might expect from Instax, there is more to the printer than spitting out a physical reproduction of your photograph. You can add everything from digital stickers and frames to augmented reality elements to your pictures. The last ads a QR code to your image that can be scanned to display to digital elements, whether it’s a doodle, an extra photo, different backgrounds or text.
Gimmicky as it is, it’s nice to be able to add something digital to an analogue item, although I have never really used this feature more than a couple of times.
More useful was the ability to choose between natural colours and a more vivid print. You could recreate the same effect through the use of filters and photo editors, but it is nice to be able to do it without fuss.
The Instax Link Square prints are something that you could hang on to for years to come. The film itself, while not indestructible, is certainly more durable than your average photo print. I have left them on windowsills, wiped felt tip marker off them, and subjected the photos to other abuse that would have destroyed a standard photo; they’ve survived relatively unscathed (though I wouldn’t recommend leaving them in the sun for too long).
Never again will your smartphone photos stay marooned in the cloud. The Instax Link Square allows you to easily print your photos, or share them digitally with other Instax users through the Connect feature of the app. The augmented reality addition to prints wouldn’t sway me to buy the Link Square, but it is a nice add-on that some people might get more use of. Prints are decent quality and appear relatively quickly.
Not so good
The film itself isn’t the cheapest, and there is more waste than I’d like in terms of packaging.
It uses a USB C cable to charge, and you’ll get around 100 prints out of a full charge.
Compact, lightweight and easy to use, the Instax Link Square is a decent bluetooth photo printer with some fun elements.