Before we get started, a few words on what this post is and isn't. This post is not intended to give you an overview of the Lomography Instant Wide camera, or provide you with a bunch of tech specs. If you want that kind of thing then there's a bunch of that information on the interwebs, including on Lomography's own site. Rather, this post will tell you about my experiences using the Instant Wide, including some comments on the camera, and some comments on my own failings. I will, however, start with a brief comment on the construction of the camera. It's pretty big (not surprising) and feels relatively solid, and is made of hard plastic with a covering of sorts (I guess it might be leather). I was a little disappointed to see some scratches from the manufacturing on the plastic when I unpacked the camera, and the "leather" is thin and doesn't seem robust. Given the price point I'd have liked to see a higher quality product but there it is. Anyway, a camera is made for shooting, not looking at, so on with the show.
I am rubbish at zone focus
The Instant Wide is a zone focus camera, and for whatever reason I suck at this. Perhaps my depth perception is shot through wearing spectacles, or I may just have very poor judgement but regardless, this is not my forte (I've had the same problem with an Olympus Trip 35). I'm hoping with time I will overcome this, and get used to the technique and any particular quirks of the camera.
I also cannot hold a camera straight
Let's be honest, any film that has a lovely white frame (that you're going to want to scan) is going to be pretty unforgiving if you cannot get your horizons straight. In my defence it was windy and I was somewhat distracted by a dog peeing on my camera bag.
The lens vignettes, and more so if you use the ultra wide-angle lens attachment
I don't really mind this, it can add to the images you make if you're aware of it. I'm aware that the images in this section may not illustrate this point brilliantly, but I think you can see the vignetting in every shot.
...and there's some pretty obvious distortion
Take a look at that wall on the left-hand side of the image. In reality this is perfectly straight, like the remainder of the walls (and you'll note there is no distortion in the centre). This was taken without any lens attachment, I would assume the effect will be exaggerated with the ultra wide-angle lens attachment.
My sample overexposes, with and without flash
In the above example, the flash has completely blown the highlights, and I have many similar shots where this has happened. The obvious solution (with thanks to Andrew Bartram) is to tape over the flash with masking tape. Sadly the only tape I have currently is blue, and that's not the look I'm looking for (or I'd be using the supplied gels).
The above was taken on a grey day in Salthouse, in pretty flat light, and even so the shot is overexposed. There is an exposure compensation switch and mine will be deployed from now on.
The remote control lens cap is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant...and so is the close-up lens
I love the fact that the lens cap doubles as a remote control, its just genius. I also like the fact you can also use it for timed exposures (although I have not done that as yet). The above image was made with the camera placed on the table, 10cm from the focal point (due to the close-up lens), flash was turned off and the remote release used. The close-up lens is great too, I love the shallow depth of field. I suspect I'll be using this a lot.
People and places work equally well
Assuming you get all the other things right, then this is a great camera for making portraits. The characteristics of the lens are pretty forgiving and people can't help but smile (laugh) at the ridiculous size of the camera. Also, everyone still loves an instant photo and that can be a real ice breaker.
The above shows all the signs of a badly made shot, both in terms of the focus and exposure, but somehow I still like it.
The film is brilliant, with some caveats
I adore the Instax Wide film, you get a decent sized photo and the tonality and colour is really nice. I do wish that it had more exposure latitude though. In part I think this is behind the overexposed shots, and in the above shot (with acknowledgement its not an easy scene to shoot) you can see an area on the glass tower that has completely burnt out. I also wish Fuji made this in black and white. Oh, and I'd love to try this film with a really sharp lens to see just how good it could be.
...but sometimes it just works
The above was, I think, made with the close-up lens attached. The flash definitely fired, and who knows why but the trick is obviously to turn it off...unless of course you trust in serendipity. For me, I'm happy (bad scan notwithstanding) to say this is my favourite shot so far. Technically its awful, but it is more than a little pretty, at least in my opinion.
Here endeth my initial impressions, and I guess the final question is would I recommend this camera. Truth be told I don't know, there are plenty of caveats to the possible purchase. I have to say that I've really enjoyed using it, and most of the results, and I'm hoping with practice I can iron out some of the issues (but still keep the occasional luck shot like the above). I guess that means you have to judge for yourself.