Instant Japan...and a first look at Instax Monochrome

Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

I really should apologise...after all, pretty soon you're going to get really bored of my pictures from Japan. This is really just the start of things. In a vain attempt to sweeten the blow, I shall combine this set of images with a little review of Fuji's recently released Instax monochrome film.

Kumamoto, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Kumamoto, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

I hunted this film down as soon as we arrived in Japan, in fact I think I had some in my grasp less than 5h after landing courtesy of Loft in Kyoto. The first thing I noticed was its a little pricey. Partly this was caused by the exchange rate (thanks Brexit) and partly by Fuji's genius idea of making it more expensive (albeit marginally) than standard Instax.

Takachiho gorge, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Takachiho gorge, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

As you'd expect with any new film, there's a bit of a learning curve. However, if you've shot a lot of Instax in the past then the key characteristics of the film won't surprise you. Firstly, getting the exposure right is often luck rather than judgement. This is also down to the cameras, which meter a little funkily, but I tend to find they overexpose unless I remember to use the Dark setting. Not that this always works mind you...

And Coffee Roasters, Kumamoto, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

And Coffee Roasters, Kumamoto, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

I also refuse to use flash which probably doesn't help me much. Mainly because Instax has a horrible habit of burning out (or solarising) any highlights (such as reflections of the flash). This happens even though I have put masking tape over the flash to try and act as a cheap-ass diffuser. Anyway, I digress...back to the film.

And Coffee Roasters, Kumamoto, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

And Coffee Roasters, Kumamoto, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

As you'd expect, the film is pretty low resolution (and I am fairly sure its the film not the lens - although the lens won't help matters). So, don't try to take any fantastically detailed shots as you'll be disappointed with the results. Graphical images can work well though, and the lack of resolution actually suits the monochrome film,which also has a touch of grain which I find quite pleasing.

Akihabara, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Akihabara, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

More annoying is the ridiculously narrow exposure latitude. When you can't meter or control exposure you kind of hope that the film will at least be able to handle mixed lighting but it really struggles. In my experience this generally leads to overexposed highlights rather than underexposed shadows but its not always predictable. However, if you know its going to happen you can play with it a little.

Grasslands, Aso-San, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Grasslands, Aso-San, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

The film itself is not actually a true black and white film, meaning the monochrome name makes more sense now. I found the film tended towards a blue tint, but of course you can't see that because I scanned in grayscale (or should that be greyscale - damn this American English). 

Me, Aso-San, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S by A (not me - obviously given that I'm in the picture)

Me, Aso-San, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S by A (not me - obviously given that I'm in the picture)

So, the grain is nice, the slight blue tint not bothersome, and when the exposure is good (most likely in a scene with pretty even lighting) then tones are lovely. The gradation (probably the wrong word - I'm not a thesaurus) of the image can be really special. As yet, I've not quite worked out what colours react in what ways (others more expert than me, i.e. Dan K, have posted on that topic) but regardless the end results can be lovely.

Self, Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Self, Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

So, overall then would I shoot more of this? I would, but only in those situations where I actually want everything done in camera rather than converting in post. I really like the Instax format, and have albums of the stuff sat around that really needs to be filed away in little books ready for me to look at when I am older and even more past it. I like it, and I'd probably say it's worth a try, particularly if you have enough prior Instax experience not to blow too many images whilst you get used to the film's foibles.

Evil horse (as they all are), Aso-San, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Evil horse (as they all are), Aso-San, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Finally, a little word on Japan...and one spot in particular. Many of these images were made in or near Kumamoto, which was hit by a series of devastating earthquakes in April 2016. We were a little nervous of visiting so soon, but found the people to be the most hospitable and lovely we have encountered in Japan in our many trips. If you're planning a visit to the country don't hesitate to go, the city is great, the nearby countryside beautiful and the people astonishing in their kindness. I will have more to say on this, and the recovery efforts, in future posts. 

Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S

Fukuoka, made with a Fuji Instax Mini 90S