Instax Mini and the medium format cameras.

Note: The section below on using a Fuji GW690 with Instax Mini film has been updated from the original post; I did some more experimenting and was able to simplify the process! I've also updated the section(s) of the post where I discuss handling the live film cartridge in the dark bag.

I love Instax film. Mini and Wide are great, and I'm eagerly anticipating Instax Square! Instax cameras, though? That's a love/hate relationship, across all the formats. 

Couple that frustration with my boredom on a Friday night, and I started to wonder: how hard would it be to shoot Instax film with one of the nice medium format cameras that I own? Would it even be possible?

I decided to find out - and holy hell, it did. In two different cameras. With varying degrees of success and convenience, of course, but it WORKED. Below are some photos and basic notes on the process I used!

I tried two different cameras - the Hasselblad 500C/M and the Fuji GW690 (also known as the Texas Leica). I'll break down the Hassy process first - but, to start off, you'll need a pack of film AND an empty Instax Mini cartridge.

You'll also need something that will let you eject the film, like a Mini camera or printer, or perhaps a back that adapts to another camera. I used my Instax SP2 printer.

Finally, you'll need a dark bag OR a completely light-tight room. Most of these steps have to take place in TOTAL darkness. For the purposes of these demonstration photos, I used a spare piece of film, but any loading/unloading/developing of the film needs to be done in the dark.

The empty Instax Mini cartridge that I used to 'develop' the film. You'll notice that I peeled off the little strip of plastic that normally covers this slot. It makes it easier to work with the cartridge in the dark, and made no difference in the process.

The empty Instax Mini cartridge that I used to 'develop' the film. You'll notice that I peeled off the little strip of plastic that normally covers this slot. It makes it easier to work with the cartridge in the dark, and made no difference in the process.

This is the back of an unexposed frame of Instax Mini. The film is shot through this side, unlike Polaroid, so no matter what camera you are using, this side needs to be 'facing' the lens, and the frame of the photo needs to be facing you.

This is the back of an unexposed frame of Instax Mini. The film is shot through this side, unlike Polaroid, so no matter what camera you are using, this side needs to be 'facing' the lens, and the frame of the photo needs to be facing you.

My original intention was to place the film into my Hasselblad's A16 back - which allows you to shoot in the 645 format. I figured I could utilize more of the face of the film that way. Alas, it didn't work. 

No matter how I fiddled with this, I could not figure out a way to get the film in here AND close the film back without crushing the film or the chemical pods. Also, I couldn't get the dark slide on this, and you can't attach the back to the camera without it.

No matter how I fiddled with this, I could not figure out a way to get the film in here AND close the film back without crushing the film or the chemical pods. Also, I couldn't get the dark slide on this, and you can't attach the back to the camera without it.

I thought that that might be the end of the effort, and then I started just looking at the camera lying on its side, without the dark slide in the slot. Could I just stuff, for lack of a better word, the film into that slot?

Yes. Yes, you can.

Yes. Yes, you can.

This is the part of the process where you have to be a little indelicate because, especially at the beginning, it's a bit of a tight fit to get the film in the slot, and you don't want to crunch up your photo too bad. You also want to take care with the chemical pods, so that you don't inadvertently squish them - because, don't forget, you're doing all this IN THE DARK.

This is what you should end up with. At this point, it is okay to take the camera out of the dark bag.

This is what you should end up with. At this point, it is okay to take the camera out of the dark bag.

Be careful with the cartridge of Instax film that is still inside your dark bag. Don't let it get too close to one of the armholes or the zipper, or the film in it can get exposed to light. I learned this the hard way, and started using a lens bag to keep the film inside while in the dark bag. I double-bagged, basically.

Be careful with the cartridge of Instax film that is still inside your dark bag. Don't let it get too close to one of the armholes or the zipper, or the film in it can get exposed to light. I learned this the hard way, and started using a lens bag to keep the film inside while in the dark bag. I double-bagged, basically.

I put the film down as far as it would go, and then used my fingers to make sure the film was centered from side to side in the slot. You are going to get a slight light leak at the very edge of the frame; it will get more pronounced the more light you are shooting in. However, the shot doesn't take up the whole frame, and the light leak area doesn't go as far as the shot, so you should be okay.

My first shot wasn't metered, and was drastically underexposed, to the point where I didn't think that the process worked. So I metered for 800 ISO after that.

Once I took a photo, I put the whole camera back in my dark bag, took out the film, put it in the empty cartridge, and then put THAT in my Instax printer. It ejected the shot just as it would if I was using it normally, letting the chemical pods get smooshed and making sure that everything spread evenly. 

It doesn't matter which way the film is facing when you put it back into the empty cartridge - as long as you put it in like I've shown, where the bottom edge will go through the rollers first (the chemical pods are on the back of this) you should be fine.

It doesn't matter which way the film is facing when you put it back into the empty cartridge - as long as you put it in like I've shown, where the bottom edge will go through the rollers first (the chemical pods are on the back of this) you should be fine.

Below are some of my results.

You'll see that the shot here doesn't take up the whole frame - the usable area ends right at the end of that bedspread, the line from brown to black that you see. It's not-quite-square.

You'll see that the shot here doesn't take up the whole frame - the usable area ends right at the end of that bedspread, the line from brown to black that you see. It's not-quite-square.

This was taken with a 20 extension tube. You can use any of the filters, tubes, etc., that you would normally use on the camera.

This was taken with a 20 extension tube. You can use any of the filters, tubes, etc., that you would normally use on the camera.

Y'all.

Y'all.

This was the closest one to outside light that I shot; I was hanging out of my window, basically. Note that the light leak goes kind of far on this one, and it was an overcast day. I don't know that this method would be best for bright daylight shooting, and the process is certainly a little less than convenient to take outdoors, but YMMV.

This was the closest one to outside light that I shot; I was hanging out of my window, basically. Note that the light leak goes kind of far on this one, and it was an overcast day. I don't know that this method would be best for bright daylight shooting, and the process is certainly a little less than convenient to take outdoors, but YMMV.

I didn't expect this to work at all, much less to work well. I was honestly shocked!

So, with a frame left in the pack, I sat there in my camera room, wondering if it would work in any other camera. It was natural to try my ginormous Fuji GW690 - in fact, I'm a little surprised I didn't think of this one first. The shape is perfect for Instax Mini.

See the little "lip" there on the area where the film would normally go across? You want to line up the top of your Instax Mini shot with that lip. Don't forget - you're DOING THIS IN THE DARK.

See the little "lip" there on the area where the film would normally go across? You want to line up the top of your Instax Mini shot with that lip. Don't forget - you're DOING THIS IN THE DARK.

It literally fits perfectly. Be gentle when you're doing this IN THE DARK because it's kind of easy to get the photo in the lens area and then you're in a pickle. As you see, the back faces the lens, the frame faces you - just like in the Hassy.

It literally fits perfectly. Be gentle when you're doing this IN THE DARK because it's kind of easy to get the photo in the lens area and then you're in a pickle. As you see, the back faces the lens, the frame faces you - just like in the Hassy.

Because the GW690 will not fire without film inside it and/or with the film door shut, I was initially holding the door shut without clicking it closed, and shooting that way. It was NOT convenient or easy.

I decided to try to "trick" the camera into thinking there was film in it, by using the roll of paper from some 120 film as if it WAS film.

You can either save the spool and paper from a roll of 120 film you are developing at home, or ask your lab to save one for you from film you take in! They might even have one lying around from another customer's film that they'd be happy to just give you, as they're usually just thrown away.

You can either save the spool and paper from a roll of 120 film you are developing at home, or ask your lab to save one for you from film you take in! They might even have one lying around from another customer's film that they'd be happy to just give you, as they're usually just thrown away.

See how the Instax frame goes in the exact same place as before - it's just under the paper now?

See how the Instax frame goes in the exact same place as before - it's just under the paper now?

You can load the paper just as if you were loading a roll of film into the camera. This part of the process is easier done before you put the camera in the dark bag. (Don't forget, once it comes time to use the live piece of Instax film, THAT step should be done IN THE DARK.) The frame of Instax goes in the same spot as before - you just have to lift the paper up a little and pop it in right under!

Use the film advance to make sure the paper is straightened out, then close the film door all the way. You can take the camera out of the bag at this point. You'll probably need to wind the film advance until the camera is at 1. Remember, we're tricking the camera into thinking that there's actual film in it, so that it will fire!

You can then meter, adjust, focus, and shoot your shot. Pop the camera back in the dark bag, take out the film, and 'develop' it using the same steps as above. If you will be shooting more right away, you can reload the camera with Instax right away. 

Depending on how much you intend on shooting, you might come to the end of the paper roll. That's fine - just wind it back on the spool and start over! You can use the same roll of backing paper over and over and over.

Figuring out this easier method of shooting with the GW690 was a real game-changer. With the camera completely shut, there's no reason you couldn't go out and shoot in bright light.

It's my theory, too, that the paper helps to hold the frame of Instax Mini in place. So, while I wouldn't go jogging with the camera, there's much less of a chance of the frame becoming dislodged this way, as opposed to the other GW690 method I described in the original post.

You lose very little, if any, of the image here. It really is an ideal shape and size for this.

You lose very little, if any, of the image here. It really is an ideal shape and size for this.

Y'all.

Y'all.

Y'ALL.

Y'ALL.

Instax film is finicky in terms of exposure latitude - it's kind of easy to get a blown-out shot, and this method doesn't solve that, but it does make a HUGE difference to have a camera with manual settings. It took a couple of tries to get this one right in terms of aperture and shutter speed.

Instax film is finicky in terms of exposure latitude - it's kind of easy to get a blown-out shot, and this method doesn't solve that, but it does make a HUGE difference to have a camera with manual settings. It took a couple of tries to get this one right in terms of aperture and shutter speed.

A couple of examples of shots where I got some blown-out skies, although the other features of the photos turned out okay.

A couple of examples of shots where I got some blown-out skies, although the other features of the photos turned out okay.

What happens when you're not careful with the cartridge that contains film in your dark bag. Light leaks galore! Try to keep it film down, and away from the armholes when you're putting your hands in, and/or the zipper when you're loading the bag. You might also consider using another bag, as I mentioned above. Just be mindful of it and light getting to it, because it has to stay IN THE DARK for as long as there's live film in it.

What happens when you're not careful with the cartridge that contains film in your dark bag. Light leaks galore! Try to keep it film down, and away from the armholes when you're putting your hands in, and/or the zipper when you're loading the bag. You might also consider using another bag, as I mentioned above. Just be mindful of it and light getting to it, because it has to stay IN THE DARK for as long as there's live film in it.

So, in summary for you brave souls that made it all the way to the end of this VERY long post - why would you go through the bother of shooting Instax film this way? I shall answer that with a question - why not?

Half of the fun of photography, to me, is experimentation. What happens if I do this, what would it do if I did that - questions like that are what got us most of the photographic technologies we use today.

I can definitely see shooting Instax like this more in the future. It won't be the only way I shoot it - in many MANY situations, an actual camera is still going to be best. This process is easier than it looks but, to put it nicely, it's a bit of a pain in the arse to be ideal. But it works, and it's an option, and I'm tickled pink to have given it a try.

And, if nothing else, it shows the possibilities of this film and how, really, if you got it behind a great lens, into a great camera - it would be a game changer. Fujifilm, take note. :)