Polaroid Z340 vs Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S

With Polaroids latest digital camera allowing instant photography thanks to a built - in printer, we compare it with a traditional instant camera

IN 1947, Edward Lands instant film became the basis for all Polaroid cameras. Instant film was, in many ways, the precursor to digital photography, as it offered the user a picture just seconds after capture, allowing it to be shown, shared with friends or retaken if it wasnt right. Long after the craze of instant cameras has faded, Polaroid film still remains popular with medium - and large - format photographers as a method of checking an image before exposing costly sheet film.

Although digital cameras allow you to see the results instantly, you still have to wait for the images to download to your computer before you can share them with family and friends. This is perhaps why many social shots are now taken on mobile phone cameras and then shared via email, SMS messaging or websites over a 3G or Wi - Fi connection.

Yet instant cameras are still on sale today, with models from Polaroid and Fujifilm available, while recent trends have seen them regain popularity thanks to an 80s fashion revival. Polaroids latest camera is not a traditional instant model, but rather a 14 - million - pixel digital camera that has been combined with a mobile printer unit to create a camera that bears a resemblance to the old Polaroid One instant model. However, this is not Polaroids first attempt at an instant digital camera. The Polaroid 2, released in 2009, was a 5 - million - pixel camera with standard compact styling, complete with a printer that could deliver 2x3in prints.

In this test, we look at what makes this new model worth considering and what, if any, advantages it has over traditional instant cameras such as the Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S.

POLAROID Z340

The Z340 is Polaroids flagship product in its current line - up of cameras. Announced alongside a standalone mobile printer by the companys new creative director, pop singer Lady Gaga, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January, this range is somewhat of a rebirth for the company, now owned by PLR IP Holdings.

Styling is much like the cheese - wedge Polaroid cameras of the 1970s and 80s, yet the Z340 is a very different product internally. Featuring a 14 - million - pixel sensor, the camera incorporates a digital printer that uses Zink technology with dye crystals to allow images to be printed instantly on capture, or from its SD card or 30MB internal memory. Photographs can also be uploaded to a computer for editing or external printing.

Images are displayed on a 2.7m LCD screen, which springs up via a latch and allows a choice of eye - level or waist - level viewing, although the camera naturally suits use at a mid - body height. The 7.53mm lens is fixed and offers an equivalent of 42mm with a 4x digital zoom for closer cropping. Full autofocus is engaged with a half - press of the shutter and includes face detection. The display screen features a histogram, and although exposure modes are limited to auto, program and scene modes, exposure compensation of ±2EV is available.

In program mode, there are six colour options, including vintage colour and black & white for a traditional - looking Polaroid effect. There is also a vintage Polaroid - style effect in the scene modes, although rather oddly this is named Lomo. Sensitivity is in the IS0100 - 1600 range, with ISO 3200-6400 at reduced resolutions. Metering is via a choice of multi, centreweighted or spot, while video can also be captured at up to 720p HD in AVI format. In video playback, the camera allows you to grab stills, which can also be printed.

To print an image, you feed the Zmk paper loosely into the rear of the camera, with a feed sheet underneath that must be printed first. Packs of Zink paper cost ?12.99 for 30 sheets or roughly 43p per sheet. Prints are outputted in about 45secs and can be made to fill the 3x4in sheet or with a border. The Polaroid - effect border has a slightly bluey textured look, but is not overly convincing at close inspection. The border can be selected as default under the Polaroid border menu or via the add a border option, which includes a range of other effects. The dedicated Polaroid border mode prints the picture in portrait format, cropping the shot significantly from its landscape 4:3. A better move would have been to mount the sensor vertically or at least offer a cropped mode for a portrait format. Maybe an additional paper type with a real border could be made available, too.

The image preview often appeared overexposed before capture but correctly exposed when reviewed back, which made composing slightly tricky at times. When images are downloaded to a computer the colour is nice and punchy, although detail is less impressive artefacts even at IS0100. The quality of Polaroids built - in printer leaves a lot to be desired, with a heavy magenta cast and signs of banding in places.

FUJIFILM INSTAX MINI 50S

The Instax Mini 50S is one of Fujifilms highest specified instant cameras and comes in a very pocket - sized form. It is finished in a glossy piano black and produces 2.4x1.8in prints on 3.4x2.2in paper to leave classic white borders. The instant film has an ISO 800 rating and comes in packs of 10, working out at 90p per shot.

The camera provides dual - shutter buttons for landscape and portrait use, an optical viewfinder, self - timer, flash and a 60mm lens. It is powered by two CR2 - type batteries that last, according to Fujifilm, for about 30 packs of film. The front shutter button, for use with the camera in portrait mode, feels most natural, with the battery compartment working as a rear grip. Exposure is fully automatic, although exposure compensation is offered in the

form of a lighter/darker button for ±%EV. Focusing is set to one of two positions, either 0.6m - 3m or 3m - infmity. For closer focusing, an included close - up lens can be attached that allows focusing down to 03m, although the close - up view is not seen in the optical viewfinder.

The film comes in a handy cartridge, making it easy to load. Images start to appear after 30secs and are fully developed after another 3mins. The viewfinder doesnt quite line up with the lens, so precise composition is tricky. Even with such a small aperture, bright images are prone to overexposure but under normal conditions and with flash it produces a nice result.

Verdict

HAVING instant physical prints from a camera is still very appealing and does add to the social aspect of photography. The Polaroid Z340 with its digital solution avoids wasting paper on unwanted shots and allows much greater control over your images, with the various colours and effects, plus autofocus and exposure controls. The quality of the images, however, is not great by point - and - shoot compact camera standards and the printer quality degrades the images further.

Overall, the simplicity of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S made it more fun to use and the printed results much more quaint and interesting. Although the Polaroid, at ?230, is not expensive for a camera and printer combination, it is more likely to be bought for novelty value. If this is the case, the Instax Mini 50S would be the better option. Should you desire the definitive Polaroid look, old Polaroid film cameras can still be picked up second - hand for less than ?70 and film is available from the Impossible Project.

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