Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay
“With an excellent, user-friendly app, the Instax Mini LiPlay gets hybrid instant cameras right.”
Digital camera plus mobile printer
Entertaining sound recording function
App works very well
Bad battery life, no replaceable battery
No creative exposure modes
Limited options for mobile printing
There is a reason why Fujifilm still has a film in its name, and that is not because of Provia, Astia or Velvia, but because of Instax. The Instax Mini LiPlay is the latest model in the extremely popular range of instant cameras and differs from all previous ones. It is more than just a camera, it is also a mobile printer. In fact, the LiPlay (whose pronunciation I don’t exactly know) is basically an Instax Share printer with a digital camera attached to the front and an LCD screen on the back.
In a way, this is sort of a scam on the whole “instant” concept, since the film is not exposed directly through the lens (zinc-based instant cameras like Polaroid Snap and Canon Ivy Cliq work the same way). . This cheat is a much more practical device in terms of both size and operating costs. The lens is much smaller because it only has to cover a tiny digital sensor instead of a 1.8 x 2.4 inch film sheet. You save money over time as you don’t have to print every image. The starting price of the camera of $ 160 is really not a bad deal.
Above all, the LiPlay is a brilliantly entertaining product that offers one of the most refined experiences of all instant cameras, even if some of the advanced functions of other Instax models are missing. The accompanying mobile app is very well designed and easy to use, while the audio recording and the clever QR code-based playback system are surprisingly entertaining additions.
As a 35-year-old man, I have a hunch that I am not the primary target group for this camera – and yet I want to take it with me everywhere.
Daven Mathies / Digital Trends
Design and handling
My test device arrived in stone white, a cream color that makes the camera look like a big bar of soap. The silver accents that are spread over the body give it a certain retro atmosphere. The surface is fairly smooth – as with the risk of slipping – and therefore not the easiest camera to detect.
The key arrangement does not help here either. The shutter release button is located on the front right of the camera and is difficult to reach with your index finger if your other fingers cover the flash or lens. The audio record button is also in the front, but in the opposite corner, while there are three key combinations and the power button on the left. None of this makes any sense, but I think you’ll get used to it. It is part of the Instax charm.
The keyboard shortcuts allow you to quickly apply a favorite frame and preview live before taking a picture. You can also apply frames later. The camera has a lot of built-in images – you can add anything from speech bubbles to color effects, and more elements can be added via the mobile app (more details on that later). You probably won’t get much of it, but they can be fun in some situations.
Daven Mathies / Digital Trends
As a digital camera, the Mini LiPlay is nothing special and does not have to be. I’m sure it has a few megapixels, enough to make a 1.8 x 2.4 inch Instax print, and that’s really all I need to know. The image quality is not what I would call great, but she manages to keep the old school instant look.
I’m sure it has a few megapixels, enough to make a 1.8 x 2.4 inch Instax print, and that’s really all I need to know.
The menu contains a basic exposure compensation option that you can use to turn the flash on or off. However, this applies to manual control. Simplicity is a plus in some situations, but it can also be an obstacle. For example, the single focus point in the middle of the frame means that you have to focus and re-compose for off-center subjects, and the auto focus itself is pretty slow.
The screen is also nothing special. It has a low resolution and always looks washed out, but I don’t care either – it’s an instax camera. My only real complaint is that it’s not a touchscreen. I suspect this was a cost-cutting measure, but a touchscreen would have really made sense with this product as it is likely to be popular with younger customers who grew up with touchscreen interfaces.
Images are saved in internal memory or on a microSD card. I don’t know how many gigabytes – or probably megabytes – of internal memory is, but I was able to take 50 photos before I received the “memory full” warning, which I think is perfectly fine. And if you need to free up space, just move your files from virtual to real by printing.
And printing is a lot of fun. An animation of the photo is played on the screen, sliding towards the film slot and then turning into the print itself when the film is spit out of the slot. It’s silly, but like so many things in instant photography, it put a smile on my face – I never got tired of it.
As funny as a camera is, I think the LiPlay is even better than a mobile printer. You will get better results if you take a picture with your phone and send it to the camera for printing instead of taking it with the LiPlay itself. Note that “better” doesn’t mean “good”. I also printed a photo I took with a $ 10,000 Hasselblad and a $ 5,000 lens, and it still looked like a cheap instant photo, but that’s exactly what it’s about.
A word of warning: printing from your phone is dangerously addictive.
A word of warning: printing from your phone is dangerously addictive. I said the Mini LiPlay can save you money by allowing you to selectively choose what to print, but it also opens up a world of possibilities by printing from your phone so quickly. As a photographer and camera reviewer, I’ve taken thousands of photos with many different cameras. Since Adobe Lightroom CC makes it easy to save these images on my phone, there is a great desire to display them as Instax prints.
A disadvantage of the fully digital Mini LiPlay is the shorter battery life. I only took 22 photos and printed 24 before the battery warning light came on. That’s certainly not a good thing compared to other cameras – and it is made worse by the lack of a removable battery – but the good news is that it charges via USB so you can charge it from a USB battery pack on the go can. You can probably take a lot more photos with a single battery if you don’t stop to make prints in between.
From selfie to talkie
It’s no surprise that Instax cameras are popular selfie tools (there’s a built-in mirror next to the lens that you can use to frame yourself). With the LiPlay, you can further improve your self-centered self-expression by talking about yourself while taking pictures.
Joking aside, the audio recording feature is actually pretty neat. You activate it by pressing the large microphone button on the front of the camera. The LiPlay will then save 10 seconds of audio around the next photo you take, including about 5 seconds before the photo is taken. (You can also press and hold the microphone button during image playback to record audio from a previously taken photo. However, you cannot record audio from your phone to a photo.) This feature allows you to add audio notes and record a message for a loved one , or simply capture ambient noise to add another dimension to your photo. But how does that sound to someone?
Daven Mathies / Digital Trends
This is the cool part. If you press the print button on an audio photo, you have the option of printing with sound. This will generate a QR code and put it on the print (you can place it in any corner or directly in the middle). When someone scans the photo with their phone’s camera, they are directed to a website where they can listen to the recorded audio and see the original image unhindered by the QR code. It’s a bit of a hidden message and I think some people will have a lot of fun with it. The image and sound are saved under a unique link sound.instax.com.
OK, maybe that’s not quite as cool as Lifeprint’s Harry Potter-like moving pictures, but it’s still cool.
To print an audio photo, you need to make sure the camera is connected to your phone as an internet connection is required. You must leave both your phone and LiPlay camera turned on while the image and sound are uploaded. If you accidentally turn the camera off before the upload is complete, don’t worry – I did and the app automatically restarted the upload when I turned the camera on again.
An app that actually works
Let’s back up a second. The Mini LiPlay is not the first hybrid instax camera. The Instax SQ10 and SQ20 from 2018 also combine digital sensors with instant photo printers. These cameras print in the larger Instax Square format and offer a variety of creative options, from the ability to record a short video sequence and print a single image from it, to multiple exposure shots and collage printing. However, they lack the app connectivity of the Mini LiPlay and cannot print from their phone.
The Mini LiPlay works hand in hand with a new mobile app of the same name. Camera manufacturers don’t have a great track record in app development – Fujifilm’s own app for mirrorless X-series cameras is only acceptable – but the Mini LiPlay app makes it absolutely perfect. There is a simple setup process to pair the camera with your phone via Bluetooth. After that, the camera will be connected every time you turn it on. There is no secondary Wi-Fi connection to worry about and I didn’t have to restart the app or camera to connect – it just worked.
This is of course the way it should be, but since there have been so many connectivity issues with camera companion apps in the past, the effortless nature of the Mini LiPlay app was very welcome.
In the app, you can print photos from your phone’s camera roll, control the LiPlay camera remotely (including a live preview), view and listen to your audio photos, and program keyboard shortcuts. (Since I am from the Pacific Northwest, I naturally assigned these to the umbrella, the antlers and the leaf frame – but only because hipsters, hiking and hops were not options.)
Apart from zooming and reformulating the image, the app unfortunately does not offer any creative printing options. You cannot apply a frame or filter to a phone photo, or combine multiple photos into a collage. It is strange that you can print collages with the SQ10 camera, but not with the LiPlay, where the mobile app would make such a function even more powerful and user-friendly.
Instant cameras are a novelty, but the Instax Mini LiPlay prevents this novelty from fading by combining the camera and mobile printer in one. The sound recording function is also a surprisingly entertaining addition. All of these functions are integrated in a device that is even smaller than a normal Instax camera. The headache-free mobile app means that you actually want to use it.
However, it would be nice if you could add audio to photos you shared from your phone, and we want the SQ10’s creative shooting and printing modes to be built into LiPlay.
This camera is a great idea and we hope that Fujifilm will release more models in this line, possibly one that uses Instax Wide-Film. Currently, the only Instax wide camera on the market is very bulky, which is partly due to the need for a large lens. A digital version of this camera could be made much more compact, making the format more practical.
Is there a better alternative?
There are many other options in the instant game, including some that combine printers and cameras in one. The Canon Ivy Cliq only costs $ 100. Zinc prints don’t have to develop like Instax films, so they’re done earlier (but it takes longer to actually spit out of the camera) and you can stick them anywhere thanks to the adhesive backing. However, the Cliq does not have an LCD screen or the audio recording functions of the LiPlay. Fujifilm also makes a variety of Instax film frames with different colors and patterns that can add to the fun, especially if you buy a camera for your kids.
How long it will take?
Since it combines printer and camera functionality in one, the Mini LiPlay will bring more life to me than any other Instax camera. It also feels decent good and we expect it to withstand normal wear and tear for at least a few years.
Should you buy it
Yes. The Instax Mini LiPlay is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. One limitation: I spent most of my time in the mobile printing function. So if you think you don’t need the camera part, consider the Instax Share SP-3 printer, which prints in a larger format and includes additional creative printing features.