Kodak Smile instant camera
“As a mobile printer, the big prints look great – but a shaky viewfinder, slow shutter speed and a faulty app make using the Smile Classic difficult.”
2-in-1 printing function
Pink instant prints
Bluetooth pressure interference
Nostalgia has the camera industry under control, and when the Kodak Smile Classic instant camera offers something, the retro design takes you back to the Saturday mornings when you saw cartoons from a rabbit ear television or the evenings when you were on dysentery Oregon Trail died.
The Kodak Smile Classic instant camera (manufactured by Kodak licensee C + A Global) starts with a melodic beep that sounds like a video game from the 90s – a feeling of nostalgia that continues in the chunky plastic body. The metadata even dates the photos for 1979. Although the camera looks retro, the innards are all digital, with a 16-megapixel sensor and a zinc printer that spits out 3.5 x 4.25-inch prints. The 2-in-1 camera also uses Bluetooth to connect to your phone and print photos from it.
However, the retro technology does not always arouse the longing for the “good old days”, but gives us a better assessment of how far we have come. After all, no one is replacing their broadband internet with a dial-up modem. Will this $ 150 instant camera be pushed into the back corner of a closet or is it charming enough to actually use it?
Retro, colorful design
The Kodak Smile Classic looks and feels like a well-known instant camera from the 90s, but is not based on a particular Kodak vintage camera. Instead, it borrows parts from different cameras, taking the liberty of making it smaller than similar vintage options. It has the plastic construction and bright colors of a camera from the 80s or 90s, and the mini pizza box shape is more like the Kodak EK4 or Polaroid One Step than today’s upright cameras.
The lower part of the Smile Classic, where the printer is located, is about the size of a portable CD player (if you are old enough to remember it). The top half protrudes at an angle to accommodate the camera components. A small optical viewfinder appears from above when the camera is turned on using the switch on the side. On the opposite side there is a microSD card slot and a USB port.
Taking pictures with the Kodak Smile Classic is not exactly graceful – imagine you are holding a portable CD player to your eyeball – but I will do it among victims I am willing to create nostalgia for.
However, the quality of the parallax finder is less forgivable and does not even come close to the actual appearance of the photo. The camera captures a much larger view than the viewfinder shows. Even though I knew that, I was still taking a photo of my foot.
Unlike the Kodak Smile (in the name without Classic), there is no LCD screen on the back where you can review images and choose whether you want to print out the photo of your foot or not. Instead, everything is printed. Like a real instant camera, this inspires you to be more careful with your shots, but also wastes zinc paper (and money).
If the body design doesn’t take you back in time, the user experience will. The inability to see the captured photo until it actually spits out of the camera is rewarding and fun. At the same time, it also means that paper is wasted if the shot doesn’t go your way. And this often happens with a camera with minimal functions.
Aside from the power switch that opens the viewfinder, there are only two buttons on the entire camera: the shutter button and a button to activate the 10-second selfie timer.
The paper is loaded into the camera from below. In contrast to paper used in smaller zinc cameras and printers, this larger zinc paper is not supplied as a package, but as a single sheet. It’s less convenient, but also less wasteful. Each zinc paper pack contains a plastic part that ends up in the landfill.
When you take a photo with the Smile Classic, you hear a series of beeps that last about two and a half seconds. The problem is, I had no idea whether the photo was taken on the first beep, the last beep, or anywhere in between. That made it impossible to photograph any moving subject. Apart from the fact that the timing with the shutter speed could not be set correctly, photos of moving objects were always out of focus because the shutter speed cannot be adjusted. No instant camera is good for action, but delaying the shutter makes it difficult to photograph a pet that knows how to sit and stay.
But the camera is only half the battle. Thanks to the Bluetooth connection, the Smile Classic can also be used as a printer to spit out photos sent from your phone. Like the Kodak Smile, the app is well made and easy to use. Establishing a connection is easy, without a back and forth between the settings and the app. The app offers a good selection of editing options as the main function is to easily print photos.
Although it was easy to connect and the user interface is well designed, there are still a few bugs. For one, photos would not be printed the first time, but the second time. An app update fixed some bugs and connectivity issues in the middle of our test, but the camera didn’t print until the second try.
The Kodak Smile Classic is a big step up from the Kodak Smile, changing from five megapixels to 16 and from 2 x 3-inch prints to 3.5 x 4.25-inch prints. Despite the upgrade, the images feel a bit lackluster – but that’s not entirely unexpected and sometimes part of the charm of instant photography.
When you look at the digital files, the details are smeared as if the picture was a painting that you sat on before it was dry. This is not surprising for a $ 150 instant camera. However, do not expect to use the digital files for larger prints than what you get from the camera itself.
While printouts sent via Bluetooth met expectations, pictures taken by the camera itself were printed with odd colors. I originally thought this was due to the fact that the first film pack was taken out in the cold, as extreme temperatures can negatively affect the zinc paper. However, a second paper package that worked great when working with a photo from a smartphone or DSLR still delivered images that were very pink when they were taken with the camera itself. Photos have good colors in the digital file, and prints sent from a smartphone have good colors, but for some reason, all the pictures we took from the camera themselves turned pink.
Top row: Photos taken with the Kodak Smile Classic. Bottom row: Photos that were printed but not taken with the Kodak Smile Classic Hillary K Grigonis / Digital Trends
The colors on zinc are usually a bit exaggerated, although a certain oversaturation is most evident in skin tones. The shadows are also a little darker and some pictures have spotty colors. However, the larger print size is a big plus and the print quality met our expectations based on our experience with other zinc printers.
The Kodak Smile Classic 2-in-1 camera costs around $ 150, while the paper sells in packs of 10, 20, or 40 pieces for around $ 1 per photo. Instant cameras are easy to find, but the Smile Classic offers a larger print size than most others with the dual functionality of printing from a phone.
Nostalgia and the larger print format must be a priority for users to fall in love with this camera. The viewfinder is far away and every photo is printed, whether you wanted it or not. Printing via Bluetooth is also somewhat faulty. The first print attempt fails every time, but the reprint spits out easily.
Is there a better alternative?
Zinc cameras are easy to find – there is the Polaroid Snap, the Canon IVY Cliq Plus and the original Kodak Smile to name a few. However, the list of cameras that can spit out a larger print of 3.5 x 4.25 inches is much smaller.
offers a similar print size with less nostalgia, but offers a touchscreen to avoid wasting pressure, a 20-megapixel camera, and even the option to record 1080p video. Without testing the Polaroid Pop, we can’t say whether the camera offers a better experience or not, but the list of features is longer.
The Polaroid OneStep 2 is full of nostalgia and one that we preferred to take photos with in our practical test. However, it is a real instant camera without the option to print from a smartphone.
When this built-in camera is not required, the Kodak Smile printer offers a more seamless printing experience, albeit in the smaller 2 x 3 inch size. The Canon Selphy gives you larger 4×6 inch prints for less money, but it’s not a zinc printer or a 2-in-1 printer.
How long it will take?
With some care, the Kodak Smile Classic should hopefully take several years to photograph and print as long as the company keeps the app up to date.
Should you buy it
No, at least not as an instant camera. The pink prints, inaccurate viewfinder, shutter lag, and app errors make it difficult to recommend. However, images printed from a smartphone turned out to be solid and the print size is larger than most of the others. It may be a good choice for a mobile printer, but don’t expect the camera part to be of much use.