Fujifilm INSTAX mini EVO review
Written by Gordon Laing
The mini EVO is the latest instant camera from Fujifilm to use the enormously popular INSTAX mini format. Announced in early 2022, the mini EVO is a digital instant camera with a screen on the back to compose, apply effects and review your images, and a built-in printer to make physical copies.
Photos are stored in internal memory, or on a Micro SD card, and unlike the fully analogue INSTAX cameras, it’s up to you which, if any, images you subsequently print, and when you do it. So there’s no waste and no surprises.
The mini EVO can also be used as a wireless printer, letting you make instant prints of any image you have on your smartphone. It does this via Bluetooth using the INSTAX mini EVO app, available for iOS and Android phones, so no printing from computers, only phones. In my review below I’ll show you around the mini EVO and what it can do, but if you prefer to read a written version, just keep scrolling!
If the mini EVO concept sounds familiar, you’re not going mad. The proposition of a digital camera with a built-in instant printer has been explored several times by Fujifilm from the square format SQ10 and 20 to the more recent LiPlay with which the EVO has most in common.
The LiPlay costs around $40 or 25 pounds less and employs the same sensor, equivalent lens, exposure range, internal memory, battery, and like the EVO, can be used as a standalone digital camera, an instant camera, or a Bluetooth instant printer.
So what do you get for your extra cash? The newer mini EVO has a larger screen, a more vintage look, higher resolution printing and a lot more photo effects. Where the previous LiPlay offered six internal filters, the EVO boasts ten lens effects and ten film effects, totalling 100 possible combinations. In my review I’ll show you how it all works, and also how it compares to Fujifilm’s simpler analogue models as well as their standalone instant printers. Which will be best for you? Let’s find out!
Design-wise, Fujifilm’s thrown its full retro-aesthetic to the mini EVO which to me looks like a cross between the Mini 40 and an X100V, even down to the details like the logo on the front. In terms of build and finish though, it’s unsurprisingly closer to the Mini 40, so that’s textured plastic around the body, not rubber.
Size-wise it’s roughly the same height as the Mini 40, seen here on the right, but narrower and comfortably thinner too, making it much more bag-friendly and more likely to slip into a large pocket. Also note the fully analogue INSTAX cameras need to extend their lenses for operation, whereas the digital mini EVO remains the same size. In fact the EVO is roughly similar in size overall to the Mini Link printer, which makes sense since that’s basically what’s driving the printing process inside.
Speaking of which, the EVO takes INSTAX mini cartridges which load into a large compartment accessed from the rear. Cartridges contain ten prints, each containing the chemicals required to develop the picture. Fujifilm normally sells mini cartridges in twin packs for around 15 dollars or pounds, working out at about 75 cents or pence per print. But of course unlike an analogue INSTAX, the EVO lets you choose which photos will be printed.
INSTAX Mini prints are roughly the size of business cards, with the actual picture measuring 2.4×1.8in or 62x48mm, leaving a border around the edges that’s a little thicker on one side for writing a note or caption. Fujifilm sells cartridges with different border effects, with the latest being stone grey.
Now back to the camera and a quick note on orientation: the mini EVO may have some design cues that suggest it should primarily be held horizontally, but once you start using it, you’ll realise it’s actually meant to be held vertically most of the time. The strap lugs and print slot at the top, the tripod thread at the bottom – a nice bonus by the way for any instant camera, and most of all, the screen user interface and controls on the back. They all encourage you to shoot vertically and make tall-shaped prints where the thickest border is at the bottom, not uncomfortably to the side.
In terms of controls, there’s a power dial and shutter release button on the front in roughly similar positions to the analogue INSTAX minis. You’ll also notice a built-in LED flash above the shutter and a selfie mirror below it, but no window for an optical viewfinder.
The lens captures a 28mm equivalent field of view with an f2.0 aperture and a closest focusing distance of 10cm when set to the macro mode. Meanwhile a ring around the lens turns with satisfyingly clicky feedback to adjust the various lens effects.
Behind the lens is a 5 Megapixel sensor which captures JPEG images with 2560×1920 pixels. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s way more than you need to make an INSTAX Mini print even with the EVO’s boosted printer resolution. In fact there’s pixels to spare to make mild digital enlargements, although equally don’t kid yourself that the images you’ll be capturing will be any better than a modest phone, at least in pure quality terms.
The camera is fully automatic, but has access to exposures from quarter of a second to 1/8000, as well as having adjustable sensitivity from 100 to 1600 ISO – so a far broader range of conditions than an analogue mini can handle.
On the side, or, er, top if you’re holding it horizontally, are a selection of unlabelled buttons and dials. First a clicky thumbwheel for adjusting the film effects, followed by a cold-shoe for mounting accessories, a tiny button to reset the lens and film effects both back to normal, a second shutter release and what looks and feels like an old-school sprung film-advance lever which is used here to instruct the camera to make a print of whatever’s on the screen.
On the opposite side, behind a small discreet flap are a factory-reset button, a Micro USB port for charging only, and a Micro SD slot for expansion. Fujifilm supplies a USB cable, but you’ll need your own mains adapter.
The mini EVO’s powered by a built-in Lithium ion battery that charges in a couple of hours and in theory should be good for around 100 prints or around ten cartridges. But the actual life will greatly vary depending on how much you use the screen and Bluetooth; I burned through mine after a day’s worth of digital photography only.
There’s enough built-in memory for around 45 pictures, but with the EVO’s files measuring less than 1MB each, you’ll squeeze thousands onto a typical Micro SD card.
Ok, now for the real action around the back where you’ll find a 3in screen and a selection of buttons to navigate the upright user interface, and for me this is where the EVO scores, not just over an analogue INSTAX or the LiPlay but also a phone connected to an instant printer. Sure, you can download a wealth of camera apps and effects for your phone, but Fujifilm’s interface is clear with fun options and the EVO’s ready to print them without the need to connect it to anything.
The EVO may employ auto exposures, but there’s way more control on offer here than most instant cameras. Pushing the rocker left and right lets you adjust the exposure compensation or brightness of the image, set a two or ten second self-timer – and remember that handy tripod thread too, set the flash on, off or to auto, switch the lens between closeup macro or normal distances, and even choose between six manual white balance settings or auto.
Pushing the rocker up and down adjusts a basic digital zoom. As I mentioned earlier, the sensor has enough spare pixels to support a mild crop or zoom effect, but as you digitally zoom further, do expect the image to degrade.
Pushing the back button toggles a status screen showing the time, date, battery, Bluetooth status and the current lens, film and exposure settings. You’ll also see how many shots are remaining in the memory or card if you have one fitted – I have room for over 25000 more photos on my SD card – and an indicator of the prints remaining in a loaded cartridge, in this case, seven. This figure is also represented by dots on the main screen when shooting.
The real fun starts though when you turn those two control dials, starting with the ten film effects: Normal, Vivid, Pale, Canvas, Monochrome, Sepia, Yellow, Red or Blue tints, and finally Retro.
Meanwhile from the lens control ring you can choose Normal, Vignette, Soft Focus, Blur, Fisheye, Colour Shift, Light Leak, Mirror, Double Exposure and Half Frame. These are all digital effects, so Light Leak always overlays the same coloured streaks and Fisheye just distorts everything into a circle.
For me, the best lens effects are mirror which halves the live composition area and mirrors it on the other half for a really fun effect. Meanwhile Half Frame lets you take two different photos and record them onto the same final image. Double exposure also works well, displaying the first image on screen as you compose the second one over it.
Note the effects are applied at capture and are non-reversible, so they’ll be baked into your JPEG image forever. Maybe it would have been useful for the camera to keep a plain copy of every photo just in case you overdo the effects, or allow you to apply different effects after the event in playback. As it stands, you can only crop in playback.
Perhaps mercifully, you can also only have one lens effect and or one film effect at a time, but that still totals 100 possible combinations to play with. Almost inevitably I found myself mostly combining a vignette with one of the vintage film effects for the retro look I love on instant photos. If there’s a combination you often go for, you can also register it as a favourite using the plus button, and if you just want to quickly set both effect dials back to normal, simply press the small button on the side of the camera.
During playback you can push the back button to display the shooting details to remind yourself of any filter effects applied, while pressing the play button toggles between a full view and four or nine thumbnails.
Once you see a picture you’d like to print you simply twist the satisfyingly clicky lever. As the image is prepared, there’s a fun animation showing the image scrolling upwards just about in time with the actual physical print then physically emerging from the slot at the top. Like all INSTAX processes, the image will gradually fade into view in about a minute and a half, but during this time there’s no need to protect it from light or shake it.
If you want to use the actual digital images on another device, simply remove the Micro SD and pop it into an optional USB card reader. If you’ve been recording images using the internal memory, you’ll need to first copy them onto a Micro SD using the playback menus.
An alternative way to access certain images, or use the camera as a wireless printer, is to connect it to your phone over Bluetooth using the INSTAX mini EVO app for iOS or Android.
The app has three main sections. The first, Direct Print, allows you to choose any image on your phone, perform some basic edits if desired, then wirelessly send it to the camera for printing. Like other INSTAX printers, this means you can enjoy instant prints taken with any camera so long as they’re accessible on your phone. Long exposures, night landscapes, super-telephotos – all possible.
The second option is Remote Shooting which can send a live image from the camera to your phone’s screen where you can view it and trigger the exposure remotely. Since this is happening over modest Bluetooth links, there will be some lag and the maximum distance will only be a few meters, but it really works and allows more accurate – not to mention distant – selfies or group shots than using the mirror on the front of the camera. Handy!
The third option is Transferred Images, which lets you copy images from the camera into your phone for sharing or storage. There is however a catch: the app will only let you copy images that have already been printed. These are selected using the Printed Image Transfer option in the camera’s playback menus. Unfortunately you can’t freely access the SD card or internal memory via the app to copy any image you like, and there’s no cabled access with the camera’s USB port either. This is obviously to encourage printing, but it’s an annoying limitation. If you simply want to share or store your unprinted digital images, you’ll need to remove the SD card and pop it into a USB card reader instead, and again if you’ve been using the internal memory, you’ll need to copy the images onto an SD card using the playback menus first.
Ok, so let’s have a look at some images and to reflect the hybrid nature of the mini EVO, I’ll show you some digital images on the left copied straight from the SD card alongside the versions printed by the camera on the right.
Viewed as a digital camera alone, there’s not much to get excited about here. The images are inevitably fairly low res at just 5 Megapixels and there’s not much dynamic range to speak of with either the sensor, processing or both, resulting in washed-out highlights and noisy shadow areas.
They’re ok for basic sharing, but a modern phone will out-perform them and I’ve got two examples which illustrate that. So on the left is a digital image from the mini EVO without any effects, and on the right, one from the standard camera in my Galaxy S20 taken from the same position at the same time. The phone photo is a tad wider, but you can see it resolving much finer details than the EVO version, especially in the railings. Meanwhile notice how the sky is blown-out and the balcony undersides are noisy on the EVO compared to the cleaner version from the phone.
Here’s my second example, of Brighton Pier again with the EVO version without effects on the left and my standard Galaxy S20 phone camera on the right moments later. Again there’s noticeably more detail from the phone version, especially when you start to look closely, and the EVO version is again suffering from blown highlights, losing tonal details on the side of the pier buildings.
I also wanted to compare the printed quality direct from the camera on the left and using it as a wireless printer for the phone image on the right. Fujifilm’s specs describe the mini EVO as having double the vertical printing resolution when outputting its own photos versus being used as a wireless printer, but here the phone print on the right is showing way more fine detail, again the railings in particular. Maybe the camera does have a higher resolution printer, but we’re not seeing the benefit due to the lens, the sensor and or the processing.
And here’s the prints of the pier photo, with the EVO’s internal image on the left and the phone’s wirelessly-printed image on the right, and again there’s noticeable differences in not just resolution but tonal range and colour. Of course the phone image on the right is also exploiting all manner of processing effects the EVO lacks, and eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed evidence of at least two exposures being used with a ghostly double of some seagulls.
So as a digital camera it can’t compete against a modern phone in pure quality terms whether you view the files on-screen or print them out.
At this point you may assume the most sensible choice is to either buy a wireless printer if you only want prints from your phone, or to go for a much cheaper analogue mini if you want the fun and often surprising aspect of instant photography. But while both are solid choices for some people, it would be missing the core premise of the mini EVO: the user interface with the fun effects and enjoyable controls, with the bonus of wireless phone printing or remote control if you desire. And when browsing through the prints produced by the camera, I personally think they look really good, successfully capturing much of the charm of the analogue INSTAX process with the benefits of some digital tricks.
I was fond of the various vintage effects, vignettes and colour filters, making various combinations to produce a result I couldn’t easily achieve on a Mini 11. I could live without the fisheye and light leak effects, but enjoyed the mirror setting as well as the chance to capture two smaller images in one.
And of course unlike a fully analogue INSTAX which makes a print every time you push the shutter, the EVO like other digital options, lets you choose which images to print, as well as when to do it and to make copies too. You may lose the element of surprise and uniqueness of a fully analogue system, but I personally feel it’s the best hybrid solution to date. Plus again you get the chance to wirelessly print images from your phone, whether they’re fun photos from a party or event, or something more serious, taken with cameras, lenses or techniques beyond the capabilities of the EVO itself.
I started my review with an open mind, but felt I’d inevitably conclude a wireless printer like the mini Link would make more sense for most people, or that a digital hybrid would lack the charm and surprise of a fully analogue Mini. But once I’d started using the mini EVO, I was won over by the effects and the physical controls which I much preferred to the earlier LiPlay. It’s a lot of fun to use and I simply liked the prints it made, which ultimately is what a camera is all about.Check prices on the INSTAX mini EVO at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Calumet.de. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!