Along with the Diana Mini, the box that arrived from Lomography back in early April also held an LC-A Instant Back+… Fun!
And if you’re confused about exactly what an LC-A Instant Back+ is and what it does (Mom was), after a considerable amount of fiddling about, it replaces the film door on the LC-A with a sort of miniature pack film back that turns it into an Instax Mini with an aperture, scale focus, adjustable ISOs, and all the vignetted, lo-fi goodness that comes with he LC-A.
I’m not sure what podcast I listened to that convinced me I wanted to shoot some instant film, but sometime back in January or February, I stuck the Instant Back+ on my wishlist.
And I’m glad I did: it’s led me to a realization about my practice or, rather, it led me to admit something to myself that I’ve long suspected and largely repressed.
First, the Instant Back+.
To be honest, it looks a bit strange, and is a bit unwieldy at first, though you get used to it… In contrast to the solid metal with bits of plastic LC-A, the Instant Back+ is solid plastic with bits of metal. It fits the LC-A almost perfectly and adds strap lugs, which some people miss with the LC-A (though I never did, nor have I ever missed them…). In the box was a thin, sticky plastic strap… and it’s still in the box with the plastic wrapper still holding it all coiled up: I’m not one for straps much, to be honest, even with cameras of the size and unwieldy-ness of the LC-A+Instant Back+. Despite the plastic, the back seems well built and fairly sturdy.
To attach it to the LC-A, you first peel back the fake leather that covers the door hinge on the LC-A, then remove the hinge and replace it with one that allows you to snap the back into place, and then use some supplied sticky stuff to glue the little cover back on. With a bit of needle nosed plier work, you can remove the remnants of the old hinge and make the door sorta hot-swappable, though, of course, you’ll need/want to finish a pack of Instax or complete shooting a roll of film (and fully rewind it into its canister) before removing either back, so I guess it’s not that hot, really.
I didn’t read the instructions at all and instead just started shooting. I’m not sure why, but I sorta expected it to start spitting out pictures automatically, probably from my experience with Polaroid way back when. So when nothing came out on its own, I found the power on switch and hit the button on the back of the Instant Back+ expecting a picture of my darling, adorable wife to pop out. Instead, I was greeted with the plastic darkslide that keeps the Instax all light tight…
And I still didn’t figure it out, so the first shot from the Instant Back+ came out as a nice double exposure of Samie, and strangely, both exposures were more or less in focus, despite vastly changed distances.
(That scarf of Hana’s in the lower right knocks me out…)
So, anyway, it’s very very easy to make double-, triple-, quadruple exposures: you just frame, trip the shutter, spin (with some difficulty) the winder to cock the shutter, frame, trip the shutter, spin the winder, and repeat until you’re satisfied, then turn on the Instant Back and press the button to eject the frame.
Once I got it figured out, I shot a dynamite picture of my darling, adorable wife that I won’t share here (she’s sans head covering) and then went around just shooting whatever, playing around and just testing to see what was what.
When you install the Instant Back+, you need to insert a plastic lens in the camera body to correct the flange distance and ensure sharp-ish focus on the backside of the Instax. This changes the distance scale, and Lomography helpfully printed some new focus distances on the Instant Back+’s side.
.8m becomes .5m; 1.5m becomes .8m; 3m becomes 1.5m; and ∞ becomes 3m-∞.
Thankfully, when I estimate distance in meters, I tend to guess short. That is, I would guess .8 meters to be something a bit shy of 2 feet, when, in reality, it’s something closer to 2.3′ or so, and so my shots tended to be more or less in focus, until I realized that the distance scale had changed. Then, everything got a bit soft again…
I don’t mind a bit soft, I guess, but it took me long time to figure out which way to hold the camera to get a portrait orientation with the thick part at the bottom, and I did have a bit of a problem with the LC-A not giving enough exposure in bright light.
I don’t really know how to calculate it at all… Instax is ISO800, and the Instant Back+ claims that ISO200 is a baseline. At ISO200 in full sun, though, the shutter speed the LC-A chose was way too short to capture the shadows and it even vignetted the bright blue sky.
So the fastest shutter speed on the LC-A is 1/500th and it probably chose f/16 at ISO200 (the ISO is immaterial in this case, since it’s only used to help the LC-A guess exposure). Instax film is ISO800, and the lens you add to the camera probably robs some light. Sunny sixteen would suggest (I think) f/16 and 1/800th at ISO800 and so it seems like f/16 and 1/500th would be about right to get the rose tree, but it was way too short, really.
Maybe ISO100 would’ve been a better bet.
After that shot, I decided to test the ISO range, from left to right: 100, 200, 400.
It’s much less linear than I would expect: I would guess 3-4 stops between ISO100 and ISO200, but maybe only 1 or 1.5 between 200 and 400. I decided this was probably due to the exposure computer in the LC-A, but maybe, I don’t know. Allahu Alim, and probably some people who know about LC-As and Instant Back+s and Instax.
The Back itself is of some small help in calculating exposure…
But with a just-awakening inkling of calculating Sunny Sixteen and little idea of how the Instax acts at various exposures, after only 28 shots (at $1.00/frame, more or less) and until I do a fair amount more testing, I probably won’t have much idea what the picture is going to look like until I shoot it.
It was about this time—shooting the frames to test the ISO, I think it was frames 5, 6, and 7 of the first pack of Instax—that I started to wonder if maybe something was a bit off with my photography practice.
Anyway. At roughly $1/frame, testing gets expensive really quickly. Now, obviously, that hasn’t much bothered me with film, where even the most expensive rolls out there run maybe $0.40 or $0.50 per frame, though I don’t know how much longer I can claim to be testing and reviewing film stocks (fooling myself) before I have to stop playing and get serious. But between the ~$10/pack and 10 frames per pack, the Instax feels precious and special to me in ways that film is not quite, and digital is certainly is not.*
Insofar as it spits out a physical, tangible photograph, it’s a great thing, if it seems a waste to test ISOs on shots of the sky, it also seems a waste to shoot random static stuff like flowers and whatnot, and it really seems a waste to just burn through 6 frames one afternoon so I could run a roll of film through the LC-A and check for light leaks after the various operations to add the not-quite-hot-swappable backs.**
These, for example, were also ISO tests: ISO100 and ISO200, if I recall. And again, it looks like 100 is ~3 stops more than 200. That’s helpful information, maybe, for someone, and maybe for me, if I remember. But was it worth $5?
When am I going to stop testing and start making something(s)?
Ok. This seems like a good spot to pause on the LC-A Instant Back+ discussion, and turn instead to the (re)discovery…
Since the beginning of my current infatuation with photography, I’ve been a snap shooter, mostly: sometimes, I see some thing interesting and I take a picture; most of the time, I take a picture and hope it ends up being of something interesting…
And when I’m shooting and I know that there’s nothing interesting in front of the lens, I tell myself that I’m testing (film, camera, technique, whatever, though I make no notes whatsoever) and that it’s fine to just shoot willy nilly.
I don’t think I’m doing it right.
Can one do a hobby wrong? Can one do photography wrong?
Probably not, but I think what I’m getting up to at present is not really worth getting up for.
I want to be done with snapshooting.
It’s been crawling on me for awhile. I’ve got to make some change, and the Instax really drove it home.
Endless test shots and just shooting to get through a roll/pack is definitely doing it wrong.
Sure, I got a couple of decent pictures every now and then, but when I took a nice Instax of Mom, my first thought was to get it somewhere covered and protected from dust until I could scan it and shove it into archival sleeves and archive it away with 18 months worth of negatives, when, in reality, I think it would’ve been much more in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the Instax to have scanned it quickly and given it to Mom to take home with her.
That’s precisely what I did with a picture I took of Gabrielle, the young woman who sits the front desk most of the time at work.
Sure, it’s not quite in focus, and it’s poorly framed, and there’s a reflection of the camera or my shirtsleeve or something in the lower left, but Gabby was thrilled with the little picture, shaking it like (you’re not supposed to shake) a Polaroid picture and watching the image come up, and she was more thrilled when I just handed it to her after snapping a quick shot for the archive.
And sure, the quick, bad snapshot above is the only record I have of this shot, but I think that’s even better. The picture will go out into the world and have a life now, unlike the Tb of pics on the hard drives or the negatives (not) rotting away in the archival sleeves and binder, and somewhat more real-ly than the n pictures I’ve plopped on this blog or one or another social media sites over the years. And I think that’s what the Instax is really for: recording immediate experiences and sharing moments that maybe deserve to be captured and brought forward in time.
I don’t know where I’m going with this rant, but if you read this far, thanks! And if you have any comments or suggestions, please pass them on…
So the Instant Back+… if you have an LC-A or LC-A+, it’s not a must-have accessory, but it’s a fun one, for sure. Sure, it vignettes like crazy and it’s rather expensive and the pictures are not that sharp and the Instax film itself is ludicrously expensive, but it’s fun and really real, physical, way more so than film, even.
And if you really want to shoot random, arty stuff with it, you can do that too.
I need to take some lessons from the Instax and see if I can use it improve the rest of my photographic practice.
I have a project that I’m not working hard enough on, and a stack of books to read, and enough film to last me awhile, and a new toy to play with (see below), so I’m not going anywhere, but I might slow down a bit on the blog here.
*With some unexpected birthday money, I recently picked up an Fujifilm X70 and I’m finding that the year of shooting film has had a strange effect: I’m worrying about wasting shutter shutter actuations unnecessarily… Sometimes with film I frame up a shot and then decide it would be better not to waste that bit of film on that scene and move on, and I find I’m doing the same with the shiny new digital. It seems strange to me, but probably shouldn’t.
**I haven’t even published any pictures from that roll… sheesh.