The Fuji Instax Mini Evo instant camera is as fun as it is impractical

If you’re like most of us, you probably haven’t touched a point-and-shoot camera in years — they’ve long been outmoded by smartphones, with the exception of some high-end and novelty models. The Fuji Instax Mini Evo is one of those: it’s a retro-styled digital camera and an instant photo printer in one. It doesn’t take great pictures, and it costs more than it should, but the thing’s so dang cute, you might just want one anyway.

The camera looks great. It’s a chunky little rectangle meant to give the impression it’s finished in metal and leather, with fun details like knurled function dials and a clicky, faux-film advance lever you pull to print photos. There’s a tripod mount on one side of the camera, and a MicroSD slot and micro USB port concealed under a flap on the bottom. The back’s got a three-inch LCD screen and some buttons to adjust settings, and there’s even an accessory shoe on top.

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I just wish it felt a little nicer. Despite appearances, the Mini Evo is made entirely of plastic, which gives it a distinctly toy-like vibe. I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing — it’s a kind of toy, after all, and the low-rent feel is charming. It’d be much more charming in a less expensive package, though; I expect more refined hardware for 200 bucks. There’s also in the viewfinder; you’ll have to use the LCD screen to compose all your shots. It’s bright enough to see outdoors most of the time, at least, but direct sunlight can be a problem.

It’s also, to be blunt, not a very capable camera. It’s got a 1/5-inch, 2,560 x 1,920 sensor (that’s about five megapixels) at f/2.0, and photos are what you’d expect. They look Okay with enough light, but dynamic range is universally poor, and the tiny sensor struggles indoors without the help of the built-in flash. Instant cameras have never been prized for their image quality, and lo-fi snaps are part of the appeal here — the tiny instant prints the camera kicks out are going to look charmingly fuzzy anyway, regardless of the quality of the source file. Just be aware your phone certainly takes better photos.

To that end, you can connect your phone using Fuji’s Instax Mini Link app to print wallet-size instant copies of any digital photos. Film can’t get pricey, though. Even the basic film runs about $0.50-0.70 per shot. This isn’t an economical way to get wallet-size prints by any means.

Shooting with the Mini Evo is more entertaining than using your phone — partially thanks to its lens and film effects. It’s got 10 of each, and cycling through them is as simple as rotating the camera dials. The dial around the lens controls the lens effects while the one on top cycles through different films. When you get right down to it, the effects are just filters — but some of them, like double exposure and fish-eye, can be a lot of fun. Being able to combine lens and film filters means you’ve got a lot of options for honing the look of your snaps, too — 100 options, to be exact.

Photos taken with various lens and film effects.

You’ll need to shell out for a MicroSD card if you plan on shooting for more than a few minutes; the Instax Mini Evo only has room for about 45 photos in its internal storage. You’re also going to have to dig out a micro USB cable to charge it. Fuji’s high-end cameras have made the switch to USB-C; the Instax Mini Evo is obviously not courting the same consumer, but it’s still a shame to see it use an outdated charger.

There’s nothing practical about the Instax Mini Evo, but there’s not supposed to be — it’s a novelty. If all you’re after is a way to get instant photo prints from your phone, Fujifilm sells standalone printers that’ll do just that for half what the Evo Mini costs. But the camera is cute, and working around its limitations can be a fun challenge. If it sounds up your alley and your budget can bear it, go ahead and grab one — just be sure you know what you’re getting into.

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