I’ve dropped teasers for the last couple of days about my latest camera. Did you guess what it was? No, it’s not a run of the mill Fujifilm Instax camera, though it does use the same Instax mini film format. It’s a camera made by a small Hong Kong company called Mint. The InstantFlex TL70, definitely a niche camera that you won’t find in typical stores, not even in most specialty camera stores. They have it at B&H Photo in New York, on Amazon, and from Mint itself.
I’ve thought about getting the TL70 for a couple of years now. But, it seemed like a rather expensive toy that ultimately doesn’t make great technical quality photos. But, it’s something truly different from my other cameras. More than the image quality itself, the experience of using it is its main attraction.
It’s also the most difficult camera I have used. Why? To make decent photos, I need to manually meter, which I do with an iPhone app. I need to focus manually and set the aperture manually. The composition is a challenge because, with a twin-lens reflex camera, things move the opposite of what you expect. Of course, there are no niceties like image stabilization. About the only thing that’s automatic is the shutter speed.
Between the four aperture settings and the maximum 1/500 of second shutter speed, exposure conditions are limited. But, the most difficult part of the camera is actually the instant film it uses. The dynamic range is so confined that things can look overly dark or overexposed. There is only a narrow band of optimal exposures. Regular film cameras are actually a lot easier to use. The only advantage I have with the TL70 is that I get to see the “instant” photograph in a few minutes, like an old-school Polaroid.
I knew all this going in. So why did I buy it? Just to challenge me. The reality is, modern photography is getting rather boring with its always perfect exposures. I wanted to test my mettle as a photographer.
The Paramount and 6th Street
Adding to the challenge is the fast ISO 800 film. That means, even shooting at f22 like I did the Paramount, the skies are blown out. I do get a lot of vignetting that adds to the character of the image. With the 6th Street bars, there’s too much dynamic range. Trying to get the shadow details blows out the sky and light-colored buildings.
Voodoo Doughnut and Central Library
The even lighting of Voodoo Doughnut on 6th Street came out pretty good. To get the window details of the Central Library, the foreground stairs needed to be sacrificed, which turned mostly black.
Jo’s and Willie Nelson Statue on 2nd Street
Training my eye to see even lighting is the key. Something I’m not used to doing because of modern digital’s outstanding dynamic range. I made these two on 2nd Street. Jo’s restaurant looks ok. The Willie Nelson Statue didn’t do as well. I think the optimal time to shoot urban landscapes might be just after sunset when the light levels are still acceptable, but even throughout.
One thing’s for sure. I’ll need more practice to effectively see the light. Ultimately, I’m hoping that the TL70 will make me a better photographer.
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