Battle for Portable Printing Supremacy: Fujifilm Instax vs Polaroid Zip

Instax SP-1 vs Polaroid Zip

I was out shopping during lunch today and saw the Polaroid Zip printer on a shelf. After picking up the box to check the specs and seeing some paper that was also available for purchase, I was intrigued enough to do a quick internet search and found some favorable reviews. It was a cheap enough purchase ($130) and the paper cost was far less than what I pay for Instax Mini paper–$10 for a Polaroid pack of 20 versus $20 for the Instax–so I figured I’ve give it a try.

So here’s the deal: I think I’m going to really like having the Zip and taking it with me everywhere. That’s not to say that I don’t still love the Instax, I do, but the Zip will fulfill my desire for instant prints in a more convenient and cheaper way. Let me share what I’ve determined to be key differences so far.

Size: The Instax requires a small bag or a large jacket pocket where the Zip can be easily carried in a pants pocked. The Instax measures 4 x 1.6 x 4.8 inches while the Zip is 2.9 x 0.9 x 4.7 inches (width, depth, height). The Zip is significantly less wide and less thick while being about the same height. Both feature modern designs but the Zip is much cleaner and could be mistaken for a small USB charging device. The Zip wins on size.

Battery: The Instax uses two lithium CR2 3V batteries that are rated to provide 100 shots. You’ll want to make sure you carry extra batteries because it’s not fun when the batteries quit and you’ve got to make a run to the drug store in the middle of a project (been there, done that). You can power the printer via an AC adapter but it’s not included and must be purchased separately. That also kind of defeats the point of being portable but could come in handy if you know you’re going to be doing a lot of printing and don’t want to run through a bunch of batteries. The Zip has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery that takes about an hour and a half to charge and is rated for 25 prints. The printer is charged via a micro-USB port and can be used it while it’s charging. Although the Instax lasts for a longer time, the Zip wins on ease of charging and charging options.

Time to Print: The Instax can spit out a picture in 19 seconds but it will take that same picture up to four minutes to completely develop. The Zip will take a little over a minute to produce a picture that is completely developed. This is a tough one to call because it depends on whether you put greater emphasis on when the picture is completely developed or whether you’re more concerned about how many pictures you can print quickly and back to back. While you get a final product faster with the Zip, you’ve got to wait for what seems like an eternity for it to slide out of the printer. The Instax will provide a print quickly and let you print several more in the time it takes for one to come out of the Zip but you’ll have to wait for the magic to develop before your eyes–granted, that’s some of the nostalgia about the Instax film so even though it’s waiting time, most people are okay with that and it doesn’t get in the way of being efficient about getting more prints out and into the hands of your admiring fans. I’ll give this one to the Instax for more efficient use of device time.

Print Quality: Both printers handle processing a little differently. The Instax gives you colors that are true to life but will probably be a little softer and carry some of the signature retro glow of old instant pictures. The Zip provides much crisper prints but the colors tend to be darker and more saturated than they should be with an overall grainier look. The prints I used in the picture above were slightly edited on my phone and printed directly to each of the printers with no additional processing via the respective printer applications. The overall print size of the Instax is bigger but the final image is smaller given the white border. The Zip image is bigger than the Instax image and it takes up the entire size of the print but the overall paper size is smaller. The Zip prints also function as stickers if you choose to remove the backing. Some of the reviews of both types of prints suggest that the Zip photos don’t hold up as well over time and are prone to yellowing after a year but I can’t speak to that since my printer is so new and not so sure that’s a bad thing or any different from typical prints that aren’t made on archival paper. This one is a bit of a tie for me as I prefer the Instax color but like the texture of the Zip.

Paper Cost: The clear winner here is the Zip and the key for either is to buy in bulk. The going price for Instax paper is $35 for 50 sheets or .70 per print. You can find most Zip paper available for $25 for 50 sheets or .50 per print. I was able to order 100 sheets for $30 and reduced the cost to .30 per print–half of the cost of an equivalent number of Instax prints. This is the defining factor for me given the size and power advantages for what is equivalent quality based on my intended use (family fun and social icebreakers for photographic subjects). I don’t mind waiting a bit for the complete shot to come out and I’ll get to see how long the wait is in practice once I take the Zip along for some street shooting.

Connectivity: The only other key difference for me is the way the printers connect with my other phones and cameras. Both printers are iOS and Android capable so that’s not a problem. Since the Instax is a Fujifilm product, I can print directly from my XT10 or X100T cameras without a need for a smartphone as a intermediary device. That’s a nice feature for ease of printing if you carry a compatible Fuji camera. Not a big deal but certainly one of the reasons I like the Instax so much. By the way, that is the new 35/F2 lens on my XT10–loving that too.

You really can’t go wrong with either of these printers. They are fun and allow you to take a portable development lab with you. Take a shot, do some editing, and print out a masterpiece or simply shoot and print–whichever and wherever you go, you’re likely to draw some admirers who will be delighted to take a little of your art with them if you’re willing to share the love.

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