By Van Salas
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Film Camera is the kind of fun, whimsical gadget that inspires images of multi-colored balloons, vintage looking photos, ice cream treats and cotton candy.
It's also a plucky little survivor that withstood the advent of digital camera and the demise of mainstream photo-printing.
Throughout the end of the 1990's, in the face of declining popularity for instant print cameras, Fujifilm continued to manufacture Instax in its various forms. Many predicted its inevitable demise, the same way pagers and clamshell cellphones disappeared from today's digital landscape.
You know what happened next, right? Fast forward to 2014, and the Instax Mini 8 has become an Amazon bestseller, second only to GoPro in terms of number of sales.
It is now a recognizable fixture in the pop culture landscape, snapped up by teenage girls and used by celebrities like Avril Lavigne and local actresses like Ellen Adarna.
Let's take a look at how the Instax Mini came to carve out its own niche and gain the widespread popularity it is enjoying today.
1. Unlike Kodak, Fujifilm dodged a lawsuit from Polaroid
Kodak was successfully sued by Polaroid for patent violation of the instant film system. Fujifilm avoided the same fate when it collaborated with Polaroid in the manufacturing and marketing of Instax. There was a catch, though: Instax could not be officially distributed in the US until the mid 1990's, when the original Polaroid patents expire.
2. For 2 years, Fujifilm was the only manufacturer of instant film cameras
When Polaroid stopped producing instant films in 2008, the Instax system was the only one of its kind that became available in the market, making it the sole manufacturer in the market. However that monopoly ended in 2010 with the launch of a company called the Impossible Project. The founders took up where Polaroid left off and produced materials for Polaroid cameras.
3. Young girls in Asia bought Instax in droves
Instax photos feature a bright and soft look that looks flattering on photo paper. Teenage girls and women in their early 20's are mostly unfamiliar with analog printing, so that feature was a novelty for them. It is very popular in China, South Korea and other areas of East Asia.
4. The revival of vintage and a nostalgia for an analog past
Instead of being phased out because it's old, it turned out to be the very reason for Instax's sudden resurgence. Nowadays, everything old is the new again, where old is the new new, and vintage is the new modern.
5. Instax is riding on the coattails of Instagram's success
Vintage and noir filters are reminiscent of the look produced by analog photographs, which are the type of images Instax produces. Low-quality lenses (think Lomo) also became all the rage for its ability to produce colorful images and vintage-looking photos.
6. Instax is a better and cheaper version of the Polaroid
Fujifilm introduced structural enhancements so that Instax ended up becoming more economical per exposure and produced brighter, more flattering pictures because of improvements made in its color balance and tonal range.
The secret sauce to Instax's widespread popularity? Persistence, and the right timing. After going through tough times during the dark ages of film photography, Fujifilm is now reaping the benefits of its unexpected success.
What do you think are the reasons why Instax is so popular today?
Here's a bit of trivia: Did you know that Instax cameras have been around since the late 1990's? An older version of today's Instax Mini 8 made its debut in November 1998. Its release was based on a revolutionary concept at the time: you can take a photo right now, show it to others immediately, and keep your own copy of the photo. What a mind blowing idea, back then!
Check out our colorful line-up of Instax cameras. Hurry as they're currently on sale!