Shooting Instax Mini Film with a Mamiya C220

#1180. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.
I’ve become a little obsessed with Instax Mini film lately. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently working on a project using Instax Mini and so it’s been on my mind a lot. So much, in fact, that I awoke one morning with the idea that I wanted to shoot Instax Mini in my Mamiya C220.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the Mamiya C220, I’m sure you can still guess that it was never designed for instant film of any kind. The C220 is a TLR with interchangeable lenses and it shoots 120 & 220 roll film in 6×6 format. It doesn’t have a removable back nor does it have removable masks inside that would allow you to change format. It’s simply impossibe to load an Instax Mini cartridge inside a C220 without modifying or damaging the camera. And that was out of the question. I love my Mamiya! It’s fully manual and it has a wonderfully sharp 80mm lens.

portrait shot with Mamiya C220 on Instax Mini film
#1181. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.

So after a long shower deep in thought, I came up with a plan. I identified three challenges I would need to overcome if I was going to make this work:

  1. If I couldn’t fit a whole pack of Instax Mini in the C220, could I fit just one exposure?
  2. How do I get a single exposure of Instax Mini out of a cartridge?
  3. How do I develop that single exposure after I’ve taken a photograph?
self-portrait shot with Mamiya C220 on Instax Mini film
#1182. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.

I quickly grabbed my C220, an old empty Instax Mini cartridge and some discarded, blurry Instax photos I found lying in a box. The first challenge was easy to solve: yes, one exposure fits almost perfectly in the C220. There would be a bit of image cropping at the top and bottom, but I could live with that. And while I was excited that Instax Mini would fit, I spotted another challenge that would need to be overcome:

  1. How do I accurately position the film in the C220 and get it to stay in place?
wine bottles shot with Mamiya C220 on Instax Mini film
#1183. This one’s slightly crooked. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.

This challenge was the hardest one to solve. After all, this had to be accomplished using a film changing bag so as not to prematurely expose the film. Given that I could only use my sense of touch, I figured that creating a mask to hold the film in place would be best. I began by measuring the inside of the C220 and an Instax Mini photo. I drew out my design on card stock, cut it out and tested it in the C220. It fit. But it was too finicky and didn’t hold the Instax as I had hoped it would. So I designed another mask. And that didn’t work either. In the end, it took me 5 iterations before I came up with a simple design that worked almost flawlessly. I created two tabs to help me align the Instax by touch and then the pressure plate on the C220’s back would keep the exposure in place.

But then it occured to me that I had yet more problems to solve:

  1. In which direction do I orient the film in the camera?
  2. How do I determine the orientation of the film by touch alone?

I had to think through this logically. Light coming from a lens will create an image that is upside down and reversed. Therefore, Instax film is exposed through the back and ejected upside down from the camera! Next up: can I feel the difference between top & bottom and front & back? Yes, Instax film has a ridge running along the top on the back side.

self-portrait shot with Mamiya C220 on Instax Mini film
#1184. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.

selfie & light leak shot with Mamiya C220 on Instax Mini film
#1185. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.

With that out of the way, I turned to solving the second challenge: removing an exposure from an Instax cartridge. I grabbed the empty Instax Mini cartridge and stuffed an old photo inside it. It turns out to be very easy to remove an exposure. Instax cartridges have a notch on the bottom. You just have to slide something into the notch (I used the cap of a pen) while applying some pressure to the back of the cartridge (the side that warns you not to press on it) to align the photo with the ejection slot. As you push the photo with the pen cap, the photo slides out of the top of the cartridge. It seemed easy enough to do with my eyes closed, so I turned to the last unsolved challenge: what do I do after I’ve taken a photo?

It occured to me that I wouldn’t be able to get the exposed Instax photo back into the cartridge and I really didn’t need to anyway. The solution was to use the rollers in my Lomo’Instant camera to trigger the Instax development process. I simply had to open the back of the Lomo’Instant and insert the photo oriented with the bottom held against the camera’s rollers. As long as I remembered to turn off auto flash, I could press the shutter with my other hand to trigger the rollers and then grab the photo on the other side and watch it develop.

With all the details worked out, I was ready to begin. I grabbed my film changing bag and placed everything inside. It all went according to plan with a few small hiccups. For starters, I forgot that the Lomo’Instant camera shines a bright green light when it is turned on. I remembered just as I was about to trigger the rollers in the changing bag, but it was too late. I foolishly created a light leak that gave my first photo a greenish colorcast. After that first attempt, I covered the Lomo’Instant’s “on” light with some black tape. And even with great care and careful alignment, I still managed to load one photo upside down and another crooked.

upside down portrait shot with Mamiya C220 on Instax Mini film
#1186. Oops! It’s upside down. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.

There is one other thing worth mentioning here. The C220 has a failsafe built into it to prevent you from accidentally taking multiple exposures. Since there was no film roll needing to be advanced to the next frame, the C220 wouldn’t let me trigger the shutter until I switched the camera to multiple exposure mode.

I think my little experiment was a huge success. It certainly was a lot of fun! And when I got the focus right, I was happy with the results. I will definitely try this again one day. It may require a lot of work to produce a single image, but if I wanted quick photos, I’d use a digital camera.

cowboy selfie (first attempt) shot with Mamiya C220 on Instax Mini film
#1187. Fuji Instax Mini (Rainbow edition), Mamiya C220.

Here’s a step-by-step summary in case you want to try a similar experiment:

Shooting Instax Mini in a Medium Format Camera

Before you begin, you will need to create a mask to hold the Instax film in place in your camera. Also, take a moment to think through each step of the process since every camera is different and my steps as written don’t cover every eventuality.

Load a film changing bag with the following:

  • a medium format camera pre-loaded with a mask to help align the Instax film
  • an Instax camera pre-loaded with Instax Mini film and the black card ejected (Don’t forget to turn off automatic flash and cover any light sources with tape first!)
  • the cap of a ballpoint pen (or just use your finger — it’s easier!)

Then, with your hands in the changing bag:

  1. Open the Instax camera and remove the Instax Mini cartridge.
  2. Locate the notch on the cartridge and use the pen cap to slide out one Instax photo while applying gentle pressure to the back of the cartridge.
  3. Put the single exposure aside and the cartridge back in the Instax camera. Close the back.
  4. Now locate the ridge on the single Instax exposure. That is the top and back of the photo.
  5. Open the medium format camera’s back and using the mask you created to guide you, place the Instax photo upside down with the back facing the lens.
  6. Close the medium format camera’s back.
  7. Remove your hands from the changing bag and open it up.
  8. Shoot your photo. And then it’s back to the changing bag.
  9. Open up the medium format camera and remove the Instax photo.
  10. Open the Instax camera and remove the Instax cartridge. Put it aside.
  11. Turn on the Instax camera.
  12. While holding the ridged end of the Instax photo, insert the photo into the Instax camera and hold it against the rollers. Now with your other hand, trigger the Instax camera’s shutter. The Instax should be pulled through the rollers.
  13. Put the now developing Instax photo aside and turn off the Instax camera.
  14. Grab the Instax cartridge and place it back in the Instax camera. Close the camera’s back.
  15. Remove your hands from the changing bag and open it up. It’s time to see if your photo has turned out!

And just in case you’re wondering: Instax Square will not fit in the C220. It’s 1 mm too wide for the camera!

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