By Bettina V. Roc
Associate Editor

FUJIFILM’S new instax mini LiPlay is the latest in its line of hybrid instant cameras. Like Fujifilm’s first hybrid instant camera, the instax Square SQ10, and its predecessor, the SQ20, the LiPlay does away with the optical viewfinder found in most instax cameras and instead lets users to frame and review their shots via an LCD screen. Aside from digital images, however, the LiPlay also comes with the ability to capture audio — perhaps for all those times you wished your still photos had sound so you could relive moments more vividly (Harry Potter, anyone?).

The instax mini LiPlay retails for P9,999. It comes in three colors: stone white, elegant black, and blush gold. Fujifilm said the LiPlay is the smallest and lightest in the history of the instax series.

And the camera is indeed compact and lightweight. At just 255 grams without film, I hardly felt the added weight when I brought it along in my usual work bag. Holding it with one hand is possible, although operating it single-handed is another matter altogether and will take some getting used to.

Loading film into the camera and setting it up is simple enough. Once I figured out how to navigate through the menus, using the camera was easy. The lack of a physical viewfinder was a little disconcerting at first, but how the LiPlay’s 2.7-inch LCD screen allows you to accurately compose a shot — complete with previewing the exact exposure — is more than enough to make up for that loss. Granted, the display isn’t high-quality, but it does the job.

I found the LiPlay’s ability to take digital images most useful when taking photos without flash (for example, when taking shots of pets). There’s also that leeway to shoot now, print later (yes, you can take photos even without film), which is a plus if you’ve run out of film or if you’re saving your prints for the really good shots — because let’s admit it, instax film isn’t cheap. And since you only have 10 exposures available at a time per mini film cartridge, being able to review and choose which ones to print is a nice feature, especially for casual users, even if some might argue that the beauty of the instax is in the instant gratification of seeing a printed photo just a few seconds after it’s taken.

The digital photos taken via the camera’s 1/5-inch CMOS sensor and glass lens aren’t of stellar quality, unsurprisingly. I saved some shots into the microSD card that came with the review unit and transferred them into my laptop, and the quality was reminiscent of my shots from my first digital camera many years ago. Still, this is understandable as the shots are meant to be printed on film. When printing shots straight from the camera, the results were the usual high contrast photos the instax is known for. There are filters and frames available in-camera and via the LiPlay app, but to be honest, I didn’t find much use for them. It’s also missing some features of other instax cameras in its price range, like the double exposure or close-up shooting modes, but at least you can adjust exposure in-camera.

Meanwhile, the LiPlay also allows users to print photos from their mobile phones using the camera via Bluetooth — basically like Fujifilm’s instax Share printers, except those are connected via WiFi. This can be done via the LiPlay app, which also offers remote shooting. The direct print option is a convenient feature, although cropping photos from my phone to print on film was a bit challenging. Photo editing isn’t available in the LiPlay app, too, which is a shame.

As for the LiPlay’s selling point — the ability to record audio — I can imagine a few instances where this could work, but the execution of the feature is a little tedious. You have to press the mic button in front of the camera before you take a shot (take note that you can’t do it belatedly), and audio is recorded 10 seconds before and after you press the shutter. This clip can be played by scanning the QR code which will be printed on the photo. The recording is stored for one year from the time it’s uploaded to the server together with its linked photo image via the LiPlay app.

The LiPlay has a built-in lithium ion battery which can be charged via micro USB. Fujifilm says its battery life is good for about 100 prints. I had the review unit which came with film good for 30 prints for about two weeks and only charged it once, even if I was also constantly shooting without printing.

Overall, for its retail price of P9,999, the instax mini LiPlay is a camera and printer in one packed with mostly useful features. This isn’t for those looking for quality images and certainly not for film purists — it’s for those simply looking to capture random and not-so-random moments of their lives, with the added fun of printing it on wallet-sized film and yes, with audio if you will.