Polaroid Mint Zink instant camera with thermal print review
The Polaroid Mint is a plastic instant camera without a screen. Hello optical viewfinder.
It prints using a thermal color process and saves pictures as JPEGs — almost no settings. Five press-buttons (one to trigger), a slightly hidden reset one, and one high-power LED flash.
It also has a micro SD card slot to store the photos you take and look at them on a screen or work on them later.
It is an interesting beast in these times of touch-screens everywhere. Feels rugged and reliable (and I did let it fall a few times).
Instant photography has invariably brought magic to the photographic process. You snap, and boom, there, you get a printed version from that moment you shot. It is always a fun experience to see that instant take shape as a physical representation you can look at and share. And we almost forgot how looking at a reflective surface is so much different from a bright luminous screen.
Old Polaroid cameras used to shoot our families’ memories provide a very similar experience. Here, everything revolves around a more or less rudimentary viewfinder, a button to trigger the capture process, and a camera that will spit the photo out. Often blurry, rarely perfectly lit, but always a delight.
While the original instant photographs depended on the rapid chemical process in the film itself, this Polaroid Mint camera uses Zink printing technology, a modern thermal printing process. The paper is unique, quite expensive, but in general cheaper than other instant films.
While I had read a lot about this printing technology’s ‘low’ quality, I was curious to try it myself. And the screen-less camera felt the right tool to start doing so (I got a cheap second-hand deal on one, it helped).
The camera is a small, robust plastic monolith that fits and feels quite nice in your hand. Four settings’ buttons on one of the longer sides (mode: color, black-and-white, sepia — frame: white frame or no frame — 10sec: timer delay — main on/off switch) with white LEDs that inform you on where you’re at. A more prominent circular button on the top side serves as the main trigger. A micro SD card memory slot, a USB port, a LED for battery state, a hidden reset button, and a strap holder stand on the other long side. The back face holds the film loading panel, and the front face has the tiny camera lens, a small mirror for selfies, and finally, the viewfinder lens surrounded by a LED ring flash.
The first card in a blank paper stack will be to calibrate the printer. It will automatically be recognized and expelled before the first picture is print.
Once you take a picture (the camera will make a loud beep), the camera process is pretty slow. Blinking LEDs will inform you of what is going on, and then you will hear a small purr while the picture slowly prints out.
While the quality is pretty low-par compared to other modern color printing techniques, it renders lo-fi a bit like those old dot-matrix printers from the 1980s. But the result looks fine anyhow as super high-quality rendering is not the goal here: speed and portability are. The process is meant to be fun and sensual. And that worked for me. You also have digital versions of your shots stored on the SD card to post-produce or reprint.
To give you a better idea, I scanned a few pictures printed with it.
Here are the results side-by-side with the digital version saved on the memory card.
While neither the print nor the digital file (medium quality JPEG files 3600x4800 pixels — 12 megapixels) offers incredible results, there’s an old school camera phone feel to it. And as this device has no screen, this has a very different impact on how you and others will use it — no browsing through your shots or modifying more refined settings. Just take the pic, and enjoy or pest on the resulting images. In any case, this will create unique memories.
Very contrasty scenes tend to overwhelm the cheap lens. Still, there is some detail, and the sensor, while noisy, offers unusual characteristics in a world of super-high-quality smartphone sensors. The Zink process tends to distort the color balance and results in a bit jaggy and blurry prints, but the photo per se will usually look good enough and different.