After the disappointment around the Polaroid SX-70 I ordered, it was refreshing when I came home from a work trip to Manchester to a box containing the Mint TL-70.
After getting into the box, I discovered 3 batteries, and some instructions. The batters were really fiddly to get in, and it took a while to figure out how to get the lens caps off (who reads the manual; right?), I loaded in a B&W instant mini cassette into the camera.
Now, in terms of the looks and feel; The TL-70 looks the part of a TLR; the whole thing looking make of quality parts (both plastic and metal); and the camera itself is much lighter than my Rolleiflex.
It has an aperture wheel under the lens on the front, a focus wheel on the left of the camera, the shutter button on the front (this exposes the film), and a button on the side at the back that releases the film after you have taken the photograph.
Now this last feature, is a big deal for me. What this tells me is that you can take a candid street photograph, then walk off and eject the instant film when you want, allowing for a candid photograph.
Hold on, isn’t that defeating the point of instant photography? Well no, it allows you to be more creative with it. If I took an exposure on the Polaroid SX-70 in the street, it makes a big noise and hoo-har as soon as I have taken the photo. This means that if I was trying to get an honest candid moment on film, it draws attention to the photographer.
So what about the film? I can see why the Instax mini is so popular. It allows you to use relatively small cameras, and make small tangible wallet sized photos instantly. My experience with the instax mini is that they produce a fairly decent reproduction of what I have exposed the film to, and that the B&W produces more consistent results than the colour film.
So what about using the Mint TL-70 2.0 hands on? Well, I love TLR’s, and think personally this is a rather sexy camera. A lovely concept, that has come together really well. It feels like a TLR, if focuses very much like a TLR, and although it is only aperture priority, still gives you a large amount of control over the results. The controls feels solid, nothing tacky or flimsy. The focusing screen is bright and decent, and the device is easy to use.
So what about the results? The only comparison in terms of the instax mini, is the SP-2 printer I have. This allows fairly good reproductions on the mini. However, taking completely new photographs on the TL-70 2.0, I have enjoyed the results. Now, this camera goes from F22 and opens up to F5.6. This feature allows you to experiment with depth of field, and means the camera is quite usable inside. Adding in a flash was a great idea, because this means you can use this camera at night to take photographs of people or inside with ease. Also, on the Aperture wheel, there is a bokeh shape for every camera- mine is a star.
This camera has a 3 element aspherical glass lens, that goes from F22 and opens up to F5.6. This lens produces sharp images, and allows for great depth of field.
What are the stand out features of this camera? For me, the best things about this camera are:
The ability to take an exposure and then decide when you want to eject the film - This is by far my favourite little feature. Fantastic for street/ candid photography.
The Exposure compensation switch - This switch goes from -1 to +1, and this allows you to get slightly more out of the camera than the stock exposure controls will allow. This is handy when in bright light or inside in the dark.
The flash - Well hidden, this is a great little feature just above the viewing lens, and really does work well.
So what are potential issues or cons with this camera?
Perhaps less problems in terms of what a film camera can offer, but in terms of being a modern device, this camera only goes to 1/500. Now most of my film cameras do this, and isn’t a problem in and of itself. The only time this may be an issue is in bright sunlight. F22, 1/500, and -1 on the exposure switch is usable, however, considering this is instant film rather than digital, it would still be possible to overexpose a number of images before you realise that okay, the camera can’t handle very bright light. Now, Mint make a set of ND filters, which would be worth getting, however I cannot find a supplier in the UK, and it costs another ninety to hundred pounds to buy these (this does not include the import tax...).
Overall is the Mint TL-70 2.0 a camera you want in your collection? Do you love TLRs and instant photography? Then yes. Do you like having fun with unusual and unique cameras? Then yes. Does this make a great gift for a photographer? Yes. Is this camera for everybody, or anybody that wants to get into instant photography? No. I feel you need to have some idea of the exposure triangle or be able to use a camera in at least Aperture mode to appreciate and get the most out of this camera.
Final thoughts - wow this is a lovely camera. It is very rare in the camera world that a concept against the grain, is allowed to come to fruition. But Mint have pretty much nailed it here: a beautiful design, something that stands out, is a great meld of old and new, and it works! So I will be off having fun with this camera, have a good one! - Sly.