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Tech Savvy: Back to the future - photos go from phone to print

The Canon Selphy gets high marks for photo quality and instant photo printing allowing an option to create a photo booth at events or make up to 4-by-6-inch photos from the hoard of images stored on smartphones and tablets. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Remember when instant photos that developed in front of your eyes were the latest technology? Those old enough will recall Polaroid cameras, about the size of a large cantaloupe, and remember the audible whine as the camera spit out a small photo. The photographer would wait a certain amount of time and then peel back the paper to reveal the image. Instant picture. I still have that original camera. But digital changed everything. Developing film and getting those photos back for albums seemed a thing of the past. Even as scrapbooking's popularity kept an emphasis on the printed photo, it seemed most images vanished into vast albums on smartphones. Images perhaps only seen here and there when scrolling through. Others went to social media. But it seemed dedicated cameras that produced images were a thing of the past.

Not so fast.

We should all know by now that the past is the future as old ideas take on a new life. And that's the case with instant photographs. Polaroid is back and it has company. The cameras themselves are often eye-catching and come in multiple soft hues like mint, pink, blue or purple—even a one-eyed "Despicable Me" movie minion for the FujiFilm Instax Mini cameras. The colors can match a special event, like a wedding. Costs range from about $60 to $100. No longer the big, heavy instant camera of the past, the new ones are light and small. While the cameras may be reasonably priced, the next thought has to go to the print quality, cost of printing and ease of use. PCMag lists Fujifilm Instax Mini as an editor's choice along with a recommendation for the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide camera.

But those looking to print instant photos aren't limited to getting a camera.

There are many options to print photos from your smartphone. These mobile printers can be so small as to fit in the palm of your hand. The HP Sprocket is a popular choice for ease of use. A smartphone connects to it via Bluetooth and then those photos stored in your phone turn into images, albeit small like 2-by-3 or slightly larger for the HP Sprocket Plus ($149).

Years ago my brother rented a photo booth for his daughter's wedding. It was incredibly fun, constantly in use and provided lasting images of the day in a photo strip. It was a way to get people together from grandparents to the youngest grandchildren.

The option of the mobile HP Sprocket, which doesn't need internet but connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth, can replicate the experience. For family reunions, school gatherings, weekend camping trips, holiday parties—whatever it may be—the new instant printers allow multiple people to print photos from the event basically instantly.

The photos are small and because the cameras use Zink paper (for zero ink) the print quality isn't first rate. But as reviewers have noted there are no ink cartridges to replace and it's an easy setup—just download an app and charge the Sprocket—and the photos print within 40 seconds or so using Bluetooth to connect. They have a sticky back so they are a great option for scrapbookers. The mobile app also allows editing options to jazz up photos with graphics. The Sprocket costs $129 for the wallet-size photos with 20 sheets of paper running about $10. A CNET review noted with the price and cost of printing it's something a person would hope to use a lot to get their money's worth but if that's an option, it is easy to get carried away with and can be a blast to use.

"If you can afford its initial and ongoing costs and aren't looking to hang your work in a museum, the HP Sprocket Photo Printer is a simple and enjoyable way to get photos off your phone," CNET stated.

There are numerous options out there from a Polaroid Zip, which CNET noted costs about the same but has extra features and cheaper replacement paper. Other comparable options for the Sprocket include the Canon Ivy mini printer or Lifeprint - both about $129. The Canon Ivy has high marks from users and also allows people to add frames, emojis, stickers, filters and text to the 2-by-3-inch photos. Fifty sheets of photo paper costs about $25. Tiling allows options to create bigger images.

PCMag noted a surge of pocket photo printers the past few years, with the HP Sprocket, LIfeprint Hyperphoto printer and the Canon Ivy all providing good choices for on-the-fly prints. For those looking to create their own photo booth—which was popular recently for a family reunion—with video memories and photos, there are multiple options to choose from to create a similar experience and see the photos right there.

If the photo printer doesn't have to fit in a pocket and there is an electrical outlet (there is an optional battery pack for about $90 to provide printing without the cord), the Canon Selphy has rated high marks for photo quality. It still gives instant photos but because of its four-color process, the image takes a little longer to print, though still done in minutes. It does need Wi-Fi. It prints from an iPhone or iPad using Airprint. It offers the option to make photo collages with a Party Shuffle Print, meaning your friends at a social gathering can all put in photos they've taken for a single collage. It can print different sizes from a slightly larger than 2-by-2-inch sticker for scrapbooking or crafts to a regular 4-by-6-inch photo. It has multiple options for printing as well, including a USB connection or ability to print directly from a camera memory card.

The Canon Selphy also costs about $100 to $129, is still compact and small and had one of the cheapest costs for printing photos at 33 cents per print.

"It's not easy to build a printer that fits in your hand and produces high-quality photos," CNET reported in a review of the Selphy among instant printers. "That's probably why Canon refused to sacrifice its printing quality for form factor. Although it won't fit in your purse, the Selphy delivers prints close to what you'd get from your local drug store."