Kodak Smile Classic Review: The Best Zink Instant Camera

Photography has always been sold as a way to preserve memories. But for most of us that’s probably no longer really true. Photography today is now less about saving memories and more about documenting the moment, moments that float by as we thumb through Instagram or Facebook.

Photos as printable memories sometimes feels like an outdated concept. This may no longer be the goal of our photography, but it still has a place. And it’s still incredibly popular: The instant print market was valued at $950 million last year. Score one for the world of tangible objects.

Fujifilm’s Instax cameras and printers have long dominated the instant print world, but there is a competitor known as Zink (short for “zero ink”).

Kodak’s new Smile Classic vastly improves what Zink prints can produce. Unlike other Zink cameras we’ve tested, the Smile Classic produces larger prints, with a nice border, good tonal range, and richer contrast. These are prints that look good enough to trust with your memories.

Design Nostalgia

Photograph: Kodak

The design of the Smile Classic echos the look and feel of the 1970s Polaroid OneStep but shaves off some of the bulk to produce a camera that looks great and works with the simplicity of a Polaroid but fits much more easily in your bag. It comes in black, blue, green, and red.

The Smile Classic is the third Zink-based product in Kodak’s Classic line and its first hybrid camera-printer that can snap and print decent photos in its own right but also print any image from your phone. The latter option means you can document the moment and get the print later.

The power button is on the side of camera. Slide it to the front of the Smile Classic and up pops a viewfinder extension reminiscent of the Polaroid’s famous viewfinder. The shutter button is on the back of the camera, large and raised enough that it’s easy to find by touch. Next to the shutter button there’s a small 10-second timer button for group shots.

Like Canon’s Ivy Cliq (see our full review), the Smile Classic keeps things simple. You don’t need to worry about exposure; you don’t even need to focus. You just frame the shot, press the shutter, and out comes your print. This is point-and-shoot photography at its purest.

The camera sports a 27-mm f/2.2 fixed-focus lens that captures square, 16-megapixel images. On the side of the camera body there’s a standard USB-A charging port and a MicroSD card slot. That means you can save digital copies of the images you take with the Smile Classic.

I really like the simplicity of the Smile Classic, but there is one major drawback: It prints absolutely every image you shoot. There’s no screen, no preview. Printing everything, even the images you dislike, will make the Smile Classic more expensive over time. This also affects battery life, which Kodak claims will print 35 images per charge.

A Go-Anywhere Printer

Photographs: Scott Gilbertson

The print you get from the Smile Classic isn’t a Polaroid-style print with the puffy edges. Zink cameras and printers like the Smile Classic produce more traditional prints, like what you’d get from a professional printer (but without the professional quality). The Smile Classic churns out sticky-backed 3.25-inch x 4.5-inch images with a quarter-inch white border.

The prints are larger than all the other Zink cameras and printers we’ve tested, which all print smaller, rectangular 2- x 3-inch images. The larger size gives prints more life, and the border makes them feel more like a proper photo than an instant print.

That said, Zink isn’t the highest-quality printing. In fact, it’s nowhere near the quality of what you can get from printing machines at your local drugstore. But it’s in your hand seconds after you press the shutter on the Smile Classic, something your local drugstore will never manage to do.

I did find the results of the Smile Classic to be the best of any Zink printer I’ve tested. The tonal range is good, and colors render reasonably close to true. The noticeable improvement in the Smile Classic comes at the dark end of the tonal range, a place the Zink printing technology struggles. You still won’t get a deep, rich black, but to my eye these images are closer. I encountered some strong banding, or rough edges between similar colors. This happens sometimes in scenes like a sunset, where the line between red and orange is speckled rather than smoothly transitioning from one to the next.

The Classic holds 10 of the new, larger Zink papers, and the refill packs are small enough that you can throw a few in your pocket and you’ll hardly notice them.

Printing From Your Phone

The Kodak Classic app for iOS and Android turns the Smile Classic into an instant printer. Connect your phone to the Classic via Bluetooth and you can print any image on your device. For the sample images in the section above, I transferred photos from a full-frame DSLR to my phone and then printed them.

The app has all the standard editing features you’d expect these days. You can adjust the crop, rotation, brightness, contrast, saturation, and more. There are also plenty of filters and a feature Kodak calls Style, the ability to add text, doodles, stickers, and borders to your image.

An augmented-reality option allows you to add videos and “face filters.” At the time of writing, the latter is not yet available, but the video feature embeds a 30-second video clip (with sound). When you print out the image, anyone with the app will be able to view the video by holding their smartphone over the picture.

I still prefer the aesthetics of Instax prints, but that comes down to a matter of taste. I like darker, moodier images. That said, the Kodak Smile Classic is a great camera and printer. It has clean design, it’s dead-simple to use, and it’s my top pick for those who’d prefer more traditional flat prints. The sticker prints look great, and the larger image size is refreshing.

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