Instant photography never went away, but it’s had one foot out the door since the advent of digital photography. Well, digital photography has been around for a while now, and the honeymoon period is over! Digital albums hold thousands of photos, and no one’s got time to go back and look through all those! So, we’ve come full circle — instant photography is making a big comeback, both with instant printers that can print smartphone pictures and even now instant cameras.
It’s no wonder why — I almost never look at my digital albums, but I’ve now got an assortment of physical photos across my desk that I see every day! A lot of those photos are from the HP Sprocket 2-in-1, HP’s latest instant camera. This little white and gold device is small enough to go anywhere and can instantly print 2 x 3 adhesive-backed photos. It makes it so easy to decorate your desk or wall with pictures of you and your friends! Beats selfies lost to the annals of Instagram.
While the Sprocket 2-in-1 is super fun to use, there are some limitations you should know about. It’s not great for every situation, and the print quality isn’t as good as what you’re used to, but as long as you know what you’re getting, you’ll find that the Sprocket 2-in-1 brings smiles to faces more often than not!
Best Buy – $160
The Good: Portable, fast printing, viewfinder has a little selfie mirror, doesn’t need ink, small adhesive-backed photos make perfect decorations, fun editing options in the app
The Bad: Print quality is so-so, buying more paper can get expensive if used frequently
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants pictures they’ll actually look at, Snapchat lovers
The Gear: HP gave us a Sprocket 2-in-1 review unit.
I usually don’t like calling something a conversation starter, but it’s apt for the Sprocket 2-in-1, and in the best way. Just showing it to family and friends made for an experience in and of itself, before any pictures were taken! Using it made for instant memories even without taking a picture, and we don’t get to say that too often about gadgets these days. The Sprocket 2-in-1 tends to be a hit wherever it goes!
That’s a big reason why HP’s made this camera so small. While the Sprocket 2-in-1 isn’t fitting into any skinny jean pockets, it can easily be slipped into coat pockets or purses without taking up much space. That plus the included wrist strap makes the camera something that can always be on hand when you’re out with friends or family and need to take the mandatory group shot.
But, how do those group shots work? I wondered how selfies would be possible — the Sprocket doesn’t have a display on it, and while you could just use your smartphone to take the picture, it’s a lot more fun to just use the Sprocket’s camera. HP has a pretty clever solution — the pop-up viewfinder has a small mirror on the front side, and it’s just big and clear enough to let you frame selfies. After all, this is print photography — there’s no taking hundreds of selfies to get just the right one, unless you want to spend a lot of money on printing paper!
Speaking of printing paper, it’s super easy to use. The Sprocket 2-in-1 uses Zink, or zero-ink, paper. Instead of using ink, the printer uses a special paper that produces color when passed though heat. It’s a quick process — from the time I snapped a shot or hit print on the app, most prints took less than a minute. Battery life is never a concern, and it can be recharged using a Micro USB cord.
As fun as the Sprocket 2-in-1 is, it’s better for your wallet and the experience if you use it sparingly. Part of the fun is the novelty of it, and if you start taking it everywhere, that’s probably going to wear off very soon — after all, it’s having so few physical photos that makes them all the more special. Using it too much will also cost you quite a bit, because it’s $10 for a 20-pack of paper (the Sprocket 2-in-1 comes with six packs).
If you snap a photo using the Sprocket, the printed photo is just the photo you take. If you want to go full photobooth, head into the app and start playing with pictures taken on your smartphone!
The app can pull photos from your Google, Facebook, and Instagram accounts as well as your phone’s gallery. You can edit any of them just for printing, and that can be a lot of fun! It’s very Snapchat-like — you can doodle all over photos, slap beard stickers over everyone’s faces, and drape a sepia tone filter over all of it. HP keeps the app updated with seasonal stickers and borders, too, so there will always be something new to play with!
But, HP didn’t want to totally ditch the digital. Before you start printing photos, you have the option to let Sprocket put invisible markers on your photos. If you print just one smartphone photo out of many from a trip with some of your friends, scanning that photo will bring up all those related photos and Google Street View shots of the location, so you can take an extended trip down memory lane. It’s not that important of a feature, but it’s cool to have!
So, you probably saw that this printer prints photos without ink and wondered how good these photos really look. Well, you’re used to looking at digital photos now, so, um, there might need to be some expectation setting.
The photos actually come out looking sharp enough for their size, but the color reproduction is pretty rough. Most colors are muted, and they can be splotchy when they should look uniform. In the photos I printed, backgrounds that should have been light or white ended up with a yellowish or reddish tint, and there’s noticeable banding. Skin tones are generally pretty off, but hey — details are sharp and everyone’s recognizable!
You can’t work miracles, but you’d be surprised at what you can get out of the printer by using the app. I found that by using certain filters or toying with the color saturation settings, I could get better looking pictures in some situations — with a little experimentation, you can probably find a group of settings that you like. That’ll cost you some paper, but at least HP supplies 120 sheets in the box!
I’d also be careful about where you store the camera and the paper. My room has an irritating habit of getting too humid, and that ended up warping the paper I had inside the camera. When I put in a fresh pack, I noticed that the discoloration in the background wasn’t as pronounced, so that might be something to be aware of!
It’s hard to be impressed just looking at the photos from the Sprocket 2-in-1, especially when you go and look at all the digital pictures you’ve taken. But, I have a handful of those Sprocket photos on my desk that I look at every day, and I have no idea when I’m going to go looking through my digital photos again. If the purpose of pictures is to bring back memories, then the HP Sprocket 2-in-1 does its job better than any digital camera!