FU­JI­FILM IN­STAX SQ10

Think of it as an in­stant print cam­era with built-in edit­ing, and Fu­ji­film’s new square for­mat In­stax model is hard to re­sist.

Camera - - NEWS - PAUL BUR­ROWS RE­PORT BY

In­stant pho­tog­ra­phy sim­ple re­fuses to go away, mostly thanks to Fu­ji­film’s In­stax prod­ucts, and there’s now new Square for­mat to repli­cate the clas­sic Po­laroid 600 films. Fu­ji­film’s first In­stax Square cam­era is an in­ter­est­ing dig­i­tal/film hy­brid.

FEd­win Land was clearly onto some­thing when he set about cre­at­ing the self-de­vel­op­ing print in re­sponse to his young daugh­ter’s frus­tra­tions at not be­ing able to see a pho­to­graph im­me­di­ately after it was taken. In­stant pho­tog­ra­phy has not only weath­ered the dig­i­tal imag­ing storm, but now seems to be gath­er­ing new mo­men­tum with an ever-grow­ing range of prod­ucts.

Fu­ji­film’s In­stax sys­tem – which uses a ver­sion of Po­laroid’s on­estep colour dye de­vel­oper process – has been largely re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing in­stant pho­tog­ra­phy alive with a se­lec­tion of print for­mats and cam­eras, in­clud­ing the hugely popular Mini. Iron­i­cally, Fu­ji­film In­stax cam­eras are avail­able badged as Po­laroid mod­els, and the sys­tem is at the heart of Le­ica’s So­fort as well as the Lomo’In­stant mod­els. And now Po­laroid… the real Po­laroid (well, nearly)… is back, kick­ing off with a con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the On­eStep cam­era. The Pol­ish en­tre­pre­neur who helped bank-roll The Im­pos­si­ble Project op­er­a­tion (to recre­ate clas­sic Po­laroid prod­ucts) is now also the owner of the orig­i­nal Po­laroid brand, which has re­sulted in a new busi­ness called, log­i­cally, Po­laroid Orig­i­nals.

A key as­pect (ahem) of Po­laroid’s SX-70 and 600 Se­ries colour films is the square for­mat of the im­age area, which can be pretty well con­sid­ered an in­stant pho­tog­ra­phy tra­di­tion.

This is un­doubt­edly the think­ing be­hind Fu­ji­film’s new In­stax Square for­mat, al­though its print area of 6.2x6.2 cm is a lit­tle smaller than Po­laroid’s 7.9x7.9 cm. Nev­er­the­less, it still looks like the real thing, but with the key ad­van­tages that it de­vel­ops in the time it takes to make a cup of tea and the colours have a good amount of sat­u­ra­tion. Com­mend­able though the ef­forts of The Im­pos­si­ble Project have been, the per­for­mance of its self-de­vel­op­ing film has been patchy, in­clud­ing frus­trat­ingly long de­vel­op­ment times and very muted colours.

Fu­ji­film’s first In­stax Square cam­era is called the SQ10, and it’s a very in­ter­est­ing ma­chine, re­turn­ing to the idea of a dig­i­tal cam­era with a built-in printer – some­thing Fu­ji­film has tried a few times be­fore – rather than be­ing purely an in­stant film cam­era. It’s ob­vi­ously big­ger than the In­stax Mini mod­els, but not sig­nif­i­cantly so even though the print size is quite a bit larger. Im­ages are cap­tured as JPEGs and stored in-cam­era, after which you can de­cide whether to make a print or not. This greatly re­duces wast­ing prints with dud im­ages, al­though the SQ10 has a built-in mon­i­tor screen which serves as a viewfinder so you can see any prob­lems – such as with fo­cus­ing and ex­po­sure – be­fore you hit the shut­ter but­ton. It’s the best of both worlds and, bet­ter still, you can also edit the im­age file be­fore print­ing. Here you can cor­rect the ex­po­sure over a range of plus/mi­nus three stops, add vi­gnetting with vary­ing de­grees of bright­ness fall-off, or se­lect from a set of ten fil­ter ef­fects which in­cludes monochrome. Any of these ad­just­ments can be ap­plied at cap­ture, but then also un­done or changed at a later point. Ob­vi­ously, they’re all pre­view­able in the mon­i­tor screen, but the usual trans­mis­sive-ver­sus­re­flec­tive dif­fer­ences ap­ply so don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing you see here, par­tic­u­larly in con­trasty sit­u­a­tions.

FIT TO PRINT?

While the SQ10 is still largely all au­to­matic, it’s the most ad­vanced In­stax cam­era yet which is re­flected in the higher price tag. It has two ba­sic op­er­at­ing modes – ‘Man­ual’ which ac­tu­ally doesn’t mean man­ual con­trol, but rather that when the cam­era cap­tures the im­age it then al­lows you to de­cide when or if you want a print, whereas ‘Auto’ means it op­er­ates in the tra­di­tional Po­laroid man­ner of pro­duc­ing a print ev­ery time.

There’s a built-in flash – with auto, fill-in, slow speed sync and red-eye re­duc­tion modes – a self­timer with dual count­down de­lays, a bulb mode for long ex­po­sures of up to ten sec­onds and a dou­ble ex­po­sure fa­cil­ity.

The lens has a 35mme­quiv­a­lent fo­cal length of 28.5mm and it aut­o­fo­cuses down to ten cen­time­tres, which makes for a pretty ver­sa­tile com­bi­na­tion of ca­pa­bil­i­ties. AF is via con­trast­de­tec­tion mea­sure­ments from the sen­sor us­ing a sin­gle cen­tral point, but there is an AF/AE lock so you can fo­cus and then re­com­pose. There’s also a built-in il­lu­mi­na­tor for low-light sit­u­a­tions or low con­trast sub­jects.

The sen­sor is a ¼-inch CMOS with a res­o­lu­tion of just un­der 3.7 megapix­els so the im­age files aren’t very big, but cer­tainly OK for print­ing and post­ing on­line, which is where Fu­ji­film has pos­si­ble missed a big op­por­tu­nity with the SQ10… it should have built-in Wi-

AS A HY­BRID DIG­I­TAL/IN­STANT CAM­ERA, THE IN­STAX SQ10 IS A BIT OF A MIXED BAG. THE IN­STANT SIDE OF IT IS BRIL­LIANT. THE DIG­I­TAL SIDE IS A LIT­TLE UN­DER­DONE.

Fi. Post­ing an im­age straight from the cam­era to, say, In­sta­gram and also mak­ing a print of it would be very cool in­deed.

Cap­tured im­ages are ini­tially stored on the SQ10’s built-in flash mem­ory, which Fu­ji­film says will hold up to 50 im­ages. If you make a print, this im­age – along with any in-cam­era ad­just­ments – is stored in ‘Print His­tory’ (with the ac­tual set­tings shown) so it’s easy to find if you want to make an­other copy. There’s even the op­tion of fou­rup or nine-up thumb­nail dis­plays (print­able too). This is an­other ad­van­tage of this cam­era… it’s easy to make mul­ti­ple prints of the same im­age rather than hav­ing to re­take the shot if you want an­other. The ‘Print His­tory’ has a limit of 50 im­ages and over­writes the old­est files after this.

Im­ages can also be cropped in-cam­era, ro­tated (easy with the square for­mat) or printed with a date/time stamp. Any­thing you don’t want can be erased in­cam­era and, more im­por­tantly, the keep­ers saved to a mi­croSD mem­ory card. Al­ter­na­tively, of course, JPEG im­ages shot on an­other dig­i­tal cam­era and stored on a mi­croSD card can be then printed by the SQ10, al­beit cropped to the square for­mat.

The cam­era it­self is squar­ish in shape and de­signed to be held two-handed with dual shut­ter re­lease but­tons which, al­ter­na­tively, can each be changed to switch be­tween the Auto/ Man­ual shoot­ing modes (or de­ac­ti­vated al­to­gether). If you’re a left-han­der the good news is that you can have a left-handed SQ10.

The back panel is dom­i­nated by the 7.6 cm TFT-type LCD mon­i­tor/ viewfinder be­low which is the main con­trol clus­ter com­pris­ing a set of six func­tion but­tons sur­round­ing a nav­i­ga­tor wheel and a cen­tral ‘OK’ but­ton. Es­sen­tially, there are just shoot­ing and play­back menus with all of the set-up func­tions con­tained in the lat­ter. It’s all pretty straight­for­ward and easy to nav­i­gate.

The en­tire cam­era back opens to ac­com­mo­date the In­stax Square film car­tridge, which sim­ply clips into place. After clos­ing the cam­era back, the pro­tec­tive dark sheet is au­to­mat­i­cally ejected a la Po­laroid and you’re ready to roll. How­ever, un­like the Po­laroid film packs of old, the In­stax car­tridges don’t house a bat­tery and all the SQ10’s op­er­a­tions are pow­ered by a recharge­able lithium-ion pack. It’s recharged in-cam­era via a USB cable, but as the bat­tery is Fu­ji­film’s widely-used NP-50 pack (X10, X20, XF1, etc.) you can buy a sep­a­rate recharger if you pre­fer.

FUN FAC­TOR

As a hy­brid dig­i­tal/in­stant cam­era, the SQ10 is a bit of a mixed bag. The in­stant side of it is bril­liant, fully lever­ag­ing the ap­peal of print­ing out straight from the cam­era, with the added ca­pac­i­ties to be se­lec­tive, throw in a touch of cre­ativ­ity or make mul­ti­ple iden­ti­cal copies of an im­age (cost-per-print con­sid­er­a­tions aside).

The dig­i­tal side is a lit­tle un­der­done in terms of the low res­o­lu­tion – which lim­its what else can be done with the small files – and the lack of wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity for im­me­di­ate on­line shar­ing. It’s an easy fix, of course, and with WiFi plus around eight megapix­els cap­ture res­o­lu­tion you’d have a se­ri­ously ver­sa­tile prod­uct. Would you pay more for en­hanced dig­i­tal ca­pa­bil­i­ties? It’s re­ally a no brainer, isn’t it?

As it is, you re­ally have to treat the SQ10 as a su­pe­rior in­stant cam­era and ap­pre­ci­ate its dig­i­tal fea­tures as more en­hance­ments to the print-mak­ing op­er­a­tion rather than as stand-alone fa­cil­i­ties. While it’s likely the of­fer­ings from the new Po­laroid Orig­i­nals will bet­ter than what’s gone be­fore un­der The Im­pos­si­ble Project banner, right now Fu­ji­film’s In­stax is per­form­ing just as well as the good old 600 Se­ries prod­ucts, if not bet­ter (es­pe­cially in terms of con­trast and colour sat­u­ra­tion).

So it’s all about the fun fac­tor and, even after so many years of dig­i­tal cap­ture, there’s still a unique thrill at­tached to watch­ing an in­stant print as it de­vel­ops, along with that sat­is­fy­ing en­joy­ment as­so­ci­ated with han­dling a phys­i­cal pho­to­graph.

THE VER­DICT

The at­trac­tion of the new In­stax Square film is un­doubt­edly the pri­mary rea­son for buy­ing Fu­ji­film’s SQ10. Use it as, first and fore­most, an in­stant film cam­era that pro­vides some free­dom of choice, and it de­liv­ers both the ex­pe­ri­ence and the re­wards. Use it as a dig­i­tal cam­era and it’s rather less con­vinc­ing, con­se­quently stretch­ing the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the word ‘hy­brid’. The ana­log-only Lomo’In­stant Square is funkier and will be cheaper to buy, but could be more ex­pen­sive to run longterm with its print­ing of ev­ery shot re­gard­less. Then there’s the lure of the re-in­car­nated Po­laroid On­eStep 2, but there’s still a big ques­tion mark over the film’s qual­ity.

If you want ev­ery­thing right now – the square for­mat, con­sis­tent im­age qual­ity and a ca­pa­ble cam­era – the In­stax SQ10 looks like an un­beat­able choice.

FU­JI­FILM IN­STAX SQ10

The en­tire cam­era back opens to fa­cil­i­tate the load­ing of the In­stax Square film pack.

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