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.
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.
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 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.