Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10
Geoff harris tests Fujifilm’s first hybrid digital/instant camera
On paper, this sounds like an ideal camera for the Instagram generation, kicking out cute, square-format prints while also enabling you to save the unedited JPEG images (1920 x 1920 pixels) to a micro SD card. In use, you soon realise the SQ10 is rather compromised as an everyday digital camera, and at more than £200 plus printing costs, is likely to face stiff competition from higher-res smartphone cameras and instant-printing booths. Once you accept the SQ10 for what it is, however, there is still a lot to like.
Offering a hybrid digital/Polaroidtype camera is a logical step for Fujifilm. Its older Mini and Wide Instaxes proved popular, not only among the younger crowd, but also with travellers – history buffs may have seen historian Dr Sam Willis using one to record his journeys on BBC Four’s The Silk Road. There were some drawbacks, though. The Wide version was as big as a pro-spec SLR and a pain to squeeze in your luggage.
The SQ10, while not exactly pocket-sized at 119 x 47 x 27mm and 450g, is certainly
less cumbersome than the Instax Wide. Let’s focus on the SQ10’s digital performance before looking at the print quality. The sensor is only a 3.7MP 1/4in CMOS chip, so forget any ideas of saving images beyond 240dpi. Most modern smartphone cameras easily surpass it, though, of course, they don’t have built-in printers. The SQ10’s lens is a fixed 28.5mm equivalent f/2.4 wideangle. In terms of exposure and focusing options, again, it’s pretty basic. You only get single, contrast- detect AF with minimum focusing distance of 10cm. To set the AF point precisely, the simplest thing is to focus and recompose by half-pressing the shutter button. Tracking moving objects is much more of a challenge, and you tend to get better results with static subjects, such as buildings or people’s faces (face recognition is built in). Low-light focusing can be a struggle, too, as the Auto ISO only goes up to 1600. So the SQ10 feels very much like an auto point-and- click, though there is more control over the built-in flash. You can choose from auto modes, forced flash, suppressed flash, slow sync and red- eye removal. There are also three shooting modes (standard, bulb mode via the self-timer and double exposure) so the SQ10 is not totally dumbed down. When it comes to editing the image before printing it, there is a decent choice of options. Brightness and vignetting can be easily tweaked via the large rear dial, and it’s also possible to apply some basic, Instagram-style filters to the prints (the edited images remain on the camera’s internal storage or micro SD card, but the edits disappear when viewed on your computer). As well as options such as Monochrome and Sepia, you can try Cornelius (intensifies shadows and brightens highlights), Luna (brightens the image and intensifies colours) and even the intriguingly named Martini, which smooths skin tones ‘with a slight vintage feel’. The filters can be easily adjusted, but you need to be careful when reviewing images on the 3in rear screen. The LCD is reasonably sharp at 460k dots, but tends to give a false sense of security when it comes to vignetting and underexposure – you can end up with very strong vignettes and blocks of shadow on the actual print. With the vignette control in particular, we’d keep it under 50% for the best results. It is certainly best to avoid wasting prints, as new pack of 10 costs £8.95.
Printing and handling
Depending on the subject and light, the print quality is pretty good, with plenty of detail and punchy colours considering the image size. There is something satisfying and neat about the 1:1 square format, and its limitations often make you spend more time carefully composing the image. The SQ10 copes best with bright, colourful scenes with a clear distinction between the subject and foreground. Once the light starts to fail, or the subject is less clearly delineated, the results are more mixed. By necessity you are printing
pretty small, at 62 x 62mm, so the SQ10 really comes into its own when shooting a famous building or landmark, or capturing a clearly delineated face. So it’s handy for social events, such as weddings, or travel, and of course, you get a digital copy of the image, too. While the replacement print pack may seem pricey, it’s less expensive than a conventional Instax as you don’t have to print a picture every time to enjoy it. Change to Manual rather than Auto printing, via a switch down the side, and you decide when and if to print the image.
In terms of usability, it’s a mixed bag. The camera is made from plastic, but it’s tough plastic, and the build quality is sturdy. Battery life is pretty good: you get around 160 photos with a single charge of the Li-ion battery, which you juice up via USB. On the downside, we found ourselves hunting for the titchy shutter button, as it doesn’t immediately fall to hand. A bigger problem is the image transfer features, or lack of them. You need to copy images onto a micro SD card in order to view them on another device. It’s a clunky process that requires a read of the manual, and we suspect built-in Wi- Fi will appear in future versions of this camera if it takes off.
The square format is good for large, static objects such as famous buildings
Reasonable close-ups can be obtained, with a focus range of 10cm to infinity
The camera produces a 62 x 62mm print
The screen errs on the bright side, so be careful with applying any image effects before printing
The flash options come in useful as the auto ISO maxes out at 1600