In­stant Clas­sic

Af­ter the hy­brid SQ10, Fujifilm gets back to ba­sics with the fully ana­log SQ6 which, along with the Instax Square film for­mat, de­liv­ers the clas­sic in­stant cam­era ex­pe­ri­ence.

Camera - - ON TRIAL - Re­port by Paul Bur­rows

it’s the 1970s all over again with the grow­ing choice of in­stant print cam­eras in all sorts of for­mats and con­fig­u­ra­tions (in­clud­ing, be­lieve it or not, a TLR). But it’s the clas­sic square im­age for­mat – in­tro­duced with the leg­endary Po­laroid SX-70 sys­tem in 1972 – that’s most as­so­ci­ated with in­stant print pho­tog­ra­phy. The self-de­vel­op­ing dry print brought a new level of con­ve­nience and speed, en­sur­ing in­stant pho­tog­ra­phy be­came hugely pop­u­lar and Po­laroid be­came one of the world’s most recog­nis­able brands.

The clas­sic square im­age, slightly off­set to­wards the top of a rec­tan­gu­lar print (due to the need to ac­com­mo­date crush­able de­vel­oper reagent pods in the lower sec­tion) is now an icon, and it’s this nos­tal­gia that’s now be­ing mined by both the re­vived Po­laroid Orig­i­nals prod­ucts (such as the OneStep 2 cam­era) and Fujifilm’s Instax Square for­mat.

The first Instax Square cam­era, the SQ10, was a hy­brid dig­i­tal/ in­stant model (as is the lat­est, the SQ20), but the new SQ6 is fully ana­log so it pro­vides an undi­luted in­stant pho­tog­ra­phy ex­pe­ri­ence. You press the but­ton, the cam­era de­liv­ers a colour print which starts de­vel­op­ing on the spot… just like the clas­sic Po­laroid mod­els (or, in­deed, the con­tem­po­rary OneStep 2). The im­age area is 62x62 mil­lime­tres which is quite a bit smaller than Po­laroid’s 79x79 mil­lime­tres, but the look and feel is still the same… and the Fujifilm Instax colour re­pro­duc­tion is still su­pe­rior. In­ter­est­ingly, you can now also have a black frame in­stead of the clas­sic white which, to be hon­est, we’re not so sure about, as it can look a bit fu­ne­real.

Com­pared to the OneStep 2, the Fujifilm SQ6 is clearly a prod­uct of more modern de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques so it’s a much more ef­fi­cient pack­ag­ing ex­er­cise with more con­tem­po­rary styling.

If you’ve been ac­cus­tomed to Fujifilm’s Instax Mini cam­eras, at first the SQ6 looks huge, but it’s ac­tu­ally pretty com­pact given the print size and, be­cause the film car­tridge is ac­com­mo­dated in the ver­ti­cal po­si­tion, it’s also com­par­a­tively slim. It’s even pock­etable - if you have a jacket with big­gish pock­ets - which is cer­tainly some­thing that you couldn’t con­tem­plate with the OneStep 2. In­ter­est­ingly though, the SQ6 is a lit­tle big­ger over­all than the SQ10.

The print ejects through the top of the cam­era which only leaves space here for the on/off switch so the shut­ter re­lease is lo­cated on the front which is ac­tu­ally the most com­fort­able po­si­tion for it. Most of the back panel is taken up with the film com­part­ment’s cover, but all the cam­era’s op­er­a­tions are han­dled by just three but­tons – for mode set­ting, the self-timer and switch­ing off the built-in flash.

Along the top of the back panel is a line of seven red LEDs which in­di­cate the cam­era’s op­er­at­ing mode. Like the tra­di­tional Po­laroid cam­eras, the SQ6 is sim­ple, but not so sim­ple as to be rudi­men­tary so it does have built-in me­ter­ing (al­beit non-TTL) which also con­trols the flash out­put, in­clud­ing bal­anc­ing the amount of fill-in ac­cord­ing to the avail­able light lev­els. You can also ad­just the fo­cus­ing, which can be set to one of three dis­tance ranges – Macro, Nor­mal or Land­scape. Given the lens speed is f12.6, depth-of-field takes care of the rest.

In The Mode

In the cam­era’s stan­dard A-for-auto shoot­ing mode, the fo­cus­ing is set to the mid­dle dis­tance range (i.e. 50 cen­time­tres to 2.0 me­tres) and the flash op­er­ates au­to­mat­i­cally, ad­just­ing be­tween fill-in and full as re­quired (and with slow-speed syn­chro). The al­ter­na­tive six modes are for the other two fo­cus­ing ranges (i.e. macro and land­scape), lighten or darken (more pre­cisely, an ex­po­sure ad­just­ment of ei­ther plus or mi­nus two-thirds of a stop), a dou­ble ex­po­sure fa­cil­ity and for selfie shoot­ing. This last mode sets the fo­cus­ing range to macro and you can frame your shot via a small con­vex mir­ror lo­cated along­side the lens (and which works sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tively).

The one com­plaint with this mode ar­range­ment is that you can’t ad­just the ex­po­sure when shoot­ing ei­ther land­scapes or close-ups which is a bit of draw­back (like­wise with the dou­ble ex­po­sure fa­cil­ity which ap­pears to be only avail­able with the Nor­mal fo­cus­ing range).

The dou­ble ex­po­sure fa­cil­ity isn’t the SQ6’s only cre­ative fea­ture as it’s sup­plied with a set of three coloured fil­ters – in red, green and pur­ple – which can be clipped over the flash, but ob­vi­ously there are no in-cam­era spe­cial ef­fects as there are on the SQ10. The viewfinder is a sim­ple re­verse Galilean op­ti­cal ar­range­ment with a cen­tral tar­get spot, but no other read-outs or in­di­ca­tors. Al­though it’s off­set all the way to the right-hand edge of the cam­era (as viewed from be­hind), it’s still a whole lot more com­fort­able to use than the fin­der on the OneStep 2, and the tar­get spot is handy for mak­ing sure the fram­ing is squared-up prop­erly.

Load­ing the Instax Square film car­tridge is a breeze as it can only go in one way, but there’s a pair of yel­low in­dex marks to make sure you don’t try to do any­thing else. Af­ter switch­ing on the cam­era, press­ing the shut­ter but­ton ejects the film car­tridge’s dark­slide and you’re ready to go. The frame counter sets to ‘10’ and then winds down af­ter each shot. Af­ter press­ing the shut­ter but­ton, there’s a few sec­onds de­lay be­fore the print ejec­tion process be­gins, but the print then emerges smoothly from the top of the cam­era with­out any need for pro­tec­tion from avail­able light. Once the mo­tor stops whirring away you can ex­tract the print all the way, but not be­fore. The im­age starts to ap­pear af­ter around 60 sec­onds and the print is fully de­vel­oped af­ter about ten min­utes. There’s no need to keep it face down dur­ing de­vel­op­ment.

You get a unique print each and ev­erY time which is also part of the ap­peal of in­stant pho­tog­ra­phY… one mo­ment, one shot, and that’s that.

Work­Ing ouT

As usual, work­ing out the fram­ing and fo­cus­ing can be a bit of a hit-and-miss af­fair, es­pe­cially in

▼ Prints eject from the top of the SQ6 via a mo­torised trans­port. Instax Square packs con­tain ten.

the Macro mode so, ini­tially, it’s a good idea to ac­tu­ally mea­sure out 30 cen­time­tres so you have a bet­ter idea of what it looks like. Un­like on the SQ10 where you can make ad­just­ments be­fore com­mit­ting to print, ex­per­i­ment­ing with the SQ6 costs you around $3.50 a pop and we used up six shots just get­ting a feel for what the var­i­ous set­tings do.

Com­mend­ably, the ex­po­sure con­trol ap­pears pretty ac­cu­rate with the caveat that, if you switch off the flash, be­ware that cam­era shake could be­come an is­sue as the auto shut­ter speed range ex­tends down to 1.6 sec­onds. Given the lens’s fo­cal length of 65.75mm is ap­prox­i­mately equiv­a­lent to 32mm in the 35mm for­mat, this means cam­era shake will be­come an is­sue with shut­ter speeds of 1/30 sec­ond or slower. So, if in doubt, use a tri­pod (a mount­ing socket is pro­vided).

As you get more ex­pe­ri­enced, you can ex­per­i­ment with hold­ing fil­ters over the lens – such as an ND to re­duce the ex­po­sure in bright con­di­tions or coloured types for ad­just­ing the colour bal­ance or for cre­ative ef­fects. Just make sure when us­ing an ND fil­ter that it doesn’t also cover the me­ter­ing sen­sor which is lo­cated im­me­di­ately along­side the lens (on the other side to the selfie mir­ror), oth­er­wise you won’t get any ex­po­sure cor­rec­tion be­cause the cam­era will sim­ply se­lect a slower shut­ter speed to com­pen­sate.

Per­for­mance

As noted ear­lier, the Instax Square print qual­ity is su­pe­rior to that of the cur­rent Po­laroid Orig­i­nals prod­ucts, even the lat­est i-Type ver­sions, and not just in terms of colour sat­u­ra­tion, but also con­trast and sharp­ness. The colour re­pro still doesn’t quite match re­al­ity, but it’s pretty good for an in­stant print sys­tem and, of course, the big­ger im­age area, com­pared to the Instax Mini for­mat, is a very big plus.

Mi­nus all the dig­i­tal stuff, the SQ6 is es­sen­tially half the price of the SQ10, but the lat­ter is also a much more so­phis­ti­cated cam­era in terms of hav­ing aut­o­fo­cus­ing (as op­posed to just zone fo­cus­ing) and wider con­trol over ex­po­sure, in­clud­ing a proper com­pen­sa­tion fa­cil­ity with a use­ful range of +/- 3.0 EV. Nev­er­the­less, the SQ6 is just as much fun to use and is ar­guably the ‘purer’ ex­pe­ri­ence as it’s record­ing di­rectly to the in­stant print ma­te­rial rather than via an imag­ing sen­sor us­ing an in­ter­nal ar­ray of OLEDs. This also means you get a unique print each and ev­ery time which is also part of the ap­peal of in­stant pho­tog­ra­phy… one mo­ment, one shot and that’s that. And, sub­jec­tively at least, the prints look crisper over­all un­doubt­edly be­cause they’ve been di­rectly ex­posed by the lens.

The Po­laroid Orig­i­nals OneStep 2 has its retro styling to throw into the mix, but the SQ6 is ac­tu­ally a bet­ter cam­era in terms of its er­gonomics and han­dling, and its bold square shape with the big cir­cu­lar lens hous­ing is cer­tainly quite funky-look­ing. There’s a choice of three colours – white, grey and gold – and all look very smart.

While the SQ10 has a recharge­able power pack, the SQ6 is again more tra­di­tional and is pow­ered by a pair of CR2-type bat­ter­ies. The good news is that the first set is sup­plied with the cam­era and Fujifilm reck­ons they’ll power you through 30 packs of Instax Square film which is ac­tu­ally quite a lot and worth a whop­ping $1048.50 so you prob­a­bly won’t be chang­ing bat­ter­ies all that of­ten.

the Ver­dict

While the SQ10 had ended up be­ing a bit com­pro­mised by its hy­brid de­sign, the SQ6 is the real deal for fans of in­stant pho­tog­ra­phy. There’s still room for some im­prove­ment – a proper ‘global’ lighten/darken con­trol for starters – but Fujifilm’s Instax Square for­mat is ar­guably the pick of the in­stant print films avail­able at the mo­ment. It’s much big­ger than the Mini and, while the im­age size is smaller than that of the Po­laroid Orig­i­nals SX-70, Type 600 or i-Type films, the prints are eas­ier to han­dle im­me­di­ately post-cam­era and de­liver much richer colours with crisper def­i­ni­tion. The i-Type film for the OneStep 2 is also more ex­pen­sive and has only eight shots per car­tridge ver­sus ten in an Instax Square pack.

Con­se­quently, and given that the two cam­eras are sim­i­larly priced, the SQ6 comes out some way ahead, and is much less of a nov­elty par­tic­u­larly in terms of de­liv­er­ing rea­son­ably pre­dictable – and like­able – re­sults. It’s still a fairly sim­ple de­vice (as most in­stant cam­eras are), but with a bit of imag­i­na­tion can do a whole more than you might ini­tially sup­pose. There’s def­i­nitely room for a more ad­vanced cam­era in the Instax Square for­mat (please Mr Fujifilm), but the SQ6 will do the job ad­mirably for the time be­ing.

FujiFilm instax square sq6

▲ Op­ti­cal viewfinder is eas­ier to use than on the Po­laroid Orig­i­nals OneStep 2, but it still takes a bit of prac­tice to get the fram­ing ex­actly as you want it.

▲ Three coloured fil­ters – or­ange, green and pur­ple – are sup­plied with the cam­era.

▲ Ex­po­sure con­trol is via a non-TTL me­ter­ing cell lo­cated along­side the lens.

▲ Built-in con­vex mir­ror be­side the lens is for self­ies… of course.

 Lens unit ex­tends af­ter the cam­era is switched on.

 LED in­di­ca­tors ar­ranged along the top of the back panel show the se­lected mode. ‘L’ and ‘D’ stand for lighten and darken which ap­plies +2/3 or -2/3 of a stop re­spec­tively… which cu­ri­ously means you can only ad­just the ex­po­sure with the mid-range fo­cus set­ting (which spans 50 cm to 2.0 me­tres).

 The Mode but­ton cy­cles through the seven set­ting op­tions. Self-timer and flash-off but­tons are be­low.

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