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.
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.
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.
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.
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.