Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure to be invited by Fuji Europe to the launch of their new all-analog Instax SQUARE SQ6 camera in the Netherlands. They talked a bit about the current instant photography landscape, their insane growth (Dutch numbers go from 52 thousand films sold in 2014 to 1.2 million sold in 2017…), the fact that 85% of their customers are female and a few other statistics which were mainly interesting for their audience of resellers. At the end of the launch we each got a new SQ6 camera, some film and started shooting right away.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I do work for them now and again, providing them with occasional shots for their social media channels but I’m also passionate enough about what I want out of a good camera to write a balanced review, telling you about you the good stuff but also being relentless about its shortcomings.
Some of the things brought up after using this camera are characteristic of most of the instant camera’s out there today:
- The lack of a decent focus system
- The light meter working in a very blunt way
- In short, no control whatsoever about any of the things you want out of a professional camera.
Only MiNT Camera makes both a Polaroid and Instax system with a decent level of control.
But let’s be honest, full control is not what an instant camera is about for most people. It needs for, instance to be able to take a nice shot of a fun moment which you can stick to your fridge with magnetic tape. So, let’s dive in and look at this rather wonderful machine from a few angles. As a snap camera for everyday moments and a little closer and more technical later on.
With that out of the way, let’s begin. Here’s how this article breaks down…
Introducing the Instax SQUARE SQ6
First the mostly positive things. This camera is extremely lightweight, you won’t feel it if you hang it on your shoulder or around your neck. It’s mostly made of plastic and is by far best looking Fuji Instax camera released until now. It comes with a nice strap made of something which looks an awful lot like leather.
(Click on any of the pictures in the article to view them in full screen)
It has a row of functions to choose from (as you can see in the third picture above:
- Auto (Normal) mode
- Selfie mode (the camera has a selfie mirror on the lens surround).
- Macro mode.
- Landscape (Shooting-far-away-mountains) mode.
- Double-exposure mode.
- Lighten or darken (exposure).
…but you can’t combine them. They must be individually cycled-through.
If for instance, you want to darken the frame while in macro mode, well…you can’t. If you want to shoot double exposure and combine a darkened tree with your face up-close you’re out of luck.
Not sure why the designers couldn’t spare an extra button for the darken/lighten function, but really they should’ve. If there is going to be an update Fuji, please fix this. It makes little sense.
One great thing about this camera is that it’s easy to kill the auto flash if you are outside. There is a dedicated button for this (see the left of the third picture above). Instax film is rather pretty if shot without flash. Speaking of which, the camera comes with orange, purple and green flash filters that can be attached to the flash to give a coloured strobe effect.
I choose this camera over Instax Mini, but I do rather like the original Instax Wide format. I think that’s is the classic traditional Fuji Instax shape and wish they brought back the Instax AF500 (the only Instax camera with autofocus, a rarity but worth the search).
This it seems, is not going to happen (as assured by the director of Fuji Benelux – Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). Fuji Instax cameras of the future will remain simple, easy to use, fast and cheap to make.
…and this is where I get a little less enthusiastic.
They said quite literally that they want to attract professionals to start using Instax. Besides the fact that many fashion photographers already do use instant, if Fuji wants more pro photographers to use and spread Instax as a medium for serious shoots, they need to provide more control over a few basic parameters. You know what they are:
- Shutter speed.
…and even throw in some decent light measurement. Of course, all of this is missing in the Fuji Instax SQUARE SQ6.
Let me start by saying this is not just about this camera but every instant camera with fixed focus. The SQ6 uses a zone focus system, which is a fancy way of saying its sharp somewhere between a certain set of distances – guesswork.
This can work for you once you understand what those distances are, and this camera has three (more than many Instax cameras, which have only one). According to the manual, these are the three zone focus modes:
- Macro mode from 30 to 50cm.
- Normal mode is between 50cm and 200cm.
- Landscape mode goes from 200cm to infinity.
Of course, the reality is a little different:
Macro Mode’s actual focus is closer to 40cm and provides a depth of field of about 4cm, so its sharp between 38 and 42cm, not 30 and 50cm.
Normal Mode’s focus is sharp at 125cm and has a slightly deeper depth of field covering somewhere between 107 and 149cm.
Landscape Mode is sharpish from about 2 meters.
See for yourself, I used the online DoF calculator with a 6×6 film size as a basis (Instax Square film is 6.2x 6.2cm), the lens is 65mm (the manual says 65.75mm) and the aperture f/12.7 (manual says f/12.6).
Learning to use the 107 ~ 149 depth of field of the SQ6’s Normal Mode is okay once you know this. It’s a nice distance to shoot small scenes with friends or whatever you wanna shoot.
The macro mode is a little trickier, it has a rather shallow depth of field and when shooting that close the viewfinder is also off a bit, needing something like a 20% shift down and to the left where the lens is. In short: there is no viewfinder parallax compensation.
This is something you can get a feel for over time. The image below shows two frames shot using macro mode. The first (left) was the result of framing the subject in the viewfinder alone. You can see the difference the viewfinder shows you in the bottom frame vs the actual image. This is due to the position of the finder versus lens.
The second image (right) shows the scene shown in the viewfinder and the approximate shift I made to take into account the position of the lens (outlined by a green square) – manual parallax correction!
This is the one thing which messes up quite a few photos. The light meter tries to get to an average equivalent of 50% grey. But when you have somebody with a light skin in front of a dark background their skin will be overexposed. Even with the darkening function activated I had overexposure in this case.
The other way around, somebody with a dark skin in front of a light background will be underexposed. In short, the light meter gets confused when there is a lot of contrast. Under bright sun with the flash deactivated this is a bigger issue then indoor with a flash.
So, try to guess what kind of light situation you’d get if you had everything in front of you combined and then adjust using the darken/lighten button accordingly. Again, this issue is not specific for this camera but every instant camera has trouble balancing its lack of dynamic range and a decent light meter where you can choose where to meter on. Even my Polaroid SX70 needs constant darken/lighten adjustment in changing background and contrast situations.
Instax Square film, of course, is exactly the same ISO 800 emulsion as Instax Mini or Instax Wide Color but presented in different dimensions. Nothing new there.
If scanned it does look a lot like the traditional Polaroid shape (which is a bit odd if you think about it, no need for a billion dollar lawsuit, but odd). Compared to Polaroid Originals film it is quite a bit smaller, with clean colors — opposed to the retro-sexy palette of a Polaroid Originals sheet — and way cheaper.
In the debate around Instax versus Polaroid Originals I’m, exactly in the middle. I love both and shoot both for different reasons. And Instax delivers a fast developing nice analog picture right there in your hand after 90 seconds of waiting.
It’s a wonderful, affordable and lightweight instant camera to have laying or hanging around.
Out of all the normal Instax camera’s out there, I’d buy this one. It’s only a hundred Euro’s/Dollars something and will give you loads of pleasure. Still, it’s a shame that Fuji, with all their know-how in the field of professional cameras, even their history in medium format shooters can’t seem to deliver the real instant camera we’ve all be waiting for with just the basic controls any serious camera needs.
Of course, that dream camera might earn them a bit less revenue but a professional Instax camera in the hands of the people shooting celebs, models, artists and actors will have thousandfold exposure in comparison to the sea of carefree snapshots shared on social media. It would pay itself in free advertising.
Fuji, think about it…
Fuji Instax SQUARE SQ6 specifications
|Camera name||Instax SQUARE SQ6|
|Camera type||Instant camera|
|Format||FUJIFILM INSTAX SQUARE instant print film
62x62mm / 2.4 in.x 2.4 in. (1:1 ratio)
|Manufacture dates||2018 onwards|
|Lens||65.75 mm f/12.6 - 2 elements
(36mm in 35mm equiv.)
|Viewfinder||Inverted Galilean finder, 0.4 x, with target spot|
|Shutter||Programmed electronic shutter
1.6 – 1/400 sec.
Self timer - 10 sec delay
|Focusing||Zone focus with three focus steps:
0.3 – 0.5m (macro)
0.5 – 2m (normal)
2m – infinity (landscape)
|Metering||Automatic exposure control
LV 5-15.5 (ISO 800)
Exposure compensation: ±2/3 EV
|ISO||ISO 800 (INSTAX film speed)|
|Flash||Macro mode: Built-in, automatic electronic flash
Other than Macro mode: Flash on (unless “Flash off Mode” is set)
Charging time: 0.2 sec - 7 sec (new battery)
Flash charging indicator
Effective flash lamp range: 0.3 m - 2.7 m/1 ft. - 8.9 ft.
|Power||2x CR2/DL CR2 lithium batteries
Capacity: Approximately 30 Instax SQUARE 10-pack film packs with new CR2/DL CR2 lithium batteries
|Weight||393g / 13.9 oz. (without battery, strap, and film pack)|
|118.7 mm x 128.1 mm x 58.1 mm (WxHxD)
4.7 in. x 5.0 in. x 2.3 in. (WxHxD)
(in the box)
|INSTAX SQUARE SQ6 instant print camera
2x CR2/DL CR2 lithium batteries
Three strobe color flash filters
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