I have had the Nons Camera SL42 Mk II for 8 months and it has transformed my instant film photography. In this mid term user’s review I’ll explain why the Nons Camera has filled a niche of its own in my instant film camera line up.
My camera copy was backed as part of the Kickstarter and the Mk II seems to be a genuine update on the first camera. If you don’t know, The Nons Camera SL42 Mk II is an interchangeable lens SLR that uses M42 lenses and takes Instax Mini film.
…it’s easier to document the little details on Instax when you can focus down to the little details on Instax.
The original Nons Camera model also had an M42 lens mount, took 2 AA batteries, and had an integrated light meter linked to the set shutter speed. There were criticisms of the viewfinder image quality and coverage, and there was heavy vignetting from lenses designed for 35mm film image circles, which are on the whole, not much larger than the width of the narrow edge of an Instax Mini sheet.
What’s new in the Nons Camera SL42 Mk II?
The Nons Camera SL42 Mk II seems to have a better viewfinder (or at least I don’t seem to have as much trouble with focusing with it), but the coverage is generously only 60% of the final image. I wonder if this is simply because SLR viewfinder designs for cameras of this size only accommodate 35mm image area dimensions in their field of view, whilst the dimensions of Instax Mini are doubled in both height and width.
I may not have made instant images as enchanting with any other instant camera. And this is why I would spend money on this camera to shoot Instax.
The AA battery option is gone, replaced by an internal battery charged with a USB-C connection. I haven’t needed to recharge the battery even after several packs of Instax. There is now an EF (Canon EOS) lens mount, but by all accounts the same shutter mechanisms and meter. The 35mm lens image circle, and hence vignetting issue has been improved greatly with the addition of a 1.8x extending adapter, though it is not eliminated. There will still be obvious vignetting without the adapter. The camera still shipped with an optional M42 50/1.8 lens, and this helpfully came with a M42 to EF lens adapter.
The Nons Camera SL42 Mk II in use
So far so good, but a conversation on Instagram made the point that you don’t make instant photos for the sharpness. That is certainly true of Instax cameras in general.Whilst I don’t 100% agree with the correspondent (if it is possible to get a sharper image on Instax, why not try?) I understand the sentiment. Why then should I spend money on this camera if I’m going to use Instax?
My first test with the SL42 Mk II was during a pre-dawn outing.I made a couple of images of the Hasselblad on its tripod. I slightly missed focus on the first image, but it was rather dark. And in later images, it was confirmed that focusing with the Mk II viewfinder was in fact quite good. The Hasselblad had been a lot more prominent in the viewfinder but clearly not in the final frame, and it was apparent that some guessing was going to be required to determine what was going to be included in the final image with this camera. This gestimation of what will finally be in the frame has become easier with practice, but it is a genuine gripe.
The next revelation was with using the camera’s light meter. I had just inherited a lens ball from my sister, and on a whim made an indoor image with it on Instax. The corridor is relatively dark but the end room was bright. No special adjustments were made for the metering. The resultant image was well exposed for the difficult conditions, and especially for the tricky-to-use Instax, with the prominent vignetting lending character, rather than distracting from the image. The colours were also beautiful, where they can be washed out in Instax when trying to capture a scene’s range of tones.
If photography is about presenting sights you don’t usually see without taking a photograph, then this camera fits the brief.
So I could trust the meter, and soft natural light was going to especially be my friend. A test around the home showed its potential for intimate compositions. Artificial light was a different story. I spent a whole pack with disappointing, often very underexposed images that shouldn’t have needed a reciprocity adjustment. I am not sure whether this was a metering issue or a film issue. I did not keep any of those images. I have read that the meter corresponds very nicely with external meters like the Reveni, but a quick and dirty test using my iphone meter (something I usually find quite reliable) showed me the camera meter was in fact superior. Again, I am not sure why this should be.
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My new “main” Instax camera?
I had started to take an Instax camera with us on road trips to photograph, partly to document the little details of our travels. I have since switched to taking the Nons Camera SL42 Mk II. One reason is that it’s easier to document the little details on Instax when you can focus down to the little details on Instax. Close focusing is not great with either my Fujifilm Neo 90 or the InstantKon RF70. Room allowing it to be included un my future travels made a strong case.
Finally, what lifted the Nons Camera SL42 Mk II into my regular camera roster was the wonderful details I have been able to capture with an M39 lens, especially during this current lockdown. Left with a smaller world to explore, I have explored the small, and the near-macro performance of screw mount lenses with the current adapter has opened a new world to me in my own garden. Once again, the meter works well, the ability to confidently focus is reassuring, and the colours and forms I am getting on Instax with this camera are exciting.
There are quirks, of course
A few: the leatherette is peeling a little at the edges already. The shutter mechanism has a strong slap. My camera leaves a persistent artifact on the film — it’s either a roller mark or a light leak of some sort (actually it is a quirk that doesn’t bother me, but it may bother others).
The internal battery worries me in terms of longevity. How do you replace it? It’s not clear. This is not a selfie camera, which is a feature a lot of Instax cameras cater for specifically (in case you indulge). Finally, the price certainly puts it at a more expensive price than other Instax cameras (excluding MiNT Cameras).
And yet, this is still a camera I love.
If photography is about presenting sights you don’t usually see without taking a photograph, then this camera fits the brief. It has allowed me to create photographic gems with instant film. I may not have made instant images as enchanting with any other instant camera. And this is why I would spend money on this camera to shoot Instax.
As a major caveat, I should note that I have no association with Nons Camera and receive no income or other benefits from the company, though they asked for the use of my images, which were subsequently seen on the Nons Camera SL42 Mk II all black camera version Kickstarter campaign.
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