Fujifilm launched its Instax Square film format along with the SQ10 last year. But the SQ10 didn’t hit all the analog notes that instant photographers love—it’s a digital camera with a built-in Instax printer. The Instax Square SQ6 ($129.95) is more affordable, without any of the digital features. We like some aspects, including its wide-angle lens and easy operation. It’s a good choice for casual photographers and fans of a wide field of view, but if you’re more serious about photography, you may be better served by the Lomo’Instant Square or Lomography’s forthcoming Diana Instant Square.
Hip to Be Square
The SQ6 feels more like an Instax camera than its digital sibling, the SQ10. The body itself may take its design cues from, well, the Instagram logo. It’s almost square, with a retracting lens that protrudes a bit, forming a circle not quite at its center. It measures 5.0 by 4.7 by 2.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 13.9 ounces. We received the Pearl White version for review, but it’s also available in Blush Gold and Graphite Gray.
Each color variation is two-tone. All of the back and sides, as well as a strip above the lens, are finished in matte black plastic. The accent color is reserved for the the front area surrounding the lens. Rounded edges make the rather large camera comfortable to hold. There’s a tripod socket on the bottom, but it’s positioned at the far right side, rather than centered under the lens, so you’ll need to use a fairly sturdy tripod. The SQ6 does stand upright on its own, so you can always place it on a flat surface to grab a self-timer group shot.
The lens extends when you turn the SQ6 on—the power switch is on the top, next to the film eject slot. A selfie mirror flanks the front element on one side and the ambient light meter on the other. The shutter release is next to the lens on the front plate, positioned so that you can fire it with your right index finger. The optical viewfinder and flash are above the lens. Fujifilm includes colored plastic gels to go with the flash, so you can shoot images with a green, orange, or purple tint.
The rear is finished in textured black plastic. The bulk of its surface area is taken up by the film door, but there’s also a counter to let you know how many shots you have left. Three buttons—Mode, Self-Timer, and Flash Toggle—are at the far left side, near the top.
The Mode button cycles through the various shooting options. The active mode is indicated by a LED light above an icon, running in a row above the film door. You can choose from Automatic, Selfie, Macro, Landscape, Double Exposure, Lighter, and Darker.
Despite its attractive looks, the SQ6 isn’t the most comfortable camera to hold. The lens takes up so much space on the front that you don’t have a lot of room to place your fingers when holding it. The shutter button, on the front, is positioned just under the viewfinder. I didn’t have issues with my index finger blocking my view, but I did have to position my finger in a way that feels unnatural in order to snap a shot. The SQ6 is slightly more comfortable to hold and use when the lens is facing toward you for a selfie—even though I had to use my non-dominant left hand to hold it and fire the shutter.
The viewfinder position will make you very happy if you’re a left-eyed photographer. Placed at the upper right corner of the rear, you won’t have to worry about your face smuding up against the camera when bringing it to your eye. Wikipedia states that a minority, about one-third of the population, is left-eye dominant. But right-eyed shooters, who have long been catered to when it comes to viewfinder placement in cameras with non-centered finders, will finally know what us lefties have been dealing with when picking up rangefinder-style cameras in the past.
Power is provided by two CR2 batteries, included in the box. They’re physically pretty small—think of them as short, stubby AAs. But you’ll want to make sure you keep a spare set on hand, as they aren’t as easily acquired as AA or AAA cells. You can buy them online or at a Home Depot without any problem, but you’re not likely to find them in stock at your local Wawa.
Image Quality: Plastic Fantastic
Like other models in the Fujifilm Instax family, the SQ6 uses a lens with plastic elements. It’s definitely not as sharp as the glass lens Lomo uses in its Lomo’Instant Square, but I wouldn’t call it soft either. Images look good on the square format film, and because the SQ6 uses a wide-angle lens with a fairly narrow aperture (f/12.6), you don’t have to worry too much about focus. Just make sure to use the Selfie mode for arm’s length shots, and the Macro option when working close—the lens focuses as close as 11.8 inches.
The viewfinder is offset from the lens, so parallax is an issue when focusing close. You’ll end up with a lot of poorly framed shots if you don’t compensate for it. With some practice you’ll be able to judge just how far to tilt the camera to see what the lens is seeing through the finder. But if you’re used to seeing through the lens, either using an SLR or an electronic viewfinder, it’ll take some getting used to.
The angle of view is roughly equivalent to a 28mm lens on a full-frame camera—similar to what your smartphone shoots when set to its square capture mode. This provides a familiar frame for a budding generation of photographers who have cut their teeth with iPhones and Galaxies instead of Canons and Nikons. But it also means you won’t get too much bokeh in photos apart from close-up shots—if you want a more shallow look, the Lomo’Instant with its 45mm-equivalent lens is a better fit, although you will have to focus it manually.
I did find that the SQ6 delivered more consistent exposure than the Lomo’Instant. Aside from one shot where the flash didn’t fire with a heavily backlit subject, my shots from a few packs of film were all properly exposed. Using the Lomo’Instant Square requires a bit more care, as it tends to underexpose when shooting indoors, but if you’re already focusing manually, dialing in some positive exposure compensation isn’t a big deal.
Film Format: Square, Strong Colors
Instax Square is just one of the many instant film formats out there. It’s also the newest, but you’ve already got five choices of device with which to use it—the SQ6, the digital/analog hyrbid SQ10, the printer-only Instax Share SP-3, the Lomo’Instant Square, and the forthcoming Diana Instant Square.
Instant camera image quality is very much dependent on the film format. If you love the square look, Fujifilm currently provides the best materials. Polaroid Originals has a larger, pricier square format film, but it’s fiddly to use, requiring you to mask it from light during the first few minutes of developing time, and it’s much more costly. Fujifilm materials offer truer, better saturated colors and you can watch them develop before your eyes.
But it is a little disappointing that the 2.4-by-2.4-inch Instax Square format isn’t closer in size to the 3.1-by-3.1 inches offered by the Polaroid format. In terms of cost, expect to pay about $1.25 per image with Instax Square, versus $2.35 for Polaroid Originals. You can get the Polaroid film in black-and-white as well, but so far Fujifilm has not rolled out its monochrome instant film in the square format.
There are non-square Instax formats too. Fujifilm got things rolling with Instax Mini (1.8 by 2.4 inches, $0.80 per image), and it also makes the big Instax Wide (3.6 by 2.4 inches, $0.80 per image). Black-and-white films are available in both of these formats, although at a higher cost—about $1 per image for Mini and $1.50 for Wide. But for ’80s kids who grew up with vintage Polaroids, instant film has to be square.
Conclusions: Instant, Square, and Easy
Whether or not the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 is the right instant camera for you depends on your wants, needs, and budget. I see it as a good option for lovers of the square look who are more interested in capturing the moment and memories. It’s easy to use—aside from selfies and macros, which require you to press a couple of buttons before snapping a shot in order to get the best results. It’s essentially a true point-and-shoot.
The more casual crowd shouldn’t discount the SQ10, either. At the time of its release I found it odd that Fujifilm would kick off its new film format with a hybrid camera. But it’s enjoyed a drop in street price since we looked at it last year—it’s a more appealing choice at $200 than it was at $280. If you want the flexibility of applying digital filters and only printing images you want to print, give it a look.
Photographers with a more artistic intent should look at the two cameras Lomography has announced for Instax Square. The Lomo’Instant Square is shipping now and captures crisper images thanks to its glass lens, but requires you to focus manually. The forthcoming Diana Instant Square is also manual focus, but supports interchangeable lenses.
We have a few Editors’ Choice winners in the instant film space, but have yet to award it to an Instax Square format model. We recommend the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 as a low-cost option for the most casual shooters, the Lomography Lomo’Instant Automat Glass for fans of the mini format and lovers of an ultra-wide angle of view, and the Lomography Lomo’Instant Wide for those who want the best bang for your buck when it comes to print size and cost.