First test: Fujifilm instax SQ10
Combining a digital sensor with the ability to print instant pictures in one small camera body, is the new instax SQ10 bridging the gap between analogue and digital, and just how well does this little hybrid perform?
Since the first production of the Fujifilm instax 100 in the late 1990s, this easy to use, fun-loving format has gone from strength to strength, offering users the ability to enjoy instant pictures without the artistic headache of real analogue photography. The new SQ10 hybrid camera takes its place as the 20th camera produced by instax – not including the two instax printers – and comes with two firsts for the brand; the ability to shoot digitally, edit in-camera and print when you choose, and a brand new square film format.
With a screen size of 62x62mm, the new Instagram-worthy film provides perfect 1:1 dimensions, but what’s the camera like to shoot with? As well as having digital experience, I was brought up on 35mm, and have since dabbled with a medium-format Lomography, and got to grips with Polaroid, using the SX70 Land camera, and so I was keen to put this new toy to the test.
The SQ10 has a more sophisticated design compared with its cuter predecessors, with a shaved metal on/off ring to the front, and is available only in black. Two buttons to the front can be set to either shoot, or as a shortcut to change shooting mode, which is great for lefties! Turn it around and you’ll find six dedicated buttons around a dial, with a menu/OK button to its centre. At the top are easy-to-access filters, with ten to choose from and here you can fine-tune saturation and tone. Next up is a brightness – or exposure compensation button – which allows you adjustment with 19 levels. There’s also a vignette mode where the peripheral light can be altered between 19 levels. Other buttons include playback, and print. As you’d expect from instax, the menu is pretty basic but there is the addition of bulb and double exposure modes. Flash can also be adjusted, as low-light handheld isn’t the most effective. There’s also a self-timer mode of two and ten seconds and an AF illuminator function.
The square film comes in packs of ten shots, which is easy to load into the camera back.
Importantly, a switch to the side offers auto and manual shooting. Not to be confused with focus or lens control, this switch actually determines whether an instant print is created straight after pressing the shutter button (as on previous instax models) on auto mode, or by choosing manual, you’re able to snap away without printing, instead choosing to browse and print later. For me this is one of the biggest plus points of the SQ10. A little like the benefit of having a Kindle when you want to take loads of books on holiday but can’t fit everything in your hand luggage, the SQ10 allows the trigger-happy photographer to shoot all day (and night) thanks to a decent battery life of around 160 shots, without worrying about wasting any precious film – prints work out at around £1.50 a picture. You can store up to 50 images internally, and more when using a Micro SD card. But like the Kindle, this does come at the sacrifice of that tangible medium; real books, real film and one-off shots.
But for those who want to enjoy all the fun of instant pictures, and also take ultimate control, the SQ10 ticks many boxes. The filters suit the rich, vibrant colour reproduction of the film, giving punchy, satisfying results. When shooting, you can either apply filters, vignette and brightness control before pressing the shutter – viewing the scene on the 3in rear monitor – or shoot on normal mode and apply whatever you wish post-shutter release.
Once the image has been taken, the software allows you to go back and edit as many times as you like. On screen the pictures look great, and printed even better, appearing fully thanks to instax magic within just a few minutes; but what about the files?
The SQ10 isn’t about to win any digital camera awards, and should be treated as the hybrid it is. With a 0.25-in sensor, that’s about half the size of the dinky sensor used in the iPhone 7 and when you download your shots from Micro SD card, the pixel count is just 1920×1920, offering up files around 850KB.
While they would be fine for Instagram, the edits are not saved onto the card however, leaving you with flat digital files which had me reminiscing about my first two-megapixel camera phone (in a bad way), but having to upload via Micro SD adaptor to a computer is a less-than-instant method, which brings me to my biggest question mark on this curvy camera, and where some may sit on the fence. No inclusion of Wi-Fi. To ultimately bridge the gap between analogue and digital, I’d like to see the SQ10 offering the ability to shoot and share as instantly as you can print, by using the excellent Wi-Fi functionality available with the SP-Share printers, and select Fujifilm X-series cameras. However, this could ultimately take away from the purpose of the camera, which prides itself on prints first, and with a noted firmware update option in the menu system, there’s nothing to say this won’t be introduced at a later date.
The instax SQ10 is one of the most interesting photo gadgets to launch this year, and certainly unique in what it offers. What it lacks in Wi-Fi functionality, it more than makes up for in beautifully vibrant, colourful instant prints. Plus, with the introduction of Bulb and double exposure modes, the camera makes it all the more fun to play with and perfect, thanks to the pressure being taken off printing. If you love instax, but crave more control, this camera won’t disappoint.
Pros: Lots of shooting capacity, filters, fun, instant prints when needed
Cons: Wi-Fi would be nice, small files
As featured in issue 46 of Photography News.