Film Photography

Shooting Fujifilm Instax Square film

I’ve always been heavily drawn to instant photography, ever since I saw TV commercials for the Polaroid SX-70 in the early 1970s. I owned a Polaroid pack film camera when I was a kid and really loved it. I had to wait 40 years to finally own an SX-70, by which time the original Polaroid wasn’t making film anymore. I tried some fresh film from The Impossible Project, but got soft, muddy results. I later tried some fresh film from the new Polaroid, and the color was better, but sharpness still wasn’t all I hoped for.

Not long ago James Tocchio of Casual Photophile reviewed the Instax Square SQ1 camera and got some encouraging results on Instax Square color film. You’ll never confuse Instax images with those from a Hasselblad or a Nikon F2 in terms of image quality, but James’s photos blew away anything I ever got from my SX-70. I left a comment praising the sharpness and color of his images — and he responded that the Instax Square SQ6 could be had for about $80. I had $100 in Amazon gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, so I bought one and two packs of film.

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

I’ve been curious about Instax for a long time, but I was put off by the tiny images of standard Instax film. I knew that when I pulled the trigger, it would be on a Square or Wide format camera. I went with a Square camera because I like square images, and because the Wide cameras all seem so large and ungainly. The Square SQ6 (as well as the SQ1) are comparatively trim and easy to handle.

Even though the Square images are larger than standard Instax images, they’re still small at 2.44 inches square. Including the border, the print is 3.4×2.8 inches. A Polaroid SX-70 print is much larger at 4.2×3.5 inches.

I’ll review the Instax Square SQ6 after I’ve shot a lot more film with it. I’m still learning this camera’s ways. But here are my first impressions and some photos from those first two packs of film.

Normally I display images here so they are as wide as the text column. I’m deliberately showing these images smaller than that, because the prints themselves are so tiny. I think this gives you a better feel for the format.

I had the best results shooting my family inside. This is Instax’s sweet spot: in-the-moment photos of friends and family. The flash fires automatically and it lights fairly evenly.

In the sink

The camera has a little mirror next to the lens that you can use to frame yourself for a selfie. Because of parallax error, to put yourself in the center of the print you’ll want to place yourself near the right edge of the mirror. I had hoped the Welcome to Zionsville sign in the background would be readable, but I learned later from the manual that selfie mode places everything from about 10 to about 20 inches in focus.

Outdoor selfie

Shooting outside, I found that the SQ6 tended to overexpose. There is a “darken” mode that reduces exposure by about a stop. I got somewhat better results when I used it. There’s also a “lighten” mode that probably increases exposure by about a stop. I wished the camera had a lighten/darken knob like my Polaroids, for greater control. On most of my outside photos, I would have liked to reduce exposure even further.

Methodist church

At medium distances, say 5 to 10 feet, the SQ6 delivers pretty good sharpness. That makes sense, given this camera’s mission of snapshots of family and friends.

Sidewalk Closed

I wasn’t always impressed with the color I got from this film. This truck is jade green in real life. Distant trees all took on a blue glow on this overcast day. Also, this lens is wide, like 28mm on a 35mm SLR. I’m sure that makes sense so you can frame your whole crew without having to back up. But it’s too wide for the kind of walking-around photography I usually do. I moved to within a few feet of this truck to make this photograph.

Green truck

Parallax error is wicked when shooting close. I centered this bunch of fake flowers in the viewfinder, but as you can see they showed up right of center. Why the viewfinder is all the way over to the far side of the camera is beyond me. At least sharpness is good, and the suncatcher in the background is blurred in a pleasing way.

On the table

I tried the camera’s close-focusing mode a few times and ended up with soft images. As usual, I didn’t read the manual before I did anything. When I finally did I learned that everything from about 10 to about 20 inches is in focus, just like in selfie mode. This sign was farther away than that.

No Outlet

I got better color, sharpness, and detail from these two packs of Instax film than I’ve ever gotten with any film in my SX-70. But I still wish for more. I wish my outdoors shots weren’t so washed out, even on “darken” mode, and I wish colors were more accurate. But this camera and film show promise, and I’ll buy more film and keep going. There’s even a Square monochrome film and I’m eager to try it as well.

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34 thoughts on “Shooting Fujifilm Instax Square film

  1. I absolutely got what Polaroid was about in the days when the alternative was to drop film at the drug store and go back for prints in maybe a week. But today free instant photography of fabulous quality is as near as your cellphone.

    These photos show that the allure of the instant analog print is alive and well. The vinyl LP is alive and well too, but you get high quality music from those. I’m having trouble seeing these as anything more than a party trick.

    • It just hit me: these are the Easy Bake Oven of photography. Yet adults are buying them, hoping in vain for a real cake with every click of the shutter. There must be something am I not seeing.

    • The old pack film cameras were peak Polaroid, in terms of image quality. The early ones, anyway, with glass lenses. Sadly, the film went out of production a few years ago.

      The new Broad Ripple

  2. Thanks for this review. I received one of their first cameras as a gift the year it was released. It’s a cute little novelty and the images aren’t bad but they are too small as you noted.

  3. Lone Primate says:

    I think it’s quietly astonishing how the choice of film and its own characteristics can give the look of another age to contemporary work. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed those photos had all been taken in the 1970s.

  4. Andy Umbo says:

    I kept the link to the Casual Photophile story in my info, thinking if I got a few bucks, I might want to try this camera, but your photos with the correct sizing has sort of made me cross it off my list. The SX-70 came out the year I graduated from high school, and it was a game changer, especially for artists. As a person that was already working in a photography studio in high school, the output of the SX-70 camera was “meh”, but over the years, it’s proven to be superior to a lot of the “also ran” instant photo cameras. In addition, Kodak, as we’ve stated on here, was in the process of making their Instamatic brand crappier and crappier, with the 110 (also rolled out in ’72) and disc cameras coming out, and the prints were garbage from those formats; so SX-70 looked even better!

    SX-70 certainly had it’s minuses, a “veiled” look to the color on the prints, sometimes with a bluish-green overcast, but the pluses, especially for the casual shooter, were extraordinary! It was a focus-able SLR, so images were as sharp as the process could be (provided you could actually focus, auto focus was to follow), and being an SLR, WYSIWYG: if you were mis-framing, your technique was weak (read you were an idiot). And you are correct about the value of a lighten/darken wheel. easy to change exposure immediately and shoot again, without having to get into a menu. (hey, photography was ALL like that before digital).

    I’m surprised that 50 years after instant film technology, and these images look “blown-out” , with burned out high-lights, and the automatic results seemingly way off. Seems like the film has very short scale, scale being the ability to render a long scale of exposure as a define-able detail. And, for me, the results don’t look as sharp as a late series XS-70 with last gen film.

    Thanks Jim, you’ve saved me 200 bucks out of limited income!

    I will say that any of the after-market instant film companies, like the “impossible project”, etc. virtually NONE of their films even approach what Polaroid was doing in it’s heyday. Their marketing push as “film for creative and artists”, are basically trying to make lemonade out of lemons! If you can’t even get near to what Polaroid was putting out, call it film for creatives!

    • Like I said in a comment above, peak Polaroid was pack film. Especially the stuff Fuji made.

      With Instax, Fuji is 100% targeting the youth market with throwaway prints that they can give to each other when they have fun together. That’s it.

      Still, I hoped beyond hope that this would be better than it turned out to be.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Fuji pack film I used for years as a “test” for my Hasselblads, before shooting the transparency film. It was literally the best of all instant film! It was amazing to us that Polaroid’s version of this (669?) was so much more “lifeless” than the licensed Fuji version.

        I just wanted people to know, that judging the SX-70 on aftermarket film available post Polaroid production is a mistake. In it’s day, it was really exceptional!

  5. Andy Umbo says:

    Anybody interested in the heyday of Polaroid SX-70, should look at the web-site and publications about James Livingston. He lived in NYC and basically made a Polaroid pic a day until he died (unfortunately young, from cancer). You can literally go to a site where you can see them by years, and it should be obvious to almost anyone how “long scale” and beautiful “real” SX-70 film from the day was. I reminded me that late day sunlight was really a beautiful look for the film (and almost any film today). Here’s a link to a publication:

    http://books.hughcrawford.com/

  6. Got same issues with mines as you did Jim. Fine indoors with flash but outdoors tends to be off with exposure. The non automatic Diana instant square works better for outdoor work IMHO but you need the glass lens

  7. I didn’t know black and white film was available in square format. I’ll have to look for it. I’ve done mostly cat photos with my SQ6, but not too many because the film’s a bit expensive. The camera made me the happiest when I was out with students and I could give them little unique prints that they pinned to their bedroom walls above their desks.

  8. The Instax Wide and Square are always at the back of my mind. I know I would love to try them but I also know they won’t meet my (unreasonable) expectations. The old Polaroids are the real deal when it comes to instant photography. Love your selfie though!

    • I miss pack film and my old Colorpack II camera very much. Nothing has come close to that combo for me in terms of fun and image quality. I was pleased with how my selfie turned out! Not bad for a 53-year-old.

  9. I have been a huge fan of instant film since I got my Polaroid Colopack II Christmas of 1970. You are right when you say that pack film was the best, I loved the 4×5 stuff, especially the Type 55 that also gave you a negative!!! I have the Lomo instants that use the Instax film as well as the Fuji SQ6 and Mini Neo 90. I am quiet happy with the results.

  10. I have a couple of Instax camera – a Mini, and a Wide. Apart from a few photos made on the mini when I originally bought it on holiday a few years ago, I rarely use either of them outdoors. My results have always been ledd than I’d hoped, and certainly nothing like the glorious Polaroid images of old that I enjoy looking at. This may be down to my inexperience with the camera and film in outdoor use though. I like the idea of the square format, but not quite enough to spalsh out on one. Maybe if I find a good used bargain I’ll snap (ha!) one up.

    Instant cameras excel for family snaps though and I have dozens I’ve taken stuck to the sides of the fridge with magnets – something I doubt I’d do with any other format – so in that regard they’re a winner.

  11. Darts and Letters says:

    We got an Instax camera for my older boy’s birthday party a few years ago and he and his friends had a lot of fun taking pictures with it.

  12. The pinnacle of Polaroid was the Type 42/47 film era; they produced the best results. The 108 film pack cameras were pretty good too. They made a lot of cheap and terrible units like the Swinger. It looks to me the new instant cameras are more like that; barely acceptable images of rather low quality. Maybe “Highlander” (Type 32/37) level at best. Yes, I’ve used a lot of instants – including Kodaks and a few real oddballs.

  13. ronian42 says:

    I’ll have to dust my Instax SQ6 off and give it an airing again. I’ve not used the darken/lighten function. As I recall it only works in “normal” mode not “landscape” or “macro” which limits the range in which you can use it. The worst thing for me is “where do I put that print whilst it develops? and “Where can I put the developed print without it getting damaged until I get home?” Did manage to find a way around these Jim?

  14. I had, and have, the OG instax wide camera with two (I think) unopened film cartridges. I bought it thinking it’d be great fun but abandoned it years ago, slightly after purchase.

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