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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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