Film Photography

Shooting Fujifilm Instax Square Monochrome

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

I continued my exploration of the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 camera with a pack of the Monochrome film. The color film didn’t wow me (see some images here), but I’d seen images from the Monochrome online that showed promise.

I’m still learning the camera, too. I almost have the controls down; my remaining bugbear is using close-up mode when regular mode would work better. I’m also getting a feel for how wide the lens is and how much the viewfinder doesn’t line up with the lens.

I instantly (see what I did there?) liked the Monochrome film more than the color film. It’s not perfect, though.

After I scanned these prints, I tweaked the scans in Photoshop until they looked like the actual print. That had the effect of turning the border gray, when it is actually bright white. No matter; it’s the image that counts. Here’s our granddaughter putting a bowl on her head.

Bowl on her head

The SQ6’s viewfinder infuriates me. When I framed this electric tower, it was horizontally centered and it filled the frame. Why did Fujifilm put the viewfinder so far away from the lens? Could they not have at least positioned it top center on the camera so horizontally centered subjects would be horizontally centered on the print? But notice how well the Monochrome film captured these clouds. Very nice.

Power tower

My ideal Instax camera would also have a longer lens, in the ballpark of a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. I get it, Instax photography is about putting your besties in the frame at medium range, and a wide lens lets you capture your whole posse.

Clubhouse

The Monochrome film is capable of reasonable midrange tonality. But it always blocks up in the shadows and often blows out in the highlights, sometimes in the same photograph. This photo shows Monochrome’s blocked-up/blown-out tendencies best: the grass is black, the street is white.

Front yard

The subject of this photo is a dwarf tree full of pink blooms, grass below and sky above. Now, I do shoot with the camera set to Darken outside, which is probably -1 EV. But if I shot at normal exposure, it would probably lead to slightly more shadow detail and a completely blown-out sky.

Dwarf tree

In scenes where contrast is managed, Instax Square Monochrome film does a reasonable job of capturing detail.

6516

I tried one selfie in this pack. I tried to frame myself enough to the side in the mirror next to the lens so I’d appear in the center of the print, but I didn’t manage it. It’s tricky to frame things accurately with this camera, period. I can live with every other limitation of this camera, but this one could well be a deal breaker.

Selfie

I’m sure I’ll try at least one more pack of the Monochrome film, and maybe one more of the color film, before I decide whether to keep this camera. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. I can learn to live with the wide lens, but I am willing to try only so long to figure out the viewfinder for accurate framing. It’s hard for me to justify keeping cameras I don’t at least solidly like.

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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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