The Instagram kids of today might think they invented the hyper-stylised, 1:1 square image, although of course their parents were happily printing and sharing such snaps with Polaroid cameras many moons ago.
But such is the popularity of image-heavy social media platforms that big-name camera manufacturers are revisiting the point, shoot and print market with innovative products that create tangible memories, and which endure for longer than it takes to get a couple of 'likes'.
Fujifilm's latest Instax Square SQ10 camera sits somewhere between its Mini and Wide range, using new-fangled square-format film and boasting digital camera functionality that the Japanese manufacturer hopes will appeal to a younger, more tech-savvy audience.
It's not a particularly good digital camera, however, and with most smartphones out-punching the Square SQ10's relatively puny 3.7MP 1/4-inch CMOS sensor, some will find it difficult to justify the asking price.
However, there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with this happy snapper.
- 1/4-inch sensor, 3.7MP
- Fixed 28mm f/2.4 lens
- 3.0-inch screen, 460,000 dots
The most notable feature of the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10 (aside from the new square-format film pack) is the ability to review and edit your shots via a small LCD display on the rear of the camera.
Previously, Instax owners would have to point, shoot and hope that the lighting was just right and the subject framed accordingly, as as you were stuck with what came out of the camera.
Now, users can shoot and store around 50 images to the camera's internal memory (and add a microSD card for further storage), then scroll through their shots to adjust brightness, add a vignette and play around with the 10 built-in filters that come pre-loaded.
When the user is completely happy with the image, they can then print as many copies as they want with the simple press of a button. It means you don't have to worry about wasting the relatively expensive film stock on duff pictures, while there also won't be any squabbles over who keeps the resulting hard copy.
Understandably, camera features are pretty limited, and seeing as this is designed with the casual user in mind that's probably a good thing.
The fixed aperture of f/2.4 and single autofocus system make it extremely easy to line up a shot, while the rear display makes it easy to ensure that everyone's in the frame and in focus. If the AF system is struggling, which it will do in low light situations, the AF box on the rear display will turn red to warn the user.
The auto shutter speed of 1/29500 sec to 1/2 sec doesn't allow for much creativity, while the auto ISO of 100 to 1600 may irk those who like to take full control over such settings.
However, users do have control over the built-in flash, with the option of auto modes, forced flash, suppressed flash, slow synchro and red eye removal, while three shooting modes (standard, bulb mode and double exposure) allow for some artistic freedom.
It's highly likely that most users will stick to the auto modes and play around with the vignette, brightness adjustment and built-in filter features, which can be applied to any photo after it's been captured.
Build and handling
- Robust plastic casing
- Weighs 450g
- Dimensions 119 x 47 x 127mm (WxDxH)
Operating the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10 is unlike operating any other camera out there, as its square frame requires the user to grip its flanks, elbows extended outward for stability, and snap away using the two front shutter buttons.
It feels a bit like operating an underwater camera rig – albeit a much smaller version – but it doesn't take long to get used to.
The toy-like exterior is fashioned from some tough plastics, while a neat metallic ring around the lens takes care of power on and off. Film packs are loaded into the rear of the camera, and snaps are printed out of the top of the unit.
There are eyelets for attaching the provided hand strap – which we'd advise doing, as the camera doesn't have any patterning to aid grip, and can feel rather slippery at times.
At the rear sits the aforementioned LCD monitor, while a small jog wheel beneath this takes care of the camera's functionality, with the surrounding buttons allowing quick access to playback, vignette settings, filters and printing.
The overall design is all squares and circles and works well, but it doesn't feel particularly stable when perched on its base, and it's easy to accidentally lay it on its back or front, which could damage the lens or monitor.
Users can set up the two front buttons as they wish, so that both can operate as shutters or one can change the shooting mode, for example.
Once set up, taking a picture is as simple as pointing the camera at the subject and using the rear monitor the make sure things are lined up and exposed correctly. This is the first benefit of the instant/hybrid nature, although it can also prove fiddly.
By the time you've adjusted the brightness, chosen the correct flash mode and selected a filter, there's a danger the moment will have been lost, or your subject wandered off.
There's something beautifully simple about the more basic Instax models, which generate excitement and anticipation among friends as the film develops.
Have all the heads been cut off? Is someone pulling a silly face? Those questions are answered instantly here, as the shot appears on the rear monitor straight away, which can often lead to subjects asking for it to be deleted or amended before it has a chance to be forever committed to film.
- The best instant cameras you can buy right now
- 3-4 hour battery life
- Single, central AF point
- Good AF speed
In more practical terms, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10 is a camera that thrives on light, and tends to struggle in darker situations. The upshot is that some unexpectedly arty images can be created in low light, but they will be rare.
Nevertheless, the small CMOS sensor deals with colorful subjects well, and some of the best images come from vibrant scenes in which there's a clear distinction between the subject and the background.
The autofocus works well even in some lower-light situations, although not surprisingly the camera had a tough time focusing on fast-moving subjects. The single AF point means subjects can only be placed in the centre of the frame, which precludes interesting angles.
Battery life is excellent, with a claimed time of three to four hours and around 160 prints, which is plenty enough for most considering the Instax Square film packs cost around $15/£10 a pop.
Images printed on the new Instax Square film are perfectly acceptable for the medium, with enough resolution to make out subjects while exhibiting the grainy, vibrant look associated with this retro-feel format.
However, printed images tend to appear a lot darker than they do on the small LCD screen. As a result, it's best to bump up the exposure via the camera settings before hitting the print button.
Another sticking point is the process of transferring digital files from camera to computer. Anything stored on the internal memory will first have to copied to a microSD card, which is then manually plugged into a computer. There's no simple transfer ability here.
That said, it's really not worth the effort, because the JPEG files are very small (under 1MB), and appear flat and uninspiring. Even the most basic smartphone produces much better shots.
When the Instax Square SQ10 is left to print directly to film, the results are fun, interesting, artistic and unlike anything else currently on the digital camera market.
In fact, owners can flick a toggle switch on the side of the Instax Square SQ10 that automatically prints every shot, and it's arguably more fun to use in this mode.
Users can still use the rear monitor to set up shots and mess around with filters, but it reignites the sort spontaneity that makes this camera so appealing.
Fujifilm is not only competing with Polaroid in the instant print game, it also has to go up against the devices we carry around in our pockets everyday, and which are much more powerful photographic tools.
Thanks to the slightly half-baked digital camera element of the Instax Square SQ10, Fujifilm runs the risk of pushing consumers towards something like a portable printer, which might not be as instantaneous or interesting but it is smaller and cheaper.
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There is no denying the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10 is a fun piece of kit. It's guaranteed to have folk gathered around at parties, keen on taking one of the inimitable snaps home.
The 1:1 square format film is also neat, boasting an overall aesthetic that will be immediately recognized by both the Instagram generation and those with longer, Polaroid-tinged memories.
Unfortunately, the digital camera element is poor, as the image quality can't rival other digital cameras – or smartphones – and so renders futile the whole rigmarole of transferring digital files to a device.
Essentially, it comes down to personal taste. If you'd like more control over images and the ability to adjust and edit in-camera, then the SQ10 feels like a good fit.
But if you simply want fun, instant prints that rarely fail to raise a smile, the firm's cheaper Instax Wide, Mini and super cool Mini 90 Neo Classic do just as good a job.
Although it doesn't print to the same cool 1:1 format as the Instax Square SQ10, the Polaroid Z2300 does a better job of pulling off the instant print/digital camera hybrid act, with a 6x power zoom lens and 10MP resolution.
There's also 32MB of internal storage, the ability to shoot video, an external LCD monitor, a choice of quality compression and control over white balance. The resulting images look better, but don't have the same retro-tastic feel as snaps from the Instax Square SQ10.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo
The Instax Square SQ10 also faces stiff competition from other cameras within Fujifilm's Instax stable. The cheaper Instax Mini 90 Neo produces instant prints that look just as good, and while there's no digital camera functionality, and the film format is 54 x 86mm rather than 1:1, the overall design more than makes up, with classic elements borrowed from Leica and Fujifilm's own X-Series.
It also features six built-in shooting modes, which take care of most auto settings to suit various situations, including macro and landscape.
Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 Photo Printer
You could negate the need to buy an Instax camera entirely by opting for Fujifilm's very own printer. This lets users beam any image they like to the diminutive unit and print 320dpi images on Instax Mini film in a matter of seconds.
It's not quite as fun to take to parties, but it does mean image quality is improved, and users can take advantage of the many powerful photo-editing apps that are widely available for smartphones before committing to print.
- What camera should I buy? read our step-by-step guide