Fujifilm Instax Square SQ20: Right away your prints will come

Tech Review: The instant camera is making a comeback, combining digital and printing

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ20
    
Price: €199
Where To Buy: connscameras.ie

There was time when instant cameras were considered the height of technical sophistication. Rather than handing your film over to a photo lab to print, you could take your photo and out popped a print.

Instant might have been pushing it; the photograph still needed a couple of minutes to fully develop (and no, shaking it was not essential). But along came digital cameras and home photo printers, and the humble instant camera was pushed out.

Except it wasn’t. The instant camera has been making a comeback, with Fujifilm’s Instax cameras selling around 30 million to date. For an obsolete technology, that’s really not bad going.

So here’s the thing: we all take a lot of photographs. The current count on my own photo library is 34,389. And yes, some of them will be accidental screenshots, blurry shots that should have been binned long ago, and photos of my food that no one cares about, but that still leaves quite a few that are good memories I want to relive occasionally. How many have I printed? At a conservative estimate, maybe 50.



We take photos, but we don't print them all. And we don't need to, but one or two to put around the place might be nice. That is where the Fujifilm Instax comes in. The latest is the Instax Square SQ20, which bills itself as a hybrid instant camera. What it means is you can take digital photographs, including motion shots, and choose to either store them digitally or print them immediately. If you had the Instax Mini camera, you didn't have a chance to review the photo you were taking – shoot, print, that's it. The Instax SQ10 brought in a digital screen to let you do just that.

So what does the SQ20 bring to the party? A couple of things. First of all, it has a zoom on it. It’s only a 4x zoom, but it’s the first time the Instax cameras have had one, so it makes a little bit of a difference in terms of improving photographs.

Secondly, it has creative effects built into the camera, so you can put your own filters on your photographs, Instagram style.

Thirdly, there’s video. You can shoot 15 seconds of video at a time and then cycle through it to pick the frame you want to print. Although there is internal memory in the camera, you’ll need to add a microSD card to the set up to shoot video, but that’s relatively inexpensive to get these days.

So there are a few differences between the two.

Setting the camera up is simple, with the film contained in a cartridge that only goes into the camera in one direction. That makes it almost impossible to mess it up.

Mess around

On the back of the camera there is the power switch, which also allows you to choose between video and still shots. You can also mess around with exposure settings, flash options and self-timers. For still shots, you can choose different shooting modes, including a bulb mode, a split screen and a collage mode that allows you to put multiple photographs into a single frame.

It’s a fun way to take photos, and the fact that you don’t have to print every single one is great – those film cartridges aren’t exactly cut-price, so you don’t want to waste them. Having said that, you can set the camera to autoprint if you prefer, or if you are that confident in your photographic abilities.

There are nice touches too, like the selfie mirror on the front, or the effect when you print a photograph: the image moves up the screen before the printer paper pops out the top.

It’s an improvement to the Instax lineup, although not a must-have for those who have already bought in.

The good

If you are into instant gratification, getting your photos printed there and then pretty much ticks that box. The addition of video is great for fast-moving subjects, so you have more of a chance to get that perfect shot. The Instax’s photo function was great for static subjects, but pets and children were a struggle.

The not so good

The camera itself is a bit on the bulky side. If the best camera is the one you have with you, it’s unlikely you’ll be carrying this one around just in case. It will be a conscious choice to take it with you – sort of like your point and shoot camera.

Like all these systems, the film and printing paper is proprietary and, if you are concerned about such things, involves some amount of plastic waste.

The rest

The zoom is only 4x but gets you a little closer to your subject. Plus the creative effects are nice to have, even if not essential. It’s available in two colours: black and beige.

The verdict

It might be a hard sell for SQ10 users to upgrade, but as a first Instax camera, it is certainly worth considering. Maybe consider some more eye-catching colours, though.

€200 fujifilm.com

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist