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This is a difficult review to write. The Fuji Instax Square SQ1 is an excellent entry-level instant film camera, but it has one fatal flaw. Like its little brother the Instax Mini 11, the SQ1 is dead simple to use, produces great results, is made from cheap plastic, and has a handy selfie/macro mode built in. It’s perfect for events and beginner photographers.
There’s just one problem – it’s way too expensive. As of fall 2020, it costs 120 USD. The Instax Mini 11 does all the same things for literally half that price at 60 USD. For all that extra cash you get a very slightly bigger photo. Instax Square photos are still pretty small – they’re just slightly wider than the wallet-sized Instax Mini. You have to step up to the Instax Wide format (or Polaroid) for larger, higher quality photographs.
If money is no object, the SQ1 is the ultimate camera to have lying around at parties and events, but for the vast majority of people the Instax Mini 11 is the better option. If you’re a serious photographer, you’re prepared to spend over 100 USD on a camera, and want a square frame, the Polaroid OneStep 2 or + is the way to go.
Here’s what’s really bizarre – right now the Instax Square SQ6 sells for less than the SQ1! The SQ6 is a step up in every way, featuring more controls and far better build quality, and right now it is selling on Amazon for 85 USD. There’s absolutely no reason to get the SQ1 over the SQ6 unless you’re planning on giving it to somebody who needs the most dummy-proof camera possible.
Without any context, the SQ1 really is a good camera. If the price was half of what it is, the SQ1 would become one of my top recommended cameras. So let’s talk about what makes it great, and what makes it not worth the high asking price.
Fuji absolutely nailed it with the controls of this camera. Not only is the SQ1 dead simple to use, it’s also… dare I say it… fun. The camera has a big plastic ring around the lens barrel that you slide between three modes – off, on, and selfie. That’s it. That’s all the controls. It’s as simple as a vintage Polaroid camera. And that ring is addicting to play with. I often find myself fiddling with it while I sit at my desk reading.
If you’re looking for more control, the SQ6 has all the modes and adjustments that you need (and as mentioned above, it’s cheaper right now). The SQ1 is made to be as easy to use as possible, and it succeeds. I really don’t know if somebody who is looking for a dead simple camera is also looking to spend this much money. However, for what I think it is intended to do, it does it very well.
The viewfinder is small and not terribly accurate, but it’s fine. Don’t expect any readouts beyond an LED light on the front letting you know it is on and a frame counter on the back.
Exposure is pretty good with this camera, but it can be hit or miss in some challenging situations. The flash helps, but don’t be surprised if backgrounds behind your subject appear dark even in well-lit environments (that’s normal for Instax), the flash just doesn’t have that much of a throw. Like all Instax instant film cameras, it will give you the best results if used outside and on subjects that are relatively close to the camera.
The selfie/macro mode is super easy to activate in this camera. Just turn the control ring one step over to selfie – that’s it. And it really works too! There’s a mirror on the camera that helps you line up your shot. Hold it at arm’s-length and you’re good to go.
There is no tripod screw in the bottom of the camera, but since there’s no remote timer function either, there’s really no reason for it. If you want to use remote shutter features to shoot selfies on a tripod, you’ll need something like the SQ6.
The SQ1 feels like a toy, not a piece of camera gear. There’s nothing wrong with that (Lomography has carved out a whole niche here), but the SQ1 really does feel too cheap for the price. Both the Polaroid OneStep 2 and Fuji SQ6 show how you can make plastic, low-cost instant cameras classy with judicious use of textures and different colors.
Battery and Power
Unlike the AA batteries (hooray!) the Instax Mini 11 takes, the SQ1 requires relatively exotic CR2 batteries (boo hiss!). I’m sure there’s some engineering reason for this, but this camera really should use AA batteries. Fuji does this with so many of its cameras and it’s incredibly frustrating. With AAs I have the flexibility to use rechargeable AAs and I know I can easily find replacement batteries if I need them. With CR2s I’m stuck waiting for a new batch to be delivered when I inevitably pull my SQ1 out of a drawer to find that the old CR2s are dead.
I’m still scratching my head over the cost of this camera. The Instax Mini 11 is basically the same camera but is half the price. The SQ6 is the far superior square frame camera – and it sells for less! Yet, somehow, the SQ1 seems to be selling briskly. Unless you can find it on sale for cheap, I can’t recommend it. Maybe you’ll be reading this review months or years in the future and the SQ1’s pricing has returned to earth.
It’s a shame because I really like the SQ1. The control ring is really fun to use and feels less clunky than the push-to-turn-on Instax 11. It’s so easy to use that you can put it on a table at a wedding and be confident that your grandparents will be able to figure it out. That’s really the only use case I can recommend this for – a wedding or party where you want the best easy-to-use camera possible and price is no matter. Otherwise, there are a ton of superior options out there that will cost you less.
If you want to pick up a Fuji SQ1 for yourself, you can find them on Amazon. Using these affiliate links helps me keep this site online with out annoying ads, so I appreciate you using them. Thanks and happy shooting!
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