Back in 2017, Lomography raised more than half a million dollars via Kickstarter to fund the production of their latest instant camera, the Lomo’Instant Square. Lomo promised the camera would be the first and only fully analog camera to shoot Fuji’s Instax Square instant film. It’s here now, we’ve used it, and it’s quite good. And though the field of competition is tiny (its only competitor is Fuji’s SQ10), it’s easy to argue that the Instant Square is the best Instax Square film camera available today.
Its design is, shall we say, interesting. It looks like no other instant camera on the market (moreover it looks like no other camera on the market). It’s a rather odd mashup of angles and edges, with seemingly no cohesive aesthetic ethos. That said, photos don’t do it justice, and to my own surprise I love the way it looks. It’s spartan and business-like, especially our black review copy, and the mix of faux-leather and satin-finish plastic is really appealing.
Build quality and functionality are surprisingly good. The Instant Square utilizes a rubber folding bellows, and like Polaroid’s iconic SX-70, it’s compact when stowed and slightly bulky when deployed. This deployment requires pulling the lens assembly away from the side of the body and swinging it forward until it locks into place. This action is smooth, and when the lens assembly locks into place it does so with an incredibly satisfying snap. It feels like quality, something that couldn’t always be said for Lomo’s earlier machines.
Once the lens is locked into place (and the film and two CR2 batteries inserted) you’re ready to shoot.
Its control panel is located on the rear of the camera, to the right of the film door. Here we find control buttons and LED indicators for all of the camera’s features, including flash on/off, multiple exposure mode, exposure compensation selector, a mode button, and the self timer. These are placed perfectly beneath where a shooter’s right thumb would naturally rest, allowing quick and intuitive control of all major shooting adjustments. The shutter release similarly rests perfectly positioned beneath where the index finger naturally rests, and takes the shape of a charming Lomo logo.
Focus is manual. When the lens is deployed we’re able to adjust a sliding lever across a range of distances. These distances are denoted with a visual scale and haptic feedback via detents at infinity, 1-2.5 meters, and a close-focusing distance of 0.8 meters. There’s also an optional portrait attachment that decreases the minimum focus distance to 0.5 meters.
The right hand side of the camera features a series of LEDs to indicate exposures remaining in a film pack (counts down from ten), there’s a selfie mirror on the front, a built-in flash, a tripod mount, and strap lugs. All in all, it’s about as full-featured an instant camera as anyone’s making today (though Fuji’s SQ10 digital hybrid is pretty unbeatable in the realm of sheer features).
In use, the camera is impressive. Its functionality is strong and allows creative photography by creative people. The multiple exposure function allows infinite exposures, and pressing the multiple exposure button a second time ejects the image. Exposure compensation works as expected, allowing the shooter to influence the exposure in backlighting and tricky situations, and unlike some other instant cameras I’ve tested, using that EV plus and minus functionality actually makes a big difference in the final image. The built-in flash is well-modulated, avoiding the blow-out I’ve experienced with other instant cameras, and bulb mode is available for long exposures. There’s even a built-in remote control, which is pretty convenient.
The metering system does a fantastic job of working in all but the most challenging light. Broadly speaking, shooting this camera in automatic mode without any further input from the shooter will result in great photos most of the time.
Image quality is rather excellent. This is in part due to the inherent quality of Fuji’s Instax film, which continues to offer the best image quality of any instant film on the market today. But it’s also due to the fact that Lomo has endowed the Instant Square with a glass lens, rather than the plastic lenses more typically found on the brand’s cameras. Images are plenty sharp, with punchy contrast and colorful tones. All this, without losing the lo-fi charm so cherished by lovers of instant photography.
If the camera sings any sour notes, these mostly emanate from the dismal viewfinder. It’s very small and lacks frame-lines and parallax correction markings. This makes framing and composition purely aspirational endeavors. An in-viewfinder focus setting indicator to show the currently-selected focus distance would also have been useful, as the placement of the focus control makes it pretty easy to forget, shot to shot. That the camera defaults back to the mid-focus setting every time the lens is deployed helps, but an indicator in the VF would’ve effectively eliminated all potential user error from the camera.
But that’s it for complaints. And with such a glowing report, you’d think it would be easy to recommend the Instant Square to everyone interested in instant photography. But this isn’t so. There are a number of factors to consider.
At $200, the Instant Square is double the price of Polaroid Originals’ One Step 2, and less expensive than Fuji’s SQ10. That said, Fuji’s Instax film is less expensive and higher quality than the stuff from Polaroid Originals. But Polaroid Originals’ film produces larger images than Fuji’s Instax. But then again, the Instant Square allows shooters to swap film doors, which lets Instant Square users to shoot Instax Mini film, a film that’s less costly than any other instant film on the market.
This kind of consumer reporting puts us into the weeds. If you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck, you’re better off not considering instant photography at all. It’s an expensive hobby. But there’s also nothing quite like the magic an instant camera provides. And the latest camera from Lomo provides that magic in spades.
It’s an instant camera that’s well-built, works perfectly, and makes gorgeous photos. If that sounds like your kind of thing, get one. You won’t be disappointed. And that’s because the Lomo’Instant Square is one of the best instant cameras being produced today.
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