The Instax Square SQ1 is the "traditionalist" of the Instax lineup. Where the Mini series delivers delightfully dinky instant prints, and the Wide camera offers a larger and more dramatic scene, the Square format echoes the familiar shape and size of old school Polaroid prints.
Interestingly, the Instax Square SQ1 is now the sole member of the Instax Square family. While the Mini line comprises 5 currently supported models – including the entry level Instax Mini 11, the latest Instax Mini 40, the family friendly Instax Mini Hello Kitty and the hybrid Instax Mini Evo – the SQ1 is the lone representative of the Square family, with 2018's Instax Square SQ6 having been retired.
On the one hand, that makes the choice much more straightforward. Want an Instax camera that takes Polaroid-style pictures? Great, here's your lone option! On the other, it's a camera that omits all the advanced functionality of the SQ6 (not to mention the sales monster that was the Taylor Swift tie-in).
So, is the Instax Square SQ1 the best instant camera for shooting square, or should you look to the Polaroid Now and Polaroid Now+?
Instax Square SQ1: Specifications
Film type: Instax Square
Lens: 28mm (35mm equivalent) f/12.6
Shutter speed: 1/2-1/400 sec
Flash: Constant (recycle time 7.5 secs, effective range 0.3 to 2.2 m)
Power: 2x CR2 batteries
Dimensions: 130.7 × 118.6 × 57.5mm
Weight: 390g (without film pack)
Instax Square SQ1: Key features
The SQ1 is a fully automatic, point-and-shoot camera with no exposure settings or manual controls (save for the choice of standard or close-up shooting). With a constant flash, you simply aim and click – the camera does all the rest for you.
Turning the lens ring selects between two shooting modes: standard (for subjects 1.6ft / 0.5m and beyond) and selfie / close-up (for subjects between 0.9-1.6ft / 30-50cm).
An optical viewfinder, offset to the right of the lens, is used to frame your shots when you're behind the camera, while selfies can be composed using a selfie mirror on the front of the lens.
It accepts Instax Square film, which comes in packs of 10 shots tends to work out to about $1 / £1 / AU$2 per shot, which is cheaper per print than Polaroid and only slightly more than Instax Mini.
Instax Square SQ1: Build and handling
While the Instax Square SQ1 replaces the Square SQ6, it offers a significantly different design and shooting experience.
The first thing you'll notice is that the SQ6's snazzy metallic finish (and Instagram logo-like design) is no more, with the SQ1 instead adopting the soft, soap bar-like color and finish of the Mini 11 line.
In one sense it makes the Instax range feel more unified (aside from the boxy, Volvo-like design of the Instax Wide 300 which is in need of modernization), but on the other it's a shame that the more upmarket look has been lost.
Which isn't to say that the SQ1 is an ugly camera, it's just going for a more bubblegum aesthetic than its older brother. Perhaps accordingly, it also eschews the more advanced features – such as a motorized lens, tripod socket, LED readout and exposure controls.
Interestingly, in terms of size, it isn't that much bigger than an Instax Mini camera – though it's certainly more angular.
Instax Square SQ1: Performance
In crude terms, the Instax Square SQ1 performs largely on par with the Instax Mini 11. It does benefit from slightly better autoexposure, due to its increased shutter speed, but on the whole if you've used a Mini then you know what to expect.
The challenge remains, as always, shooting in extremely bright or dark conditions; at either end of the scale the SQ1 (and, indeed, any instant camera) struggles with over- or underexposure.
That's partly to do with the fully automatic nature of the SQ1. While we appreciate the simplicity that Instax is going for here, we miss the exposure adjustments possible on the SQ6 with its more advanced shooting options.
This extends to things like double exposures and, especially, a self-timer mode. The latter, coupled with the lack of tripod mount, means that you can't use the SQ1 for group shots or meaningful self-portraits if you want to be more than an arm's distance away.
All that aside, what the SQ1 does offer is brilliant by-and-large image quality. As with all Instax cameras, photographs have great contrast and detail, and the autoexposure is better than ever at accommodating ambient lighting behind subjects (rather than blasting everything with flash and making people look like they're standing in a black void).
Instax Square SQ1: Verdict
The Instax Square SQ1 is a superb, simple point-and-shoot instant camera. If all you want is to click the shutter and get a great square format photograph, it does exactly what you want it to. However, it's missing valuable features like the self-timer from the discontinued Instax Square SQ6 – not to mention the SQ1's direct rival, the Polaroid Now.
While the image quality is brilliant (away from extremes of light and dark), the lack of any advanced features leaves the Instax Square line feeling rather underpowered. If you want square instant photos with double exposures, light painting, or even just the ability to stick the camera on a tripod and take a group photo, your only choice is to look at Polaroid's options.