One of my favorite cameras ever is the original Polaroid SX-70. This marvel of engineering, chemistry, and industrial design introduced the world to fully integral instant photography—before the SX, instant photography wasn’t quite instant, requiring a peel-apart film that relied on some pretty gnarly chemicals.
The SX-70 was like the iPod of its time. With a sleek metallic and leather exterior, the device popped up, transforming a jacket-pocketable slab into a sophisticated SLR camera. It was an expensive, high-tech imaging solution the likes of which the world had never seen in the early ’70s.
Perhaps most importantly, the SX-70 was the first Polaroid camera with the iconic, instantly-recognizable square photos that define that photo format. Until recently, the only way to get that iconic square instant photo was by shooting imperfect, Dutch-made Polaroid Originals film in a compatible (vintage or modern) camera. But you Huey Lewis-types now have another photographic option: last year, Fujifilm developed a square version of its awesome Instax film. Unfortunately, Fuji then proceeded to hamper it with an expensive hybrid digital/analog camera.
Enter the Lomography Lomo’Instant Square. It’s the first analog camera to shoot square Instax film. Like the SX-70, this camera is compact, and folds up when not in use. So far, so good…
The design and build quality of this camera is impressive. Lomo didn’t always make great-feeling, tightly-assembled cameras but since the Automat series began, it’s clear that these areas have been vastly improved. My review unit was a creamy white hue with color-matched faux leather on it.
Opening the camera takes a bit of force, which means it’s unlikely it’ll spring open in your bag. That’s reassuring to me, since the camera uses rubber for a bellows assembly behind the lens, a potential point of failure if debris falls inside the camera’s body. When closed, it vaguely resembles a pair of electrobinoculars from Star Wars.
The camera also protects its own front lens, opening and closing shutters that cover the glass as it unfolds. I was annoyed by how the camera’s lens mechanism resets its focus every time the camera is closed, so you’ll need to remember to check it each time you take the camera out.
Speaking of focus, the Lomo’Instant Square has a fairly forgiving range of zones to choose from. That said, I recommend you splurge and get the combo version of this camera, since it includes a much-needed portrait attachment. Though the Lomo’Instant Square features a tiny selfie mirror, at arms’ length, you’d be hard-pressed to take a portrait that’s not out of focus. Screw the 0.5m attachment onto the camera and your selfies will look so, so, so much better.
Photo modes are plentiful since this shares its exposure system with Lomo’s other recent instant cameras. Multiple exposures, 1 stop +/- compensation, and even a bulb mode are all standard features. I’d say that’s just enough control to help steer the otherwise-automatic exposure system into giving you the results you want, and certainly enough to let you experiment.
One pain point for me was the viewfinder. Unlike the magical, complicated SLR setup inside the SX-70, the Lomo’Instant Square has an off-center viewfinder that’s far, far away from the long lens. It’s tricky to frame shots up just right, and you’ll need to mentally compensate for parallax to make sure your subject is where you want it.
There are a few things you should know before you take the plunge and pick the Square. First, it’s expensive at more than $200. For the sake of comparison, the newest Polaroid Originals-branded model, the OneStep 2 sells for about half that, and gives you true Polaroid-sized pictures.
If that doesn’t dissuade you, grab the combo option that includes the Splitzer, a must-have portrait lens attachment, and an adapter back that’ll let you use Instax Mini film. That last piece is super cool—Instax Square film isn’t cheap at around $1.30 per shot, so you’ll probably get more use out of your camera if you can also shoot the cheaper, easier-to-find Mini-sized film.
Taken on its own, I’m impressed with what Lomo’s done here. Do I love it as much as my SX-70? No. But the square prints, fabulous design, and reliable Instax chemistry make this a far more approachable experience.