Film Friday: A hands-on review of the NONS SL660 SLR-style Instax Square camera: Digital Photography Review

The NONS SL660 without a lens attached. The lens you see is the teleconverter, used to expand the image circle of lenses originally designed to work on full-frame camera systems.

Image credit: Gannon Burgett/DPReview

First and foremost, let me get this detail out of the way. The NONS SL660 is a $600 Instax camera. And no, that’s not a typo. That is a LOT of money for a camera that’s only capable of capturing instant photos of questionable quality. That said, this camera is a unique experience that offers something no other native Instax camera does: interchangeable lenses with an SLR-style viewfinder.

To see what this camera is all about, NONS sent over a review unit for us to test out. Below is our hands-on experience with the camera and the quirky workflow it requires.

The solid wood grip and metal shutter buttons are nice visual touches with a premium feel.

Image credit: Gannon Burgett/DPReview

Upon removing the camera from its box, the first thing that stood out was how heavy it is. The entire body of this camera is made of a CNC anodized aluminum alloy and it shows. This thing weighs more than my 5D Mark III, which is one of the most solid cameras I’ve ever owned. Not that I tested the durability of the camera, but it’s safe to say this thing is the most robust Instax camera out there.

To help balance the rugged look of the camera, NONS has also included a solid wood grip that’s held in place with a pair of torx screws. Since this was a review unit, I didn’t bother taking it off, but so long as you get the hole placement right, it should be possible to make your own grip through carving, 3D-printing or any other means, if you want something a little more custom or substantial.

The mirror mechanism lever is on the right-hand side of the camera when looking at it from the front. It makes a confident ‘click’ noise when locked into place and keeps the lever down so you don’t get confused as to whether or not it’s activated.

Image credit: Gannon Burgett/DPReview

And while the outside of the camera is impressive, it’s the inside where the magic happens. Unlike other Instax cameras that use a rangefinder-esque design with a separate viewfinder, the NONS SL660 uses an SLR-like design to show you the view through whatever lens you have mounted to the front. Instead of using a reflex design, however, which flips the mirror up when you press the shutter, the entire mirror mechanism slides up and down to move out of the way when the shutter is pressed.

That means, to cock the shutter you need to pull down a lever on the side of the camera. Doing this drops down the mirror mechanism and allows you to see through the prism viewfinder. When you press the shutter button (the silver button on the opposite side of the mirror lever), the mirror mechanism slides up and opens up the shutter to expose the Instax Square film in the back of the camera.

Another way in which this camera differs from most other Instax cameras is that the image does not automatically eject after taking a photo. Instead, there’s a small button on the back of the camera that activates the lever and rollers that pull the film from the pack and pushes it through to be developed. This means the camera, by default, supports multiple exposure photographs, as you can take as many shots as you want with a single print and then eject and develop that image whenever you’re ready.

The NONS SL660 with a Nikon 28mm F2 F-mount lens attached.

Image credit: Gannon Burgett/DPReview

For lenses, NONS opted to use a passive EF-style mount. Doing so allows the NONS 660 to work with nearly any other pre-mirrorless lens mount so long as you have the correct adapter for your lens. I tested the NONS 660 with native EF mount lenses, as well as adapted Nikon F mount and Olympus lenses, but your options are nearly limitless as far as D/SLR and vintage glass is concerned, which opens up a whole realm of creative possibilities.

One thing to note though is that the NONS SL660 doesn’t have any electronic contacts. As such, if you’re using a lens with an electronic aperture, you’ll only be able to shoot at the widest aperture at any given time. For example, the Canon EF 70–200mm F2.8 IS II I used with the camera was only able to shoot at F2.8, since it doesn’t have a mechanical aperture mechanism. More often than not, this won’t be an issue, but it’s worth keeping in mind, both in terms of creative and exposure control.

We’re not sure NONS had a Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8 IS II in mind when choosing the EF-style lens mount, but it works, and actually takes decent images if you don’t mind some minor vignetting.

Image credit: Gannon Burgett/DPReview

Behind the lens mount is a teleconverter. This, of course, impacts image quality, particularly at the edges, where vignetting is heavy and sharpness is lacking.

Something else worth noting is that what you see through the viewfinder isn’t exactly what you’ll get in terms of framing. The viewfinder is roughly a 3:2 aspect ratio, whereas the final image is a 1:1 square crop. As such, you need to imagine as though the viewfinder extends out on the short side to create a 1:1 image. This can make framing tricky, particularly if you have multiple subjects not at the center of the frame, but you do get accustomed to it after a few shots. Another thing worth noting is that the final image will have a slightly wider field of view than the viewfinder shows, so err on the side of framing tight if you want the subject to take up the full area of the 6x6cm Instax Square frame.

Speaking of the viewfinder, it’s your typical ground glass viewfinder with concentric rings. There’s no focusing assist mechanism, which can make nailing focus a bit difficult when shooting at wider apertures, but it’s fairly bright and easy enough to zero in on a subject if you’re at all familiar with manual focus. I would’ve liked to see a split prism option or microprism circle in the center, but that doesn’t appear to be an option thus far.

NONS has also included a built-in light meter that sits right above the lens mount, on the prism hump at the top of the camera that works alongside the OLED display on the top of the camera body to show you what aperture you should be using based on the shutter speed selected on the metal dial (which is positioned right next to the OLED display. While this is a nice addition in theory, I’ve found the metering to be very unreliable.

A collection of Instax Square prints captured with the NONS SL660.

Image credit: Gannon Burgett/DPReview

Based on my less-than-scientific testing, it appears as though the meter is a spot meter that measures only a small portion of the frame. But since you can’t see the meter reading while looking through the viewfinder, it’s difficult to know what’s being metered: the subject or the background. Too often I found myself over or under exposing by a stop, completely blowing out the highlights or destroying any detail in the shadows, because the meter wasn’t reading what I thought it was. I’ve gotten to the point now where I have a general idea where the meter is accounting for in the scene, but every few shots I’ll still miss the exposure.

Aside from the metering issues, however, the NONS SL660 delivers the goods. The experience is pleasantly tactile and brings the SLR-style experience to instant photography, which is something I’ve only experienced when using peel-apart Polaroid film on the back of my RB67 years ago (RIP affordable peel-apart film). Sure, the Instax images aren’t breaking records in their dynamic range or color accuracy, but that’s not the point. The goal is to make a fun, hands-on experience and to that end, the NONS SL660 succeeds in a way no other Instax camera does.

Below is a gallery of sample images, captured with the NONS SL660 with various lenses:

At $600, without a lens, I won’t be buying this anytime soon. But if you have the money to spare and want a novel experience, this is the camera to try out. And if you’d prefer a similarly-styled camera that’s both cheaper and set up for Fujifilm’s more affordable Instax Mini film, NONS also has the NONS SL645 (for pre-order) and the SL42 for $539 and $339, respectively.

You can find out more about the NONS SL660 and NONS other instant cameras on the NONS Camera website.

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