Instant photography is going strong. It’s no wonder the easy, fast, and deliciously nostalgic way of capturing memories continues to grow as it is the most accessible form of analogue photography. Many instant cameras are simple, automatic, and even kid-friendly.
Press one button and they shell out a piece of film magic. A moment captured and transformed into a tangible mini keepsake. No decisions or know-how necessary. But what if you want more control over your instant images? What if you want to explore techniques like long exposure or using off-camera flash?
Well, this is where NONS Camera has stepped in. The company, from Hong Kong now based in Shenzhen, has created a line of cameras that use Fujifilm’s Instax film but places the control back into the hands of photographers. Featuring manual settings for shutter speed and aperture as well as an interchangeable lens mount, these cameras are instant photography powerhouses.
Their line-up includes the NONS SL42 and the NONS SL660 cameras, with the SL645 coming soon. To pair with their camera products, NONS sells two manual focus EF lenses of their own, a 35mm F2.4 and a 50mm F1.8. If you already have EF lenses or other vintage lenses like the M42 mount, these are also able to be used with the NONS cameras.
Both the SL42 and the SL645 use Instax mini film while the NONS SL660 uses the 6×6 Instax square format film. NONS sent me an SL660 to review so let’s dive straight into what this camera can do in the field!
First Impressions of the NONS SL660
Out of the box, the NONS SL660 looks great. It is something like a DSLR for instant film photography. While looking at it straight on, it appears compact. From back to front though, the width is undeniably chunky. The chunkiness will also change depending on what lens you have on the camera. NONS sent along the 35mm F2.4 which is rather compact so it doesn’t add much to the bulk of the total size.
Being made mainly of CNC anodized aluminium alloy, the SL660 is highly durable and the added wooden hand grip is a touch of luxury. With its rounded edges and modern design touches, first impressions immediately live up to its premium price tag.
On top of the camera, there is a small readout that shows three things (once charged and turned on), the battery level, the number of shots remaining, and the recommended aperture setting from the internal light meter. The light meter operates by selecting a shutter speed first, then it will recommend an appropriate aperture setting for the photographer to change depending on the lighting scenario. Of course, you can ignore the light meter and set both the aperture and shutter speed manually.
There are 10 shutter speeds to choose between from 1/250 down to bulb mode. On the 35mm F2.4 lens, the apertures range from F2.4 to F22.
A couple of other features of the camera include a hot shoe for external flash (flash sync to 1/250) and a roof pentaprism viewfinder similar to that of an SLR. It has a USB Type-C charging port so if you own a Samsung Galaxy or similar phone, this is very convenient since it is the same charger. NONS says the camera can last for over 100 shots on a fully charged battery.
I had no problems with the battery life of this camera. On a full charge, it lasted me through all of the packs of film I bought, even in the cold weather. So, a green check for that!
Ok, first impressions and features aside, what is it like to use this instant wonder camera?
After purchasing a few packs of instant square film, I loaded up my camera bag with the NONS SL660 and headed out into Cardiff Central to see what this unique instant camera could do.
Instant photography is personal so I wanted to capture areas around the town that were meaningful to me. Places that I often go to, whether for peace or photography or fun. I had never shot an instant camera like an SLR so the experience was new and exciting.
The strap provided with the camera is comfortable as NONS opted for a thick rope-style design. While the camera looks a bit chunky, it’s not heavy, making it easy to carry around for long periods. It feels good to hold and is simple to operate.
Loading the film is easy, there is a simple latch on the backside and the film slots right into the heart of the camera. When you close the back cover nothing happens automatically, but the film pack cover must be ejected before your first shot. This can be done by holding down on the eject button for a couple of seconds and the dark cover will pop out. We are ready to shoot now!
For my first shot, I set the shutter to 1/250, read the meter, set the recommended aperture, focused, and pressed down on the shutter button. It was very simple and easy to get the hang of shooting this camera quickly. Although, the shutter sound could probably have been heard down the street!
The film doesn’t eject on its own because you could take another shot for multiple exposures. If you do, simply push down on the lever on the left side of the camera and take another shot. Then, the eject button can be held down and your piece of film will come out! I love this multiple-exposure feature. It allows for experimentation and a deeper level of creativity which is such a joy.
Being used to waiting anywhere from 3 hours to 3 weeks for analogue photography results, it was gratifying to get my image straight away. No fussing about with chemistry or shipping off to a lab, the square piece of magic appears in a few minutes after leaving it in my dark pockets as I learned to do. Apparently, you don’t “shake it like a polaroid picture” to develop…
At first, focusing on this camera might be a challenge for someone with glasses like me. There is no guide, so the focus must be judged by the photographer using what the camera sees through the lens that appears in the pentaprism. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it, but in a few situations, it was hard to see and took me longer to get the focus. Most of the time though, it’s not an issue.
I found the light meter in the NONS SL660 to be accurate in most situations except in very bright sunlight, where it seemed to struggle slightly. A lot of my images came out overexposed in the middle of the frame. With my knowledge of the sunny 16 rule, the meter readings didn’t seem to be correct, even when I pointed the camera at different things in the hopes it just needed movement to “wake up” the meter. So I did a test of three.
It seems in bright light, the meter needs some adjusting. I started underexposing by at least one stop, sometimes two. This is when I got images I loved, with no highlight blowouts. This is only in bright light though, essentially pointing towards the sky on a sunny day. In shady areas or indoors, the meter performed wonderfully.
With only 10 shots in each pack, it didn’t take me long to go through the colour ones and move on to the black and white pack.
Is it worth the price tag?
Let’s talk about the price because these cameras are not cheap. The NONS SL660 in-store costs $599 USD without the lens. The lenses are less costly with the 35mm F2.4 lens ringing in at $109 USD and the 50mm F1.8 at $59 USD. From my experience using the camera, it seems very well made and considering everything else, I would agree it could reasonably demand the premium price tag. These cameras are for anyone with the budget for them, but also photographers who want to get more creative with instant photography and push into what is possible having more control over the result.
After testing the camera outside, I turned to my camera collection for an indoor test. I didn’t mean to photograph more than one as an example, but as I did the first, it looked so good to me, I thought it would be a cool idea to make an instant wall decoration of all my cameras. This is when I started to realize my camera addiction may be more serious than I thought…
Addiction aside, at this moment, I discovered my favourite situation to use this camera. With bokeh. Delicious instant bokeh. Many other instant cameras use high apertures to make sure everything is in focus. So “bokeh” is something these cameras cannot do, and this is where the NONS lineup differentiates itself further.
The ability to manually capture instant images with out-of-focus backgrounds as well as multiple exposures and the build quality sets this series aside from the rest of the instant camera market.
Adding an on-camera flash on top of this camera does make it quite beastly but if one isn’t concerned with size, then it’s a welcomed feature that adds flexibility. I can see a small flash working well with this camera such as the Godox Junior, which was recently reviewed on 35mmc by Sroyon. Check out his article here if you are interested!
There is also the option of using a trigger with an off-camera flash, such as the Godox AD200. I use this set-up as my main lighting for portraits so was interested to see how it worked with the NONS SL660.
While the sync speed for this camera is 1/250, the flash only works in manual mode. The easiest way I thought to calculate the aperture setting was to use my digital camera first and then dial in the same settings on the NONS SL660. The Instax square film ISO is 800, so punching this into my camera with the shutter speed set to 1/250 gave me an aperture of F11. The exposure worked well, although the SL660 is hard to focus in the dark. This could be helped by focusing with the lights on first or using a model light to focus and then turning it off when you’re ready to fire.
I also tested out the Bulb function of this camera at night as well as some of the lower shutter speeds like ½ or ¼ of a second. The SL660 has a tripod mount so it easily fits onto my lightweight Manfrotto. I took it down to Cardiff Bay after watching the newest Matilda at the cinema to capture some of the night lights there.
The meter readings for the long exposure times were as accurate as any light meter. Although, light meters in-camera tend to expose for the lamp lights, rather than the whole scene, depending on what kind of meter is being used. So to compensate for this, I usually add a couple of seconds.
The images here came out cool! It was great to be able to capture this on instant film as the other instant cameras I’ve used would typically have deployed the flash.
The experience of using the NONS SL660 felt very similar to using an SLR only there is an instant product rather than waiting to process, scan, or print afterwards. It allows for more flexibility and creativity when working with instant film. The ease of creating a photograph is attractive as there is nothing more to do after the film has been ejected.
For photographers who don’t like processing, developing, scanning, etc instant photography is perfect. Furthermore, for those photographers who want a chunky adaptable well built camera that shoots square format Instax film, the NONS SL660 fits the bill. Of course, this is if you have the budget first and foremost as the camera is sold at a high premium.
The benefit provided by this camera is the ability to get more creative with instant film by using manual controls and potentially swapping out different lenses. However, there are some quirks about it such as being hard to focus in dim light and the occasionally inaccurate meter readings in bright sunlight.
Lastly, the NONS SL660 relies on the availability of Fujifilm’s Instax film, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment. While some might have reservations about the future of 35mm or even 120 film, instant film doesn’t look to be going anywhere at the moment. Fujifilm continues to report revenue growth year over year in their consumer imaging division, particularly from their Instax cameras and films (source: Fujifilm Holdings Co December 31, 2022 Earnings Release). Multiple industry research report firms predict growth in the next 6 years for instant photography print divisions (source: Businesswire, DataIntelo). So, the investment in a NONS camera certainly won’t be short-lived.
If you would like to see more information on this camera from NONS, head over to their website here.
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