The NONS SL660 is a fully analogue, manual SLR camera designed for Fujifilm’s instax Square film. I enjoy instant photography, but Fujifiilm’s recent analogue cameras like the SQ40, are mostly automatic, lacking any manual override for when you want to get more creative.
Luckily a number of third party cameras have become available for those who desire more control over focus, exposure and even the choice of lenses, while still using standard instax film cartridges.
At the time I made this review, NONS offered a pair of SLR cameras with full manual exposure control and passive EF lens mounts, allowing you to fit any compatible or adapted lens. The SL645 body costs £435 and uses instax Mini film, while the SL660 costs £482 and uses instax Square. Both are sold via the NONS Camera website, and I’ll show you everything you need to know in the video below. If you prefer to read the written highlights, keep scrolling!
The SL660 is a pretty substantial camera, although place it alongside the SQ40 and you’ll see it shares a similar width and height, albeit obviously thicker due to a lens that doesn’t fold into the body when not in use.
The big physical difference though is build quality, with the SL660’s anodized aluminium body, stainless steel dial and wooden grip giving it a significant step-up over the mostly plastic Fujifilm cameras. But these materials unsurprisingly also make it much heavier, with the SL660 and 35mm f2.4 lens weighing-in over double the SQ40, making it a camera to carry in a bag rather than a large pocket.
Round the back you’ll find a power switch, a USB C port for charging the built-in battery, and a button to eject the print. Since this button is independent from the main shutter release, it’s possible to easily capture multiple exposures on a single print and only eject it when you’re ready.
On the top is a shutter dial with speeds from 1/250 to one second in one stop increments, along with a Bulb mode which keeps the shutter open while the main release button is pushed-in.
Above: You’ll notice a tiny display sandwiched between the shutter dial and the viewfinder head which works alongside a built-in light meter. These suggest an appropriate aperture for whatever shutter speed you’ve selected on the dial. Remember as a fully manual camera, the SL660 won’t be setting the aperture for you, so the displayed value is only a suggestion. The light meter is also positioned above the lens, so it’s not actually metering through the lens and won’t know if the cap’s been left on or your finger’s in front of it.
The mini display also indicates the battery life and the shots remaining in the cartridge. The battery should be good for around 100 shots but you’ll need to recharge via a USB-A adapter as it won’t support fast USB-C to C charging. It’s supplied with a C to A cable. Oh and yes, that is a hotshoe atop the viewfinder head, allowing you to sync with compatible flashguns at up to 1/250.
On either side of the lens mount on the front are two satisfyingly mechanical controls: the viewfinder slider on the right which primes the camera to shoot, and the shutter release button on the left. The circular top to the shutter release can be unscrewed to fit a threaded cable release if you prefer, although beware this cap can fall off in general use if not screwed-on tight.
The SL660 and SL645 both employ a Canon EF bayonet, allowing them to mount any compatible lens, not to mention Nikon F, Pentax K, Contax / Yashica or M42 lenses via optional adapter rings. As a passive mount though, there’s no electronic control over aperture or focus. So if you fit, say, an EF lens with no aperture ring like my old EF 85mm f1.8 USM, it’ll only operate at its maximum aperture.
As such you’re best-off mounting or adapting older 35mm lenses with aperture rings and mechanical focusing, or using the fully manual 35mm f2.4 or 50mm f1.8 lenses from NONS itself, costing £88 and £48 respectively. I used the 35mm f2.4 for my tests, as well as trying out my own Canon EF 85 1.8.
Since the instax formats are larger than 35mm or full-frame though, both SLRs employ built-in focal-reducing optics to roughly deliver the same coverage. So a lens designed for full-frame or 35mm film cameras will deliver approximately the same field of view when mounted on a NONS SLR. You don’t get anything for nothing though and some lenses will suffer from vignetting or darkening in the corners, and others, especially longer ones, may even reveal a square mask around the edges. NONS recommends lenses in the range of 28-58mm on the SL660, but instant analogue photography is rarely a precise science and unexpected artefacts are part of the charm, right?
Ok, so to get shooting, first charge-up the camera then fit an instax Square cartridge in the rear compartment; there’s no alignment guides, so position the yellow mark on the back of the cartridge in the lower right corner. Next switch the camera on and if you’re using a brand new cartridge, you’ll need to eject the disposable safety sheet, so push and hold the eject button on the back for a couple of seconds to do so. Next push down the viewfinder lever to prepare the camera to shoot, compose the shot through the viewfinder, manually focus the lens, then adjust the shutter speed and lens aperture for the deserted exposure. You could use the built-in meter for guidance, or try your own meter, or simply base your exposure on a typical value for the conditions. Remember instax film has a sensitivity of 800 ISO.
Then push down on the shutter button to take the shot, after which you should push and hold the eject button on the back for a couple of seconds to eject the print. And again if you want to make a multiple exposure, just reprime the viewfinder lever and reshoot as many times as you like before ejecting.
When you view your first print from the SL660, two things will become apparent: most obviously the print captures a much broader field than the viewfinder showed, and second, the wider blank border on the print will be on the left rather than the bottom if you’re holding the camera normally or have it atop a tripod.
Dealing with the first issue, the SL660 may be an SLR with angled mirrors inside to reflect the light from the lens into the viewfinder, but they’re not large enough to deliver anywhere near the full field of view. This becomes obvious the moment you compose, as the viewfinder shows a rectangular image, but the output is of course square. To be fair, an SLR with a square mirror to deliver the full view would make the camera considerably thicker, heavier and more expensive, so NONS decided on a simpler approach.
With no film loaded and the rear door open, you can see how it works. Pushing the main lever down lowers the viewfinder optics between the lens and film, and it’s clear how it’s only able to peek at a portion of the image. When you push the shutter release button, this unit pops upwards to clear the optical path, and uses a leaf-style shutter in the built-in optics to make the exposure. The leaf shutter may be quiet, but the viewfinder mechanism getting out the way makes for a substantial clunk which I personally enjoyed, although it’s in no way discreet. Either way, it’s this design approach that allows the SL660 to not only mount, but focus any lens that you attach, without the body becoming too thick.
The SLR viewfinder lets you focus with the actual lens, while also previewing the depth of field depending on the aperture value, although it’s easiest to focus with the aperture wide-open, so I tended to do that before closing it for the desired exposure. But again the simple design means the viewfinder won’t show you anywhere near the full view you’re capturing, so some imagination is required to compensate.
Above: Here’s a photo I took through the viewfinder showing the view during composition on the left, and the actual final print on the right, where it’s clear how cropped the viewfinder is. If you’re holding the camera horizontally, expect a great deal of extra headroom above the viewfinder, but also more all around it too.
Also remember with the camera this way round, the thicker blank border on the print will be on the left side, so if you prefer it to be below the image, you’ll need to turn the camera 90 degrees counter-clockwise. And when it’s this way round, most of the extra headroom will now be to the left of the viewfinder. It takes some getting used to, and ironically the basic optical viewfinder on a simpler Fujifilm instax camera can actually give a better idea of the overall composition, albeit without SLR focusing or the chance to fit other lenses.
Framing and print orientation may have been my initial issues, but I also had some exposure worries. Since the built-in meter isn’t measuring through the lens, it should be used as a basic guide only. I often found bright reflective objects like white buildings in direct sunlight could become overexposed using the suggested metering, while dimly lit interiors could become underexposed. But unlike Fujfilm’s analogue cameras, there’s plenty of exposure latitude at either end if you need to adjust.
Again the trick is to learn the foibles of the built-in metering system and compensate for it. Deliberately under or over exposing the values it suggests under conditions you know have previously tripped it up. Or of course just use a more sophisticated light meter, or even the recommendation from a separate camera.
But with this many gotchas, why use the SL660 instead of a mostly automatic Fujifilm instax camera? The answer is having full manual control over the exposure and being able to not just fit different lenses, but control their focus and depth of field.
I’ve found Fujifilm’s analogue instax cameras often over-expose bright outdoor landscape scenes, but once you’ve mastered metering on the SL660, it’s possible to not only achieve a balanced exposure but even deliberately underexpose outdoor scenes for creative effects. Plus you could also fit a filter on the lens if you want to use large apertures in daytime too, although you would need to manually factor that into your exposure. With Bulb, you could even attempt long exposures too, and again there’s the chance to fit a flash if desired.
In terms of depth of field, it really is possible to achieve some blurring with large apertures, even at f2.4 on the 35mm NONS lens. First time SLR users or those who wear glasses may find it tricky to nail the precise focus with the viewfinder screen, but the experience isn’t a World apart from many old 35mm SLRs.
Above: as promised, I also tried my old EF 85mm f1.8 lens, and again in the absence of an aperture ring, it became f1.8 only. Here’s a shot on the left with the NONS 35 2.4 at f2.4 while on the right is the EF 85 1.8 at 1.8, both showing the potential for bokeh blobs – and becoming the envy of any analogue Fujifilm instax camera.
Above: and for portraits, here’s the 35 2.4 on the left and the 85 1.8 on the right, again both at their maximum apertures, showing some blurring in the background, albeit the latter also exhibiting substantial vignetting.
Throughout my time with the SL660 I found many of my shots were darker in the corners than expected, or displayed other artefacts, but that’s mostly down to the combination of a particular lens and the built-in focal reducing optics. Coupled with metering challenges and a viewfinder that only shows a small portion of the view you’re capturing, it’s fair to say this is not a camera for exacting photographers or those who demand predictable results. If you want an instant analogue SLR with precise composition, one option could be to fit a Hasselblad 500 series with a back that takes instant film, and as luck would have it, NONS makes one of those too.
Ultimately though the SL660 is designed for analogue lovers who want the challenge and creative opportunities of manual metering and focus, the chance to adapt a variety of lenses, and crucially capture images that genuinely look different to those from a simple Fujifilm body.
It may not be for you personally, but I love that a number of third parties are now providing interesting alternatives to shooting with instant film. That said, I’m still not letting Fujifilm off the hook and will sign off with my usual request that they also make a series of analogue instax cameras with more creative control. Just look at the Polaroid i2 if you need any further inspiration.Check prices at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, eBay or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!