Nons SL660 review: the magical film camera I fell in love with

“The Nons SL660 delivers a rewarding analog photography experience and beautiful images with retro charm.”

Pros

  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Amazing build quality
  • Film photography is accessible
  • It’s fun to use
  • Unique and beautiful images

Cons

  • Film is very expensive
  • It is difficult to focus the correct amount of light and expose it correctly.

The Nons SL660 is the product of a successful Kickstarter Campaign. This camera is a unique combination of an instax camera and the high-quality build quality combined with the flexibility of an interchangeable system.

As someone who grew up as a digital photographer, I’ve always envied the physicality of film, and have regretted that so many of my images are trapped on hard drives and memory cards. Printing at home can be a hassle, and ordering prints can be expensive. However, if you’re shooting rolls of film, then you’ve either got to develop it yourself or send it off to be printed. That’s where instant film comes in, and it offers an alternative that combines the immediacy of digital with the physical nature of film, while sidestepping the difficulties associated with actually getting your work printed.

Design and operation of the SL660 non-SL660

Instant Film Photography Adventure with Nons SL660

The SL660 is a chunky beast of a camera, but while it may be the size of a DSLR, it’s nowhere near as heavy to lug around. That’s because a film camera doesn’t need the heaps of electronics that are crammed inside your average digital camera, nor does it require a great big lithium-ion battery (though it does have a small one built-in). That’s not to say that it’s cheaply made, and in fact, it’s one of the more solidly built cameras I’ve used. Its metal housing is sturdy and a refreshing change from modern cameras’ plastic exteriors.

The controls may seem a bit alien to those more used to digital cameras, but it’s really quite straightforward. The back hatch allows film cartridges to open, and the lever engages the mirror to arm the camera for a photo is located on the left side. You’ll want to wait to press this until you have identified the scene you’re going to shoot — otherwise, you may accidentally trigger the shutter. The shutter button is located to the right of the lens and operates as any camera’s shutter button would.

The lens mount of the Nons SL660.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

A cold shoe mount to hold accessories and a dial that allows you to select shutter speed are located on top of the camera. This screen shows the remaining film cartridge’s capacity, how many shots are left, and the light meter. The light meter determines how much light is in the direction that you aim the camera. It also tells you the best F-stop to adjust your lens to achieve the correct exposure. This camera can be used only with fully manual lenses, which have mechanical apertures that are controlled via a dial located on the lens.

You can use it with electronic aperture lenses. To set the aperture, mount the lens on a digital cam before you detach and mount the lens on your SL660. After it has been set using the digital cam, the electronic lens will maintain the preset aperture. While this is an effective workaround, it’s certainly something of a hassle.

The film compartment of the Nons SL660.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

The SL660 has the USB -C charging port, power switch and film eject buttons. After you’ve taken your shot, hold down the film eject key and the SL660 will spit out your photo to the side. It will take a few moments for the photo to develop. The exposed USB-C port in the camera and other unsealed openings make it difficult to use the camera in very light precipitation.

I used the Nons 35mm f/2.4 lens to test the SL660. There is also a 50mm f/1.8 lens available. Also, adapters are available for many lens mounts including Pentax K, Nikon F, M42 and Contax-Yashica.

Performance and image quality of the Nons SL660

It would not be fair or productive to grade the SL660 based on image quality based upon the standard metrics of sharpness, which are the key factors in modern digital cameras’ imaging perfection. The Fujifilm Instax Square film that the SL660 requires is what determines its imaging performance. This film isn’t high resolution, has very poor dynamic range, and a rather high ISO of 800. This is compounded by the integrated optic, which allows the camera to convert 35mm format lenses into larger square format films. The shutter speed is also very slow at 1/250.

The upshot is that the SL660 is best used in low-contrast situations, and if you want to use wide-open aperture settings for glorious swirly bokeh, you’ll either need to shoot in dim lighting or use neutral density filters to darken the scene. Also, because of the nature of the film and the integrated lens system of the camera, don’t expect razor-sharp images out of the SL660.

If you and the camera are in sync then even the most difficult challenges can become the ingredients for artistic style.

It is imperative that all this information be understood from the beginning. The SL660 is a camera which requires you to become familiar with its flaws and quirks. When you and the camera get along, the apparent difficulties become the ingredients for artistic style.

The SL660 produces photos with a dreamy, aged look that I find evocative of a sense of nostalgia. There’s also something really magical about seeing an image appear on paper in the moment after you’ve captured it. A digital photo of the Instax printed with the location of my shot in the out of focus background is a great subject to share on social media.

Nons SL660 performance

The Nons SL660 shutter dial and LCD panel.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

The SL660 was a great camera mechanically. Its controls are tactile and simple to use, and I find the sounds that result from the process of taking photos to be very enjoyable. A minor issue for me is that the built-in light meter seems a little unreliable, though that’s most likely due to my inexperience with light meters. It is best to aim your camera at various points within the scene you intend to photograph. This allows me to decide which settings will give the best results. The viewfinder’s small size made it difficult to focus accurately.

In regard to battery life, I received the camera partly charged, and didn’t bother to charge it before shooting. At the time of writing, I have taken around 30 images and accidentally left it on multiple times. It shuts down automatically after 10 minutes and the battery is not noticeable depleted. Depending on how much you shoot, your experience may vary, but based on how I’ve been using the camera, I would be surprised if I needed to charge it once every three months.

Nons SL660 Price and availability

The Nons SL660 on a wooden table.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

Starting at $600, the SL660 isn’t cheap. The SL660 is not cheap. You can get a 50mm f/1.8 lens for $50 and a 35mm f/2.4 for $110. You can get a modern digital camera that is more capable and takes better images for a comparable price. You could also get a Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo digital camera for $200. This can take digital photos, print Instax film images, and even act as a wireless Instax printer. However, the SL660 provides an experience that digital can’t replicate, and it’s a much higher-quality option with greater versatility than inexpensive Instax cameras.

Instax backs, which can be used to adapt professional medium format cameras to use instant film, are also available. This will deliver higher-quality images and a better shooting experience than the SL660, but there you’re looking at spending hundreds of dollars for the back, body, and lens, potentially landing you well over $1,000. The biggest drawback to the SL660’s Instax Square film is its $20 price tag for two cartridges that each contain 10 shots. That means every time you click the shutter, you’re spending $1, and that’s particularly painful when you’re learning to use the camera and are making a lot of mistakes.

The Nons SL660 is a high-end instant movie experience.

The Nons SL660 in bed of colorful autumn leaves.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

It was an amazing experience to test the Nons SL660. It has shown me the joy of film photography and the value of having printed copies of the images that I have captured. Digital cameras are easy to use, so I have little incentive to think before taking a picture. Once I’ve downloaded the images, I might never look at them again. The SL660 slows down my workflow and forces me to take precise compositions. Once I have printed the final images, I enjoy flipping through them often and thoroughly enjoying them.

This camera can be used to create art and capture lasting memories, without the limitations of a computer hard-drive. Even though I’m a professional photographer, I have the SL660 in my bag for those moments that I want to cherish. It’s not perfect by any means, but those flaws count more as character than cons. The only really unfortunate aspect of this camera is that the film it requires is so expensive, but that’s beyond the control of Nons.

If you love photography and are looking for an exciting new experience to inspire you and help you hone your skills, then the Nons SL660 is what you’re looking for.

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