Nothing beats the magic of instant cameras! Ever since the Polaroid was first invented, people have been finding delight in the alchemy of images that develop at the moment of capture. And following the revitalisation of the Polaroid brand in 2017, instant cameras have gone from strength to strength.
Of course, Polaroid cameras aren’t the only game in town. Fujifilm Instax cameras are also hugely popular for their distinctive little instant images. And Kodak digital instant-print cameras are growing in popularity, with Kodak’s zero-ink technology allowing for fast, smudge-proof prints that are cheaper to run than film.
We’ve divided our guide up into sections to help you navigate it – click the headings below to go straight to the section of your choice. If the world of instant cameras is new to you, skip down to our instant camera explainer for a primer in what you need to know.
Instant film is the bread and butter of instant photography. These represent some of the best instant cameras on the market – fabulous shooters that just exude the lo-fi cool of classic instant photography. Whatever your plans for instant film, we’d recommend starting here to get a feel for some of the best cameras on offer, before scrolling down to take a look at some of the more specialised options.
Pro: Close-up capabilities
Pro: Large, classic-style prints
Con: Film packs cost more than Instax
Con: Development takes a while
Instantly printing beautiful images in the style of the Polaroid cameras of old, the Polaroid OneStep+ is the coolest iteration of Polaroid's new era of film cameras, following the company's rescue by the Impossible Project.
The OneStep+ brings a new level of creativity to the table thanks to its connectivity functions, which allow it to connect to your smartphone via the Polaroid Originals app. Using this, you can explore techniques like multiple exposures and light painting and use the phone for remote camera triggering and manual settings adjustment.
A new portrait lens also lets you get closer to your subject for perfect people pictures, every time you print. If you’re looking for what is the best instant camera to buy full stop, this is a very strong contender.
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 Instant Camera - Terracotta Orange
Next up, another fantastic addition to Fujifilm's Instax camera lineup. The Instax Square SQ1 instant camera is clean, stylish and ready for the action. This camera helps you freeze time in a physical instantly printer photo. It's been designed to be simple and easy-to-use with its automatic exposure which uses built-in sensors to automatically calculates the brightness of your environment and will adjust the shutter speed accordingly, effortlessly capturing high-quality images with every shutter. The camera has a dedicated selfie mode, too! Simply activated with a twist of the lens, you can then line up your shot with the selfie mirror, making sure you perfectly capture that selfie with your friends and family. The Instax Square SQ1 uses Fujifilm's SQUARE film format, which is sold separately.
Pro: Simple point and shoot operation
Pro: Choice of stylish colours
Con: No advanced control modes
Con: CR2 batteries can be harder to find
Producing prints on Fujifilm’s square-format instant film, the Instax Square SQ1 is a delightfully simple camera to use. It’s one of the best places to start if you’re new to instant shooting – there aren’t too many terribly complicated exposure controls. You point, you shoot, and you get gorgeous square prints within seconds. Simple as.
The Square SQ1 does have a few useful tricks up its sleeve. You can twist the barrel to extend the lens's focal length a little to activate selfie mode. Indeed, there’s even a selfie mirror for exactly this purpose.
You can pick up Fujifilm Square film in colour or black and white, and there are also versions with black and rainbow-coloured borders. Experimentation is the name of the game! The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 is available in Terracotta Orange, Glacier Blue and Chalk White.
Pro: Top-notch image quality
Pro: Big prints
Con: Quite a bulky camera
Con: Film more expensive than others
Fujifilm’s Instax Wide film is larger than other types, and produces probably the best instant prints in sheer quality terms. Instant prints from the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 measure 86x108mm; as such, the camera is kitted out with high-quality components. Its retractable lens is a two-element optic of high quality for an instant camera, and it has a sophisticated exposure system that produces great images every time.
There’s a motor-driven focusing system on the camera for accurate autofocus, and a handy LCD display lets you keep track of settings, as well as the number of shots you have left. For the serious instant photographer, the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 is definitely a great choice – and it even comes with 10 shots to get you started.
Digital instant print cameras work a little differently to Polaroids and Instax cameras. Rather than exposing some fast-developing film, they capture a digital image and then instantly print it onto photo paper. They’re basically a digital camera and a printer rolled into one, and while you don’t get the quality or lo-fi charm of instant film, they are faster and the prints are more resistant to damage. See our explainer below for more information on how all this works.
Kodak Mini Shot 3 Instant Camera and Printer - Yellow
Kodak's Mini Shot 3 is an all-in-one instant camera and printer. Its high-quality 10MP camera and printer will produce stunning prints that full of vivid colour, clarity and detail. Printing border or borderless images, you can print instantly from the camera or you can connect your smart device to your Mini Shot 3 via Bluetooth to enjoy all images you take in this tactical and longlasting format. Kodak has used their Patented 4PASS all-in-one cartridges which produce prints where colours will never fade and are water/solar/fingerprint resistant thanks to a top-layer of lamination. This camera is fun and easy to use for all levels of user and it allows you to share and enjoy memories with your friends and family.
Pro: Connects to your phone via Bluetooth
Pro: Good, vivid colour prints
Con: No digital storage
Con: 10MP only
The Kodak Mini Shot 3 uses Kodak’s 4PASS all-in-one cartridges to instantly print beautiful images on photo paper. Smudge-resistant and long-lasting, these prints are great for scrapbooking, framing and more. Connect your smartphone to the Mini Shot 3 via Bluetooth and you can also hijack its printer to print images directly from your camera roll!
The Mini Shot 3 provides more manual control than many instant cameras, with autofocus, exposure controls and white balance settings. This allows you to dig deep and make sure your prints are coming out just the way you want them. You can also choose to produce prints with or without borders, depending on whether you want to emulate the instant-film look. Preview your images using the 1.77-inch LCD screen, or compose selfies with the selfie mirror.
Sometimes smaller is better! Mini instant cameras can be great for producing smaller prints that are cheaper to buy and easier to store. Mini instant film prints tend to develop faster than the larger prints you get in Polaroids, and can be a great way to mess about and have some low-pressure fun. Fujifilm pretty much owns the market on mini instant cameras right now, and its Instax Mini shooters are great for families, holidays, parties and more.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 Instant Camera
Classic, stylish and retro. The Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 Instant Camera comes as part of Fujifilm's widely appreciated Instax instant camera range, producing super-high-quality credit-card-sized prints for you to share with your friends and family. The camera sports a premium textured black finish with silver accents that are reminiscent of classic Fujifilm film cameras. It's simple and easy-to-use thanks to built-in auto exposure, auto shutter speed and auto-brightness, as well as it being easy to frame your shot with the optical viewfinder with target spot. As well as this, you can make use of the built-in one-touch selfie lens and selfie mirror to capture those classy, timeless selfies that define your night out.
Pro: Extremely simple to use
Pro: Stylish design
Con: No manual controls
Con: Flash always fires
We love the retro cool of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 40! Textured black with shiny silver trim never goes out of style, and the Instax mini film prints it produces are positively bursting with lo-fi charm. Operation is simple point and shoot, and the camera is powered by common AA batteries. The optical viewfinder makes it easy to compose your images, and the selfie lens can be pulled when you need it.
Exposures are automatically calculated with the in-camera metering system, and the Mini 40 also comes with its own hand strap, for keeping it safe and secure. All you need to worry about is taking cool pictures! Which, thanks to the magic of Instax, is easier than ever.
Instant cameras are an amazing choice of travel camera. Being able to make real, tangible memories of the sights you see is a great feeling and can be much more rewarding than simply filling up a hard drive with digital images you never look at again. As long as you remember to pack enough instant film, an instant camera is a perfect way to keep a diary of your travels and to keep records of your memories to enjoy for years to come.
Pro: Superb image quality for the price
Pro: Excellent metering system
Con: Less sophisticated than OneStep+
Con: No selfie mirror or tripod socket
As the name implies, the Polaroid Now is a Polaroid for, well, now. It’s a little simpler, more streamlined and cheaper than the flagship OneStep+, but still produces images of the same size and quality. The metering system is better than ever, and the flash has been upgraded to be a little more flexible with its power output in different lighting conditions. There’s even autofocus!
The Polaroid Now is small enough to take everywhere – a perfect choice for travel! Images of your destinations will look fantastic in any photo album, and you’ll be able to capture the full glory of everywhere you visit. The Polaroid Now is also available in a huge range of colours – there’s even a Mandalorian edition, for the Star Wars fans among us.
Unlike digital cameras, instant cameras require you to factor in the ongoing cost of film or paper. It’s no good picking up an instant camera on the cheap if it requires expensive, hard-to-get film. If you’re looking to do some instant photography while being mindful of your budget, it’s important that the film you choose is inexpensive and widely available. Here’s our recommendation.
Pro: Rechargeable battery
Pro: Includes bulb and double-exposure modes
Con: No in-camera charging
Con: Small film format
One of our favourite cameras in the Fuji line is the retro-styled Instax Mini 90, which offers a surprising number of modern features for a camera shooting Instax Mini film (86 x 54mm). Powered via a rechargeable battery, it has a high-performance flash, rear LCD reference display, and a 60mm-equivalent lens that’s great for a wide-range of subjects.
Alongside some fairly standard shooting modes like macro, landscape (renders distant subjects sharper) and party (brightens backgrounds), the Instax Mini 90 enables bulb-mode shooting for images taken with longer shutter speeds and also offers double exposures.
With a built-in self-timer, even groupies (selfies of groups, for those not in the know) are made easy. Oh, and did we mention that it comes with a pack of 10 shots in-box? You can start shooting as soon as it arrives at your door! And with Instax Mini film being one of the cheapest instant options out there, you can keep shooting to your heart’s content.
Welcome to our instant camera buying guide! The world of instant photography is immensely exciting and rewarding, but can be confusing when you start out if you’re unfamiliar with the different brands and types of camera involved.
Figuring out which instant camera is right for you depends on a number of factors, including your budget, so we’re going to run through the different options and help you get a feel for what’s available.
First up, let’s look at the difference between instant film cameras and digital instant print cameras.
Instant film vs digital instant print
Instant film and digital instant print cameras do functionally the same thing. You tap the shutter button, there’s a moment’s internal activity, and then the camera spits out a print of your image. The way they work inside, however, is hugely different.
Instant film cameras, as the name implies, use film. These are the classic Polaroids you’re used to, as well as Fujifilm Instax (more on the various brands below). They’re loaded with packs of instant film exposures, which contain all the chemicals they need to develop a finished image, and are activated at the moment of capture.
Digital instant cameras, however, are more like two things in one – a digital camera combined with an instant printer. They contain normal image sensors you would find in an ordinary digital camera, generally on the smaller side, and at the moment of capture, will send the digital image straight to the printer.
Each has its own advantages. Instant film generally looks better, with more latitude than digital printing using zero-ink paper or 4PASS ink cartridges. It has that lo-fi charm that digital printing can’t quite recreate. However, digital print paper is generally cheaper to buy than instant film, and is also less vulnerable to smudging or water damage.
Instant camera brands
Formerly known as Polaroid Originals after its brand revitalisation by the Impossible Project, Polaroid is now just Polaroid. Its bread and butter is, of course, analogue instant cameras of the kind people have been loving for years.
However, the newer Polaroid cameras have loads of fantastic modern features, such as wireless connectivity and app-based control that allows you to shoot using your smartphone. Its cameras are designed to use the new i-Type film, which comes in colour and monochrome, as well as with different coloured frames. However, they will also work with the older Polaroid 600 film, so you can still use that old pack you found while clearing out the loft.
Polaroid film is one of the largest types of instant film and provides tremendous latitude, as well as that inalienable Polaroid look.
Fujifilm Instax is one of the most popular modern instant film brands. Its cameras are generally small and brightly coloured, with an emphasis on fun. Much of its film can be bought in quirky colours or with pop-deco frames. Instax film is designed to be highly sensitive to light, with an equivalent ISO of 800, so it works even in darker light situations – though Instax cameras pretty much always come with a powerful flash equipped.
There are three types of Instax film: Mini, Square and Wide. Mini prints are about the size of a credit card and are great for knockabout fun, while Square and Wide are both larger, and better if you want to take your instant photography just a little more seriously.
Kodak is the biggest name in digital instant cameras right now, thanks to its experience in instant printers. Its Mini Shot cameras are all in one digital camera and printers, giving you the best of both instant and digital photography. Brightly coloured and immediately distinctive, Kodak’s instant cameras are great for holidays and family fun.
Instant camera accessories
While instant cameras are designed to be fairly self-contained packages, there are a few useful accessories worth considering. If you’re planning to do a lot of instant photography, these accessories are definitely worth a look to potentially make your life easier or open up new possibilities.
You may not have thought about it, but many instant cameras do have a tripod mounts! This means they will work with any standard tripods or heads you already have, and this can combine really well with the self-timer feature. If you’re planning a group shot and want to be in it, setting the camera up on a tripod is a great way to make sure it all goes smoothly.
Also, many newer instant cameras have double exposure modes, and having a tripod opens up loads of interesting possibilities with this feature. It allows you to ensure that the exposures are locked-off and consistently framed, improving the overall effect.
When it comes to keeping your instant camera secure, a good camera strap is a godsend. Some instant cameras come with small wrist straps in the box, but not all do, and besides you might want to upgrade this to a more serious shoulder or neck strap.
This goes double if you’re taking your instant camera travelling – a good strap is a low-cost, low-footprint way to make sure your instant camera is always safe. Both from thieves and from being dropped! There’s no shame in taking precautions – we’re all clumsy from time to time!
Having a dedicated camera bag is the best way to protect your instant camera. Camera bags have padded interiors to protect the gear inside from knocks and bumps, and the dividers can also be customised to mould around your setup.
Whether you choose a shoulder bag, a backpack or anything else is up to you! Many of these types will also have useful extra pockets that make for perfect places to keep your spare film – so you need never run dry!
It sounds basic, but it’s so easy to forget until you run out. Making sure you’re stocked up with whatever type of instant film you use – or paper and ink if you’re using a digital instant print camera – and you’ll always be covered and ready to shoot no matter what unfolds. Picking up specialist film such as monochrome can also help you plan out some fun shoots in advance, and play with creative effects.
Once you’ve got your instant camera, the fun can begin! But it can all be a bit daunting if you’ve not had much experience shooting with instant film. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Don’t try to capture too much. You’re working with a pretty small surface area with an instant photograph, and unlike with digital, there’s no cropping in. Don’t try to capture too many elements in a single photograph – keep it focused on a single subject for best results.
Respect the minimum focus distance. Instant cameras will list the minimum focusing distance of their lens either in the manual or on the lens itself. It’ll probably be between 30 and 60cm. Get too close, and your image will be a blurry mess.
Try to avoid harsh contrast. Many instant cameras, particularly Instax, have a somewhat narrow dynamic range. High-contrast scenes – meaning they have areas of intense brightness and intense darkness – will probably render quite poorly on instant film. A scene that’s lit in a balanced way will probably come out much better. Cloudy days are a boon for instant photographers!
Centre your subjects. When taking photographs on digital or 35mm film cameras, we often don’t want a subject dead centre. Composition techniques like the rule of thirds have us placing the subject of interest in an image away from the centre for a more visually pleasing look. With instant photography, however, you want to keep things simple and central. Remember, you’re working a very small visual area here, and a camera with either a highly simplistic autofocus system, or no autofocus system at all. Many instant cameras, particularly Instax, have a central viewfinder reticule for framing up your main subject – use it!
Watch out for fingers. With instant cameras, it’s very easy to accidentally ruin a shot by placing a finger over the lens, or even over the flash. Check your grip before hitting the shutter button, as there are no do-overs when it comes to instant film.
Remember to try out double exposures. Many modern instant cameras have the double exposure mode, so use it! Sometimes the results will be a bit of a mess, but sometimes you’ll come up with an inspired creation you never could have achieved otherwise. And that’s a big part of the fun when it comes to instant photography.
Get connected. Remember there’s a smartphone app for Polaroid, Instax and Kodak. Use them! They offer loads of exciting up-to-date features, in some cases including the ability to control your camera remotely, as well as saving digital copies of your images.
Embrace imperfection. You’re not going for flawless technical perfection here. Instant photography, by its very nature, is fast and loose. Remember to have fun and enjoy the strange alchemy of shooting instant pictures, and you may surprise yourself with the results!
Instant cameras have a lot of technical terminology, and it can be easy to get confused! Here’s a quick glossary of the key terms you’ll likely encounter when looking for a new instant camera.
A shutter speed setting where the shutter is left open effectively indefinitely, until the user elects to close it again, the camera continually capturing all the while. Used to create long-exposure images such as traffic trails or astro shots, shooting in bulb mode requires care not to completely blow out the image, as well as a secure camera support such as a tripod.
A CR2 battery is a smaller, less common type of battery that is used to power some instant cameras.
Fujifilm Instax mini
The smallest of Fujifilm’s Instax film stocks. Fujifilm Instax mini is quick to develop and simple to use.
The practice of taking an exposure, then moving the camera, and capturing another exposure on the same film negative. Though it has its origins in film, many digital cameras have double-exposure modes, and they are also frequently created in post-processing software.
"Fujifilm Instax Square"
The square format of Fujifilm Instax film cameras. Images shot on Fujifilm Instax Square have more of a classic, Polaroid-esque look.
"Fujifilm Instax WIDE"
The largest Instax film format. Instax WIDE images have dimensions larger even than Polaroid photos.
"Polaroid 600 film"
The older format of Polaroid film, 600 film works with vintage cameras from as far back as the 1980s. It can also be used in newer Polaroid cameras.
After the original Polaroid company announced its liquidation in 2008, a group of Dutch investors met to try and save the ailing format from vanishing into history. The project was named “Impossible” due to the daunting magnitude of the task ahead, however the team kept at it, and met with success. The rebranded “Polaroid Originals” camera was launched in 2017 under the Impossible Project banner, and eventually the company renamed itself to, simply, “Polaroid”. With that, the circle was complete!
"ISO / ASA"
This is a numerical value that denotes the sensitivity of a film stock (or a digital camera sensor). A higher ISO value means that a film is more sensitive to light, which is useful in low-light situations, with the drawback that high-ISO film stocks also have more grain. Fujifilm Instax film typically has a higher ISO (800) than Polaroid film (640).
"Polaroid I-type film"
The new generation of instant film. Unlike older Polaroid film, Polaroid I-type film doesn’t contain a battery, so it only works with the latest Polaroid cameras like the Polaroid OneStep+ and Polaroid Now.
"Polaroid SX-70 film"
This is a type of film that works very specifically with older Polaroid SX-70 and Box Type 1000 cameras. Polaroid SX-70 film can be manipulated more easily post-capture than other types of instant films for surreal, impressionistic results. The makers advise keeping it refrigerated (don’t freeze it), and keeping it shielded from light for at least six minutes while it develops.
Short for zero-ink, Zink this is a type of photo paper designed for instant printing. It’s used in some Kodak instant cameras and instant printers, and is generally used to print images about the size of a credit card.
Q: Are instant cameras worth buying?
Only you can answer that! It really depends on what you want to achieve with your photography. They aren’t going to produce technically perfect images, you are going to get some mis-fires or wasted frames, and they do require ongoing investment to use. However, the ability to instantly have a high-quality physical print of an image in your hand is simply an experience you can’t get anywhere else. Plus, instant film prints have a kitschy je ne sais quoi that can’t be replicated.
But anyway, the key to thinking about instant photography is this – it’s not necessarily better than any other form of photography, and it is indisputably more expensive. However, it is unique.
Q: Do instant cameras need ink?
Instant film cameras do not need ink – everything needed to develop the photo is contained within the negative itself.
Many of Kodak’s digital instant cameras do need ink – when you run out, it’s easy to pick up replacement ink cartridges.
Q: Does instant film expire?
Yes – instant film you buy will have an expiry date listed on the pack. Bear in mind that just because a film has expired, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. Expired film can produce all sorts of fun colour effects and other unanticipated results. If you find a pack of film that has expired, use it rather than throwing it out! Just make your peace with the fact that it may not do what you expect it to.
Q: When were instant cameras invented?
Instant cameras might well be older than you think! The Polaroid company was first founded by Edwin Land in 1937, though they originally made polarised sunglasses. The first actual Polaroid camera didn’t make its appearance until 1948 – the Polaroid Model 95.
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How did we decide?Our in-house photography experts, store staff and partners all work collaboratively to poor over these guides. The cameras and equipment recommended in our guides are based on their personal opinion, empirical experience and of course, feedback from our customers.
We way up price, features, quality and the all-important 'je ne sais quoi' to make sure we recommend products that will delight and inspire.
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About the Author
Jon Stapley is a professional journalist with a wealth of experience on a number of photography titles including Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera World and What Digital Camera. See more of his writing on Jon's author page.