Choosing the best instant camera isn’t as easy as you might think. These cameras offer a feeling of nostalgia you won’t find with digital photography, and let you get creative in ways you’ll struggle to match with a smartphone. But there’s more to consider than simply what you can afford. Instant cameras cover the full spectrum, from toy-like point-and-shooters to more advanced cameras with plenty of features and even swappable lenses. Then there are hybrids, which combine analogue with digital for the best of both worlds. You also have to take film into account: some brands like Polaroid deliver dream-like images, while others like Instax are more traditional. Certain film can work out more expensive per shot than others too.With so much choice, it’s no surprise that instant film has undergone a real renaissance in the last few years. Fans of instant photography love having a physical photo in your hand almost as soon as they press the shutter, and the limitations of the format that forces them to get creative with their snaps.So how do you know which is the best instant camera for you? Our current all-round favorite is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11, an inexpensive and simple camera that puts fun ahead of features. But it’s certainly not the right choice for everyone. That’s why our guide is here to help you decide, whether you’re looking for a camera for capturing the moment at parties, or something more capable that can bring out your creative side.Here’s our pick of the best instant cameras you can buy right now, to help you refine your choice down to the right model.
Best instant cameras 2020 at a glance:
Fujifilm Instax Mini 11Fujifilm Instax Mini 70Polaroid OneStep 2Leica SofortCanon Zoemini SFujifilm Instax Wide 300Impossible I-1Fujifilm instax SQUARE SQ6Lomography Lomo’Instant AutomatPolaroid Now
Best instant cameras in 2020:
If you’re looking for an affordable, easy-to-use camera that won’t overwhelm anyone that’s new to instant photography, Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11 is our current favorite.It may lack the more advanced modes and controls that you’ll find on more expensive models, but that’s a big part of its charm. An auto exposure system takes out a lot of the guesswork, meaning you just have to point and shoot to get decent credit card-sized instant prints.A tiny mirror built into the front of the camera and a pop-out lens barrel for close-ups means it’s easy to get an instant selfie, while the affordable packs of Instax Mini film make it a great addition to any party. It’s available in a range of fun colors, so you should be able to find one that suits your style.Another great thing about the Instax Mini 11 is how great it is as a present. Available at a reasonable price, it’d make a lovely gift for a photography fan – especially young ones – who are keen to experiment with the medium. Remember to factor in some extra cash for film, though.
Read our in-depth Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 review
Slightly more advanced than the Instax Mini 9, the Instax Mini 70 comes with five shooting modes (including that all-important selfie mode). Despite having a few more features, it doesn’t cost too much – but again you need to factor in some budget to pay for some Instax Mini Film. In terms of usability, one thing to be careful of with the Instax Mini 70 is obscuring the flash with your finger when you’re taking shots vertically, but you get used to how it works with enough practice. All of the modes are automatic, so everything is taken care of – focusing, exposure and flash are a doddle, but it would be nice if you could control the flash manually (see the more expensive Instax Mini 90 for full control).
Polaroid was the shorthand for instant photography in its heyday. Since closing the factory doors in 2008, its popularity has remained – so much so that a group of enthusiasts were able to step in to recreate the famous Polaroid film and, later cameras. The OneStep 2 was the first Polaroid Originals branded camera. It embraces a retro design from the spec sheet of the original 1970s OneStep, an is set-up to be as easy-to-use as possible. Large square prints are the order of the day thanks to I-Type film, with Polaroid Originals film readily available – but noticeably pricier than its Instax rivals.
If you dream of owning a Leica, then this relatively affordable option (compared to other Leicas) could be a way into notoriously expensive brand. The Leica Sofort is a few years old now, so it’s harder to find than it once might have been, but it’s not impossible. Considering this is Leica’s one and only foray into the Instant camera genre, perhaps they weren’t well received, but we were very pleased with the image quality. It uses Instax Mini film so finding compatible film won’t be a problem – but it is a little on the small side. A number of modes come in useful, such as Macro, Bulb, self-timer, Party & People, Sport & Action, Double Exposure and (of course) selfie modes, while there’s also fully automatic modes for those who just want to point and shoot. Although cheap by Leica standards, the Sofort is much more expensive than the comparable Instax models – so if you can live without the little red dot, head that way for savings.
Canon’s first instant effort is actually more of a hybrid, blending analogue ‘film’ with digital smarts. The Zink (zero ink) paper it uses doesn’t need exposing to light like regular instant film, so the camera can be much smaller. The Ivy Cliq+ / Zoemini S is truly pocket-sized, beating even Fuji’s Instax Mini LiPlay for portability. A built-in LED ring flash helps you take pleasing portraits, the mirrored lens barrel is purpose-built for selfies, and focusing is automatic, making this a great party camera. Still, it can be sluggish to start up and printing a picture takes around 10 seconds – much slower than our current favorite, the Fuji Instax Mini 9. The credit card-sized prints it produces are much more detailed, though, with colors more like a traditional 35mm photo than the dream-like lomographic effects seen with other instant film. Battery life typically stretches to two packs of 10 images, but even with an SD card installed, it won’t take any more pictures once you’re out of film. The 8MP sensor is merely on par with today’s entry-level smartphones, and with no built-in screen, you’ll need a computer to review your digital snaps. It seems a lot simpler than other hybrid cameras, but built-in Bluetooth support lets it perform double duty as a portable printer. Being able to turn your smartphone snaps into physical prints gives it an edge over bulkier instant cameras, and it’s sensibly priced too.
Big hardly covers it. The Instax Wide 300 is the size of an old-fashioned medium-format rangefinder camera, even a small folding field camera. It’s because it uses instax wide film packs rather than the regular instax mini. The Instax 300 wide might look big and clumsy but it’s light, and the generous grip makes it easy to hold and use. You power up with a spring-loaded switch around the shutter release, which extends the 95mm lens. The instax wide format is much larger than a digital sensor, so this equates to a moderate wide-angle lens. For a big camera, though, the Instax Wide 300 has a tiny viewfinder. It takes practice even to get your eye lined up with the eyepiece. Otherwise, it’s simple to use and delivers very good results. Where the regular instax mini format produces small photo ‘tokens’, these are more like proper photographs – we’d love to see Instax producing a printer in this format , as it has done with its Mini and Square formats.
Resembling a cross between a plastic pyramid and a spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Impossible I-1 features lights around the lens to form a ‘ring flash’ for softer portrait lighting, while it even comes with a free I-1 app for your smartphone. Expect to generate some “looks” while tooling around with this, it uses Polaroid Originals i-Type film, which produces “mixed” results at best – but that’s all part of the charm, right?You can use the app as a remote trigger, a noise trigger and a self-timer. The app also allows double exposures, light painting, and aperture and shutter speed adjustment – and it works as a photo scanner too. If you don’t want to bother with all of that, you can also simply point and shoot the camera at its subject. Owing to its unpredictable nature, bulky shape and expensive film use, the I-1 is an excellent tool for experiments in instant photography, but too cumbersome for informal party shots.
Unlike the original instax SQUARE model, namely the analog/digital hybrid SQUARE SQ10, the SQ6 has a different idea in mind. Shaped like the Instagram logo and very much targeted at the kind of younger user who shares their creations on the platform, the camera runs on a pair of CR2 batteries and spits out 6.2×6.2cm prints, with the selfie mirror integrated into the front of the camera allowing for more effortless self captures. Instax square prints feel like more serious photographs, with their larger size giving your subject more room to breathe. Fujifilm throws in orange, purple and green flash filters to allow for an instant injection of colour into images, and as the body is nowhere near as cumbersome as some of the other options here, it ends up being as convenient to carry as it is fun to use.This is another great option for a gift, too.
Read our in-depth Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 review
Arguably one of the more handsome options here, the Automat is one of many recent cameras that initially began life as a Kickstarter campaign.It comes in a particularly broad range of finishes and conveniently captures images on Fujifilm’s widely available instax Mini film, but the thing that sets it apart from its contemporaries is its ability to be used with close-up, wide and fisheye lenses (that can be bought with the camera), in addition to the default optic. Further control includes unlimited multiple exposures and a bulb option, and while it’s a shame it doesn’t have a self timer this is hardly a deal-breaker.What might be more painful to bear is the high price that the Instant Automat commands – it takes out of impulse and fun territory, but if you’re particularly keen on the genre, you might be willing to fork out for it.
The newest model on our list combines retro-analogue charm with modern-day digital credentials. It’s essentially a basic, low-resolution digital camera with a printer inbuilt for making instant snapshots – this gives you the opportunity to properly frame up your subject, and check it’s something you actually want to print, before wasting expensive film (it uses Instax mini). One of the gimmicks of the LiPlay is the function to record a sound along with your image capture and “embed” it on to your print in the shape of a QR code. You can then gift that to a friend and ask them to scan the code to playback the sound – modern digital ways are much easier though so how much you bother with that remains questionable. You might find that purchasing an Instax mini printer is a better option for better quality prints, but the LiPlay is a fun option for kids and parties.
Upgrading a retro camera might seem like a contradiction in terms, but the Polaroid Now takes the Onestep 2, streamlines the shell and adds autofocus abilities to create an even better instant photography tool.Physically, it bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, retaining that iconic – if bulky – throwback form but removing a few buttons, refining the viewfinder and replacing the LED lights with a much clearer digital shot counter.It remains a model designed for quick and easy snaps, and the new autofocus makes that simpler than ever, proving largely consistent in spitting out sharp, distinctive shots. It also eliminates much of the guesswork associated with a fixed-focus system – a welcome development, given the high price of I-Type film.It’s not totally reliable – exposure can be inconsistent, with the automatic flash sometimes firing unnecessarily outdoors, or doing the opposite indoors – but that’s a flaw common to many cameras of its ilk. On the whole, the Polaroid Now feels like a definite step forward, delivering big instant prints with a unique lo-fi look – and a foolproof shooting experience.
Six films to choose from:
1. Instax MiniThe most common instant film format, producing pictures measuring just 62 x 46mm.2. Instax SquareFuji’s take on the square format film popularized by Polaroid. Camera support for these 62x62mm photos is more limited.3. Instax WideTwice the size of instax mini and twice the price, but photos measure a meatier 99 x 62mm. 4. Polaroid I-TypeDesigned for use in the Impossible I-1and OneStep 2, I-Type film packs don’t have batteries built in, so can’t be used with vintage Polaroids.5. Polaroid 600Film designed for vintage Polaroid 600-type cameras. It can also be used in the Impossible I-1 and OneStep 2.6. Polaroid Zink 2x3Credit-card sized instant film that uses heat-sensitive ink to produce images. Colors are more traditional than Instax. Compatible with many Zink-based cameras and printers.
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