Old's cool, new school – that's why the best instant cameras are still relevant, even in today's digital age of millions of megapixels and artificially intelligent autofocus.
The technology at the heart of the best instant cameras has been around since the 1940s and, since you have to buy packs of film, you spend money every single time you press the shutter button. So why are the likes of Instax and Polaroid cameras still so popular today (to the point that Instax is largely responsible for Fujifilm staying in the black)?
It's this very simplicity, though, that makes this kind of photography so appealing. After all, they're so straightforward that they make some of the best cameras for kids (opens in new tab) and best cameras for beginners (opens in new tab).
And the results are utterly unique; the best instant cameras produce a unique kind of photograph that people spend ages trying to recreate using Instagram filters and Lightroom presets (opens in new tab). Yet there's nothing that matches the real deal!
Cameras from Polaroid, Instax and Lomography use a traditional photochemical exposure process that creates striking lo-fi shots with crushed contrast, saturated colors and ethereal exposures that are unique to instant film.
The other great thing about the best instant cameras is their ease of use; there are no settings to adjust, no focus points to fiddle with – you simply point the camera at your subject(s), frame your shot and press the shutter button! For this reason, instant cameras are ideal for families, parties, weddings, and even enabling kids to get creative.
There is also a new breed of digital instant film cameras, that combine the thrill of instant photography with the convenience of modern-day technology. Canon, Fujifilm and Kodak have all ventured into the world of digital instant cameras (opens in new tab) – and the result is a much smaller, digital camera with an image sensor that captured every sensor and a built-in digital printer.
We've divided our guide to the best instant cameras up into sections for film and digital. If you pick the former, don’t forget to pick up the right kind of instant film (opens in new tab) to have plenty of ammunition for your shooting!
The best instant cameras in 2022
Instant film cameras
If you're after full-size instant photos that are great quality and possess that elusive 'vintage look', the Polaroid Now+ (opens in new tab) is without the best instant film camera available. It combines the same image quality and base shooting of the Polaroid Now (opens in new tab) and the modern-day features of the OneStep+ so that the user can have the best of both worlds. It has several creative modes you can use such as light painting, aperture priority, double exposure, portrait mode and many more which are available by the app. There are also several physical lens filters that create a starburst effect, a red vignette and blue, yellow and orange colors for in-camera effects. The biggest downside to instant photography is how expensive the film is but we can promise you, you'll have more fun using this than any other kind of film camera. You might end up spending a fair amount on film, but the memories you capture with it will be priceless.
The Polaroid Now is a welcome arrival to the Polaroid product line, and a worthy addition to the increasingly crowded instant camera world. It boasts superior image quality to the OneStep2, thanks to its dual-lens autofocus system and improved flash, though it lacks the additional features (such as Bluetooth connectivity and remote trigger) found in the slightly pricier OneStep+. For pure point-and-shoot simplicity, though, the Polaroid Now is hard to beat – and while the Instax Mini 11 (opens in new tab) does have it beaten on price, we definitely prefer the full-size square prints that Polaroid delivers. And much as we love the Instax line, when you're shooting old school instant film there's nothing quite like the tactility of holding a big, boxy Polaroid. If you don't need the extra bells and whistles of the OneStep+, the Polaroid Now is sure to wow.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 (opens in new tab) is a chunky, plastic camera that comes in a variety of refreshing pastel colors. It may not hot have the same vintage feel as the Polaroids but it does have its own charm. Whether you're going on holiday, attending a wedding or escaping to the countryside for the weekend, the Instax Mini 11 is small enough to keep in your bag at all times. You can also buy rather trendy, cross-body cases to keep them in so it's even more accessible. It's powered by two AA batteries that need to be replaced fairly frequently. If the camera ever appears to not be working, chances are the batteries just need to be replaced - do not fear. Fujifilm has done away with the exposure control dial and instead opted for automatic exposure so you have one less thing to worry about and are less likely to waste shots. Film works out at roughly $1.30/£1 per image though you can often save a little bit by bulk buying in packs of five. They make great gifts for adults or kids you want an easy-to-use instant film camera.
Instax cameras are knockabout fun with a side of lo-fi cool, and none exemplify this more than the beautiful Instax Mini 40. With its stylish black-and-silver trim, the Mini 40 looks the part, and it's incredibly simple to operate. There are no exposure controls, or really controls of any kind; you just point, and shoot. This might be a bit too simple for some users, but if you're the kind of person who just wants to produce instant images without having to worry about it, this is a fantastic buy. The simplicity also makes it a good option for kids, who will be able to easily get the hang of operating it.
Instax prints are smaller than Polaroids, but still look pretty great, and will develop with unbelievable speed. Plus, let's not forget, the film is cheaper to buy, and these costs will add up over time if you're a frequent shooter. The Instax Mini 40 is an excellent instant camera for families and parties alike.
Note: The Instax Mini 11 (opens in new tab) is pretty much the exact same camera as this, albeit without the textured finish. It's probably available for a cheaper price if you're looking to save some cash.
• Cheap Instax film deals
The Polaroid Go is a palm-sized camera that everyone will fall in love with faster than it takes a photo to develop. Bigger instant cameras balance exposures better, and rival Instax Mini cameras deliver slightly better image quality indoors – but neither are as fun to use, or will make you as many friends, as the Go… which still produces pleasing pics. A consideration is that Instax Mini film works out cheaper than Polaroid Go film, but then you'll also need to replace those AA batteries on the Mini whereas the Go just needs USB to top up the power. And the Go boasts double exposures, which you won't get unless you opt for pricier options like the Instax Mini 90. A fun and funky little camera, the Polaroid Go will be the star of your next party and will deposit an endless amount of memories in your pocket or wallet. And if you've got kids, this could be the ideal camera for little hands to get started with. Don't forget to pick up a pack of the new Polaroid Go instant film.
If it wasn't for The Impossible Project stepping in to keep Polaroid going, we would never have had the Polaroid OneStep+ - a modern, retro-look camera nodding towards the golden era of instant film photography. The OneStep+ is the second camera to be released under the new name Polaroid Originals and follows on from the OneStep 2 (opens in new tab) (confusing, we know). While the camera isn't massively different, it benefits from the addition of an 89mm portraits lens and the integration of Bluetooth connectivity which allows the user to operate it using a remote shutter on your smartphone. It also features several creative shooting modes such as double exposure and light painting and has a noise-sensitive trigger that will fire if you clap. This is definitely one of the most exciting and best instant cameras around. It looks great, is fun to use and is a no-brainer for any instant-photography fanatic.
Available in brown or black, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic is Fujifilm’s only instant camera to handily come with a rechargeable battery, which the company claims will last as long as 10 (credit card-sized) film packs. With retro styling, it feels like it's pitched at the photo enthusiast, with some manual control over exposure and even the option to disable the built-in flash if you feel pictures are too bright. A double exposure mode extends creativity options for the curious (although results can be a bit hit and miss here) as does a shutter-release button above its lens, which doubles up as a selfie mirror (another shutter-release button is in the usual top-plate location). The advantage here over a cheaper instant-print camera is an LCD display strip at the back revealing your chosen settings. As usual, the viewfinder is tiny but adequate for purpose, while the faux leather finish to the bodywork adds a splash of style. Read our full Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic review (opens in new tab).
• The best Instax photo albums (opens in new tab)
The Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 is the big daddy of the Instax family. It's powered by four AA batteries rather than the usual two but this chunky camera isn't far off the size of a medium format system. It's able to deliver much larger prints using the Instax Wide film packs which makes it much better for group shots. However, if you're looking for a camera to take selfies with, the chunky design of the Instax Wide 300 makes it really hard so one of the smaller cameras on this list might be better. Despite its size, it is still relatively lightweight thanks to its plastic build and it benefits from a lens that can extend up to 95mm. The built-in flash is much more powerful than on other Instax cameras and is great for using as a fill although the viewfinder is still really small. It doesn't have any creative modes and can't be used with an app but if you just want larger prints, then this is the best option for you. Read our full Instax Wide 300 review.
The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 is powered by two small CR2 lithium batteries (included) that the makers claim will last a whopping 30 film packs, of 10 shots each. Looking to tempt Instagrammers away from their smartphones, this camera apes the style of the 'gram logo and offers 1:1 square-format imagery, while retaining its analogue workings. Again, we get a selection of body colors and a selfie mode, plus three color filters that attach to the flash, along with double exposure, macro and landscape modes. Unsurprisingly, the camera uses special Fujifilm Square film, which provides a central image size of 6.2x6.2cm. As with most film-based instant cameras, results appear a little bleached compared with a digital shot, but if you’re trying to tear your teenager away from their phone to engage with the real world, you could do worse than offer up the SQ6. A newer Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 has recently been launched - but the older SQ6 is better value, and has more features - so this is the one you should go for.
Digital instant cameras
Not only can you take photos using the Instax Hybrid Mini LiPlay but it can also print photos from your phone. It's small enough to fit in your pocket which makes it perfect for having on you at all times and there is space for a Micro SD card so can images can be stored as well as printed. Its gorgeous design makes it stand out from the other digital instant film cameras and it comes in a range of colors including Blush Gold (our favorite), Stone White and Elegant Black.
The camera itself features an LCD screen, a selfie mirror, a 4.9MP sensor (which although small is plenty big enough for 1.8 x 2.8 - inch Instax Mini prints) and built-in memory to store 45 images. In terms of size, it measures just 82.5 x 122.9 x 36.7mm and weighs 255g. Photos can also be edited in the LiPlay app where you can add filters, borders and other effects before printing and the internal memory means you can take multiple photos before deciding which is the best one to print.
The Kodak Smile Instant Print is one of the best digital instant cameras (opens in new tab) – a modern update of instant photography that combines the best of analog with the beauty of digital. This slim-as-a-smartphone camera that sports a sleek design and uses Zink (zero ink) technology – it's essentially a miniature printer with a lens, producing 2x3-inch sticky-backed prints. Inside the camera is a relatively humble 5MP sensor (up to 10MP through interpolation), though for images this size you don't need all the resolution in the world. Ultimately the pictures it produces look more like printer images than they do instant photographs – not necessarily a bad thing, but they don't possess quite the same magic as instant film. The ability to add up to 256GB of microSD memory means that you can snap to your heart's content, then cherry pick the images that you want to print. The integrated battery keeps the camera nice and svelte, though you only get around 40 prints per charge – a far cry from the 120-160 shots you get from Polaroids. The LCD screen is definitely on the basic side, too, so don't go expecting the same kind of fidelity as in your traditional DSLR or mirrorless screen.
Kodak's Mini Shot 3 is a tidy little instant print camera that's great for anyone who doesn't want anything too complicate. It doesn't use Zink like the Kodak Smile above, but houses a proper little printer that uses Kodak's 4PASS all-in-one cartridges to spit out little square prints, 3 inches by 3 inches. The colors pop a good deal better than Zink, and they are also rated to be longer lasting. The camera overall is pretty cheap, and running it isn't too expensive either, making it a good option if you want to shoot instant on a budget. It also produces 10MP digital photos that you can save via Bluetooth on the app (and you do have to do it this way; there's no internal storage). A cheap option that's good fun for anyone, especially those who aren't too confident with using a camera.
How we test cameras
We test cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and, for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We only use real-world testing for our guides to instant and compact cameras - comparing results against similar models that we have tested.
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