There’s something special about a printed photograph. While digital images are space-saving and editable, for many people they simply don’t match the delight of a high-quality print they can actually hold. No wonder, then, that instant cameras have been making a comeback in recent years.
For a lot of photographers, instant cameras are synonymous with Polaroid, whose iconic cameras were a common sight throughout the 1960s and 70s. Now, however, a selection of other manufacturers have entered the instant camera market, some of them with devices that are surprisingly sophisticated.
Here are 10 of the best instant cameras available at the moment, along with some key information to help you decide which is right for you…
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 might feel like a basic camera (the only setting you can adjust is the brightness) but its simplicity is actually one of its strengths. It’s incredibly intuitive to use, with big buttons and a body that’s comfortable to grip. It even comes with a front-mounted mirror to make selfies simple.
The price point of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 is also very attractive. If you’re looking for a no-frills, user-friendly instant camera, this is a strong contender. Given the big buttons and range of bright colors, it’s likely to be a hit with kids as well.
This stylish, retro, palm-sized camera offers a little more control than the Instax Mini 9. As well as allowing you to turn off the flash, this model gives you some control over exposure, and allows you to switch between six different shooting modes which range from “Landscape” to “Kids”. A small digital display keeps you informed of your current settings.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 NEO CLASSIC also comes with a rechargeable battery, one full charge of which should last through several rolls of film. “Mini” is apt, though. The combination of the compact body and small optical viewfinder can sometimes make it a little fiddly to line up that perfect shot.
The Leica SOFORT represents Leica’s first venture into instant camera territory. For some photographers, the name and the red dot will be enough to make this their first choice, but the SOFORT is also a strong camera on its own merits.
As well as a stylish, compact design that mixes retro and modern, it comes with a decent range of settings. The SOFORT provides two different focal distances, and a range of shooting modes, including macro. It comes with a selfie mirror, a built-in flash, 0.4x optical zoom, and a rechargeable battery. Although it will work just fine with standard Instax mini film, Leica does also sell their own paper, albeit with a slightly higher price point.
The Printomatic from Kodak uses Zero Ink (ZINK) technology, effectively making it a compact printer bundled with a point-and-shoot camera. This means that your prints appear fully-formed after just a minute or two, and you can keep shooting while the camera is printing. No toner top ups are needed, as everything is bundled with the ZINK paper.
The Kodak Printomatic is also extremely versatile. You can store photos on an SD card, and switch between color and black-and-white prints. The small but sturdy prints are waterproof and come with an adhesive backing. They do, however, sometimes suffer from a noticeable color cast and a print quality that leaves a little to be desired.
This device feels decidedly more rugged than some instant cameras, with a rubberized finish and square body that give it a chunky vintage feel. It performs well, with a wide-angle glass lens that allows you to capture sweeping landscapes just as easily as intimate portraits. Lomography proudly notes that the Lomo’instant Automat Glass sports the widest angle lens in any instant camera on the market today.
The Lomo’Instant Automat Glass also comes with some excellent extras. As well as a collapsible and expandable lens, you’ll find a lens cap that doubles as a remote control shutter button. It’s also equipped with a sensitive light meter to allow you to capture great shots whatever the lighting conditions.
It’s hard to get simpler than the Kodak Mini Shot – a sturdy automatic camera with a built-in printer that doesn’t have any bells and whistles, but does produce clean, vibrant prints. There’s a small LCD screen to help you compose your shots, but this camera doesn’t allow you to play with brightness, exposure, or any other manual settings.
There are a few cautions to keep in mind when picking up a Kodak Mini Shot. Make sure to order film in advance of when you need it, as you may not be able to find it in shops. The Mini Shot is also quite a bit bigger than other cameras, so don’t expect something pocket-sized. That said, it’s a lot of fun – even allowing you to edit photos if you connect it via wifi or Bluetooth to the Kodak app.
Outwardly the Polaroid Originals Onestep+ might resemble a classic Polaroid camera, but this model is packed with modern innovations. There’s a USB port for charging, a self-timer, a powerful strobe flash, and Bluetooth connectivity. Connect it to the Polaroid app and you can control the exposure of your images, and activate the camera remotely.
The prints produced are pleasingly warm and rich, and still retain the classic Polaroid feel that should be familiar to anyone who has ever used a vintage Polaroid product. The film is a little more pricey than the competition, but the results are worth it – especially if you choose to experiment with some of Polaroid’s limited-edition films.
The Polaroid Snap Touch represents a more unashamedly modern offering from Polaroid. This sleek little camera is one of few instant print cameras to feature a large touchscreen which you can use to frame your shot before pressing the shutter.
It also comes equipped with a lot of the features you’d expect from a standard digital camera, including zoom, a timer, and the ability to upload images via USB – or to print photos from another device using the camera. As it uses ZINK technology, the prints aren’t always the best quality, but the Polaroid Snap Touch otherwise holds up extremely favorably against other instant cameras.
This instant camera from Fujifilm is notable for allowing you to make some of the largest prints possible with any instant camera available today. The Fujifilm Instax WIDE 300 produces shots that are closer to a regular photo print than a credit card.
Of course, the large print size means that this camera itself is quite bulky. It weighs almost twice as much as most compact instant cameras and requires four AA batteries. The clean black design gives it the look of a standard SLR camera. Although, this instant camera doesn’t offer quite the same level of control. You’re able to adjust the brightness, zoom, and the use of the flash, but not much else.
The Canon Zoemini C, otherwise known as the Canon IVY Cliq in the U.S. is pleasingly small and can fit comfortably into a pocket or the palm of your hand. It relies on ZINK technology, meaning that prints leave the camera fully-formed rather than taking several minutes to develop. The quality holds up well but isn’t as good as some other instant cameras.
This is a camera designed with portability in mind, so additional features are limited. It does, however, come with a selfie mirror and an SD card slot, allowing you to save and share your best pictures digitally as well as in the form of physical prints.
Instant cameras are great fun and produce gorgeous printed objects that digital photos simply can’t beat. For important life events, for gifts, for photobooks and albums, and for anything that you really want to remember, it has to be print.
But you don’t have to shell out for a new camera in order to enjoy the posterity of print. You can keep your existing camera or smartphone, and print out photos as and when you want with Mimeo Photos' free app for macOS. It allows you to easily put together professional-looking photobooks, calendars, cards and more. All without toting around an extra camera, or purchasing expensive film in advance.