Digital instant cameras are the next evolution of traditional instant film cameras, combining the immediate gratification of instant photography with the benefits of digital imaging and an instant printer.
Like the best instant cameras, this new digital breed can give you a print of your photograph mere moments after you've taken them. Some hybrid digital instant cameras models also double as standalone printers – meaning you can select an image that you've taken on your smartphone and beam it across, to quickly print your favorite photos even if you shot them on something else.
Many of these cameras use Zink (zero ink) thermal paper, which is also used by some of the best portable printers, while others use packs of instant film. There are benefits to each; Zink prints are much cheaper, they're often waterproof and smudgeproof, and they come on sticker paper that's ideal for scrapbooking – though the print quality is lower than you'd get from a desktop printer, with flatter colors and occasional banding. Traditional film, meanwhile, produces that authentic Polaroid vibe, but the actual print area is quite small. So, picking the right medium is down to personal preference.
We've put all the top models on the market through their paces, and these are our picks for the best digital instant cameras and hybrids with instant printers…
instax Mini LiPlay
Canon Ivy Cliq+ / Zoemini S
Kodak Smile Classic
Canon Ivy Cliq / Zoemini C
Hybrid digital instant cameras + printers
Fujifilm instax Mini LiPlay
The smallest ever instant camera is also a portable instax printer
Type: Digital instant camera + instant printer | Sensor size: 4.9MP | Film type: instax Mini | Image size: 1.8 x 2.4 inches | Lens: 28mm f/2 | Minimum shooting distance: 10cm | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: LCD screen
The Fujifilm instax Mini LiPlay is our pick of the litter for one reason. A hybrid instant camera that also functions as an instant printer, the LiPlay uses real instax Mini film – this obviously gives that unique and intangible retro look that's impossible to recreate in any other medium. And, since you can send images to the LiPlay from your phone, you can print any of your pictures on cool instax film.
It's also perhaps the most "wow"-looking camera here, with gorgeous design (especially in the black with rose gold trim), in a beautifully compact design that measures just 82.5 x 122.9 x 36.7mm and weighs 255g. The 4.9MP sensor is the smallest here, but it's more than enough to take attractive prints on the 1.8 x 2.8-inch film. There's enough built-in memory to store 45 images, but the camera supports microSD cards to give you as much room as you require, so you can take a bunch of shots and pick the ones you actually want to print.
The LiPlay has a couple of unique party tricks, too, the first being remote shooting, the second being the ability to record a sound clip that can be shared with your image by printing a QR code on the photograph – this can then be scanned and played back, so you can share a voice message, a snippet from a song or another aural trigger for the visual memory you've shared.
The only real downside is the smartphone app comes at an additional and unwelcome cost – which certainly stings, given the price of the LiPlay, especially since it's quite cumbersome and limited, and doesn't enable you to edit the photos you want to print.
Kodak Smile Classic
Kodak's Polaroid-style camera boasts the biggest and best Zink prints
Type: Digital instant camera + instant printer | Sensor size: 16MP | Film type: Kodak Zink | Image size: 3.5 x 4.25 inches | Lens: 27mm f/2.2 | Minimum shooting distance: Not stated | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical viewfinder
If you're happy capturing and printing on Zink paper, as opposed to real film, the Kodak Smile Classic offers both the best print quality of any Zink-based instant printer we've used, as well as full-size prints. Typical Zink prints are 2 x 3 inches, but the Smile Classic produces more substantial 3.5 x 4.25-inch pictures, which more closely resemble traditional photographic prints.
The superior quality is especially notable in images with a lot of tonality, which is an area that Zink printers – particularly the smaller ones – can struggle with. So if you're looking for an instant printer using Zink paper, this is the best one on our list. For photographs taken on the Smile Classic itself, this is no doubt aided by the larger image sensor in this camera, listed by Kodak as 16MP – though this is likely to be an interpolated figure (as with the standard Kodak Smile, below), with the actual sensor likely to be 8MP.
This is by far the digital instant camera that most closely resembles an analog instant camera, with a design reminiscent of the Polaroid OneStep that features a pop-up optical viewfinder. However, that throwback authenticity means that the camera has no LCD screen. That means you can't check the images you've taken, and every snap you take is immediately printed – arguably removing the usefulness of having a digital, rather than analog camera (though it does enable you to save to microSD).
Still, the pleasing design and pure point-and-click simplicity makes this an appealing camera to hold and use – especially for kids. Likewise, the app is friendly and fun to use, and enables you to add augmented reality features such as video. If you want an authentic retro instant camera experience, this is hard to beat.
Classic Polaroid-sized prints, 1080p video and a touchscreen
Type: Digital instant camera + instant printer | Sensor size: 20MP | Film type: Polaroid Zink | Image size: 3.5 x 4.25 inches | Lens: 32mm f/2.8 | Minimum shooting distance: Not given | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: LCD screen
The Polaroid Pop is the instant camera and printer hybrid with the best set of features, but it's also the one with the biggest price tag – and the biggest body! A real tank of a camera, the Pop is pleasingly designed but is definitely not pocket-sized, being about as chunky as an ordinary analog instant camera.
Still, a lot more features are packed into that extra real estate. The big one here is the fact that the Polaroid Pop can shoot 1080p video as well as 15-second GIFs, so if you want the option to shoot some footage (or turn your friends into memes) then this is the one for you. It supports up to 128GB microSD/SDHC/SDXC cards to store plenty of movies.
The large 3.97-inch screen doesn't just function as your viewfinder; it's also a touchscreen, which means it's also an input device for the camera's built-in Live Edit mode that enables you to edit, rotate, crop and even draw on your images before printing them out.
Like the Kodak Smile Classic, the Polaroid Pop prints larger 3.5 x 4.25-inch photographs in the classic Polaroid format (with border). The print quality isn't as good as the Classic, however. And even though Polaroid claims a 20MP sensor (which is likely interpolated, and is likely 10MP), the image quality isn't notably improved.
As pricey as this is, it's entirely down to whether you want an instant camera / printer that also shoots video and has a touchscreen. It's also worth noting that the glossy piano-black finish is an absolute fingerprint magnet!
Canon Ivy Cliq+ / Canon Zoemini S
Canon's hybrid digital instant camera is a selfie machine
Type: Digital instant camera + instant printer | Sensor size: 8MP | Film type: Canon Zink | Image size: 2 x 3 inches | Lens: 25.4mm f/2.2 | Minimum shooting distance: 30cm | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical viewfinder
Amazingly, despite its long history and diverse product range, Canon has never released an instant camera before. Thankfully, its instant camera / instant printer hybrid gets a lot of things right. Called the Canon Ivy Cliq+ in North America and Canon Zoemini S in Europe, it is clearly geared towards the selfie generation with its giant mirror with frame markings (which takes up a quarter of the camera's front), along with an 8-LED ring light for flattering self-portraits.
It's quite analog in operation, with no rear LCD screen meaning that every shot you take is immediately printed. Strangely, then, there's no counter to indicate the number of shots remaining, though with microSD card support you know that all your images can be stored safely. The free app is both easy and fun to use, and makes transferring and printing images from your phone an enjoyable and kid-friendly process.
The resolution is slightly higher than the junior Canon Ivy Cliq / Canon Zoemini C, at 314 x 600dpi, so the prints on this model are ever so slightly better. However, while the Cliq+ / Zoemini S comes in slightly more serious colors, it features the same plasticky build quality.
Digital instant cameras
The best-designed digital instant camera produces some of the best prints
Type: Digital instant camera | Sensor size: 5MP | Film type: Kodak Zink | Image size: 2 x 3 inches | Lens: 32mm f/2.8 | Minimum shooting distance: Not given | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: LCD screen
The Kodak Smile is a slim-as-a-smartphone instant camera that sports a sleek design, and uses Kodak's smaller 2 x 3-inch sticky-backed Zink paper. Like its bigger brother, the Kodak Smile Classic, the printing here is a cut above, as Kodak's apparently superior printing process combined with the smaller resolution produces the most pleasing results for these credit card-sized prints.
With an LCD screen, you can check your image after every shot and decide whether or not it's worth printing – and the microSD card slot means that you can save all your photos, and only print out the best or the ones you want to share (there's internal storage for three shots, if you're in a jam). Though obviously, with the camera's 5MP sensor (software-interpolated up to 10MP), the images are intended for the 2 x 3 format and not for blowing up on your computer.
The design is a genuine highlight here, as the Kodak Smile is the only camera with a sliding mechanism that keeps the lens protected. It also protects a pleasing button interface on the rear of the camera, so you don't have to worry about scratching the lens or accidentally taking pictures when you slip this in your pocket. The downside with the Smile is its battery life, as you only get around 40 prints per charge – a far cry from the 120-160 shots you get from film-based Polaroid cameras. And of course, unlike the Smile Classic, you can't print pictures from your phone.
Canon Ivy Cliq / Canon Zoemini C
This new hybrid instant/digital camera saves the pictures it prints
Type: Digital instant camera + instant printer | Sensor size: 5MP | Film type: Canon Zink | Image size: 2 x 3 inches | Lens: 25.4mm f/2.2 | Minimum shooting distance: 30cm | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical viewfinder
The little brother of the Cliq+ / Zoemini S, there are a few key differences here on the Canon Ivy Cliq (in North American) / Canon Zoemini C (in Europe). Firstly, if beauty is only skin deep, this model comes in a more fun and expressive series of colors – Bumble Bee Yellow, Mint Green, Seaside Blue and Bubble Gum Pink, to be precise. These capture the fun, summer-loving spirit of the camera, and make them both kid-friendly and fashionably Instagrammable.
More fundamentally, though, this model comes with a smaller 5MP sensor, slightly reduced 314 x 500dpi print resolution, a single flash light and a much smaller selfie mirror – and, of course, it isn't an instant printer, so you can't use it to print photos from your phone.
Still, it otherwise handles and offers the same functionality as its big bro, with fire-and-forget simplicity that foregoes things like exposure so that you spend more time snapping and less time faffing. Again, it prints every time you press the shutter so it behaves a lot like a traditional instant camera. Kids seem to especially love playing with the Cliq / Zoemini C, thanks to its candy colored body and sticker photo prints, so this could be a hit with the little ones if you want to get them into photography.