If you enjoy both the speed of digital and the physicality of film, a digital instant camera may be the perfect thing for you. These devices are a little different to the classic conception of an instant camera – a Polaroid – because when you hit the shutter button they both save the image digitally, and print it out on photo paper.
Lots of digital instant cameras use Zink (zero ink) thermal paper, which tends to be not only cheaper than Polaroid film, but also hardier and more resistant to water and smudges. Zink comes on sticker paper, making it easy to place your photos in scrapbooks or photo albums. It doesn't take a whole lot of moving parts to print a photo on Zink paper, so many digital instant cameras are pleasingly small and light, not to mention inexpensive.
So why doesn't every use Zink instead of Polaroid film? There are some drawbacks – Zink prints do tend to be noticeably lower quality than you'd get from instant film or a larger printer. The colours won't be as vibrant, and it's not uncommon to see banding. They don't have that hard-to-define Polaroid vibe, and the actual print area tends to be pretty small.
It's all about personal preference, and as we've seen, instant printers and hybrid cameras do have a lot going for them. Some hybrid digital instant cameras will also double as standalone printers, allowing you to use Bluetooth or a similar type of connectivity to instantly send over and print a shot you've taken on your smartphone or other device.
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…
Hybrid digital instant cameras + printers
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.
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.
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!
One of the most affordable digital instant cameras out there, the Kodak Printomatic is an extremely basic setup for those who like to keep things simple. It's a no-frills digital instant camera, simultaneously saving 5MP digital photos and printing out 2x3inch prints on Zink paper. So while you get the advantage of a point-and-shoot so straightforward a child could operate it, the quality of the images you get is pretty average. There's also a lack of useful features like a self-timer or an LCD screen.
Still the design of the Printomatic is pretty minimalist and chic – we like it in the slate-grey pictured above, though there are plenty more gaudy options like pink, yellow and luminous green, should you prefer. If you're looking for a serious photographic tool there are better options on this list, but if you just want something cheap and simple that works, the Kodak Printomatic fills out that brief just fine.
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.
Spitting out stylish photos onto Kodak Zink paper, the Mini Shot Combo 2 is a pretty straightforward instant digital camera and printer. While it's not exactly palm-sized, it's slim enough to fit in a jacket pocket or small bag, and the photos it prints come out looking punchy and sharp. The little mirror on the front is a welcome extra that makes it easy to compose selfies and group shots, and having Bluetooth connectivity is also useful for printing directly from a smartphone.
The LCD screen isn't huge or terribly high quality, and it would have been nice to have some kind of low-paper warning for those who aren't as good at remembering how many shots they have left, but for the price, this is a great little camera and printer combo that reliably gets the job done.
Digital instant cameras
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.
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.