Old school or old's cool? Either way, the best instant cameras are more than just nostalgic novelties – they're very relevant photographic tools. Obviously they can't best the best DSLRs or best mirrorless cameras for pure image quality, and they aren't as pocket-sized as the best camera phones. However, for weddings, events and social occasions, instant photography is hard to beat – and people love it!
The throwback vibe is unquestionable a big part of it. From the classic chassis of the Polaroid bodies to the lo-fi color and exposure of the prints themselves, the best instant cameras certainly encourage rose-tinted reminiscence. There's no denying, though, that instant prints are uniquely tactile and giftable – and their image characteristics are near-impossible to simulate, even by Photoshop magicians.
There are a mountain of cameras to choose from. Fujifilm's market-leading instax range give you extra-wide or credit card-sized prints, while Polaroids produce traditional square shots. Some even pair with your phone for remote control – and then there are the best digital instant cameras, which offer their own strengths.
We've tried all of them, and we've chosen the cream of the crop across a range of users and budgets. So, here are our picks for the best instant cameras you can buy right now – and don't forget that you'll need to get the right instant film, too!
The best instant cameras in 2020
1. Polaroid Originals OneStep+
The classic Polaroid instant camera design is back and better than ever!
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Polaroid 600 & Polaroid i-Type | Image size: 108x88mm | Lens: 103mm/89mm | Minimum shooting distance: 60cm | Focus modes: Macro, Normal and Landscape | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
Excitement abounded in the instant photography community when The Impossible Project bought the Polaroid name and announced the debut of Polaroid Originals, a new line of instant cameras harking back to that golden era. The OneStep+ is the second release, following the OneStep 2 (yes, we know it’s confusing). It’s pretty much the same deal as the previous camera, with Polaroid Originals making sensible refinements rather than reinventing the wheel – these chiefly being the addition of an 89mm portrait lens for people shots and the integration of Bluetooth connectivity, which not only allows for remote shutter control via a smartphone but also several new shooting modes. These include double exposures, light painting and even noise trigger, which allows you to trigger the shutter with a short, sharp sound such as a hand-clap. This is of the most exciting and best instant cameras around, now improved and made even better, a no-brainer for any instant-photography fanatic who also wants to tap into that retro vibe.
2. Fujifilm instax mini 9
The best instant camera for family fun, and perfect for kids too
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm instax mini | Image size: 6.2x4.6cm | Lens: 60mm f/12.7 | Minimum shooting distance: 35cm | Exposure modes: Sunny, Cloudy, Indoor and Hi-key | Flash: Built-in (cannot be deactivated) | Self-timer: No | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
The Fujifilm instax mini 9 is a really approachable instant-print camera. Powered by two AA batteries, it's at the cheap and cheerful end of instant photography, but its lack of sophistication is hardly a negative – here it just widens its possible audience, and families with kids in particular will find this an ideal fit. Despite the plasticky build, big buttons and bright colors offer both visual appeal and simplicity for the small fingered, with the end reward being credit card-sized prints 54x86mm in size (10 prints in a pack working out at roughly £1/$1.30 each). A built-in flash that fires every time and front mirror aid ‘selfie’ snaps (though this also has a bleaching effect) while powering up comes courtesy of a convenient button by the lens. Shooting modes are selected with a turn of the camera’s lens ring and helpfully are illuminated when in use. Close-ups of 35cm away from the subject are also possible. Simplicity is the watchword here, with simple point and shoot operation.
Note: A newer version of this camera, the instax mini 11, has just been announced, which is very similar but with some interesting new features.
3. Fujifilm instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC
It looks like a proper grown-up camera compared to the instax mini 9
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm instax mini | Image size: 6.2x4.6cm | Lens: 60mm f/12.7 | Minimum shooting distance: 30cm | Shooting modes: Party, Kids, Landscape, Macro, Double Exposure, Bulb | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
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. It's the perfect instant camera if you're embarrassed to be seen holding an instax mini 9!
4. Fujifilm instax WIDE 300
instax prints are tiny, right? Now with this chunky camera's W I D E prints
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm instax WIDE film | Image size: 99x62mm | Lens: 95mm f/14 | Minimum shooting distance: 40cm | Exposure modes: Dark, Normal, Light | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: No | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
Powered by four AA batteries rather than the usual two, the Fujifilm instax WIDE 300 is the big daddy of the instax print camera range. It's practically medium format camera-like heft enables it to deliver larger prints (it uses instax WIDE films packs rather than instax mini) that more closely resemble standard print dimensions. Its chunkiness means it's not really practical for selfies, yet its plastic build is lighter than you’d imagine. A lever that encircles the shutter-release button on its bridge-camera-style handgrip powers this one up and extends its 95mm lens, while the built-in flash is similarly huge (and automatic, save for a fill-in option). With prints emerging from the slit in the camera’s top plate, the only thing small here, oddly, is the left-of-centre viewfinder, which could have been larger. Control is limited to adjusting brightness and flash, but if you want instant prints closer to the dimensions of ‘proper’ photographs, this is the best option for you.
• The best Instax photo albums
5. Leica Sofort
The world's cheapest Leica – FACT – is cool, but pricey
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm instax mini format | Image size: 6.2x4.6cm | Lens: 60mm f/12.7 | Minimum shooting distance: 60cm | Shooting modes: Macro, Bulb, Automatic, Party and people, Sport and Action, Double Exposure, Selfie | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
The chief appeal of this attractive, albeit boxy, Leica Sofort instant camera is that famous red dot logo. It’s twice the price of Fujifilm’s otherwise very, very similar instax mini 90, above, with which it shares a rechargeable battery, and it even uses the exact same film, too, although Leica sells its own branded version at £1 dearer. That said, this is the cheapest Leica you could own. The design is efficient too; the only top-plate button is the shutter-release control, while the on/off button is kept out of the way of accidental activation on the backplate. It’s the top control in a vertically stacked row of five, alongside a tall, narrow LCD displaying operational settings via simplistic icons. A selfie mirror, optical viewfinder and built-in flash all feature, while a 60mm lens with f/12.7 aperture provides a 35mm focal-length equivalent of a 34mm. As with any instant camera, trial and error is required to arrive at pleasing results, as our prints were bit softer than we’re used to seeing in this digital age. And if style is important to you, the Sofort is one of the best pink cameras currently available!
6. Fujifilm instax SQUARE SQ6
Square-eyed Instagramers will love this camera's square prints
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm instax SQUARE film | Image size: 6.2x6.2cm | Lens: 65.75mm f/12.6 | Minimum shooting distance: 30cm | Shooting modes: Automatic, Macro, Normal, Landscape, Double Exposure, Lighten, Darken | Flash: Built-in (with flash suppression mode) | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
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 tempt Instagramers 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 colours and a selfie mode, plus three colour 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, at just a tad over £100/$125 at time of writing, you could do worse than offer up the SQ6.
7. Lomo'Instant Wide
Lomography's retro-styled rival to Fujifilm's instax WIDE 300 model
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm instax WIDE film | Image size: 99x62mm | Lens: 35mm f/8 | Minimum shooting distance: 35cm | Exposure modes: Auto, Bulb, 1/30 fixed shutter speed mode | Flash: Built-in (flash deactivation possible) | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
We can always rely on Lomography to bring a wild, retro twist to a perfectly ordinary product. The Lomo'Instant Wide is the closest competitor to the Fujifilm's instax WIDE 300, and thanks to the wider format prints and the four AA batteries that power it, it has a similar heft and bulk to that camera, although the Lomography version has the viewfinder on the opposite side of the body. This instant-print camera is also heavier in the hand and boxier than its Fujifilm twin. It seems to have been deliberately designed to resemble a device that has been in storage since the 1970s or 1980s, such as a mobile phone the size of a brick. It's big because it has to accommodate Fujifilm's instax WIDE film packs – it’s all a bit Heath Robinson, though there are dedicated buttons for disabling the flash and swapping exposure between +/- 1EV. Images come out best with exposure dialled down and flash disabled. It features a selfie mirror on the front and a large ridged lever for the shutter-release button, with a lens ring that allows you to dial in the focus distance between 0.6 metres and infinity. Interestingly its lens cap multi-tasks: it houses a CR2025E lithium cell so that the lens cap can double up as a remote control.
A new Polaroid camera for a new decade, designed for the now
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Polaroid 600 & Polaroid i-Type | Image size: 108x88mm | Lens: Lens 1: 94.96mm / Lens 2: 102.35 | Minimum shooting distance: 60cm | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
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 similarly new instax Mini 11 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.
9. Kodak Smile Instant Print Camera
This new hybrid instant/digital camera saves the pictures it prints
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Zero Ink (ZINK) | Image size: 2x3in | Lens: 32mm f/2.8 | Minimum shooting distance: Not given | Shooting modes: Colour, B&W | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: LCD screen | User level: Beginner
The Kodak Smile Instant Print is a digital instant camera – 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.
10. Lomo'instant Automat Glass (Magellan Edition)
The Lomo’instant Automat gets a cyber-punk makeover and a glass lens
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm Instax Mini | Lens: 38mm f/4.5 | Minimum shooting distance: 30cm | Exposure modes: Auto, Bulb | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: No | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
Only in the instant camera world would someone make a virtue out of a camera with a glass lens. Outwardly resembling Lomography’s regular Lomo’instant Automat, the Lomo'instant Automat Glass Magellan version has received a rubberised makeover, and this handily provides a surface for fingers and thumbs to get good purchase. We do indeed get different glass here to its lookalike, namely a 38mm lens that provides an ultra-wide-angle 21mm in 35mm-equivalent terms. Lomography claims that this is the first instant camera with a wide-angle glass lens, making it better suited to landscape photography or group portraits, along with a brighter f/4.5 lens. In theory, this also suggests superior image quality to run-of-the-mill instant point-and-shoot cameras, though with prints still credit-card sized, it’s hard to tell.