We’re used to instant gratification in the digital world, so perhaps the rise in popularity of instant print cameras – despite first gaining mass appeal in the pre-digital 1970s and 1980s – isn’t as crazy as it may first appear. Choosing the right Polaroid or instax camera, however, can be tricky, given the amount of choice available.
That's where we come in. We’ve tested a lot of different models and we think that the best instant camera right now is the Fujifilm instax mini 9. It’s cheap, cheerful and great for families, and fun for special occasions (like weddings) where you want to produce some keepsakes. That said, if this instax mini camera isn't to your taste, you'll find more brilliant alternatives in the list below. (And happily, with lots of cheap camera deals, prices are the best they'll be all year right now.)
Read more: The best cameras for kids
The chief appeal of instant cameras is the theatre of seeing an image materialise from nothing in front of our eyes, a piece of magic that never fails to thrill us, whether we’re aged nine or 90. The anticipation is part of the fun; we’re pointing and shooting without the safety net of an LCD to make sure our image is 100% perfect before we squeeze the shutter-release button.
In short, instant cameras are a return to simpler times and simpler pleasures – and in this high-pressure world we all need a bit of that. Plus, instant cameras are cheap, which makes them ideal for gifting.
So, with the above in mind, what does 2018 have to offer us in terms of the best instant cameras available? Here’s our pick of the best Polaroid cameras and best instax cameras out there.
The best instant cameras in 2018
1. Fujifilm instax mini 9
A fantastic entry-level instant camera that's great fun for families and at events
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 an 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 colours 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 operation being point and shoot.
2. Fujifilm instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC
The best instant camera for traditionalists who want to hide the fact they’re using an instant camera
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 version we had to review), the Fujifilm instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC is notable for being 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.
3. Fujifilm instax WIDE 300
This is a chunky beast of an instant camera, enabling it to deliver larger-than-average 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. Though control is limited to adjusting brightness and flash, if you want instant prints closer to the dimensions of ‘proper’ photographs, this is the best option for you.
4. Fujifilm instax SQUARE SQ6
This newest instant-print camera targets Instagram fans
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 to seduce hitherto smartphone-snapping fans of photo-led app Instagram, this camera apes the style of the latter’s 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.
5. Kodak Printomatic
The iconic George Eastman brand jumps on the instant-print bandwagon
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Zero Ink (ZINK) | Image size: 2x3in | Lens: 8mm f/2 | Minimum shooting distance: Not given | Shooting modes: Colour, B&W | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: No | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
The Kodak Printomatic is a flat-fronted instant camera that sports a very cute Kodak yellow-orange/white design, and utilises zero ink – or ‘ZINK’ – technology. It's essentially a miniature printer plus lens: turn the 10MP camera on, press the shutter-release button and its first action is to emit a test sheet before an actual print emerges, at dimensions a tad smaller than a standard credit card. Feeling more solid and better built than rivals at the size of a pocket notebook, the instant camera comes with a USB cable, enabling its internal battery to be recharged the same way you’d charge your mobile phone. Interestingly, there’s also a slot for a microSD card and the ability to flick between capturing in colour and black and white, via a simple slider on the top plate. Water-resistant prints resembling colour photocopies emerge after a lot of mechanical buzzing and whirring, but it’s not quite the same as seeing a film image magically developing before your eyes, as with more conventional instant cameras. This instant print camera looks great and it's reasonably priced, but crude-looking prints ultimately mean it loses a few points.
6. Leica Sofort
Leica’s only instant camera is a more affordable way to own the prestigious red dot
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.
7. Lomo'Instant Wide
A more obviously retro-styled competitor to Fujifilm's own 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
The Lomo'Instant Wide is the closest competitor to the Fujifilm's instax WIDE 300. Thanks to the wider format prints it emits 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. With the bulk obviously dictated by the size of the film it has to hold – helpfully 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 that cleverly enables the lens cap to double up as a remote control.
8. Lomo'instant Automat
One of the more advanced instant cameras on launch
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Fujifilm instax mini | Image size: 6.2x4.6cm | Lens: 60mm f/8 | Minimum shooting distance: 35cm | Exposure modes: Auto, Bulb | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: No | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
Lomography’s Lomo’instant Automat is the closest instant camera to the Leica Sofort in terms of size, styling and placement of key features such as the viewfinder and flash. Like Fujifilm’s SQUARE SQ6, however, it’s powered by two CR2 batteries rather than standard AAs, and is activated by twisting the lens barrel. The burgundy red and cream of our ‘South Beach Edition’ sample also oozes the class normally associated with that more expensive brand. On this point-and-shoot Lomo, we again get a 60mm lens, here boasting an aperture of f/8, providing the equivalent of 35mm in 35mm terms, and with a lens ring that lets you dial in the focus distance between 60cm and infinity. The shutter-release button is placed at the front alongside the lens, its shiny surface doubling as a mirror for selfies. We found the viewfinder tiny and particularly hard to get a clear image through, however. As well as sharing some features and drawbacks with its Fujifilm cousins, it also uses the same instax mini film. Whether you opt for a Lomo model, a Fujifilm or the Leica Sofort will largely come down to personal taste.
9. Lomo'instant Automat Glass (Magellan Edition)
The Lomo’instant Automat gets a cyber-punk makeover and a ‘Glass’ suffix
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
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.
10. Polaroid Originals OneStep 2
A great instant camera for kids big and small, with plenty of retro charm
Type: Instant camera | Film type: Polaroid Originals for i-Type cameras | Image size: 108x88mm | Lens: 106mm | Minimum shooting distance: 60cm | Focus modes: Macro, Normal and Landscape | Flash: Built-in | Self-timer: Yes | Viewfinder: Optical | User level: Beginner
Most adults recall the once ubiquitous Polaroid brand. With the name now under the ownership of the group of instant film enthusiasts that stepped in to continue producing Polaroid film after the original brand collapsed, the Polaroid OneStep 2 should be a relatively easy sell to nostalgia buffs. Embracing a retro design inspired by the original OneStep from 1977, the new camera embraces the modern era in being charged via a USB port. Producing large, square-format instant prints – it uses Polaroid I-Type and 600 category film) – does mean you’ll be paying quite a bit more per print compared to its instax rivals, but if you’re happy to do that and keep more trigger-happy children under control and supervision, then the possibility for fun with the OneStep 2 remains. Like others here, we get a lighten/darken switch and a self-timer button, but this is pretty much frill-free operation. We’d have liked the opportunity to use AAs alongside recharging the internal battery if power runs dry, and a numeric indicator counting down shots taken or remaining too.