The best instant cameras aren't just affordable fun – they really do bring out the purity of photography. Divested of all the chatter about megapixels and burst modes dynamic range, they enable you to get down to the simple and all-important matter of taking a picture. However, these ain't your daddy's instant cameras – modern models come with many of the latest features such as WiFi connectivity!
The idea of a Polaroid camera that can connect to your smartphone may seem absolutely wild, like WiFi in a penny farthing. But really, it makes sense, as this gives you the best of both worlds: a physical print to hold, and a digital copy to save. Perfect! So while instant cameras aren't going to measure up to the best DSLRs or the best mirrorless cameras quality-wise, they do provide some of the same functionality.
And let's not forget what makes instant photography so special and unique. The white-bordered Polaroid photo is an iconic image that's immediately recognisable to pretty much everyone, and there's so much you can do with it. Frame it, mount it to a wall, pin it to the fridge – admit it, all of these options feel a bit more special than leaving a photo to be forgotten in a sub-folder of a folder on a hard drive.
We've tried out a huge range of instant cameras for this guide. We've picked models available for different prices, and broken down their pros and cons to help you suss out which one is right for you.
The classic nostalgic hit comes with a Polaroid. The traditional square shots exude that feeling of lo-fi retro cool that instant shooters have come to love. But don't sleep on the Fujifilm Instax range of cameras, which produce smaller prints and are cheaper to run as a result. Remember that ongoing costs are very much a thing with instant photography – film ain't free!
Then again, film isn't your only option. There are also the best digital instant cameras, which are kind of hybrids between the worlds of analogue and digital. They don't use film, but are basically small digital cameras with printers attached. They'll spit out an instant print while also saving digital copies of your images for instant sharing or cloud backup. And since many use ZINK (zero-ink) paper, they don't require refilling and can effectively keep shooting and printing indefinitely! Kodak in particular makes some excellent digital instant cameras, and we've included some on the list.
So, whichever kind of instant camera sounds good to you, be sure check out our picks for the best instant cameras below. Plus, don’t forget to pick up the right kind of instant film as well!
The best instant cameras in 2021
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.
Instax cameras are knockabout fun with a side of lo-fi cool, and none exemplify this more than the beautiful Instax Mini 40. With its stylish black-and-silver trim, the Mini 40 looks the part, and it's incredibly simple to operate. There are no exposure controls, or really controls of any kind; you just point, and shoot. This might be a bit too simple for some users, but if you're the kind of person who just wants to produce instant images without having to worry about it, this is a fantastic buy. The simplicity also makes it a good option for kids, who will be able to easily get the hang of operating it.
Instax prints are smaller than Polaroids, but still look pretty great, and will develop with unbelievable speed. Plus, let's not forget, the film is cheaper to buy, and these costs will add up over time if you're a frequent shooter. The Instax Mini 40 is an excellent instant camera for families and parties alike.
Note: The Instax Mini 11 is pretty much the exact same camera as this, albeit without the textured finish. It's probably available for a cheaper price if you're looking to save some cash.
• Cheap Instax film deals
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.
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 film 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
The Polaroid Go is a palm-sized camera that everyone will fall in love with faster than it takes a photo to develop. Bigger instant cameras balance exposures better, and rival Instax Mini cameras deliver slightly better image quality indoors – but neither are as fun to use, or will make you as many friends, as the Go… which still produces pleasing pics. A consideration is that Instax Mini film works out cheaper than Polaroid Go film, but then you'll also need to replace those AA batteries on the Mini whereas the Go just needs USB to top up the power. And the Go boasts double exposures, which you won't get unless you opt for pricier options like the Instax Mini 90. A fun and funky little camera, the Polaroid Go will be the star of your next party and will deposit an endless amount of memories in your pocket or wallet. And if you've got kids, this could be the ideal camera for little hands to get started with. Don't forget to pick up a pack of the new Polaroid Go instant film!
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 tempt Instagrammers 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 colors and a selfie mode, plus three color 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, you could do worse than offer up the SQ6. A newer Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 has recently been launched - but the older SQ6 is better value, and has more features - so this is the one you should go for.
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 dialed 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 meters 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.
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 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.
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.
Kodak's Mini Shot 3 is a tidy little instant print camera that's great for anyone who doesn't want anything too complicate. It doesn't use Zink like the Kodak Smile above, but houses a proper little printer that uses Kodak's 4PASS all-in-one cartridges to spit out little square prints, 3 inches by 3 inches. The colors pop a good deal better than Zink, and they are also rated to be longer lasting. The camera overall is pretty cheap, and running it isn't too expensive either, making it a good option if you want to shoot instant on a budget. It also produces 10MP digital photos that you can save via Bluetooth on the app (and you do have to do it this way; there's no internal storage). A cheap option that's good fun for anyone, especially those who aren't too confident with using a camera.