The best instant cameras are some of the most fun you can have taking pictures. The pursuit of technical perfection takes a backseat in favour of retro kitsch and instant magic. Have you ever found a box of old Polaroids and spent a warm few minutes bathed in lo-fi nostalgia? That's the charm of instant film in a nutshell, and there's no reason it needs to be confined to the past. You can buy a great instant film camera today!
Okay, even the best instant cameras are not going to match up to the best DSLRs or the best mirrorless cameras. However that is part of what gives them their charm. Embracing the imperfections of the image can lead to some unforgettable moments, and this is what makes instant photography so special and unique.
An instant physical print is more immediate and memorable than a digital file, as well as longer lasting. Rather than being lost in your phone's Gallery, only to be deleted on your clearout in a few months' time, an instant print can take pride of place in a frame, on a wall or on the fridge and last for money years.
In this guide, we've tried out all of the best instant cameras and have broken down the pros and cons of each model to help you decide. Different brands have different advantages; for the ultimate nostalgic experience, it's best to invest in a Polaroid. This revival of the classic brand is now a range of three cameras, all of which produce traditional square shots that immediately give you that sense of retro cool.
However, there are other great options. Fujifilm’s hugely popular instax range gives you the choice of extra-wide or credit card-sized prints – plus these cameras come in a wide range of frankly adorable colours. They also tend to be more affordable to buy than Polaroid models, as well as more affordable to run. Remember, you're going to have to factor in ongoing film costs!
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. Most will give you the ability to choose which snap you want to print (so you don’t waste any prints!), as well as saving digital copies of your images for instant sharing or cloud backup. We've included a couple of these in our list here as well.
If instant photography interests you, then you might want to use one of the best portable printers to pair with your smartphone for the ultimate marriage of vintage processes with modern-day technology.
No matter what kind of instant camera sounds good to you, check out our picks for the best instant cameras below – and 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.
The Fujifilm instax mini 11 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 30cm away from the subject are also possible. Simplicity is the watchword here, with simple point and shoot operation.
Note: There is an older instax mini 9 version of this camera that you can still find on sale in many places. The models are very similar, although the newer mini 11 does have a more sophisticated flash exposure system.
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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!
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.
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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 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 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 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.
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.
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 colours 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.
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.