Instant cameras are going through a real revival right now. While they used to be the most niche type of cameras - reserved for overly-pretentious hipsters or old photographers stuck too much in the past - they have gained new popularity by embracing new technology. Married with the unique style of the instant prints, they make for a really fun camera to play with! Here are some of the best instant cameras we’ve found recently!
Let’s start with one of the cameras that helped push the revival of instant photography. The Polaroid Snap Touch isn’t a true instant camera, in that the image isn’t transferred directly onto the film from the light from the lens. Instead it’s a digital camera with a small printer built into it. So rather using proper instant camera film, the camera takes the photo and prints it onto special thermal paper, using a technology called Zero Ink Printing, or ZINK.
There are a couple of problems with this - mostly that the printing process is slow, and the end results aren’t actually particularly good quality - the visual quality is lower than we’d hope. Instant photos also have a very recognisable colour palette, and they embrace the mistakes, blurs and accidental overexposures of a sudden impromptu photoshoot. Both of these are lessened by the Snap Touch - at the risk of sounding too pretentious, it just lacks the ‘romance’ of the instant camera.
So why is it on this list of good instant cameras? Because it’s an excellent starting point, and great for kids to mess about with. The lack of actual film means you can choose what photos to print - so as not to waste film needlessly - and the photos can be edited and tweaked before printing. As a fun bonus, the photos are actually printed as stickers - the back peels off and you can stick the prints anywhere. Perfect for embarrassing people by sticking incriminating photos all over the office after a big party!
At a glance the Instax Mini 9 looks disarmingly like a children’s camera - the bright colours and bulbous design seem to place it closer to the Snap Touch. However this is a far more serious piece of hardware. For starters, it’s a proper instant film camera - it uses chemical film, just the same as the original Polaroids did. This means your photos will very much have a classic look and feel to them.
The photos from the Mini 9 are rectangular rather than the square photos of the original Polaroids, and are significantly smaller than the rest of the cameras reviewed here - about ⅓ the size of a traditional Polaroid print. However the quality is excellent, and the prints develop fast - plus the film itself isn’t particularly expensive, especially compared to the cost of original Polaroid film nowadays.
The Instax Mini 9 is lacking in bells and whistles - it only has an optical viewfinder and has no digital extras whatsoever - but what it does, it does well. The picture quality is excellent, the cost of both the camera and the film is cheap, and the bright colours and rounded design give it a friendly look and feel. It is very easy to use, and an excellent entry point to instant photography - you can experiment without breaking the bank, and you’ll take some good shots in the process!
If the Instax Mini 9 could be confused with a children’s camera, then no such fate will befall the Instax Mini 90. It’s a beautiful looking camera - designed to look like a classic film camera, it looks far more mature and professional than it’s little brother.
Under the hood however, it is much the same as the Instax Mini 9. The film used is the same, they both have the same lens, and are both capable of taking the same excellent - if small - photos. However the Instax Mini 90 does have a couple of upgrades - primarily a rechargeable battery and a screen on the back showing important info about the camera, such as the current mode, and the amount of film left.
The Instax Mini 90 also has several extra modes, and has greater control over the exposure, delay, etc - all things that more serious photographers will be thankful for.
And that’s really the difference between the Mini 9 & Mini 90 - the 9 feels like it was designed for beginners, while the 90 feels like a camera for photographers wanting to step up their game. Unfortunately it costs significantly more than the Mini 9 or the Snap Touch - arguably you are paying a real premium for a better-looking camera, but the added extras (such as the battery) make the extra charge more palatable. And really, it is a beautiful looking camera!
Yes, it’s another Instax Mini, but bear with me. The Instax Mini SQ10 may look similar to the Mini 9 and Mini 90, however several important reasons make it worthy of consideration.
First off, the SQ10 is square rather than rectangular - the photos taken are significantly larger than the Mini 9 & 90, and closer to the proportions of the original Polaroid photos. This gives each photo more impact, and they look bigger and better. If you were put off by the small photos from the other Instax cameras, this is the camera for you.
Secondly, the SQ10 is what Fujifilm are calling a ‘hybrid instant camera’. This means it is part digital, part instant. Much like the Polaroid Snap Touch, you can view the photos you take on a screen on the back of the camera before you choose what ones to print. However unlike the Snap Touch, it still uses chemical film, so the ‘romance’ of the instant film remains. There are also a large selection of filters, colour options and filters to appeal to the Instagram tweaker inside all of us.
Sadly, though the SQ10 is digital, it lacks any wireless or Bluetooth connections, so you can’t easily share the photos you take - you’re limited to passing around the physical prints, which seems a real missed opportunity. Also the camera is more expensive than the Mini series, and the film costs more per-shot too - though you won’t have nearly as much wasted film, since you can preview shots before you print.
Finally let’s look back to Polaroid, the company that started it all, and whose name is still attached to instant photos. While the Snap Touch was largely unimpressive and bared little relation to the original Polaroid cameras, the OneStep+ is aimed firmly at those who remember and love the design of the original models.
This makes for a stunningly designed camera - it looks just like the original Polaroid cameras, except with a host of modern features. A rechargeable battery, Bluetooth connectivity and app support bring the OneStep+ into the modern era, and make this camera easier than ever to use.
The app is especially helpful, allowing several additional shooting modes, fine-control of the camera settings and a remote trigger for the camera. Plus there is a special 89mm portrait lens included, that can be changed to at the flick of a switch.
However this comes at a premium - this is one of the most expensive cameras on the list, and the film is more expensive than the Instax film. You’ll be getting the feel of the original Polaroid photos, but paying a premium for it - whether that is acceptable or not is up to you.
There is a bigger problem though - the quality of the actual photos themselves can be quite variable. This is partly due to Polaroid changing up the chemicals they use for the film and partly due to the camera itself. The end result is that taking photos with the camera can be unpredictable, with some photos developing extremely washed out, and colour photos almost appearing black & white. Some may say this is very much part of the joy of Polaroid photos - the sense of unpredictability, and committing to a photo when there could be problems with it. However when the film itself is so expensive, this isn’t the best - so while the camera itself is wonderful, this recommendation comes with a warning!