In the era of digital photography, there is one breed of camera which harks back to a bygone era, producing real tangible prints, that you can actually, y’know, hold in your hand.
We’re not talking about analogue cameras with 35mm film that you have to wait to be developed - oh no, we’re far too impatient for that - we’re looking at so-called “Instant” cameras.
The past few years have seen somewhat of a revival of these quirky little cameras, and this year, there are actually a heck of a lot of choices if you fancy picking up one of these kooky little gadgets.
Of course, if you want something more serious then you can read our guides to the best mirrorless camera, best DSLR, and best compact camera. If you're hoping to capture action and adventure then try the best action camera.
But for now, we're all about fun, and that's why instant cameras make some of the best cameras for kids.
The best instant cameras you can buy today:
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The Instax Square SQ6 from Fujifilm is our favourite instant camera, it's stylish, with a perfect mix of modern and retro looks, simple to use, and produces large square images that just feel right.
The camera comes with host of creative shooting modes (including automatic, selfie, macro and landscape modes) and even coloured flash filters. If you want a bit more creative control, you can choose to manually adjust exposure yourself with Lighten and Darken modes, or even create a Double Exposure to super-impose two images into one.
This simplicity adds to the fun of the device – just snap away and let the camera pump out reliably pleasing images. You'll be thankful for that reliability, because Square Instax film is almost double the price of the Mini version, so you won't want to waste film.
Although the cost of film is a little on the high side, the cost of the camera is not, with an RRP of just £125 / $150, making it pretty affordable in our eyes.
If you're looking for something a little more flexible than the SQ6 then you might want to check out the Instax Mini Evo, which is a 'hybrid' instant camera. This combines digital photography and instant film in a single, incredibly stylish device.
The camera features a digital film sensor, LCD display, microSD card slot, and an abundance of fun filters and effects designed to mimic analogue film. Of course, it also has a built-in printer, which lets you print images directly from the camera as well as images from your smartphone.
The main benefit of this is that you're not wasting expensive Instax Mini film, which costs around $8/£8 per pack. The downside is that you're not getting that true, instant film, point and shoot experience.
It's far more pocketable than Fujifilm's other Instax cameras, and in terms of image quality the prints are good, but the digital images saved to the microSD can't quite match those taken on a smartphone.
Available in an array of suitably pastel colours, the Instax Mini 11 is a fun way to liven up a party. It accepts the teeny tiny Instax Mini film, which arguably is a little gimmicky, but never the less fun for producing keepsakes from special events – we’ve often seen these cameras lying around on wedding tables.
There’s no monitor here, so the results are a little unpredictable, and you’re definitely going to need the flash when shooting indoors – but it’s certainly quirkier than using your phone to take snaps. One of the biggest selling points here is both the affordability of the camera and the associated film – pick one up on a whim, even if it doesn’t get too many outings.
This recently released model comes with customisable shutter buttons, automatic exposure and an instant selfie mode, making it the most stylish and portable release yet.
The Instax Square SQ1 is the latest addition to Fujifilm's line-up on instant cameras. This brand-new, minimalist, user-friendly camera creates square format instant prints that are 1.5 times the size of its Instax Mini counterparts.
It's designed for instant photography fans across the globe, and features Automatic Exposure and One-Touch Selfie Mode to make getting perfect pictures even easier. It automatically senses the level of ambient light when the shutter button is pressed and optimises the shutter speed and flash output according to lighting conditions.
The SQ1 doesn't use the small Instax Mini prints, it uses the larger Instax Square prints. This gives you more space to be creative with your composition and allows you to squeeze more faces into a group selfie.
We absolutely adore the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay (pronounced “Lee-Play”). It's an all-new generation of hybrid instant camera, taking the best from instant photography, and the best from digital photography.
It's the smallest and most lightweight hybrid instant camera in the brand’s history, and uses a 2.7-inch display to show you exactly how your print will turn out. This is great, because it allows you to perfectly frame a scene and check the lighting is on point before you print, saving film and money (although, it does take the unpredictable spontaneity out of instant photography).
The LiPlay also includes a unique new “Sound” function, which allows you to play a voice message or personalised audio through a unique QR code embedded in the instant Instax Mini print, and a “Direct Print” function, which lets you print images stored in a smartphone. We tried it and it works flawlessly.
You can also choose between thirty frames to liven up your image, and there's a new “Remote Shooting” function, which allows you to take photos while standing away from your camera using your smartphone as a remote.
The camera body boasts a streamlined, stylish design, and choice of three colourways, Stone White, Elegant Black and Blush Gold. Each of the three colour variants has an individual surface finish creating interesting texture details.
Another of Lomo’s Instant range is the Automat Glass, which features a good glass lens to boost the quality of your shots. This is a fully analogue camera, so you’ll have to take a leap of faith that the shots will come out right - most of the time they do - using the ever-popular Instax mini format.
This is one of the most affordable cameras in this list, but the small format film can quickly become gimmicky if you’re not careful - still, with the fully automated operation, this is a very easy camera to use for those that fancy a dabble in instant photography.
How to buy the best instant camera for you
If you’re looking for something small, light and discreet, well, the bad news is that you probably won’t find something like that in the instant market - but it’s good news for those who like to stand out from the crowd. A lot of the cameras here look a little strange - you’ll certainly be garnering lots of looks if you whip one of these out in the park, or at a party.
Perhaps the biggest consideration you need to make when choosing an instant camera is the type of film that it uses. There’s a few main options. First off is Instax, which seems to have become the most popular. It’s available in both “mini” and the larger square format. Print quality is decent, while the cameras themselves don’t look so bad either.
Next up, there’s classic Polaroid film. Polaroid itself stopped manufacturing the square film you may remember from your childhood (younger millennials, look away now), but it was brought back to life by the Impossible Project, now calling itself Polaroid Originals. The big catch here is that the film is unpredictable (some might say “charming”) in its nature, and it’s very expensive.
Finally, there’s “ZINK” (Zero Ink) paper, which you tend to find at the cheaper end of the market. This works by heating crystals in the paper to produce the colours needed for your shot. While it’s cheaper than Instax and Polaroid, it’s also generally poorer in quality.
It often seems like instant cameras are relatively cheap - and it’s true that the initial outlay can be not too bad. You need to consider though that every time you take (or print) a shot, it’s costing you money - and in the long run, that can seriously add up.