While smartphones have given us a camera you can stick in a pocket, they can’t print out your photos instantly, making them less useful than an instant camera. One of the few film camera types to still exist, instant cameras give you that fun Polaroid-style buzz of being able to instantly see your photos printed out and shared.
The best instant cameras have better optics than the early models from decades past. We’ve compiled a list of instant cameras that fit every budget and need.
Polaroid’s original OneStep camera is as iconic as it gets in the world of instant film — and photography in general. That model, first made in 1977, has long been out of production. But, Polaroid Originals has revived the OneStep with the OneStep 2.
Inspired by the original, the OneStep 2 blends classic design with contemporary style and adds a few new technological improvements to bring the design into the 21st century. The camera now uses a rechargeable USB battery with a 60-day battery life and can shoot both Polaroid 600 film, as well as Polaroid’s i-Type film. The rest is old-school point-and-shoot instant film.
If the standard paint job isn’t to your liking, Polaroid also makes a Stranger Things-inspired “upside down” version of the One Step 2.
Leica is most known for its impressive lineup of 35-millimeter rangefinder cameras, but even the storied German camera maker has jumped on the instant photo bandwagon — with the upmarket Sofort that uses Instax Mini film.
In fact, the Leica Sofort — which means instant in German — is merely a redesigned and rebadged Fujifilm Instax Mini 90. That includes the 60mm f/12.7 lens, so it’s not like the Sofort’s premium price will get you better image quality over the Instax. What it does get you is style. The Sofort is simply the best-looking instant cameras available, and one of the few that doesn’t look like a child’s toy. If we had to pick an instant camera to wear around our neck out in public, it would be this one.
Oh, and while the Leica Sofort is not cheap for an instant camera, it’s still by far the most affordable Leica you can get your hands on. So if you’ve got red dot envy, the Sofort may be the easiest way to cure it.
The Mini 90 is a more robust device than the Instax Mini 9. Inspired by the leather-adorned cameras of yesteryear, it sports a retro aesthetic that’s also easier on the eyes than the toy-like Mini 9.
The Instax Mini 90 offers a rechargeable battery, an integrated LCD display, and manual exposure control for more precise snapshots. On the rear of the camera, you’ll find five buttons, located directly below the two LCD displays. These are used to control exposure and shooting modes, as well as the timer. The most welcome button of all, however, is the dedicated flash button, which lets you turn off the flash.
On the front of the camera is the power switch, which turns the camera on and extends the same 60-millimeter lens used in Fujifilm’s other Instax cameras. Unlike the Instax Mini 9, the Mini 90 offers a closer focusing distance of just 0.3 meters to infinity, meaning your selfies will be sharp even if your reach is limited.
The analog-inspired aesthetic of the Instax Mini 90 sets it apart from Fujifilm’s other offerings, and when you throw in the additional exposure controls and rechargeable battery, you have yourself a rather capable Instax camera that retails for $120.
Inspired by twin lens reflex cameras, the Mint InstantFlex TL70 2.0 takes a whole new approach to Instax photography. Like an old Rolleiflex, the Mint InstantFlex TL70 2.0 offers a top-down view using its 1:1 preview waist-level viewfinder.
Unlike most other Instax cameras, the Mint InstantFlex TL70 2.0 offers full focus and aperture control. This gives you more creative control when capturing an Instax photo, most notably when it comes to shallow depth of field, which is difficult to come by in most instant cameras. An integrated flash for capturing late-night selfies is also hidden beneath the InstantFlex nameplate.
At $389, it’s one of the more expensive options available, one that rivals the cost of the original cameras it draws inspiration from. However, if you don’t mind shelling out the dough for a unique experience and aesthetic, the Mint InstantFlex TL70 2.0 is a solid option that will help you stand out from the crowd.
This Fujifilm is one of the most advanced instant camera to hit the market. Unlike the other cameras on our list, the SQ20, an update to the SQ10, is actually a digital camera with a built-in analog printer. Like the predecessor, it uses the Instax Square format, which more closely resembles original Polaroid film than Instax Mini film. The SQ20 also uses a 4x digital zoom, an unusual feature for instant photography, and will even record video.
The SQ10 captures 1,920 x 1,920-pixel JPEGs and can save 50 images to its internal memory. Or, the camera can capture 15-second video files (without audio), with a screengrab feature so you can print out the best moment from that clip. Files can be transferred to a computer via Micro USB and memory can also be expanded with a Micro SD card. If one photo in particular looks good, you can also immediately print one (or many) out onto the 1:1 ratio Instax film. The lens is a 28.5-millimeter equivalent with a fast f/2.4 aperture.
Besides the digital-film hybrid and zoom lens, the SQ20 includes a handful of unique modes, including Sequence, which creates a single dream-like photo from those 15-second videos, and Time Shift Collage, which snaps photos at designated intervals and mixes them together on the print.
The technology behind how the Instax film is exposed is a bit of a secret, but it’s safe to say Fujifilm uses the same technology behind its SP-2 instant film printer. Being a digital system, the Instax SQ20 also features autofocus with facial recognition, automatic exposure, multiple shooting modes, and a host of creative effects.
A hybrid film and digital camera, the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay wraps up the best of film photography with digital convenience. The LiPlay has several features in common with the SQ20, except the prints are smaller — and you can actually print the photos that already exist on yout phone, thanks to a wireless connection built-in.
With the LiPlay, you get Instax Mini film photos, but with additional perks, including a screen where you can preview your shot. But, like a lot of instant cameras in this price range, you will find that your controls are minimal. While you can turn the flash on and off manually, you can’t actually tweak the exposure settings. Focus is also locked in the center so you can’t adjust it at all. And since it’s designed to print out instant photos where imperfection is part of the charm, the digital sensor isn’t exactly the greatest quality (read: your phone is capable of taking better photos).
Most instant cameras are pretty basic because it’s hard to get specific settings on a camera you’re using for fun and possibly also for nostalgia’s sake. If you want extensive control over your shots, you’ll probably need to head back to digital cameras.
One downside to instant cameras is their short battery lives. You’ll usually need to recharge the batteries after about 100 shots or so. Recharging takes two to three hours before you’re ready to shoot again. But to be fair, you might get more out of the battery if you aren’t always connected to the camera’s WiFi like we were.
The Mini LiPlay is one of the more fun instant cameras on the market. This instant camera also has a screen you can use to frame your photos. And as an added perk, you can use it as a portable printer for your camera phone pictures. It’s compatible with apps available in the App Store or Google Play and has an audio feature that records ten seconds of audio and “prints” it into a QR code. A friend can scan the image to reveal the audio, which is pretty cool. You won’t get award-winning shots every time with the Mini LiPlay, but it’s a decent choice if you’re looking for something fun, versatile, and user-friendly.
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