We took hundreds of photos with the 10 most promising instant cameras on the market in a quest to find the best methods for documenting your next adventure. We brought our cameras to dimly lit parties, bright and sunny beach days, and everything in between, all to assess how each performs in a wide range of conditions. We also dove into every advanced setting and creative mode each model offers. Our results cover everyone, from bargain hunters to those seeking the best available picture quality to creatives that want as many artistic options as possible.Photography is among the most important aspects of our lives, whether we realize it or not. From snapping fun selfies for our social media to monitoring nature for educational or safety purposes, capturing images in our daily lives is a way to connect, learn, and savor the best parts of life. All kinds of gadgets, from ring lights to iphone lenses to photo printers can help you to enhance and save every moment. Whether you're a budding photographer or a seasoned veteran, there's always more to explore.
|Price||$160 List||$200 List||$130 List||$130 List||$70 List|
$75.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Lots of creative options, convenient size, great image quality, can save photos and view before printing||Gorgeous prints, lots of creative features, simple user interface||Durable, comfortable to use, creative options||Durable, user friendly, adjusts well to different lighting||Easy to use, convenient size, reliable, budget friendly|
|Cons||Mild learning curve to ensure prints come out well in different lighting situations||Prone to jamming, expensive, on the heavy side||Learning curve, heavy for its size, super contrasty prints with dark lighting||A slight learning curve, tends to shoot dark, on the heavy side||Limited creative controls, non adjustable flash|
|Bottom Line||A hybrid that utilizes the best parts of digital and film, all in one convenient little package||A beautiful machine that produces stunning wide-format images with a vintage appeal||A nice mid-sized option with lots of features that adapts well to different lighting conditions||A visually pleasing blend of modern instant camera tech with old-fashioned film appeal||A reliable and simple to use option that's great for all ages|
|Rating Categories||Fujifilm Instax Min...||Lomography Lomo'Ins...||Fujifilm Instax Squ...||Fujifilm Instax Wid...||Fujifilm Instax Min...|
|Image Quality (40%)|
|User Friendliness (30%)|
|Specs||Fujifilm Instax Min...||Lomography Lomo'Ins...||Fujifilm Instax Squ...||Fujifilm Instax Wid...||Fujifilm Instax Min...|
|Film Cost Per Photo (approx)||$0.85||$0.85||$0.95||$0.85||$0.95|
|Film Capacity||10 shots||10 shots||10 shots||10 shots||10 shots|
|Battery Capacity||Claimed: 100 prints per charge depending on conditions
Tested: Accurate; camera was used in a wide variety of conditions (cold, indoor/outdoor, near a heater), and the charge was never drastically affected.
Tested: The same batteries it came with were used throughout all of testing
|Claimed: 30 Instax Square 10-pack
Tested: Accurate; the same batteries it came with were used throughout all of testing
|Claimed: 30 Instax Square 10-pack
Tested: Accurate; the same batteries it came with were used throughout all of testing
|Claimed: 10 Instax Mini film packs of 10 exposures each
Tested: Batteries the camera came with died after a few packs, not 10. The camera lasted longer with different batteries but continued to die before hitting 10 packs.
|Power Supply||Built-in rechargeable battery (micro USB)||4 x AA batteries||Two CR2/DL CR2 lithium batteries||Four size AA 1.5 V alkaline batteries||Two AA-size alkaline batteries (LR6)|
|Dimensions (as per manufacturer)||82.5 mm x 122.9 mm x 36.7 mm (excluding protrusions)||190.5 mm x 95.25 mm x 120.65 mm||118.7 mm x 128.1 mm x 58.1 mm (excluding protrusions)||167.8 mm x 94.7 mm x 120.9 mm (excluding protrusions)||107.6 mm x 121.2 mm x 67.3 mm|
|Weight (as per manufacturer)||8 oz (without fiilm pack and memory card)||27.7 oz (without strap)||10.4 oz (without battery, strap, and film pack)||21.6 oz (without battery, strap, film pack, and close up lens)||10.4 oz (without battery, strap, and film)|
|Picture Size (as per manufacturer)||62 mm x 46 mm||62 mm x 99 mm||62 mm x 62 mm||62 mm x 99 mm||62 mm x 46 mm|
|Image Settings||Multiple filters (stylish, B/W, sepia, fish eye, vivid), 10 in-camera frames (antlers, color stripe, light bar, wings, speech bubble, photo inside a photo, comic strip, etc.), 30 frame options through the app, ability to put a time stamp on prints||Multiple exposures||Double exposure, light or dark mode, macro, landscape, portrait||Light or dark mode, djustable focal zoom dial||Autofocus|
|Focus Distances||3.94 in / 10 cm to infinity||0.6 m / 1-2 m / infinity||Macro Mode (0.3 m - 0.5 m/1 ft - 1.6 ft)
Normal Mode (0.5 m - 2 m/1.6 ft - 6.6 ft)
Landscape Mode (2 m/6.6 ft and beyond)
|Motor-driven 2-range switching (0.9 m - 3 m / 3m - infinity) Normal Mode (0.9 m - 3 m) Landscape Mode (3m - infinity)||0.3 m and beyond (use selfie mode for 0.3 m to 0.5 m)|
|Focal Length||28 mm (35 mm fiilm equivalent)||90 mm (35 mm equivalent)||0.3 m and beyond (use selfie mode for 0.3 m to 0.5 m)||95 mm||60 mm|
|Film or Digital||Film prints, digital camera||Film||Film||Film||Film|
|Film Development Time||Around 90 seconds to develop, 12 seconds to print||90 seconds (dependent on ambient temperature)||90 seconds (dependent on ambient temperature)||90 seconds (dependent on ambient temperature)||90 seconds (dependent on ambient temperature)|
Best Digital Instant Camera
Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay
With its compact size, excellent image quality, and a myriad of additional features, the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay came out on top as the best instant camera that we tested. Its sleek and thin design makes it incredibly easy to carry around, as it will fit in any bag and most pockets. Many of the smaller cameras sacrifice image quality for portability, but not this one. The LiPlay is a hybrid that utilizes the best parts of digital and film, all in one convenient and compact package. The review screen, in-camera filters, and frames offer quick and easy creative control over the image, and the digital storage option allows for more than one copy of a photo to be printed. A world of possibilities opens up with the use of a compatible app. By connecting your phone to the Mini LiPlay, features like remote capture, time stamping, and adding recorded sounds via a scannable QR code are easily accessible. Although some of the prints came out a bit dark, this camera's numerous settings give the user more creative control, enabling them to get a great shot in any situation.
While it's helpful to be able to make adjustments in the camera's settings, the additional control features, especially those offered by the app, also require a little more time to get familiar with, giving the Mini LiPlay a bit of a learning curve. When using the autofocus, the printed photos often come out dark, so it's important to get the settings just right for different types of light. Being less point-and-shoot-ready means it's harder for anyone to just pick this camera up and start snapping pics, so if you're looking for a camera that you can easily pass around a party, others require less time to understand. But overall, the Instax Mini LiPlay has supreme portability while also taking high-quality photos, and offering numerous creative options, making it the best of the bunch.
Read review: Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay
Best Instant Camera for Film
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6
If you're struggling to decide on an instant camera, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 is a nice middle-of-the-road option. It can be hard to choose between a larger camera or a more portable one, as well as between a technical camera that offers more creative opportunities or the more classic point and shoot. The SQ6 is an excellent compromise for a variety of reasons. It includes just enough features to allow the user to get creative without overcomplicating things. It also comes in a medium-sized body that produces mid-sized photos, which were among the most consistent with color display in different lighting conditions. Its styling hints at retro but is still sleek and modern, packing easily for travel. If you're looking for a dedicated film camera that can do a bit of everything without being too bulky or complicated, this is a great choice.
Taking a middle-of-the-road route means the Square SQ6 might not check all of the boxes if you're looking for something specific. For example, it will take double exposures and includes flash color filters, but it lacks long exposure and the upgrades of some of the newer digital models. Another downside that we encountered is that the film count indicator would occasionally display an inaccurate number of prints remaining. Also, the square prints need to be kept in the dark as they develop to avoid overexposure. Keeping them in a pocket or placing them face down works fine, but watching them come to life, which is part of the fun of instant cameras, can affect development. Still, with its mid-sized body and user-friendliness, we think the SQ6 is an excellent companion to bring along on adventures.
Read review: Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6
Best Bang for the Buck
Fujifilm Instax Mini 11
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 is one of the best options for instant photos at a lower price. It excels at taking pictures in low light, making it ideal for sharing at parties and other social gatherings, and it's also small and rugged enough that we had no qualms with just throwing it in our bags just in case the right moment presented itself. This camera is also very simple to operate, as the focus, flash, and exposure are all triggered automatically, allowing friends or kids to easily pass it around to get some fun and quirky shots. It comes in a variety of colors to match any personality, making it a great and fun option for everyone from children to grandparents.
Our main gripe with this camera is its performance in bright light. The majority of the outdoor photos we took ended up overexposed, with the background being washed out. There's no way to turn the flash off, which further increases the chances of the images looking overexposed. The images are small (about the size of a credit card), which can be disappointing, as smaller details tend to get lost due to the size of the prints. This camera also lacks the creative controls present in some of its more expensive competitors, so it's difficult to know if/how the photo will turn out until you see it. Another slightly annoying thing was that the shot count indicator was often inaccurate; at times, it would show that there were prints left when it was actually empty, which may not seem like a big deal, but it's enough to ruin the moment of more candid shots. However, if you can live with these drawbacks, the Instax Mini 11 is a fun camera for all ages that can produce nice keepsakes.
Read review: Fujifilm Instax Mini 11
Best Image Quality
Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide
Many people are drawn to instant cameras because the format and flexibility are fun and offer creative opportunities. The Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide is a great option for more experienced photographers or those who don't mind taking some time to get familiar with their camera settings before use. This camera provides far more adjustability than most of the others, as it comes equipped with interchangeable wide and macro lenses, color flash filters, a lens splitter, and the ability to take multiple and long exposures. These extra features are backed up with beautiful photo quality and an extra-wide format that clearly shows a wide range of colors and smaller details. In fact, the Lomo'Instant Wide had the best color accuracy and consistency of saturation of all the cameras we tested and did the best at adapting to the different lighting conditions, proving its high-level capability in any situation.
Like most of the cameras we tested, the Lomo'Instant Wide has a tendency to overexpose photos that are taken in bright sunlight, though not to the extent of most of the others. It is also one of the bulkier models on the market and costs a bit more due to its premium creative features. The most frustrating thing about this camera is that the printer is susceptible to jamming, which often results in wasted film — we even had some entire packs of film that were unusable after removing a jam. The film is also quite temperature-sensitive, so shooting in colder conditions can lead to prints showing signs of damage with weird lines and/or vignetting. However, when the camera functions properly, the images that it produces are beautiful. So, for those who are willing to spend a little more to get extra creative control and larger, high-quality prints, the Lomo'Instant Wide is definitely worth checking out.
Read review: Lomography Lomo Instant Wide
Best Classic Film Experience
Polaroid Now i-Type
If you're a fan of the classic Polaroids from back in the day, the Polaroid Now i-Type is a fun and updated version from the brand that started it all. While keeping the same point and shoot ease as the originals, this camera has some newer features like a self-timer and double exposure setting to add to the creative possibilities. Along with the retro style of the body, the printed photos often come out with a vignette giving them an old-school, vintage quality. The Polaroid Now is very user-friendly and shoots best indoors, making it ideal for passing around parties or events. It's also available in many different colors and works with any of Polaroid's i-Type films, offering the most options for personalization of any camera we tested.
Even though the Polaroid Now has some updated features, the quality and inconsistency of the images was fairly disappointing. The limited color range made many of the color prints look like they were shot on black and white film, and small details were often indiscernible due to the lack of clarity. The camera itself is also bulky, making it awkward to carry around and to shoot with. On top of that, the film for Polaroids is more expensive than any of the competitors — at more than twice the cost per photo, this adds up the more you shoot. All in all, we found the Polaroid Now to be more fashion than function, but if that old-school look and feel is your cup of tea, this camera will still help you to capture some fun memories.
Read review: Polaroid Now
Why You Should Trust Us
For this review, we dedicated weeks to using each camera in numerous places and under all kinds of lighting conditions to determine how each performed. Our test results represent more than 100 hours spent taking over 1000 photos in lighting conditions ranging from dimly lit bars to sun-soaked beaches. We also let our creativity run wild and took hundreds of images using long exposures, flash filters, multiple exposures, and every other creative option these cameras offer. We then compared the different results to determine the best contenders.
Before we snapped a single photo, we laid out a comprehensive plan for analyzing each product. From there, we launched into market research to solidify our top contenders and purchased each one at full price to ensure total objectivity. We put each aspect of our test plan into real-world scenarios spanning all manner of lighting and temperature ranges.Our testing for instant cameras is comprised of four rating metrics:
- Image Quality (40% of overall score weighting)
- User Friendliness (30% weighting)
- Features (15% weighting)
- Battery (15% weighting)
Our testing experts for this review were professional photographer Laura Casner and product tester Genaveve Bradshaw. Together they put each camera through dozens of tests, comparing all the prints side-by-side. They were joined by Adam Yee, who has been around all types of cameras for his whole life, as his grandfather was a professional photographer for more than 50 years. Adam first developed an interest in photography as a teen when he started shooting skateboarders, documenting the antics of his young friends. These days, Adam works in the production field producing everything from studio shoots to photojournalism projects worldwide. Adam's wife also shares the same occupation as his grandpa, which helps to keep him up to date on the latest products and gear. Together, this trio brings a wealth of knowledge to these fun little devices.
Analysis and Test Results
In a world where we increasingly rely on digital platforms to preserve cherished experiences, instant cameras offer refreshingly real, physical keepsakes of time spent with friends and family. To find the best analog or hybrid machine for capturing memories, we focused most of our testing on overall image quality. We also carefully considered how easy each camera is to use, the different image settings and creative options offered, and how long the batteries last. Ultimately, our goal is to help you find the best fit for your lifestyle and photography desires.
While instant camera prices occupy a relatively narrow range, there are certainly opportunities to maximize your dollar. If you're seeking the best price-to-performance ratio, we suggest the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11. This relatively inexpensive camera offers the classic instant camera experience at a fraction of the price. If you have a background in photography and want to try a bit more experimentation, spending more on the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide will serve you well. It is the most reasonably priced model we've found for what you get, and it offers creative extras like flash filters, multiple exposures, and interchangeable lenses. For those seeking a compromise between all of these attributes, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 presents a middle point, both in functionality and price.
We spent the majority of our testing time meticulously comparing photo quality from camera to camera. In doing so, we made sure to take photos that spanned the entire gamut of lighting conditions, from bright sunny days to dimly lit parties and pubs. We then compared all of the resulting photos side-by-side, focusing on clarity, color saturation, and exposure. We also paid attention to how consistently each camera produced usable photos versus a costly dud destined for the trash. The reality is that no camera was perfect, but some had more of a propensity to churn out top-tier keepsakes.
Earning the top score in this metric, the Lomography Lomo'Intant Wide provided the most consistent, high-quality photos in the broadest range of conditions. Its images generally came out with vivid colors, good clarity, and proper exposure, all with that vintage analog patina that is a hallmark trait of film. It is also one of the few instant cameras we've found that can handle outdoor shooting on sunny days without washing out large areas of the image. Lovers of old Polaroid cameras will undoubtedly appreciate the wide film format, which more closely approximates those older models' size than many of its modern siblings.
Not too far behind, the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay provides similarly high-quality images. Compared to the Lomo'Instant Wide, its only shortcoming is that the prints are much smaller and tend to shoot dark, especially when using the autofocus. However, it does offer numerous creative modes that allow the user to make the necessary adjustments and get a great shot in any situation.
Rounding out the top three in this metric, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 provides excellent clarity and color composition for indoor use. However, if you take the camera outside, the photos look noticeably washed out compared to the other top models. It can still produce good outdoor images, but the results will be much better without shooting towards the open sky or when shooting in the shade. Like the Mini LiPlay, it also downgrades the image size to about the size of a credit card. This allows the film to be cheaper, but it may not be what some people want in an instant photo keepsake.
Dropping just out of the high-quality tier and into the upper end of average, the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 creates larger wide-format photos, which often come out dark but display rich colors. The available settings allow the user to make the necessary adjustments for differing conditions. This camera captures textures well, shoots best in ambient indoor lighting with dispersed natural light, and produced the most lovely black and white images of any camera we tested.
The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 consistently captured a wide range of colors, with blues and cooler tones showing up especially vibrant. The images that were shot outdoors with indirect light were gorgeous and did the best job of displaying accurate skin tones. This camera took some great shots indoors, but required a little more messing with the settings to accomplish this.
The cameras that earned a low score in our image quality testing displayed noticeable shortcomings in lighting conditions other than bright sunlight. For instance, with the Polaroid OneStep+, we could get good-looking photos in ideal conditions (indoors without too much ambient light), but otherwise, the colors came out looking relatively flat and muted. It also tended to completely overexpose shots taken on bright sunny days, often rendering them completely unusable.
Instant cameras shine in social situations. Thus, you'll want their operation to be simple enough that you could pass it around at a party and end up with some nice photos. If you're looking to get more creative with your camera and try out some advanced features like double exposures, the controls for selecting those modes must be intuitive and straightforward. Every double exposure that goes awry because you didn't have the correct settings dialed in is wasted film and just a bit heartbreaking. To assess user-friendliness, we used every function on every camera, passed them all around to newbies to get their thoughts, and loaded dozens of film packs throughout the course of our testing.
Of all the cameras we laid hands on, we would consider the Fuji models (the Instax Mini 11, Instax Wide 300, Instax Mini LiPlay, and Instax Square SQ6) foolproof enough for anyone to pick up and get a good photo with minimal instruction; all of these models offer basic point-and-shoot functionality. While they all also have some additional settings that can be fiddled with, they are simple enough that even a newcomer might have success picking them up the first go around. Even if they don't, it's unlikely the photo will be totally ruined.
The Kodak Smile Instant Print also offers one of the more intuitive processes of the group. Its mostly digital design (essentially a digital camera with a small printer inside) allows for simple point-and-shoot functionality, so there is no need to fiddle around with settings beforehand. However, if you want to access some of its advanced features — like adding a border or filter — you'll want to read through the manual.
The Polaroid Now makes taking photos relatively easy, but you have to take extra care while developing. The Polaroid film must be completely covered during the developing process, either by putting the pictures face down on a flat surface or putting them in your pocket once they are taken. We often found ourselves out and about without any convenient flat surfaces to put developing photos, which is a bit of an annoyance. The film is also temperature sensitive, so it either needs to be kept close to the body in cold temps or cooled in hot temps while developing. We ended up with a few damaged prints while shooting in cold conditions.
The Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide scored lower here for a couple of reasons. This camera has issues with the film jamming, something we've unfortunately now seen across three different purchases over the years. On a more positive note, the Lomo also offers additional accessories and more manual adjustments than the other models, giving it a greater learning curve. The controls are reasonably straightforward, and they open up many more creative opportunities, but the camera takes some time and experimentation to fully master. While this brought the score down in this metric, this could be seen as a bonus for the right user. We've kept this camera in our lineup over the years because it really does have potential for greatness, but the film-jamming issue is truly unfortunate. Be sure you can return the Instant Wide from whoever you purchase it from, just in case.
Many people choose to take photos with spartan instant cameras instead of intricate digital ones because, as the saying goes, "creativity is the mastery of simplicity." Despite this, having more options and control over your pared-down camera can allow you to flex that creative muscle even more. For this metric, we evaluate the level to which each camera allows you to fine-tune your images. We also consider additional creative features like multiple exposures, colored flash filters, or digital integration.
Our hands-down recommendation for anyone looking to get creative with their photos is the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay. This camera offers the most variety in its settings and image adjustments of any of the options we tested. It includes a review screen, digital storage, multiple filters, ten in-camera frames, remote capture, a selfie mirror, the ability to print photos taken on your phone, and more via the compatible app.
The Polaroid OneStep+ takes a distant second place, with the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 and Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 following close behind. All offer a good variety of shooting modes. The SQ6 features auto, selfie, macro, landscape, double exposure, and light and dark modes. Although it doesn't have a selfie mirror, the OneStep+ offers many of the same features and includes digital storage and the option to do light painting on the images via the Polaroid App.
The Kodak Smile Instant Print and Canon Ivy CLIQ2+ both sit right in the middle of our features score sheet, offering control settings like flash adjustability, updated features like digital storage, and a few creative options like in-camera filters. However, they lack the ability to take multiple exposures and can't be attached to a tripod. Each of these two cameras has some options that the other doesn't, so you may have to select an option based on your preferred features. For example, the Kodak Smile has a review screen and a timer with 3 or 10-second options, while the Canon has a mirror on the front for taking selfies and includes a wrist strap.
With all the technological advancements of the 21st century, it's not surprising that rechargeable batteries are commonly found in instant cameras. They are cheaper, more sustainable, and more convenient overall. However, only slightly more than half of the cameras we tested have made this switch, and the others still have single-use batteries. For this metric, we looked at the shots per charge as listed by the manufacturer and tested the accuracy. We also considered the time it took to recharge or the cost of replacing the batteries.
Quite surprisingly, three out of four of the cameras that have single-use batteries earn the highest scores here. The one rechargeable high-scorer is the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay, adding to the reasons why it was an easy all-around favorite. All of these top-scoring models used the same batteries or a single charge throughout testing and were never completely drained, either meeting or exceeding the manufacturer's claims.
Occupying the silver medal spots of our scorecard are the Kodak Smile Instant Print and Polaroid Now with only slightly lower scores than the top-performers, but both required one partial recharge during testing. The Kodak lasted a surprisingly long time after it read as "out of battery." We never reached Polaroid's claim of 15 packs or up to 60 days, but we also never killed the battery completely. However, after about 6 packs, it seemed to lose some juice, and we couldn't use the self-timer until giving it a brief charge.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11, Canon Ivy CLIQ2+, and Polaroid OneStep+ all performed rather poorly in this area. The Canon has the lowest listed battery life and only fell slightly short of it, but the Fuji and Polaroid failed to come anywhere near their manufacturer's claims. The Kodak Printomatic Digital came in dead last due to its glitches, time spent troubleshooting, and random printing, making it extremely difficult to track how many prints came from a single charge.
An instant camera can add a whole new dimension to how you capture and commemorate your life, whether it be everyday happenings or special events. A great one will also allow you to have some fun along the way. We've certainly enjoyed all the goofy poses these cameras can elicit and the token nostalgia that comes with them. We hope that this review has led you to a camera that will help you make some memories.
— Genaveve Bradshaw, Laura Casner, and Adam Yee
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