Best Instant Camera for Fun Polaroid Snaps
You may wonder why I’m writing a guide on the best instant camera on a site like Shotkit.
After all, Shotkit deals with the gear used by professional photographers – what interest would they have in a Polaroid camera?!
I’ll be honest with you – I never had any interest in this format of photography until recently. I kept seeing them used at weddings as a kind of ‘DIY photo booth’, and guests seem to love them.
When I left my previous job, my workmates bought me a Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo. It was the first time I’ve shot with a camera that’s capable of printing an image right then and there, and I’ve got to say, I had a lot of fun!
We’re so used to using our digital cameras for work or for more ‘serious stuff’, that it’s sometimes easy to forget that photography should be fun.
Instant cameras make taking pictures fun again. They’re simple, affordable (what was the last camera you bought for under $70?!), and nostalgic of how vintage photography used to be.
Ironically, for the younger photographers out there who didn’t grow up around clunky Polaroid cameras, the whole ‘instant film experience’ of seeing a photo gradually appear before your eyes, can even seem somewhat futuristic! They also make great camera gifts.
Let’s have a quick look at some of the most interesting products of the year.
Best Instant Film Cameras of 2021
|Fujifilm Instax Mini 90||View Price →|
|Polaroid OneStep2||View Price →|
|Fujifilm Instax Mini 70||View Price →|
|Lomography Instant Automat||View Price →|
|Fujfilm Instax Share SP-2||View Price →|
1. Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic
Size: 4.5 x 2.2 x 3.6 inches / 11.4 x 5.5 x 9.1 cms
Weight: 1 lb / 453 g
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic was actually the camera that encouraged me to write these reviews in the first place, and the one I’ve chosen as best instant camera of the year.
It was the first Fuji instant that I’d ever used, and soon after clicking the shutter button for the first time, I was hooked!
Design is rather subjective, but in my opinion, this is the best looking product of its type on the market right now.
Sure, brands like Leica have the funky Leica Sofort for the fashion-conscious photographer, but you’re paying a lot just for the brand name.
There’s also the standard Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 in faux-leather brown which has all the same functionality as the Neo Classic, but with a different look. I’ll refer to both models as simply the ‘Mini 90’ from now on.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 has a classic, fun and friendly design which begs you to pick it up and start shooting.
It’s small and lightweight enough to hold with one hand, and takes up little room in your bag. (If size is a major factor for you when choosing something to shoot with, here’s my recommendation for the best pocket camera.)
As for the quality of the photo, thanks to a range of genuinely useful features for getting a correct exposure, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 produces surprisingly vivid and clear photos.
Whilst even cheap compact cameras can take a photo in relatively low light without using the flash, instants rely on their flash for every photo.
You can disable it, but for most situations, it’s best to leave it turned on, (even if it’s the middle of the day), since the camera uses the flash to ‘meter’ the exposure of the photo.
Thankfully, the flash on the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 is excellent – powerful enough to ‘freeze’ a moving subject without being too bright to complete wash-out a subject’s skin.
Whilst part of the appeal of the Polaroid camera prints is that typical white-face-on-a-dark-background flash look, it’s also nice when the camera’s flash emits the ideal amount of light to adjust for the distance to subject and ambient brightness to help optimize the exposure.
By using ‘Party Mode’ on the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90, the camera automatically slows the shutter speed slightly to ensure that any background light is also captured in the photo.
This is ideal when shooting a subject in front of a Christmas tree at night, or during a fireworks display, for example. It’s also the mode that you’ll be using the most if you take the Fuji out for a boogie on the dance-floor!
Whilst the other models tested in this guide all had good flash functionality, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 stood out as being able to preserve the ambient exposure the best.
In other words, using Party Mode, we were able to capture the ambient light behind a subject at night the best with the Fuji.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 also has a good range of manual controls, the most useful of which is the ability to under or over-expose an image just by pressing L or D (lighter/darker) buttons.
There’s also macro mode, landscape mode, bulb mode (to prolong the shutter), a timer and even a double-exposure mode if you really want to experiment.
However, with all the bells and whistles of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90, it has to be remembered that part of the allure of these types of camera is in their simplicity. Users often don’t want to fiddle with settings, even if it is just pushing a button to enable party mode, or kids mode or whatever.
Thankfully, in full auto mode, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 functions very well, with as consistent exposures and colours as you could expect from instant film stock.
Also, since Fujinon lenses have historically always been among the best, you’re in good hands with any Fuji camera, even an instant one!
Battery life is decent at around 80-100 photos per charge. If you’re using the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 at a wedding or somewhere where you’re likely to shoot several cartridges of film, you may want to pick up some of these DOT-01 spare Fujifilm batteries. They’re not the official Fuji ones, but are cheap and have great reviews on Amazon.
As for the instant film itself, you can pick up a two-cartridge pack of Fujifilm Instax Mini Instant Film for less than 15 bucks. I’d recommend you buy in these packs of 5 cartridges though, to bring the cost per print down to around 60/c per snap.
2. Polaroid Originals OneStep 2
Size: 5.9 x 3.8 x 4.37 inches / 14.99 x 9.65 x 11.1 cms
Weight: 1 lb / 489 g
Back in 2017, a company known as The Impossible Project attempted to do the impossible, resurrecting the Polaroid name to attach it back on to where it belongs – instant film cameras.
Rebranding itself as Polaroid Originals, TIP bought the last functional Polaroid instant film plant, and restarted film production for Polaroid-compatible cameras.
Let’s start off with the good – the Polaroid Originals OneStep2, despite the rather unusual name, sports something of a retro cult design.
There’s literally no other camera that looks like it, and I particularly like how they’ve kept the iconic Polaroid instant camera design reminiscent of models from a long time ago – it’s actually a modern take on the classic OneStep Land Camera 1000.
All the essential controls are there, including an exposure slider, self-timer, flash on/off – by now, you’ll be aware that even the best models don’t have a lot of functions!
Orange LEDs on the top of the OneStep2 tell you how much battery you have remaining, and there’s even a microUSB plug for recharging the internal battery – a nice touch, not seen on other models. I particularly like the big yellow on/off switch, which looks like it’s been designed for a hipster baby.
The biggest reason for shooting with a Polaroid is nostalgia, and those square Polaroid pictures many of us have grown up around will bring back memories for sure.
It’s just a shame that the film stock itself is still prohibitively expensive – Polaroid Color 600 Film which works well in the OneStep2 works out to around $2 per photo, meaning that this is a camera that definitely won’t be your everyday shooter!
As for image quality, as you already know, the instant film experience doesn’t lend itself to tack sharpness and vivid colours. With the Polaroid Originals OneStep2, colours are washed-out and subdued, looking truly as if they were shot back in the 80’s… and I kinda like this.
The flash is powerful enough to fill in shadows on faces even in bright daylight, and does an ok job at not making you look too much like a ghost when shot in low light. Again, ghost-like skin tones is one of the endearing, unique qualities of these cameras, so nothing to complain about here.
I have to say, the Polaroid Originals OneStep2 would make a great gift – whether the recipient is a photographer or not, even just the packaging alone is funky and alluring, and it’s a perfect way to start analog photography.
It’s a definite collector’s item, and no doubt marks the end of an era of Polaroids, despite the fact that the design has come from a modern brand that’s more in tune with the tastes of today’s hipster!
Taking photos is completely idiot-proof, and the ergonomics/design of the camera just beg for it to be held and shot – if you don’t mind the cost of film, or only expect to be using it infrequently, this is one truly unique camera that’s a lot of fun to shoot.
3. Fujifilm Instax Mini 70
Size: 3.25 x 4.5 x 7 inches / 8.2 x 11.4 x 17.7 cms
Weight: 0.5 lbs / 226 g
Fujifilm offers several Instax models and the choice of which one to buy can become rather confusing.
The fact of the matter is, they all use the same or similar Fuji Instax film stock, so the end result is very similar.
Aside from the Neo Classic mentioned previously as one of the best options of the year, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 isn’t far behind. It also makes a fantastic camera for kids.
Camera review site DPReview awarded it top place in its own selection of the best instant cameras, describing it as having “…some of the best ergonomics with the right balance of settings and automation, ensuring fewer wasted shots, and operation that is easy to figure out.”
In comparison to the other similarly priced Fujifilm Instax cameras available today, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 strikes the best balance between size and usability.
In my relatively large hands, it feels good to hold, and not like a cheap toy which is how the other Minis in the series felt – it’s still above all a cheaply-made plastic cameras, but this one feels better quality than the others.
Fujifilm doesn’t miss a trend with its model offerings, and the combination of Selfie mode (which adjusts the focal length and brightness to the ideal level for an arm-length shot) and a Selfie Mirror (which allows you to frame the shot), makes the Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 perfect for a certain demographic!
I scoff a little at any mention of ‘selfie’ functionality on a camera, but I have to admit that taking selfies is ingrained in today’s society as much as taking regular photos.
Instants are meant to be used for quick snaps in fun situations, so the inclusion of selfie-friendly functionality is actually rather useful.
Other more common functionality includes a self timer, a 2 shot continuous self timer, macro mode, landscape mode, hi-key mode, and a handy fill flash mode, which helps to prevent that sheet-white face look.
Picture quality out of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 is solid and pretty much on par with the more expensive Neo Classic model, at least in good light.
Automatic Exposure Control ensures ambient light is sucked in to the camera’s sensor, helping to balance the exposure of night portraits when your subject is in front of a lit background.
As for the instant film itself, you can pick up a two-cartridge pack of Fujifilm Instax Mini Instant Film for less than 15 bucks. I’d recommend you buy in packs of 5 cartridges though, to bring the cost per print down to around 60/c per snap.
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 takes 2 CR2 batteries, and can last over 250 flash shots. Fuji actually claims “30x 10 packs of film”, but I couldn’t quite recreate 300 shots with my batteries.
At least the batteries are cheap and lightweight, making the Mini 70 lightweight too.
Available in 6 colours including a snazzy gold finish, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 is above all else a fun camera that attracts attention despite its small stature.
It’s truly a camera that you can have in your bag everyday alongside your other everyday-carry possessions, and packs in just the right amount of functionality to get a good instant film shot.
4. Lomography Lomo’Instant Automat
Size: 4.8 x 3.9 x 2.9 inches / 12 x 9.9 x 5 cms
Weight: 12.5 oz / 354 g
The Lomo’Instant Automat is the product of a Kickstarter campaign by the iconic instant film brand Lomography.
It’s a great looking camera available in a myriad of colours, each with names of fashionable and nostalgic beaches. My picks of the bunch are the all black, or all white versions.
Aside from its distinct looks, the Lomo’Instant Automat has functionality unavailable to the other models in 2021.
Lomography calls it ‘the most advanced instant camera’ – whether this is the case or not is arguable, but it certainly supports several fun features which encourage limitless creativity.
One of these such features is the ability to swap lenses to create different looks to your shot. You’ll need to purchase the lenses separately, or in one of the bundles, such as the South Beach edition of the Automat which includes 3 lenses: a close-up, a fish-eye and a wide-angle.
There’s also a ‘Splitzer’ lens available, to create multiple slices in your images.
Personally, when buying an instant camera I have no interest in changing lenses. The whole point of them for me is in their simplicity, and I rarely even take the camera out of auto mode.
However, if you’re an enthusiast and want to be able to capture the widest range of photos with your camera, the possibility of changing lenses on the Lomo’Instant Automat may be appealing to you.
Two other unique features of the Lomo’Instant Automat are the ability to use the lens cap as a remote control, and the inclusion of interchangeable colour gels which you can use to change the colours in your photo.
There’s even an LED exposure counter to show you how many frames you have left.
As with the other best products shown here, aperture, shutter speed and flash output from the Lomo’Instant Automat are adjusted automatically to ensure your shots are perfectly lit, and ambient light is sucked in even in low light.
Other shooting mode options include bulb mode, multiple exposures, no flash, exposure compensation (by pressing +1 or -1).
As for the actual quality of the image, the Lomo’Instant Automat certainly doesn’t produce images that are as clear or vivid as the Fuji instant cameras shown here. The prints are a little hazy and faded, more typical of cheaper Polaroid cameras from back in the day.
However, I don’t think sharp, vivid prints from the Lomo’Instant Automat was the intention here by the manufacturer. ‘Lomography’ seems like more of a movement than a brand.
With their “Don’t Think, Just Shoot” motto, models such as the Lomo’Instant Automat are intended to capture a memory with a certain nostalgic quality already ingrained, rather than to win any prizes for image quality.
There’s actually a fun photography book called ‘Lomo: Don’t Think, Just Shoot’ which encapsulates what Lomography is all about.
I find it a little ironic that Lomography wants you to shoot without thinking, but creates an instant camera with interchangeable lenses, a remote control lens cap and coloured gels…!! But nevertheless, I can see why they wanted to differentiate their product from the other cameras on this list.
The Lomo’Instant Automat is an easy to use, portable, well-designed and above all, extremely fun instant film camera.
It features the kind of funky design that would be a conversation starter at any party, and I have to admit I admire Lomography’s intention with all the accessories available to the Automat, to make it the only instant you’ll ever need.
Here’s a short video which shows the Lomo’Instant Automat in action, giving you an idea of how quickly the Instax film prints:
The Lomo’Instant Automat takes Fuji Instax film, and as before, I recommend buying packs of 2 cartridges or better still, packs of 5 cartridges to ensure you reap the best cost-per-print.
As for battery life, you can expect over 100 flash exposures out of the 2x CR2 batteries.
Best Instant Photo Printer
Fujfilm Instax Share SP-2
Size: 3 x 5 x 7.12 inches / 7.6 x 12.7 x 18 cm
Weight: 0.54 lbs / 244 g
If you’re not completely sold on the idea of this genre of photography but still want to experience the nostagia and fun of instant film, I’d highly recommend the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 – a mini photo printer which can print your smartphone snaps or your digital camera shots to Instax film in seconds.
Not much larger than the average smart phone and weighing only 0.54 lbs (244 g), it’s the kind of gadget that you can have in your bag at all times.
I’ve seen wedding photographers use the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 to print images for their wedding clients at the reception (transferring photos from either their phones or even their regular cameras to the printer) – this always has a huge impact, despite being very simple to do.
Printing from the Instax Share SP-2 takes only 10 seconds and the print resolution of 800 x 600 dots at 320 dpi is actually better than some of the Fujifilm instant cameras.
My favourite feature on the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 is the Reprint button, which allows you to share the same print with multiple people, without having to dig around in the smartphone’s settings.
What exactly is meant by ‘instant’, or ‘Polaroid cameras’?
Polaroid is the company that popularised the technology of allowing people to see a photograph within moments of taking it.
Whilst Polaroid cameras are still around, other manufacturers have recently stolen the limelight.
Part of the appeal of these cameras is the imperfection of the final print, much like popular Instagram filters which are designed to make a photo look old and faded.
Each photo you take with an instant camera is truly one-of-a-kind, and being able to touch the final product and write on it, pass it to a friend, or stick it on your fridge, makes the whole process a lot of fun.
Due to their huge popularity among both amateurs and professional photographers, there’s a wealth of different instant models available on the market here in 2021.
So as not to overwhelm you, I’ve narrowed down the selection to just 4 key models, plus one great little printer to give any regular digital camera an ‘instant’ printing experience.
Here’s the criteria I used to make the choice:
- Price – a teenager should be able to afford one with saved-up pocket money!
- Size/weight – needs to be portable enough to have with you relatively un-noticed
- Features – needs to do more than a disposable camera
- Print Quality – needs to be as good as is possible with a Polaroid-type film stock
- Design – is it easy and fun to use?
You may have heard about the Polaroid POP, or other ‘modernized’ instant cameras featuring built-in editing functions and colour LCD screens – in my opinion, don’t waste your money on these over-priced, unnecessary contraptions.
The essence of instant photography is to keep it simple! No amount of fancy modern features will be able to improve on what is essentially a flawed process, and therein lies its beauty – the imperfection of the instant photography experience is endearing and unique.
I hope you enjoyed my roundup of what I consider to be the best instant cameras of the year.
As I mentioned at the start of the post, these cameras aren’t able to create as vivid prints as we expect in this digital age, but therein lies the allure of the medium.
Watching an image gradually develop right in front of your eyes as if by magic is still remarkable despite the age of instant film and Polaroid cameras.
Having imperfect, un-repeatable prints makes instant film one of the more affordable delights of photography in the modern day.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.