Instant cameras are perfect for retro artists or party snappers. It is not that easy to choose the best instant camera as it might appear. These cameras offer a feeling of nostalgia that you won’t find with digital photography. Here also you have to struggle with creative ways to get the best camera as you struggle with smartphones. But there is a lot more to consider than what you can afford.
What is an instant camera?
The instant camera is a type of camera that uses self-developing film to create a chemically developed print shortly after taking the picture. Instant cameras cover the full spectrum with plenty of features and swappable lenses. The hybrid which combines analog with digital is the best for both worlds.
You also have to consider films. Some brands like Polaroid deliver dreamlike images while others like Instax are very traditional. A certain film can work out more experience per shot than others too. With so many choices around, instant film has undergone a real renaissance in the last few years. People love having a physical photo in their hands as soon as the shutter of the camera is pressed.
So how to know which instant camera is best for you? My current all-around favorite is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11. It is an inexpensive and simple camera that puts fun ahead of features. But it is not certainly the right choice for everyone. That’s why our guide is here to help you decide, whether you are looking for a camera for capturing the moment at parties or something more capable that can bring out your creative side.
How do instant cameras work?
Instant camera film is remarkable because it has its own built-in developing studio. You need to understand the basics of traditional film to understand how this works. The film is a plastic base coated with particles of a silver compound that is sensitive to light. The black-and-white film has one layer of the silver compound while the color film has three layers. The top layer is sensitive to blue light, the second layer is sensitive to green while the bottom layer is sensitive to red. When you expose the film, the sensitive grains at each layer react to light of that color-forming metallic silver at that layer. This gives a chemical record of the light and color pattern.
To turn this into a picture, you have to develop the film. One developer chemical turns the exposed particles into metallic silver. The film is then treated with three different dye developers containing dye couplers. The three dye colors are cyan, magenta and yellow.
Each of these dye coupler types reacts with one of the color layers in the film, the dye couplers attach to particles that have been exposed. In color side film, the dye couplers attach to the non-exposed areas. Developed color film has a negative image- the colors appear opposite of the colors in the original scene. In slide film, the two dyes that attach to the unexposed area combine to form the color captured at the exposed layer.
Fact about Instant Cameras
The instant camera developing process combines colors the same basic way as to slide film. It has the same layers of light-sensitive grains as traditional film arranged on a plastic sheet. The film also contains several additional layers. These layers contain all the necessary chemicals for the development process. Underneath each color layer, there is a developer layer containing dye couplers. All these layers sit on the top of a black base layer and underneath the image layer, timing layer, and acid layer. This arrangement is essentially a chemical chain reaction waiting to be set in motion.
Here’s our pick of the best instant cameras which you can buy right now.
Best instant cameras 2020 at a glance
1) Fujifilm Instax Mini 11
This camera is quite easy for beginners. It improves on a classic while keeping the price right. It has a lens of 60mm with normal and macro focus. An in-built flash camera that doesn’t have any self-timer feature. It has largely accurate auto exposure with a compact designed body. It has no advanced features but has Instax mini prints.
If you guys are looking for an affordable, easy-to-use and new to instant photography then Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11 is our current favorite. It may lack the more advanced modes and controls that you will find on more expensive models. An auto-exposure system takes out a lot of the guesswork. You just have to point and shoot to get decent credit card-sized instant prints.
A tiny mirror built into the front of the camera and a pop-out lens barrel for close-ups. It is available in a range of fun colors so you should be able to find one that suits your style.
This is another well-priced Instax Mini model which is very easy to use. But it is built up with limited control. It has a lens of 60mm with normal, macro and landscape focus. An in-built flash camera with a self-timer feature. It has selfie mode and can obscure flash.
Slightly more advanced than the Instax Mini 9, it comes with five shooting modes. Despite having a few more features, it doesn’t cost too much. But you have to pay some for the Instax Mini film. In terms of usability, one thing to be careful of with the Instax Mini 70 is obscuring the flash with your finger when you take shots vertically.
All of the modes are automatic so everything is taken care of. It includes focusing, exposure and flash which is a doddle. But it would be nice if you could control the flash manually.
3) Polaroid OneStep 2
This retro designed camera is easy to use. It has a lens of 106mm with macro, normal and landscape focus. A big dollop of retro charm has an in-built flash with a self-timer feature.
Polaroid was the shorthand for instant photography in its heyday. Since closing the factory doors in 2008, its popularity has remained.
The OneStep 2 was the first Polaroid Originals branded camera. It embraces a retro design from the spec sheet of the original 1970s OneStep which is very easy to use. Large square prints are the order of the day because of an I-type film with Polaroid Originals film readily available.
4) Leica Sofort
A camera with a premium feel has lots of control. This is similar to Fuji’s Instax mini 90 and has a pricey option. It has a lens of 60mm with macro, normal and landscape focus. An in-built flash with a self-timer feature.
If you dream of owning a Leica then this relatively affordable option could be your way into a notoriously expensive brand. The Leica Sofort is a few years old now so it is harder to find than it once might have been. Considering this is Leica’s one and only foray into the Instant camera genre pleased everyone with the image quality. It uses Instax Mini Film so finding compatible films won’t be a problem.
A number of modes come in useful such as Macro, Bulb, self-timer, party and people, sport and action, and selfie modes with fully automatic mode.
5) Canon Ivy Cliq+/ Zoemini S
This compactly designed camera blends digital and analog in a pocket-friendly package. It has a lens of about 25.4mm with normal and landscape focus. It has an in-built and ring flash. But it has sub smartphone image quality which is not so satisfying.
Canon’s first instant effort is actually more of a hybrid and blending analog film with digital smarts. The Zero Ink paper which it uses doesn’t need exposure to light like the regular instant film so the camera can be much smaller. The Ivy Cliq+/ Zoemini S is truly a pocket-sized which even beats Fuji’s Instax Mini LiPlay for portability.
A built-in LED ring flash helps you to take pleasing portraits. The mirrored lens barrel is purposely built for selfies and focusing is automatic which makes it a great party camera. The card-sized prints it produces are much more detailed though with colors more like a traditional 35mm photo than the dream-like demographic effects seen with other instant films.
Battery life stretches to two packs of 10 images. Even with an SD card installed, it won’t take any more pictures once you are out of the film. The 8MP sensor is merely on par with today’s entry-level smartphones and with no in-built screen. It seems a lot simpler than other hybrid cameras but built-in Bluetooth support.
6) Fujifilm Instax Wide 300
Big hardly covers it. This large camera delivers large photos. It has a lens of 95mm with normal and landscape focus. An in-built flash camera with no self-timer. It is easy to hold and use with large prints. The Instax Wide 300 is the size of an old-fashioned medium-format rangefinder camera. It is because it uses Instax wide film packs rather than the regular Instax Mini.
The Instax 300 wide might look big and clumsy but it is light and the generous grip makes it easy to hold and use.
The Instax wide format is much larger than a digital sensor so this equates to a moderate wide-angle lens. It takes practice even to get your eye lined up with the eyepiece. Otherwise, it is simple to use and delivers very good results.
7) Fujifilm Instax SQUARE SQ6
This camera is the square-format prints for the Instagram generation. It has a lens of 65.75mm with macro, normal and landscape focus. Unlike the original Instax SQUARE model, namely the analog and digital hybrid SQUARE SQ10, it is built with different ideas. Shaped like the Instagram logo and very much targeted at the kind of younger user who shares their creation on the platform.
The camera runs on a pair of CR2 batteries and spits out 6.2*6.2cm prints.
Instax Square prints feel like more serious photographs with their larger size. It has an in-built selfie mirror but its film is a little pricey.
The newest model on our list combines retro-analog charm with modern-day digital credentials. This camera is a fun mix of digital and analog capture sounds with your prints. It has a lens of 28mm with a focus from 10cm to infinity. An in-built flash camera with a self-timer of 10sec/2sec. This is small in size and very easy to use. It is essentially a basic, low-resolution digital camera with a printer in-built for making instant snapshots. This gives you the opportunity to properly frame up your subject.
One of the gimmicks of the LiPlay is the function to record a sound along with your image capture and embed it on to your print in the shape of QR code. You can then gift that to a friend and ask them to scan the code to playback the sound. You might find that purchasing an Instax mini printer is a better option for better quality prints because of the camera’s high price. But the LiPlay is a fun option for kids and parties.
The best films you should choose for your instant cameras
1) Instax Mini
It is the most common instant film format producing pictures measuring 62*46mm.
2) Instax Square
Fuji has taken on the square format film which is popularized by Polaroid. Camera support for these 62*62mm photos is more limited.
3) Instax wide
It is twice in size and price of Instax mini but photos measure a 99*62mm.
4) Polaroid I-type
It is designed to use in the Impossible I-1 and OneStep 2. I-type film packs don’t have batteries built-in so it can’t be used with vintage Polaroids.
5) Polaroid 600
The film is designed for vintage polaroid-600 type cameras. it can also be used in the Impossible I-1 and OneStep2.
6) Polaroid Zink 2*3
This credit card-sized instant film uses heat-sensitive ink to produce images. Colors are more traditional than Instax. It is compatible with many Zink based cameras and printers.