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8 best instant cameras: Snap and print on the go

With selfie modes, interchangeable lenses and more, you’ll never miss a frame with these retro snappers

Jacob Little
Monday 15 March 2021 10:55
<p>You will need to buy film for these models, which normally comes in packs of 10</p>

You will need to buy film for these models, which normally comes in packs of 10

Instant cameras are officially back on trend. In recent years, they’ve become popular as one of the easiest forms of film photography, as you don’t need to worry about getting someone else to develop or print your shots.

Well suited to capturing events and occasions, with the added benefit of a film aesthetic, they’re often quite simple point-and-shoot devices, without the complex controls you’re likely to find on more advanced compact and DSLR cameras.

With the popularity of film photography and the increased desire to create memories away from our digital lives, instant cameras have become an easy and relatively affordable choice, although it’s worth shopping around to find a camera to suit your budget. Bear in mind that as well as the price of the camera itself, you will have to purchase film, which normally comes in packs of 10 or so.

We’d recommend being sparing when snapping – it can get expensive quickly! That said, the results from many cameras on the market these days are excellent, especially from the models we tested.

How we tested

For this round-up, we tried a selection of instant cameras with a variety of features, from analogue-only models to options that include digital enhancement and Bluetooth connectivity.

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They were tested in two different settings over the course of two weeks – bright, daytime, outdoor light and darker, indoor, evening light – to examine colour reproduction, lens quality and exposure settings.

We also took into account the ergonomics of the cameras; how easy they are to store, transport and use; and what’s entailed in setting them up for use, including the price of purchasing additional film. The cameras on this list showcase the best combination of picture quality, creative ability, ease of use and value for money.

The best instant cameras for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Fujifilm instax wide 300: £109, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best easy to use camera – Fujifilm instax square SQ1: £119, Johnlewis.com
  • Best for additional features – Polaroid onestep+: 129.99, Polaroid.com
  • Best compact camera on a budget – Fujifilm instax mini 11: £69, Johnlewis.com
  • Best pocket-sized camera – Kodak smile instant print camera: £99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best classic looking camera – Polaroid now: £119.99, Polaroid.com
  • Best for accessories – Lomography lomo’instant automat: £149, Lomography.com
  • Best for creativity behind the camera – Lomography Diana instant square: £65, Lomography.com

Fujifilm instax wide 300

Best: Overall

  • Batteries: 4 x AA
  • Focal length: 95mm
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Image size: 62mm x 99mm
  • Self-timer: No
  • Film type: Fujifilm Instax wide colour film (£16.99, Amazon.co.uk)

We’d absolutely recommend the instax wide 300 if you’re looking for larger photos. It’s a chunkier unit than the other options listed, which might restrict the portability of the camera, but the wide images that are produced are some of the best we captured, and are great for taking photos of people in landscapes, for example. Like other Fujifilm products, it’s simple to set up and easy to operate, but don’t forget to purchase extra batteries for the camera if you’re intending to use it for prolonged periods of time.

Fujifilm instax square SQ1

Best: Easy to use camera

  • Batteries: 2 x CR2
  • Focal length: 65mm
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Image size: 62mm x 62mm
  • Self-timer: Yes
  • Film type: Instax square rainbow film (£9.99, Amazon.co.uk) and Instax square monochrome film (£10.99, Amazon.co.uk)

This camera is great for those who want an easy-to-use and straightforward setup straight out of the box. Instax’s square film format has become popular in recent years, and the latest addition to the range is the SQ1. It focuses on simple operation, with easy-to-reach controls and an automatic sensor that we found did well in measuring the light and its exposure settings. Our only criticism, however, is that it needs smaller CR2 batteries to operate, which are sometimes hard to find.

Polaroid onestep+

Best: For additional features

  • Batteries: Lithium rechargeable
  • Focal length: 103mm
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Image size: 78.9mm x 76.8mm
  • Self-timer: Yes
  • Film type: iType film (£14.99, Argos.co.uk)

The onestep+ is a feature-packed camera, similar to the brand’s onestep 2, but with added Bluetooth control via a phone app as well as a close-focus portrait mode. Similar to Polaroid’s other offerings, there’s a 1970s retro design here, while exposure compensation and flash can be activated using buttons at the front of the camera. There’s two focus modes – distant and close – and we liked the fact that the latter allows you to produce sharper portraits than some of the other cameras we tested. The Bluetooth-connected app offers features such as a self-timer and some manual exposure controls. Again, like other Polaroid products, casual fans might find the film stock a tad expensive for regular use. For many people, the standard analogue versions of Polaroid’s instant cameras do just as good a job without the added complication of connectivity – but if the extra features appeal, this is a great buy.

Fujifilm instax mini 11

Best: Compact camera on a budget

  • Batteries: 2 x AA
  • Focal length: 60mm
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Image size: 46mm x 62mm
  • Self-timer: No
  • Film type: Fujifilm Instax mini instant colour film (£14.99, Amazon.co.uk)

Alongside the brand’s square and wide range, Instax has also beefed up its smaller series with the mini 11. Again, simplicity is key for Instax, with simple automatic-exposure settings, well-placed shutter controls and a selfie mode that activates if you pull an adaptor out of the lens itself. Size and price are the two winning factors for the mini 11, and it’s a nice portable option. We think this would be a great camera for the kids to take on holiday.

Kodak smile instant print camera

Best: Pocket-sized camera

  • Batteries: Lithium rechargeable
  • Focal length: 27mm
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Self-timer: Yes
  • Film type: Kodak zink (£24.99, Amazon.co.uk)

This is a bit of a different offering from Kodak, as although it’s a dependable, versatile and portable instant camera in its own right, it can also operate as a printer for photos from an external mini SD card or phone. The only downside is the quality of the images, which lose their “retro” appeal somewhat and do literally look like they’ve come out of a printer (which is the case) rather than chemically emerging on photographic paper. If this doesn’t worry you, however, the smile is a good option that gains points for having a quirky design and a small enough size to slip into your pocket.

Polaroid now

Best: Classic looking camera

  • Batteries: 2 x AA
  • Focal length: 60mm
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Self-timer: Yes
  • Film type: iType film (£14.99, Argos.co.uk)

The Polaroid now is the brand’s most distinctive and familiar-looking camera – and certainly will ring a few bells for those who used one back in the 1960s and 1970s. This harking back to a different era is a purposeful strategy, and with this model it has worked, offering an excellent package with simple controls, an autofocus lens, a USB-rechargeable battery and colourful, vibrant and sharp images. The downside we found is that it’s perhaps a little on the pricey side, especially when you factor in extra film paper packs, but it’s definitely one of the best models we tested.

Lomography lomo’instant automat

Best: For accessories

  • Batteries: 2 x CR2
  • Focal length: 60mm
  • Flash: Automatic built-in
  • Image size: 86.4mm x 53.34mm
  • Self-timer: No
  • Film type: Fujifilm Instax mini (£14.99, Amazon.co.uk)

Lomo’s instant automat impressed us with its fully automatic shutter selection, zone focusing and, in particular, it’s unlimited multi-exposure mode so you can layer up as many shots on one piece of film as you like. It uses the widely available Fujifilm instax mini film (£14.99, Amazon.co.uk) and comes in a stylish retro package that harks back to the 1970s. We also liked the fact there are plenty of accessories available on the Lomography site.

Lomography Diana instant square

Best: For creativity behind the camera

  • Batteries: 4 x AAA
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Flash: Additional attachment
  • Image size: 62mm x 62mm
  • Self-timer: No
  • Film type: Instax square rainbow film (£9.99, Amazon.co.uk) and Instax square monochrome film (£10.99, Amazon.co.uk)

The lo-fi Diana aesthetic gets a 2021 makeover with the instant square, bringing the familiar, heavily vignetted, hazy look to instant prints. We really like the look of the images that come from this model, and the camera itself offers manual zone focusing, a load of interchangeable lenses and a hot-shoe mount to add devices like external flashes. We liked the fact that this camera has a ton of creative potential and we think it’s good value, too.

The verdict: Instant cameras

For the quality of the images produced, we like the Fujifilm instax wide 300, as although it’s a bulkier unit and doesn’t score quite as well in the portability category, the depth of colour, size of developed prints and clarity of the images really impressed us.

If you’re wedded to a Polaroid system, the wide 300 is closely followed by the Polaroid now as the next-best option for those wanting a more conventionally sized instant print. If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper setup with a truly analogue, lightweight and classic feel, we’d recommend Lomography’s Diana instant square.

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