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Smartphone photography has allowed us to snap and send high-resolution photos and videos around the world in minutes, but most of them stay on your device or social media page. Taking and holding a physical picture, like playing vinyl, is a more hands-on experience that can’t be replicated by tapping on a screen.
Most of us don’t have access to a darkroom, but instant cameras — made famous by Polaroid — have a tiny printer built into them, so you can frame your shot, push the shutter button, and have a developed photo in about a minute.
If you’re an avid photographer looking for a new medium, or want a fun way to chronicle an important event, an instant camera is a great solution.
What Are the Best Instant Cameras?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best instant cameras for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Size: All of the instant cameras we’re recommending are of the handheld, point-and-shoot style. Not all of them will fit in your pocket, but you’ll have no problem fitting them in a small backpack.
Battery: Most of the cameras in this guide run on rechargeable batteries, but some require you to pop in a pair of AAs.
Flash: Every camera below has a flash, which makes it easier to get better pictures at night.
Digital features: The point of using an instant camera is to get a physical print of the photo you take, but some have integrated welcome digital features that make them easier to use. The biggest one is the ability to save a picture to a MicroSD card in addition to creating an actual physical photograph.
Here are our favorite instant cameras to pick up right now.
1. Best Overall: Kodak Smile Instant Camera
Kodak’s Smile Instant Camera has earned the top spot on our list by bridging the analog and digital divide with style.
The camera is shaped like a modern point-and-shoot, and its thin frame makes it possible to slip into your pocket. It has a 10MP (megapixel) sensor, and a flash that automatically adjusts based on how much light it detects in the scene. Around the back of the camera is an LCD screen that you can use as a viewfinder, and a series of buttons you can use to view photographs you’ve taken, apply filters, borders or effects, and set a timer.
These are all features you’d expect to find on a digital camera, but this one has a built-in printer, so you can make two-inch by three-inch photographs at the push of a button. You can choose to have every picture you take printed automatically, or change the setting to allow you to manually print photos you think are really good. The photos are printed on ink-free zinc paper, so you don’t have to worry about smudging or waiting for them to dry. The photo paper Kodak uses is adhesive on one side, so you can stick them on a notebook, fridge, or in a scrapbook without worrying that they’ll fall out.
This camera has a rechargeable battery, and Kodak says you can take up to 40 shots before you have to plug it in. Its internal memory can hold up to five pictures at a time, but you can pop in a MicroSD Card that can store hundreds of shots.
Kodak’s Smile Instant Camera offers modern convenience features alongside the ability to print any photo you’ve taken in a matter seconds. It’s a best-of-both-worlds approach in a slim, pocket-friendly camera.
2. Best Smart Features: Polaroid Originals OneStep+
Polaroid may have popularized the instant camera, but the OneStep+ puts a modern spin on this classic.
One thing Polaroid didn’t change about the OneStep+ is it’s look. This camera has the same wedge shape as the company’s older models, which makes it easy to hold, but too big for your pocket. There’s a manual viewfinder on the back, so you can hold the OneStep+ right up to your eye to frame your pictures before you take them.
Polaroid lets you switch between two lenses: a portrait lens for subjects between one and three feet away, and a standard lens for taking snapshots of subjects further than three feet away. The camera has a flash, which Kodak says is “powerful,” so you should have little problem getting good results in dim environments.
Like Kodak, Polaroid built some digital features into the OneStep+. It runs on a rechargeable battery, which you can recharge with the included MicroUSB cable. You can also pair the camera to your phone (iOS and Android) over Bluetooth to adjust the camera’s photo settings manually, or set a double exposure (leave the shutter open longer to get two images on one print).
The pictures you take with the OneStep+ are automatically printed onto a sheet of Polaroid Originals Color Film, which you’ll need to get separately. Polaroid recommends shielding the printed photos from light for 15 minutes as they develop.
If you want an authentic instant camera experience with a few digital enhancements, Polaroid’s OneStep+ is a great option.
3. Best Analog Pick: Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera
Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11 is the latest entry in the company’s line of all-analog instant cameras.
The camera has a square shape, with a protruding grip on the right side that makes it easy to hold one handed. You won’t be able to fit the Instax Mini 11 in a pocket, but you can definitely stash it in a small bag. It runs on a pair of AA batteries, but Fujifilm doesn’t give an estimate on how many pictures you can take before having to change them.
If you’re an analog purist, the Instax Mini 11 is the right instant camera for you. There’s no Bluetooth support, no mini LCD viewfinder, no extra effects, and no way to store your pictures on a MicroSD card to view later. You click the button, and a two-inch by three-inch picture comes out of the slot on the side. Fujifilm doesn’t bundle this camera with film, or give any instructions on how to get the best results, but we recommend leaving it out of direct light for a couple of minutes to develop.
It may not be a smart camera, but the Instax Mini 11 does have some nice convenience features that make it easier for you to get the right shot. It automatically adjusts to the right level of exposure, which includes managing the intensity of its flash to make sure your subject and the background are lit appropriately.
You can switch between macro (close up) and standard shooting modes depending on the distance between you and what you’re taking pictures of. There’s even a selfie-mode, which you can engage by pulling out the lens to increase its level of zoom; the Instax 11 Mini has a little mirror next to the lens, so you can frame your picture before taking it.
If the only thing you look for in an instant camera is the ability to click a shutter button and get a print of your shot, Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11 is one you should get.