Even though analog cameras are still around, most folks use their smartphones for just about everything. Film camera fans are ardent in their love for SLRs, TLRs, and rangefinders. That’s not to say that analog cameras don’t still have mass appeal. In fact, instant cameras have become very popular over the past few years. After lab-testing all the best sellers, our top pick is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic (available at Amazon for $121.15).
Whether you want to use an old Polaroid Land Camera or need a new camera to get started, instant photography continues to have appeal, especially in a digital age. After all, what’s more magical than the ability to hold your pictures in your hands only minutes after you take them?
If there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s that instant photography is not an inexpensive hobby. We prefer to use the expense as an excuse to slow down and really enjoy the photographic process. It’s a great way to savor the moment even more, adding even more sentimental value to each and every shot you take.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic
Fujifilm has a lot of different Instax Mini cameras out there, but there’s no doubt that the best of the bunch is the Mini 90. This is the camera you want if you want the most features, and hate messing with non-rechargeable batteries. Unlike its older brothers and sisters in the Instax Mini family, the 900 is the most full-featured Fujifilm camera right now.
The only drawback to this model is that it costs significantly more than what most people might want to spend. Its $180 MSRP is rarely what it costs at retail, but it’s still quite a bit more than the $60-$100 that seems to be the sweet spot for regular people.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
In terms of features, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 doesn’t offer much over our former pick for Best Value, the Mini 8 (see below). But its simplistic, easy-to-use design, fun color options, and affordable price once again earns it points in the value department.
New to the Mini 9 is the camera’s selfie mirror, which is a bit cumbersome to use (but deceptively brilliant in its approach), and an improved macro lens adapter that allows you to get closer to a subject without losing detail.
Like the Mini 8, because of the relatively low-cost of the Mini 9, we feel that it’s a perfect fit for kids, teenagers, and entry-level instant photographers. It isn’t quite as fancy as some of the higher-end instant film cameras we’ve checked out, but it doesn’t need to be—and you’re probably better off spending that cash on film, instead.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 8
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 is one of the oldest instant cameras you can still find widely, and it’s best suited if you want to get a cheap camera for a kid or teenager. Though the newer Mini 9 is a better bet (and roughly the same price online), if you can find the Mini 8 for a deep discount it’s still a great bet.
Both the Mini 8 and the newer Mini 9 represent a good, affordable way to get into instant cameras, leaving you some extra cash to pick up film to go with it. The only downside to this option is the lack of a selfie mirror, though the newer Mini 9 rectifies this.
Fujifilm Instax Wide 300
Even though we love the Instax Mini format film, there’s even more to love with the Instax Wide film, which is what this beastly Instax Wide 300 uses. This camera won’t slip into a purse or bag with ease, but it’ll give you way bigger, wider shots that are closer in size to the classic square Polaroid pictures.
Perhaps the only drawback to the Wide 300 is that its viewfinder is way off in the corner, so framing shots takes a lot of practice. Selfies are possible, but you’ll need to bring a dedicated close-focus attachment with you if that’s something you care about. Creative features aren’t as impressive as in the Mini 90, but as this is your only choice for the wider format pictures, it’s a compromise you’ll have to make.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 70
The latest Instax Mini camera has all the features of more advanced cameras like the Instax Mini 90 but in a compact package that is among the smallest ever instant cameras. Featuring a 60mm lens, this camera can easily fit in a bag to come with you anywhere. It’s not as cheap as some of the older Instax models out there, but the Mini 70 makes up for its price by including all the niceties like a selfie mirror.
Unlike the cheaper Instax Mini 8, the super portable Mini 7 has a self-timer, a macro shooting mode, and even a landscape mode. Perhaps the only downside to this model is that you don’t get a double-exposure option, and it needs less common CR-2 camera batteries to work.
Impossible Project I-1
Impossible is the only manufacturer of original-style, Polaroid-compatible instant film. Its I-1 camera is the company’s first all-new camera, and unfortunately it has all the earmarks of a first-generation product. Though it’s a striking piece of modern design, this camera is essentially a hopped-up box-type Polaroid camera with smart features. A unique ring flash of LEDs lets you take up-close portraits and it also acts as a battery charge indicator. The camera also features a rudimentary autofocus system that automatically selects a different lens to best capture the shot you want.
For its $300 price tag, we expected a product that delivered a better picture-taking experience, but as it stands, this pricey camera isn’t worth its price, especially compared with a cheap garage-sale camera. Between its awkwardly-placed hand strap, incredibly limited physical controls, the lack of a lens cap, and an app that’s only on iOS, this is a package that we can only recommend to a few people.
Vintage cameras still available today, compatible with Impossible film:
Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera
This iconic camera is undoubtedly a technology and style icon that’s only grown in popularity since it was discontinued in the late 20th century. Sporting a folding design that squeezes a full SLR-style lens system down into a device not much thicker than a quarter, the SX-70 was a technological marvel when it was introduced, and if you can find a copy of this camera in decent shape, it’s still among the best instant cameras available.
The only drawback is that film is very expensive. Impossible Project is the only company that continues to make SX-70 compatible film packs, and the quality for the price is still less-than-stellar. That said, if a lo-fi Instagram style is what you’re after, then that’s more or less what you’ll get. Being able to manual focus with the SX-70 is a joy, and you’ll never shoot a picture that isn’t perfectly framed since you’re looking directly through the camera’s lens.
Polaroid Spectra AF
Introduced in the mid-1980s, Spectra was the cutting-edge step-up from the standard box-type camera. The biggest improvement over a normal Polaroid camera is that the Spectra format is bigger, which means that photos are even more impressive to behold once they’ve developed.
Since Spectra cameras were marketed at enthusiasts and business customers, they generally have sharper, clearer lenses and more advanced features like sonar autofocus. The biggest disadvantage of a Spectra camera might be that, unlike the more complex SX-70 models, it still has a separate optical viewfinder that makes framing photos more tricky. Impossible Project continues to make Spectra film, but like all of its film packs, the results are often hit-or-miss and you won’t get the reliability of Fujifilm’s cheaper Instax Wide film.
Polaroid One-Step 600
These are the bottom-of-the-barrel option for people who want the square look of a classic Polaroid shot, but who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg. Most of these cameras have a built-in flash and an optical viewfinder that’s to the left of the camera’s actual lens. Most of these cameras have few features, but you can often find them in great working order for very little money.
Like with the Spectra, SX-70, and Impossible I-type cameras, the 600/box-type models are limited to only using Impossible Project film. Unlike the older SX-70 compatible film, 600 film is a higher ISO, which lets you shoot in a wider variety of situations. Image quality isn’t amazing, especially when compared to the Instax Wide format, but if you want artsy-style shots on a budget, pick up a used box-type camera at a garage sale or flea market near you.