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The Best Instant Cameras for 2021 | PCMag

Instant film has made a big comeback in recent years. Fujifilm has its Instax business, and while it’s gone through some ownership and branding changes over the years, you can still buy film for many old Polaroid cameras, and buy new ones which use its modern I-Type film packs.

There are lots of reasons to reach for an instant camera. The ability to hand off a photo to someone right after you’ve snapped it can’t be matched with digital capture. Instant film is a big hit at weddings and parties because of this, and it can be a great way to capture moments for posterity in a way that is very different than just another smartphone image.

Younger millennials and Gen Z will look to it as a step away from the digital doldrums, and a way to keep any truly private images away from hackable cloud data services. And you can’t discount the artistic crowd, drawn to the allure of making their work stand out in a crowded landscape.

Instant Film Formats

Getting your head around the varying instant film formats is important in making a buying decision. Let’s start with the most popular, and oddly enough the smallest in size, Instax Mini. Developed by Fujifilm, Instax Mini film is about the size of a credit card when you take its border into account, and has an image area that is 2.4 by 1.8 inches (HW) in size.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11

Film is available in color or monochrome, and is compatible with a slew of cameras from Fujifilm, Leica, Lomography, and Mint. Our favorite entry-level model, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11, sells for about $70 and is offered in a variety of colors. If you’re a more serious shutterbug, consider the Lomo’Instant Automat, which has a wider angle lens (better for selfies) and supports multiple exposure images.

Color Instax Mini film is pretty affordable. Prices vary a bit from retailer to retailer, and you’ll spend less over the long run if you buy in bulk. Expect to spend around fifty to sixty cents a photo, and if you want film with colorful borders or other special finishes, the cost can double. Black-and-white film is a little pricier, about $0.80 per image.

Fujifilm Instax Wide 300

If you prefer a bigger image, you can opt for the Instax Wide format, also available in color or black-and-white. The image size is about double that of Mini—basically two mini shots side-by-side at 2.4 by 3.9 inches. But it’s not double the cost of Mini—expect to spend around $0.75 for color and $1.30 for each black-and-white image.

For some photographers, instant film is film, which means a square format is a must. Fujifilm has its own take, Instax Square. It’s long been available in color, with a per-shot cost of about $1.00. Fujifilm has recently added Instax Square Monochrome to its catalog for black-and-white shots, but is pricing it a bit higher, closer to $1.50 per frame.

Lomography Lomo

Hardware support is growing. Fujifilm sells a digital version, the SQ20, and a wireless printer for the format, the SP-3. If you prefer a pure analog camera, you can choose from the Instax Square SQ6, Lomo’Instant Square, and Lomography Diana Instant Square.

But what if you’ve got an honest-to-goodness Polaroid camera? The company has been reborn in the 21st century—it’s gone through some name changes over the years, from the Impossible Project to Polaroid Originals, but today it’s just called Polaroid. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

You can get color or black-and-white film for an SX70 or 600 series camera. It’s expensive, though. A five-pack of color or black-and-white film, with each pack holding eight shots, sells for $75, about $1.88 per shot, and the price of each shot climbs slightly higher if you buy it by the pack. If you’re not buying in bulk, it’s around $2 an image to use.

Polaroid Originals OneStep+

Polaroid makes new cameras too. Its modern models include the Impossible I-1, Polaroid Originals OneStep 2 and OneStep+, and the Polaroid Now and Now+. All use I-Type film, the same size and quality as the 600 format, but without a battery, so it can’t power vintage cameras. They support 600 film too.

Polaroid film is bigger than Instax, but the quality of its color stock just isn’t as good. Colors shift in cold temperatures, overall saturation isn’t as deep as with Instax, and you’ve got to take care to shield it from light as it develops. The black-and-white film is a lot better. Both have a larger image area than Instax Square, so the more impactful image might make it worth it to you.

You can go smaller too. The tiny Polaroid Go uses similarly tiny film, available in color only. It’s cute, but we think it’s worth it to use classic Polaroid or Fujifilm Instax Square for their bigger image size.

Converting Digital to Instant

If you have a favorite image that you shot with a digital camera and want to preserve it on instant film, you’re in luck. You can print any photo stored on your smartphone onto Instax Mini film using the Instax Mini Link or onto the square format with the Instax Share SP-3 or Polaroid Lab.

On the flip side, you can also digitize your instant prints. Check out our guide to preserving your photos for tips.

Despite it being a very digital age, you have a good number of instant cameras and film formats from which to choose. If you’ve got an itch to shoot film again, and don’t want to have to find a local lab to develop your shots, film will scratch it, and deliver results that almost match digital in their immediacy.

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