8 best instant cameras
Get snapping – and immediate gratification – with an update of the retro favourite
The latest generation of instant cameras offers a heady cocktail of instant satisfaction and nostalgia – it’s hard to ignore and strangely addictive. The quality of the pictures may not be up there with a digital SLR or the best smartphones but that’s not the point. For sheer photographic fun, an instant camera is hard to beat.
There are a couple of things to be aware of before buying. The size of the pictures differs depending on the film the camera takes. Fuji is the only company to make instant film on a mass scale these days and it sells three formats: the credit-card-sized Instax Mini (54mm x 86mm), the larger Instax Square (86mm x 72mm) and the Instax Wide (108mm x 86mm), which is closest in size to the original Polaroid format.
The film is relatively expensive, costing from about 50p per shot for the Mini if you buy in bulk, up to more than £2 each for the Impossible Project pictures – a Dutch company that bought the old Polaroid factory along with its patents.
There are also relatively few companies making instant cameras at present, which is why you’ll see some names crop up a few times in our list. We picked cameras with a range of features and prices to match. At the bottom end are the most basic point-and-shoot cameras, which are good for portraits and capturing moments at events – such as for a wedding guest book.
At the top end are cameras for those who want to push their photography a bit further with interchangeable lenses that allow you a lot more freedom to take close-ups and wide shots. One model on the list even has in-camera editing options, making the experience closer to what many will be used to with their digital camera or smartphone.
In rating each camera, we focused on design, picture quality and value for money to come up with our best buy.
1. Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic: £119, Amazon
This from Fujifilm’s popular series is one is for those who want some extra control over their images beyond a basic point and shoot. It comes with additional controls such as exposure compensation and multiple exposure mode. It delivers richer images than the Mini 9 (see number 5 below), with greater contrast and saturation than many of the cheaper options available, as well as brighter colours and finer detail. Its relatively compact body feels sturdy in the hand and the controls are intuitively placed. The silver and black styling is neat and hints at the retro roots without being a total throwback. A great all-rounder.
2. Lomo Instant Wide: from £179, Lomography
The Lomography brand has its roots in the Soviet-era Lomo, a company famed for making poorly built cameras that produced strangely distorted images. But a group of arts students liked these surreal effects and adopted the cameras, eventually spawning a new range. Echoes of that heritage are obvious; the styling is full-on Eighties and boxy. Though there are no complaints about build quality. Lomo cameras are made for experimentation and come with coloured flash filters that give different tints to your photos. They also have a great multiple exposure feature that allows you to easily overlay several images on top of one another to create some quirky and beautiful shots.
Lomo cameras tend to produce warm and soft images, compared to Fuji’s, which generally came out a little sharper and cooler. This model takes Fuji’s relatively new wide-format film, which gives a lot more space to work with and so more freedom to shoot landscapes or bigger groups. This is a pretty hefty camera – not one to just have in your pocket for any occasion. You can also get three interchangeable lenses meaning there’s more room to be creative than with most instant cameras.
3. Lomo Automat Glass Magellan: £170, Lomography
This is a great instant camera and the only one on the list with a glass lens. It also has the widest and fastest aperture lens on offer on an instant camera too (f4.5) meaning you can work with a shallower depth-of-field. The Automat Glas also achieves impressive colour and contrast. Like its predecessor, the Automat, it doesn’t have many manual features so if you want more control over your images go for the Wide or the Fuji SQ10. Despite this, image quality is great and shots mostly turn out lit just right even with the camera doing all of the work.
In terms of styling, it keeps the Eighties feel with a square black case and a compact body. The built-in lens is ideal for everyday shooting and there are also wide-angle and fisheye lens attachments.
4. Lomo’Instant Automat: from £149, Lomography
Unlike the Wide, which has a host of manual settings, the Automat does almost everything for you: aperture, shutter speed and flash are all sorted out automatically by the camera. This means it’s one of the easiest instant cameras to use. That being said, there are options to get creative. It still has the multiple exposure mode and you can also attach close-up, wide-angle and fisheye lenses. It’s more compact than the Wide model and therefore more portable. It shoots on Fujifilm Instax Mini and features a remote control shutter release.
5. Fujifilm Instax Mini 9: £70, John Lewis
The latest iteration from the Fujifilm Instax family is a fun little camera that in many ways embodies what instant photography should be all about. You basically point, shoot and wait for about a minute or so for your photo to develop. The styling has a cartoon-like feel and it comes in a variety of pastel colours. Despite being the lowest-priced model here, it doesn’t feel cheap. Just next to the manual viewfinder is a small selfie mirror, which is surprisingly accurate at framing your narcissistic moments. This one takes the standard mini film, creating pleasing credit-card sized portraits. It’s perfect for weddings and other occasions where you want an instant souvenir. We found the camera did have a tendency to overexpose in bright light, leaving faces a little washed out but you still get the novelty factor of having a relatively inexpensive instant print.
6. Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10: £220, Amazon
The SQ10 is a hybrid between digital and analogue. Its main advantage over the competition is the screen on the back which is a bit of a game-changer. Once the picture is taken you can adjust the brightness and saturation of the image or even add a filter. This means you can create great-looking images in light or dark conditions and it also saves you wasting precious film on shots that come out looking washed out or underexposed.
The curved black styling of the body is less self-consciously retro than most of the other models and because this camera is a little more complex, it takes a bit longer to figure out where all the settings are but the on-screen controls are no more tricky than an average compact digital camera.
The square format film gives significantly bigger images than the standard Fuji mini models but for some people the quality of the snaps may not be far enough ahead of the cheaper cameras on offer to justify the jump in price.
7. Leica Sofort: £250, Selfridges
Here’s a cheap way to own a camera from the sought-after (and expensive) German brand. “Sofort” means “instant” in German and this is pretty much a point-and-shoot instant camera, so there aren’t too many dials or buttons to get your head around. It has eight different preset shooting modes depending on the situation, which give you some freedom to experiment – settings for action, parties and double exposure, for example. On fully automatic mode, pictures come out pretty well in most lighting situations
This is the best-looking camera of the group, with hints of the old Leica models and a minimalist square design, sporting that iconic red logo. Underneath, this is essentially the same camera as Fuji’s cheaper Mini 90, with some tweaks from Leica so it really comes down to whether you want to pay more for the Leica name.
8. Impossible Project SX-70: £380, Jessops
This folding beauty is a masterpiece of design, originally manufactured by Polaroid, it was the first instant SLR ever made. The models now on sale have since been lovingly refurbished by the Impossible Project. It’s a fantastic achievement to bring these old cameras back to life and this is the choice if you want as close as you can get to the nostalgia of shooting with an original instant camera.
When folded up you can slip it in your pocket, which is a big advantage and the pictures are the full-size, square Polaroid style. The film is made by the Impossible Project and costs close to £20 for eight pictures. The pictures tend to come out a little more washed out than we would have liked but for die-hard Polaroid fans, the SX-70 is a treat.
All of these cameras are great fun to use and offer something slightly different. If you want to play around with a host of manual options and interchangeable lenses, then Lomography’s Lomo’Instant Wide is ideal. Fuji’s SQ-10 also gave great pictures and the option to view and edit on-screen is excellent but probably not quite excellent enough to justify the price difference.
The gap in quality of photographs between the cheapest and the most expensive instant cameras is pretty small when compared to the difference between the best and worst compact digital cameras.
Most of us are probably looking for a simple point-and-shoot and for that, the Instax Mini 90 is the perfect all-rounder. It handles most lighting situations well and has the option to take more manual control if you want to. It’s also been around for a while and has come down in price so, in terms of value for money, it’s the best option out there at the moment.
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