Following in the footsteps of vinyl records, on-ear headphones, and all manner of other nostalgic treats, instant film cameras have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, no wonder. They’re fun, a little retro, and make a nice change from the endlessly perfectible Snapchat-filtered selfies and carefully curated Instagram posts we’re all guilty of.
If you’re still bewildered by the expense of buying film when phone cameras are so good these days, think of it this way: nothing compares to handing someone a photo you’ve just taken of them and excitedly watching it develop right before your eyes. Not only has that magic never really gone away, but people won’t expect it, which just adds to the joy, so for adding a little twist to your next function or family get-together, for a wedding guestbook with a difference, or just for casual snaps when you’re hanging out with your friends, we think they’re second to none.
When you’re looking for the best instant camera, you’re basically choosing between three big names: Fujifilm, Lomography (or “Lomo”, if you’re so inclined) and the big one, Polaroid. Each of these brands is bringing their offerings bang up to speed with modern updates, little extras and higher levels of control. If you like a physical print, but the thought of printing straight out fills you with fear, some higher end models allow you to review before pressing go; some two-in-one cameras save your snaps to a memory card as well as gifting you with a print; and some come with extra lenses and bits of kit that’ll hone your skills and improve your photo album no end.
To avoid your instant camera ending up in a drawer after a handful of uses, it's important to understand how much it will cost to print a photo, and for most instant cameras on the marker that's around £1 per print. Shopping around for bulk deals on film refills is a good idea if you are likely to be getting snap-happy with your new gadget. Trust us: you'll run through those exposures faster than you think!
We've rounded up our pick of the best instant cameras, and the best
Polaroid cameras, to help you pick your next retro photo companion.
With its dedicated selfie mode, perfectly sized case for one-handed use, and secure wrist strap for holding it at juuust the right angle, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 70 is our best instant camera for selfies. It comes in a range of cool metallic finishes and prints out those distinctive credit card-shaped photos that you’ve been seeing everywhere on social media, just right for teens to pin on their wall for a personalised collage. A great gift for those looking to up their selfie game, especially the glamorous rose-gold edition that’s exclusive to John Lewis.
Hip young and not-so-young things may already be well acquainted with Lomography through their omnipresent Diana F+ camera — now, they’re bringing that cult appeal to the instant camera market with the Lomo’Instant Sanremo. As well as the integral wide-angle lens, this instant camera bundle comes with fisheye, portrait and close-up lenses, and offers auto-flash and two manual shooting modes to allow the user to get comfortable playing with settings. A really great all-rounder for the serious hobbyist and the best instant camera for professional pictures on our list.
If you’re a Polaroid devotee who’s left cold by the business card-style prints that are popping up everywhere, then look no further, because this Instax prints in that square format we all know and love. That’s not all though — while the photo you’ve just taken prints out, it’s also being backed up to a digital format, so you can keep looking at it even if you’re noble enough to give the print away. The best 80's polaroid camera for anyone searching for larger polaroid print-outs than your average instant camera.
This instant-meets-digital camera from old hands Polaroid is the best of both worlds if you want the nostalgia factor of instant, but aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the convenience of digital. It lets you edit your photos on its integral touch screen before printing or saving to an onboard SD card, making it perfect for events — and those inevitable “I wasn’t ready!” moments — and eliminating the risk of wasting film on dud shots. With its ability to fit more people in the frame thanks to its wider film, this polaroid camera is the best instant camera for weddings on our list.
The Instax Mini 8, with its cute curvy lines and range of brights and pastels, is still our best gift for teens for at least another year. You can see the appeal, it’s pure arm candy, it’s easy to use, and the convenient prints are great for making collages of their friends. The four shooting modes all utilise the flash, so there’s no option to shoot without, but this does eliminate the guesswork for first-time photographers. A lovely little all-rounder and a perfect stocking filler.
If you liked the look of Lomo’s wide-angle lens, but don’t need all the extras that come with it, this Fujifilm camera is just the thing. Like its Instax brothers and sisters, the 300’s flash auto-fires for ease of use, but the only other control you have over exposure is to brighten or darken, so if you’re looking for more serious shooting, go for the Lomo. On the plus side, it has a focus function which beats the Mini’s 2-8 feet range hands down, and makes it great for landscapes and large group shots.
Want to print photos straight from your phone? Check out this review of the Motorola's insta-share printer (opens in new tab).