The words “instant camera” still conjure up the notion of tiny cardboard boxes with a single roll of film in them that tourists would use. To others, an these devices could go even further back to ancient Polaroids that would create a single picture in just over a minute. Wow! Now that every phone, computer, tablet, and even some glasses come loaded with some manner of photographic equipment, the instant camera has changed, but not died away. The truth is that as good as digital technology is these days, sometimes a hard-copy is the best thing.
Since most instant cameras operate differently than mirrorless, compact, or even point and shoot cameras, their criteria is unusual. You aren’t going to get ISO ratings or a description of sensor arrays. Instead, we’re going to break down the ease of interface, the shutter speeds you can expect, the unusual and ancient features that these relics contain, and tell ye tales of the bygone days when phones had cords and women-folk couldn’t vote. Come with us down to the creek and let us offer you the 5 best instant cameras. If ye be a fan of Polaroid or Fujifilm, you’ll be in luck.
Polaroid One Step Express Instant 600
Retro Recommendation: People who might have danced to Boyz II Men or perhaps even Duran Duran at their high school prom will feel right at home with the chassis of this blast from the past. The flip-top face with built-in flash is so retro that it will make any material girl squeal with delight. Polaroid has clearly tried to make the appearance of the camera more space-aged by slimming the design and rounding the edges. Now, instead of a box it looks like…well, a slightly rounded box.
As to specs, it has a 106mm lens which can shoot anywhere from 2ft. on up. There is no ceiling for the range, though the lack of a zoom means that no one will be able to tell what you are taking a picture of if you are too far away. The auto-focus is surprisingly spry and gives you rapid point and shoot ability. The flash works strikingly well up to about 10ft. Beyond that it lacks any real illumination power. The Express Instant has an aperture that goes from f42 up to f14.5 and a shutter speed range of 1/3 to 1/200th of a second. The prints it produces are 3.1 x 3.1 inches. [Purchase: $132]
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic
Aim n’ Fire: The Neo Classic takes its design from instamax cameras that went out of style about the same time as disco, but that is where the parallel stops. This camera works very hard to ensure you can’t flub a picture no matter how inept you are with a camera. The internal light sensor automatically decides what shutter speed to use and how much flash you will need for every picture, so you’ll never have to do any of that icky thinking stuff.
It has a few different modes that do give you some measure of control. It changes its actions for shooting children and pets, parties, still-life, or double exposure for maximum contrast. It has a 60mm lens with some zoom capability that can focus well at about 9 feet. Also allows for shooting smaller objects very close up. The shutter goes from 1.8 – 1/400th of a second. You can also use the shutter button to hold the shutter open for 10 seconds if you just want to sear an image onto the film. [Purchase: $150]
Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S
Time Bomb: The 50S is sleek and stylish, denying the image of nostalgia that some of these other options have tried to project. That being said, its glossy black or pearly pimp white body will look totally groovy next to your vinyl collection. Like the Neo Classic, it works hard so you don’t have to by automatically changing its flash, focus, and shutter speed settings depending on your circumstances. Unlike the New Classic, it doesn’t have the same high number of modes. Instead it offers some more high-tech features.
The 50S has a self-timer in the event you need to take a selfie or just have to jump into a group picture with your “I Love the 80’s” bowling league. The 60mm lens lets you shoot from as close as 30mm, so now you can get all your food pix on film without having to step back from the table. The shutter works between 1/3 – 1/400th of a second but it has two different buttons depending on if you are shooting in portrait or landscape mode. The built-in flash works up to about 9 feet. The zoom is comparable to the Neo Classic for range. [Purchase: $89]
Fujifilm Instax Mini 25
Kid’s Korner: Yes, it is yet another offering from Fujifilm. This one seems to be geared toward the younger generation as it has a decidedly creepy “Hello, Kitty!” look to it that makes it the absolute wrong camera to pull out at the bar or the ballgame. It comes equipped with a tiny mirror right beside the standard 60 mm lens that is specifically intended to help users frame their selfie perfectly. If you have a young daughter, this will thrill her to no end.
It has an adorable little lighten and darken control that lets shooters decide how much contrast they want depending on their mood. They might be brooding because they didn’t get ice cream or bright and happy because they have a new camera that looks like a disturbing cartoon cat. It has a 1/3 – 1/400th of a second shutter speed option and – like the others in the Mini line – takes much of the focusing, lighting, and flash usage out of the hands of the photographer and gives it to the machine, just the way God intended. [Purchase: $90]
Budget Friendly: Spending almost a C-note or more on a piece of technology that is as vintage as monocles and just as sexy does seem a bit excessive. If you are looking to get an instant camera for a little less, and get all the basic features without cutsie gimmicks, then the 300P is Polaroids parting salvo.
The shutter isn’t adjustable. It shoots at 1/60th of a second and if you want something else, it is not going to accommodate you. You have a basic light sensor that will setup the flash based on your choice of four modes. The pictures are tiny 2.1-3.4 inches, which is about the same size as a business card. For quick prints to tack up, the 300P let’s the cheapest photographer have their day. [Purchase: $70]
Lomography Lomo Instant
New Comer: The Lomo Instant is so deeply hipster that it’s possible it is too rad to exist in this dimension. The camera itself is partially a work of art since it will allow users a wide range of external designs. It will have a wide-angle lens which promises to be better than anything else on the instant market. It will include shot overlay so that pictures can be melded and merged and include both auto and manual modes depending on the needs of the shooter. Current release projections put it at November, but you can still contribute to their kickstarter. [Purchase]