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Best instant camera 2021: The top Polaroid and Instax cameras for retro snaps

Amy Davies
1 Dec 2021
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Embrace the cool retro charm of instant photography with our roundup of the best instant cameras from Polaroid and Instax

Looking for the best instant camera? You may be surprised to learn that you’ve never had more choice.

Instant cameras making a comeback might sound like a strange idea, but few analogue technologies have been mourned more than photographic film. Forget the ease and convenience of digital; analogue junkies love the tones, the look and the exciting air of unpredictability of instant camera prints. And let’s be honest, an Instagram-filtered smartphone snapshot can’t match the cool retro charm of a genuine Polaroid.

So strong is this desire to snap old-school shots that analogue has made a significant comeback over recent years. The shelves aren’t groaning with 35mm film stock just yet, but fans of instant photography – popularised by Polaroid in the 1970s – now have an embarrassment of riches.

Instant cameras, which produce chemical prints directly, with no processing, uploading or development, are huge fun, a little unpredictable and, for photographers of the digital age, a great experience. Although, with the cost of a single print ranging from around 70p to nearly £2, images will need to be thought about quite carefully.

There are some really good, really novel instant cameras out there, but to take out any guesswork we’ve compiled a rundown of the best instant cameras around.

The Instax Square SQ1 is currently £20 off

The Instax SQ1 is a solid entry-level instant camera. It's fun, fully automatic - simply point and shoot - and creates classic white-bordered square prints. While the SQ1 usually sells for around £119, right now it's on sale for just £99 - a £20 discount.
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Was £119
Now £99

The Polaroid Now is now cheaper than ever

With fully automatic exposure and focus, the Polaroid Now is both fun and simple to use. And, importantly, it produces those iconic white-bordered square Polaroid prints. The Polaroid Now carries an RRP of £120 but you can usually pick it up for around £105. Right now, however, it's down to just £89 - its lowest-ever price.
Amazon
Was £105
Now £89

How to choose the best instant camera for you

How do instant cameras work?

Great question. When you press the shutter on an instant camera, a single frame of film is exposed. The difference between this frame of film and a frame of 35mm film is that the film in an instant camera has all the chemicals needed to develop the image built into the film itself. Some cameras produce a finished image straight from the rollers; others, such as the Polaroid models, produce a print that’s initially black but that develops over 15 minutes. To answer the inevitable question, you do not need to shake a Polaroid picture to help it develop. In fact, shaking a Polaroid picture can damage the image, as the shaking causes the film to separate – sorry, OutKast fans.

What kind of film do I need?

There are two main players in the instant camera market: Polaroid and Fujifilm. Both produce a range of cameras along with a range of corresponding, compatible instant film – you can’t mix and match. Fujifilm’s Instax film comes in three formats: Instax Mini, Instax Square and (the less common) Instax Wide. Polaroid, meanwhile, currently produces i-Type film and the smaller Go format film for its modern crop of instant cameras, along with film compatible with select vintage Polaroid cameras.

Instant camera film size comparison: Fuji Instax Mini vs Fuji Instax Square vs Polaroid i-Type

Fuji’s Instax Mini is the cheapest and most common instant film format. This film has total dimensions of 86 x 54mm, similar to a credit card, and an actual image size of 62 x 46mm. At the time of writing, the 50-pack represents the best value at £35, or about 70p per frame. Instax Mini film also has the advantage of being available in different styles: arty types can opt for black-bordered film, while the kid-friendly Candy Pop borders add a bit of pizazz. Instax Mini is also available in black and white. Expect to pay around £8.99 for a pack with one of Instax’s novelty finishes, which works out to about 90p per shot.

Fujifilm also produces Instax Square film for its Instax Square format cameras. Here, the total dimensions are 86 x 72mm, with an actual image size of 62 x 62mm. This format has proven to be hugely popular and gives that classic instant photography look thanks to its square shape. Here the best value is at £40 for a 50-pack – that’s about 80p per print. You can also find Instax Square film with a variety of different border options, as well as in black and white.

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Instant photography icon Polaroid currently produces a number of film stocks for both modern and vintage cameras. Polaroid’s i-Type film is designed for its current camera lineup and comes in both colour and black and white. Compared to Instax Mini these prints are huge, with more than twice the total area and an image size of 79 x 77mm. This makes an i-Type picture a far more substantial product than an Instax shot. That’s reflected in the price, though, with Polaroid i-Type film coming in packs of eight shots for around £15, or a substantial £1.87 per print.

Polaroid's Go film sits at the other end of the scale, with an image size of 47 x 46mm. Chemically, Go film is the same as the larger i-Type film and so produces similar results but in a smaller format. While it still carries a premium over Instax, Polaroid Go film is currently the most affordable Polaroid-branded film on the market, with a Polaroid Go double pack containing 16 shots retailing for £19, or around £1.19 per print.

What other features should I look for?

Today’s instant cameras range from cheap-and-cheerful chemical-only models to digital hybrid models that allow you to reprint images on demand from their built-in memory.

The key things to look for are the lens and the range of shutter speeds supported. Not all instant cameras have variable shutter speeds, which means that when the light drops you’ll need the flash to fire to get a decent image. If you’re feeling creative and want to do things such as light-painting you’ll want a camera that has a wide range of shutter speeds or, better yet, a bulb mode, where the frame of film is exposed for a chosen period.

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Some cameras have other creative options, such as a double-exposure mode. This analogue throwback means exposing a frame of film, but then exposing it again before printing it, allowing you to create bizarre, abstract compositions.

You should also pay attention to battery life. Cameras with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have the advantage of being rechargeable from the mains – often without the need to remove the battery – but might take a long time to recharge. Cameras that allow you to use AA batteries are a little more expensive to use (unless you bring rechargeables and a charger with you), but you can nearly always get hold of more AA batteries, which is a real advantage if you suddenly run dry.

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The best instant cameras to buy in 2021

1. Fujifilm Instax Mini 11: Best instant camera for beginners

Price: £69 | Buy now from Amazon

Fun, easy to use and affordable, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 makes for the ideal first instant camera. Operationally it couldn’t be simpler: just load up a pack of Instax Mini film, turn the camera on, then point and shoot. Exposures are all calculated automatically, meaning there are no controls to fiddle with, and just about anyone can start snapping right away.

For selfies you can engage an optical close-focus mode by extending the lens barrel; this reduces the minimum focal distance down to just 0.3m, and there’s even a handy mirror next to the lens for framing. An always-on flash ensures your subject is always brightly lit in all lighting conditions, though it can be a touch overpowering in certain situations.

If you’re photographically ambitious, the Mini 11 doesn’t offer a whole lot of room for creativity, but for those just setting out or those looking for a camera free of complications, it’s a great option and very tough to top for the money.

If you’re looking for something with a little more style, Fujifilm has recently released the Instax Mini 40. This is essentially the same camera as the Mini 11 but with a vintage-inspired retro redesign.

Read our full Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 review for more details.

Key specs – Power source: 2x AA batteries providing up to 100 shots; Lens: 60mm, f/12.7; Shutter modes: 1/2 - 1/250 automatic; Flash: Always on; Print development time: 2 minutes; Dimensions: 108 x 68 x 121mm; Weight: 293g


2. Polaroid Now: Best all-round Polaroid instant camera

Price: £109 | Buy now from Amazon

The Now is Polaroid’s modern take on the iconic OneStep design and the first camera to be released under the unified Polaroid name since the brand’s revival. While it clearly pays homage to cameras of yesteryear, the Polaroid now is true modern instant camera packed with Polaroid’s latest refinements.

In operation, it’s about as user-friendly as a Polaroid gets, ideally suited to point-and-shoot photography. You get dedicated controls for the flash and self-timer, the ability to dial in exposure compensation, and it will even capture creative double-exposures.

A standout feature is the inclusion of autofocus. Onboard there are two lenses, one standard and one close up, and the camera automatically switches depending on your distance from the subject. Calling it autofocus might be a stretch, but it’s certainly a useful feature and well implemented, even if the lack of parallax correction can make close-up shots a little tricky to frame.

As with all Polaroid cameras, the only thing to watch out for is the cost of the film. The Now takes Polaroid’s i-Type film packs, which will set you back around £1.87 per print. This can somewhat dampen the otherwise casual nature of the camera. Still, if you can stomach the running costs, it’s a great camera that’s a lot of fun to use.

Key specs – Power source: Rechargeable battery providing up to 150 prints; Lens: 95-102mm; Shutter modes: Auto, double exposure, self-timer, flash; Print development time: 15 minutes; Dimensions: 94 x 112 x 150mm; Weight: 434g


3. Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1: Best instant camera for square prints on a budget

Price: £119 | Buy now from Amazon

The Fujifilm Instax SQ1 is ideal for anyone looking to create hassle-free square prints. The SQ1 is Fuji’s entry-level Instax Square camera and is essentially a square version of its popular Instax Mini 11. All exposure settings are calculated automatically, so there are no buttons or dials to mess with, and the flash fires on every shot. All you need to do is point and shoot.

The camera is controlled via a collar around the lens: twist it once to extend the lens barrel and turn the camera on, twist it again to engage the camera’s close-focus. The close focus mode is ideal for arm’s length selfies and there’s even a handy mirror beside the lens to help you with framing.

The SQ1 is available in three colourways: chalk white, glacier blue and terracotta orange.

Key specs – Power source: 2 x CR2; Lens: 65mm, f/12.7; Shutter modes: 1/2 – 1/400 automatic; Flash: Always on; Print development time: 2 minutes; Dimensions: 130 x 118 x 57mm; Weight: 390g


4. Polaroid Go: Best budget Polaroid instant camera

Price: £109 | Buy now from Amazon

The Polaroid Go is a pocket-sized take on the iconic Polaroid silhouette. Measuring 105mm long, 84mm wide and 61mm tall, the Go is not only Polaroid’s smallest camera to date but the smallest analogue instant camera on the market. Despite its size, it still manages to pack in a well-rounded set of features, with a self-timer, toggleable flash and even a double exposure mode. The viewfinder also sports a nifty reflective coating, allowing it to act as a mirror while in front of the camera for framing selfies.

The Go shoots Polaroid Go film which, like the camera, is the smallest format Polaroid makes. Essentially a cutdown version of Polaroid's i-Type film, the Go film produces the same white-bordered, retro-tinged results as its larger siblings but in a smaller format – and at a lower price.

While Fujifilm’s Instax cameras may still have the Go beat for price-per-shot value, if you’re in the market for a Polaroid-branded instant camera, the Go is the most attainable model yet.

Read our full Polaroid Go review for more details

Key specs – Power source: Rechargeable battery providing up to 120 prints; Lens: 34mm, f/12-57; Shutter modes: Auto, double exposure, self-timer, flash; Print development time: 15 minutes; Dimensions: 105 x 84 x 61mm; Weight: 242g


5. Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 NEO Classic: Best Instax camera for creatives

Price: £125 | Buy now from Amazon

If you're looking for an Instax but hunger for more manual control, the Neo Classic is the camera for you. With exposure compensation, a toggleable flash, shutter speeds ranging from 1/8sec to 1/400sec and a bulb mode, the Neo Classic offers the most control of any camera in the Instax range.

The user-selectable modes allow you to preset the focus for macro, standard or landscape shots, and the viewfinder automatically corrects for parallax while shooting macro photos. There's also a “kid mode” that forces the camera to shoot at 1/400 for faster-moving action and “party mode” where flash is paired with longer shutter speeds for better-balanced low-light shots.

The Neo Classic has substantially more bells and whistles than more basic instant cameras, giving adventurous photographers far more creative freedom.

Key specs – Power source: Rechargeable battery providing up to 100 prints; Lens: 60mm, f/12.7; Shutter modes: Auto, 1/8sec – 1/400sec, bulb, self-timer, double-exposure mode; flash; Print development time: 2 minutes; Dimensions: 113 x 92 x 58mm; Weight: 298g


6. Fujifilm Instax Square SQ20: Best hybrid instant camera

Price: £179 | Buy now from Amazon 

The only digital hybrid instant camera in our roundup, the SQ20 combines the practicality of digital photography with the tactile enjoyment of instant photography.

The SQ20 captures images digitally, using a screen on the rear rather than a physical viewfinder for framing, and allowing you to review your shots before committing them to a print. This means that you only print the pictures you want and avoid wasting pricey film on shots where people had their eyes closed. You can also print the same image multiple times, create collages, add filters and borders, and as the digital shots are saved to a memory card, you can back them up to your computer, too. The digital image quality won’t stand up to too much close-up scrutiny, but they’re perfectly adequate for Instax prints.

The SQ20 also allows you to capture short video clips and extract individual frames for prints – ideal for making sure you grab the exact moment you want while shooting moving subjects such as pets or children.

While the SQ20 may not offer the same analogue experience as other instant cameras, overall, it’s a great option for those who are feeling a little nervous about making the transition to traditional analogue photography.

If you fancy something a little more compact, we’d recommend checking out Fujifilm’s Instax Mini LiPlay hybrid.

Key specs – Power source: Rechargeable Li-ion battery, 100-print life; Lens: 33.4mm (equivalent), f/2.4; Shutter modes: Standard, double exposure, bulb, split, collage, time shift collage; Print development time: 2 minutes; Dimensions: 119 x 50 x 127mm; Weight: 440g (inc film pack and memory card)


7. Polaroid OneStep+: Best Polaroid for advanced users

Price: £149 | Buy now from Amazon

The Polaroid OneStep+ pairs retro styling with modern usability. From the outside it wouldn’t look out of place alongside its vintage counterparts; inside, however, things are decidedly more 21st century.

On its own, the OneStep+ is pure old school Polaroid: load the film, point and shoot. You can brighten or darken your images using the exposure compensation slider, and opt to turn the flash off when it’s not required. It also features a handy secondary portrait lens accessed via a switch on the top that reduces the minimum focus distance to just 30cm.

Where the OneStep+ stands out is with the inclusion of Bluetooth, along with a companion app. The app gives access to a remote shutter and self-timer, along with light painting and double exposure modes. For the more experienced photographer, there’s also a full manual mode that allows you to set the aperture, shutter speed and flash power independently.

One thing to bear in mind, as with all Polaroids, is the cost of the film. Even when buying multipacks you’ll be spending just shy of £2 a shot, but if you’re craving classic white-bordered prints and need more creative control, there really is no substitute.

Key specs – Power source: Rechargeable battery providing up to 120 prints; Lens: 89-103mm; Shutter modes: Auto, manual (with app), self-timer; Print development time: 15m; Dimensions: 150 x 111 x 97mm; Weight: 493g


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