We Tested the Top 3 Instant Cameras Of the Year to Find Out Which One’s the Best That Money Can Buy

instant cameras
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And, just like that, the best instant cameras are cool again. You know what they said, what goes around comes around.

Though it had been considered a dead medium for way longer than it should have, instant cameras are blowing up in popularity yet again through the creative lens of young people. As we become swallowed whole in a technologically driven world, it’s becoming cooler to throw yourself back into the basics, even if you’ve never explored that realm before.

Kids, teens, young adults and even you boomers out there are becoming re-obsessed with instant film for the sheer fact that, well, it’s instant. No more Shutterfly, no more long lines at the CVS photo printing kiosk, no more muddy ink from your at-home printer. Just classic, contrasty, high-flash photos at your fingertips in minutes — with that old school, filmic edge, of course.

But because there are (surprisingly) so many instant cameras to choose from in 2021 and gift-giving is in full swing for the holiday season, you might be thinking: which really is the best instant camera snag right now?

Well, lucky for you, I reviewed the top 3 instant cameras money can buy right now to weigh all the pros and cons. You’re welcome.

Polaroid Now+ Courtesy of Polaroid Originals

Why You Should Trust Us

But, who am I to say which of the best instant cameras is the best instant camera? Well, I’ve been an avid photographer since I was in middle school. I’ve tackled a slew of mediums in photography that doesn’t only include the best DSLR cameras, but film cameras including 35mm cameras, medium format cameras, large format cameras and of course, instant film cameras. Hell, I’ve done countless projects that have solely involved shooting with a Polaroid. I’m truly a camera geek, especially when it comes to instant film photography.

To top it all off, I was a photography major in college with a BA in fine arts. How am I a writer? Mind your business. All in all, your boy knows what he’s talking about.

What Are the Best Instant Cameras

The top 3 instant cameras to consider right now are as follows:

The issue is this: they’re all so different. It may be the case that one camera is better than the other in terms of quality, another might have some stellar features and the other might have that classic shape you assimilate so well with instant camera photography. It’s a give and a take.

But is there one that truly trumps the others? Check out our pros and cons for each to find out.

  

Polaroid Now+ Courtesy of Polaroid Originals

Polaroid Now+

$149.99

Polaroid Now+

Camera Price: Around $150

Film Price: Around $20 for 16 sheets

Photo Quality: Medium

I can’t lie to you, I was attached to my Polaroid by the hip for years. If you asked me a few years ago whether I would even place my hands on any other instant camera brand, I would straight up tell you “no”. But, as I’ve gotten older and have given other instant cameras a chance, I’m finally allowing myself to understand the camera I’ve loved for so long for what it truly is.

Pros: For starters, Polaroid is Polaroid. It’s a household name we can all identify as the instant camera. It’s got that classic square format we’re so familiar with and that in itself, gives the camera brownie points.

Being Polaroid’s newest instant camera, the Polaroid Now+ is truly the instant camera of a generation. If you’ve been a fan of the medium since, say, the 80s, you’ll first note that the exterior hasn’t changed much. It’s got that classic Polaroid look to it that feels vintage, even if it’s only a day old.

But although the Polaroid Now+ might look dated, it’s complete with technology other instant film cameras are not. Each camera comes with a variety of filter lenses that snap on the exterior lens for a playfully colorful added hue. In addition to this, you can download the Polaroid app on your smartphone to control timers, set double exposures, proper aperature settings and more. No other instant camera (that I know of) at least, can do that.

Cons: Here’s where things get a little finnicky and in my opinion should not be a problem at this point. First and foremost, the Polaroid Now+ is far from instant. It takes around 10 to 11 minutes total for an image to fully develop, which is kind of outrageous. If you’re going to have all of these excess, technologically advanced additives, might as well rework the film first and keep it up to par with 2021 expectations.

Not onlt that, but you have to truly get up close and personal to shoot with a Polaroid or nothing is going to come out at all. The flash isn’t the best and photos stay relatively dark unless you’re in the subject’s face. I understand that a massive part of the Polaroid Now+ is having the ability to set aperature, but the majority of folks purchasing an instant camera aren’t necessarily photographers. They want an instant way to shoot fun photos of their friends. Setting aperature isn’t necessarily so instant. There should be a straight-up point-and-shoot option that feels effortless and captures the image in full flash.

And, not to be too nit-picky, but all of the colorful lens add-ons make the photos that much darker.

Here’s a photo I took of my friend Beau and his cat Sage with the Polaroid Now+.

Beau & Sage on the Polaroid Now+ Courtesy of Tyler Schoeber

Polaroid Now+

$149.99

Polaroid Color Film

$19.99

  

instax fujifilm camera, best Christmas gifts Courtesy of Amazon

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Instant Camera Bundle

$109.95

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11

Camera Price: Around $70

Film Price: Around $13 for 20 sheets

Photo Quality: Excellent

Because I was on the Polaroid high horse for so long, I refused to touch a Fujifilm Instax Mini until this year. I hated the format, I hated the colors and I hated how it made essentially everyone a photographer. It took the life from the artform for me and made it so easily accessible for everyone to use. But, as I eventually got out of my art school head, I realized that was exactly the point.

Pros: The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 is a camera for everyone. It’s for your 5-year-old son, it’s for your 17-year-old niece, it’s for your 29-year-old brother, it’s for your 57-year-old mom and it’s for your 80-year-old grandfather. It’s effortless to use. You simply press a button, snap your shot and the fully developed photo is at your fingertips in just two minutes total, proving the word “instant”.

The exterior body colors initially irked me, but as I’ve grown up a bit, I now love them. It brings a sense of play into photography, which is what photography should be, right? Playful.

The film itself is relatively inexpensive when it comes to instant film. Fujifilm Instax Mini Instant Film is only around $13 for 20 sheets, while Polaroid film is around $20 for 8 sheets. More film, less money.

And when it comes to photo quality, wow. Just, wow. Although it develops in less than half the time Polaroid film does, quality is insane. Contrast. Details. Color. Brightness. It’s all there.

Cons: I’m going to say it: I still hate the size of the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11’s photos. I wish they were much larger, but for this quality, I’ll take what I can get. I have noticed some slight technical issues with taking photos. Like, not every time I press the button will it actually shoot. But, if I turn it off and on a couple of times that more or less fixes the issue.

Another issue for some is that this camera takes batteries instead of a charger. While I don’t mind this personally, it might make for an issue for folks on the road traveling without access to a drug store or Walmart. I suggest stocking up on batteries so you never run out of juice.

Here’s the same photo I took of my friend Beau and his cat Sage instead with the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11.

Beau & Sage on the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Courtesy of Tyler Schoeber

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Instant Camera Bundle

$109.95

  

KODAK Smile Courtesy of Amazon

KODAK Smile

$238.00

KODAK Smile

Camera Price: Around $100

Film Price: Around $25 for 50 sheets

Photo Quality: Low medium

While it might not be one of the more known instant film cameras on the block, the KODAK Smile is a great option for folks who are only half interested in the world of instant cameras. Why? Because this isn’t your average instant camera. Unlike what you’d expect, this camera uses non-light-sensitive Zink photo paper to print photos of your choice from the camera. Unlike Polaroid and Fujifilm, there’s a screen included where you can view the image you just took. If you don’t like the image, you don’t have to print it, meaning you don’t have to waste the “film”. Neat, huh? But, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Pros: The KODAK Smile has a technological update all other instant cameras are lacking: a screen. This is a great way to ensure you’re printing photos you actually want to print instead of wasting tons of money on film. Because the “film” used is actually regular printing paper through Zink, you don’t have to worry about opening the camera and spilling light onto the film. You can unload and load with film still inside almost carelessly.

The camera itself is quite compact and can fit into your back pocket. That’s something you will not be able to do with the other two cameras. So if you find yourself on the go, this is one of the better options to choose.

Cons: While the features on this puppy are pretty neat, I will say I’m not the biggest fan of the quality of photos. Unlike what you’d expect from instant film photography, it doesn’t print any of the white boarders you see. This prints a full-on print that kind of resembles something you’d put in your wallet. Quality is also SUPER grainy.

Folks might also have an issue with the fact that it’s not a traditional instant film camera. There’s something about the lack of choice that comes with instant film that adds to the charm of shooting instant. Too much choice feels way too digital. You know what I mean?

Last but not least, here’s the last photo I took of my friend Beau and his cat Sage using the Kodak Smile.

Beau & Sage on the KODAK Smile Courtesy of Tyler Schoeber

KODAK Smile

$238.00

Kodak 2"x3" Premium Zink Photo Paper (50 Sheets) Compatible with Kodak Smile, Kodak Step, PRINTOMATIC

$24.85

  

Final Thoughts

If you didn’t already guess, I absolutely think that the world’s best instant film camera is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11. Sure, I fully understand the tie photographers might have to Polaroid, but the proof is truly in the pudding. When it comes to price, functionality and quality, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 takes the cake. Hell, it takes the whole damn bakery.

If you want to get yourself the best instant camera, find it in Fujifilm. It will never ever let you down and at this point, that’s something I feel comfortable stating as a sheer fact.

Pick it up in a full bundle right now on Amazon below and see what it’s all about up close.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Instant Camera Bundle

$109.95

  

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