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Instant cameras are the perfect example of how yesterday’s analog technology can get a digital-age update for our nostalgia-obsessed world. Sure, we have high-performing DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and readily accessible pocket cameras via our smartphones, but we still love the immediacy and physical souvenirs we get with the best instant cameras.
Nothing else can match the convenience and retro charm you get with a good instant camera, and thanks to their recent revival, instant camera film is now readily available and affordable again. The best Polaroid cameras are back too, along with neo-classics from Fujifilm, Kodak and others.
To help SPY readers pick the best instant camera for making memories, we tested the top options side by side to see how they compared. Our primary product tester for this review was an experienced photographer with a decade of experience in film photography, and he’s extremely picky about his equipment. Ultimately, we found that one particular camera was far better than the rest, and it wasn’t the one we expected. Keep reading for our full instant camera reviews and find out how to get the most out of these retro gadgets.
The Best Instant Cameras at a Glance
With the advent of digital cameras with LED screens and ready-to-view digital images, disposable and instant Polaroid cameras were on the verge of going extinct, until millennials obsessed with photo walls and nostalgia brought them back into popular culture. Today, the best instant cameras are easy-to-use and let you instantly capture memories in physical form. And, when we say easy to use, we mean it — a child could figure out how to operate these cameras.
Although they’re easy to use, the best instant cameras aren’t even close to similar in quality. Through our testing, we found varying differences in each unit that both positively and negatively affected our experiences. The positives were overwhelmingly impressive, but the negatives would leave us scratching our heads. Shouldn’t a technology this old have worked out the kinks by now?
In total, we tested five instant cameras from Fujifilm, Polaroid and Kodak. We tested each of these cameras over a period of two weeks, and we went through at least two rolls of film with each camera. Ultimately, we found four cameras that are worth purchasing in 2022.
So what is the best instant camera? Our top pick is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11, which has the perfect balance of photo quality, development duration and affordability. You can read our full instant camera reviews below, but here is an abbreviated list of our top picks.
1. Best Overall: Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 — $74.99 at Amazon
2. Runner Up: Polaroid Now+ Instant Camera — $149.99 at Amazon
3. Smallest Option: Polaroid Go Instant Mini Camera — $96.76 at Amazon
4. Digital Option: Kodak Smile Instant Print Digital Camera — $72.00 at Amazon
The Best Instant Camera for 2022
It’s almost time to get snapping. Now, you just have to find the best instant camera for your needs. After testing five cameras, we found four that we think are worth purchasing. As you’ll find, one option is an absolute standout. The others are still solid options as well, but one really blew us away. All of these products were extensively tested by SPY editors and our resident photographer, and we’ll continue to update this post as we find more quality products for your consideration.
1. Fujifilm Instax Mini 11
BEST INSTANT CAMERA
Best For: Anyone under the sun looking to take an instant film photo with exceptional quality, from pros to amateurs.
The candy-colored Instax Mini 11 is the latest Fujifilm instant camera you can pick up — and singlehandedly the best instant film camera we’ve ever tested. In a world where the word “Polaroid” is synonymous with the term “instant camera”, we fully expected the new Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 to fall short of the best Polaroid cameras. Despite our skepticism, Fujifilm overwhelmingly came out on top.
The Instax Mini 11 will transform the way you photograph. Though the camera itself is a bit bulky, the photo quality is undeniable. Gorgeous colors, vivid contrast, striking detail — this camera skimps on absolutely nothing. When comparing images side by side with its competitors, it’s clear that the Fujifilm Instax Mini is the clear winner. That was true with the picture development time, too. When Fujifilm says instant, they mean it. Each photo develops in a minute or less, which, in comparison to its competitors, is light speed.
The Mini 11 also has a number of cool features worth detailing. Naturally, the device has a selfie mode, because why else would you get a camera in 2022? Aside from that, we tested shooting in a number of light conditions and the Mini 11 was easily able to pick up the subject no matter what thanks to a powerful flash.
To top it all off, the Mini 11 and the instant film are both as affordable as it gets in this product category. Whether you’re a casual photographer or someone who shoots professionally, this is the best instant camera of 2022, full stop.
Full Review: Fujifilm Instax Mini 11
- Easy to use
- Fast development time
- Striking photo quality
- Comes with batteries and holds a charge for a long time
- Affordable film options
- Fun design and color options
- Honestly, none
2. Polaroid Now+ Instant Camera
Best For: Die-hard Polaroid fans who refuse to try out any other instant camera brand. People who appreciate retro charm. Anyone that prefers larger photo prints.
If you’re shopping for the best instant cameras, then you have to consider the best Polaroid cameras. Not only is Polaroid a household name, but it’s undergoing a major comeback in popular culture. Now, the original Polaroid camera you remember from the golden days has been revamped in the form of the Polaroid Now+ Instant Camera, which is a modernized take on the classic Polaroid instant camera. Our take? We think photo quality and development time could be a little better, but we love taking photos with this camera.
It’s been quite some time since Polaroid was first introduced in 1948. That said, it’s 2022 now. We were expecting a little more from a brand that’s been in the instant camera game for so long. Development time can take upwards of 10 whole minutes with the Polaroid Now+. In addition, the photo prints aren’t quite as sharp as Fujifilm, and the color contrast is somewhat lacking. Still, the design is the epitome of the good old days of instant film photography, and this is most certainly a camera made for nostalgic purposes. If you love vintage shopping and all things retro, then this is the best instant camera for you.
Polaroid also offers some cool features that set the Now+ apart from its competitors. For example, the camera comes with a number of colorful lens filters. In our experience, the yellow and orange filters are pointless, but you can have a bit of fun with the other three in brighter lighting. Additionally, the camera has a simple one-button design and an autofocus that worked like a charm in our testing. It also connects to your smartphone through the Polaroid app for added features like aperture settings, light painting options and more. In theory, this is great, but we weren’t able to get these settings to reliably work.
Finally, unlike most modern instant cameras, the Polaroid Now+ prints on large 4.25″x3.5″ photo prints, so you get larger photos than you do with Fujifilm.
Full Review: Polaroid Now+ Instant Camera.
- Classic design
- Easy to use
- Large photo prints
- Great autofocus
- Some great added filters
- Special functions don’t all work
- Not the best photo quality
- Awfully long development time
- We wish Polaroid had followed the “less is more” approach
3. Polaroid Go Instant Mini Camera
Best For: Daytime adventure lovers that want to a compact and portable instant camera.
Sometimes, great things come in smaller packages. And when Polaroid first announced that they were releasing a new instant camera called the Polaroid Go, we placed a pre-order immediately. This camera is cute. Unlike the bulky Fujifilm Instax line, the Polaroid Go is a compact camera that fits perfectly in your hand, which makes this camera easy to bring on the go. It doesn’t quite fit in your pocket, but it’s certainly more of a “mini” than the Fujifilm Mini 11.
As excited as we were to test out the Polaroid go, we have to be honest: this instant camera left us wanting. The Polaroid Go has essentially all the same visual and development qualities as the Now+, but with one major fault. The camera takes dark photos. We took our first pictures on a bright summer day, and after the first few photos developed, we thought we had done something wrong or gotten bad film. After further review, it became clear that the Polaroid Go really struggles with low lighting. Unfortunately, Polaroid didn’t pack enough punch in this camera’s flash for it to light up a room properly.
Still, we did have a blast taking photos with this camera, which is a great option for daytime selfies and group photos due to the reliable self-timer option. In addition, the camera has a pretty neat double exposure feature. We also love the little red wrist strap that comes with the camera, making it a perfect out-on-the-town adventure buddy.
- Fun retro design
- Compact size
- Fun double exposure option
- Great self-timer feature
- Surprisingly dark prints
- Flash isn’t the best
- Best used in the daytime
- Requires special Polaroid Go film
4. Kodak Smile Instant Print Digital Camera
Best For: Old-school photographers that love Kodak. People who want to look at their photos before printing and avoid wasting film.
When reviewing the best instant cameras, film price was one of our most important considerations. Once upon a time, you could buy cheap camera film at every drug store in the world, but after digital cameras became the norm, film rolls became much harder to find — and much more expensive. Kodak found a way to combat film waste by helping folks save money with the Kodak Smile, an instant camera built with a screen on the back.
With the Kodak Smile, you can preview your photo before printing. This does take some of the spontaneity out of the photography process, but it’s actually a really handy feature if you want to avoid wasting expensive film. The Kodak Smile is unlike any other instant camera you’ve handled before. This tiny camera slides open to reveal the lens, which is when it automatically turns on. The back, as mentioned, features a screen you can use to see your subject. If you choose to print it, the Kodak Smile prints on non-light-sensitive zink paper.
Zink paper typically offers higher quality and better colors, but the camera on the Kodak is so-so, resulting in somewhat grainy and dark pictures. We’d like to see some improvements on this camera before ranking it more highly. That said, you will save a ton of money on film, which is a serious plus. Additionally, this is probably the prototype for how instant cameras will evolve in the future, so it’s cool to own one of the firsts.
- Cool design
- Saves you money
- Digital screen for viewing photos
- Truly pocket-sized
- Photo quality is mediocre
- Best for daytime use
- Has a few kinks to be worked out
How We Chose the Best Instant Film Cameras
Typically, when reviewing a new product category, we try to evaluate at least 10 options before rendering a final verdict on the top products. However, there are really only three major brands making instant film cameras right now — Polaroid, Fujifilm and Kodak. For this review, SPY tested five instant film cameras side by side.
We evaluated each of these cameras over a period of two weeks, and we tried to test every feature these cameras had to offer. For the cameras that come with apps, we were sure to download and test the various settings and features. This wasn’t a huge criteria in our final ranking, as messing around with app settings and filters kind of defeats the purpose of instant film cameras.
Camera quality and photo prints were the most important criteria in our tests. We scanned a representative photo print for each of the cameras we included so you can see for yourself how the camera peforms in terms of light, color contrast and vibrancy. When testing out the cameras, we took photos in a variety of light conditions — bright sunlight, overhead lighting, medium-brightness and dim lighting. In dim lighting, we also tested the cameras’ flashes to see how effective they are. In our experience, the smaller the camera, the weaker the flash, which is why the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 and the Polaroid Now+ perfomed the best in this department.
When comparing these cameras, we also considered battery life, the cost of film, development time and more. You can check out our full testing criteria below.
- Special Qualities: Most of these cameras have some type of special feature, such as a downloadable app or extra lens filters. We tested each of these features before determining our final ranking. Unfortunately, these special features sometimes felt more like gimmicks, and the cameras’ apps didn’t always work as advertised.
- Photo Quality: Do the photos look sharp, focused and clean when they come out? After taking photos with the best instant cameras, we put the photos side by side to compare overall quality, color contrast and brightness. This was the most important factor we considered in our ranking.
- Film Price: In order to properly use an instant film camera, you have to constantly buy more film. Is the film affordable or overpriced compared to the competition?
- Battery Life: We tested each of these cameras over a two week period and shot two rolls of film. All of the cameras we tested lasted during the entire test period, and overall we didn’t find any major issues with battery life. As we continue testing these cameras, we will be sure to update this section as we learn more.
- Number Of Photos: How many sheets of film can you shoot before having to change the cartridge?
- Development Time: How long does it take the photos to develop? Is it actually instant? After taking a photo, we used a timer to see exactly how long it took the photos to fully develop.
- Camera Price: How much does the camera cost in comparison to its competition? Is the price fair considering the camera’s design, quality and feature set?
After examining all of these criteria and taking hundreds of photos, we determined that the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 is the best instant camera of 2022. As new products are released, we’ll continue to update this guide with additional reviews.
Why Trust SPY When Buying Instant Cameras?
SPY is a reviews and discovery platform, and we’re committed to sharing the world’s best tech products with our readers. From the latest products from Samsung and Apple to under-the-radar brands, we’re always on the lookout for new products to review. We will always be honest about the pros and cons of the products featured on our site, and we will never recommend a product that we wouldn’t buy ourselves.
We are constantly testing new gadgets here at SPY, and our team loves to test out new cameras. From testing the best security cameras to comparing the highest quality smartphone cameras, we’re constantly trying out new and popular camera products to make sure they’re really worth the hype. For this guide, we tapped the expertise of SPY’s E-Commerce and Special Projects Editor Tyler Schoeber, who is a trained photographer who has been shooting with instant film cameras for almost a decade. Tyler is beyond picky when it comes to shooting with film, and he was the ideal person to test the best instant cameras.
About the Author: Tyler Schoeber
Tyler Schoeber is SPY’s E-Commerce and Special Projects Editor. Before joining SPY, Tyler covered stories relating to grooming, men’s fashion, travel gear and photography at travel sites such as Jetsetter and Smarter Travel. When he’s not reviewing products and writing about the latest men’s fashion trends, Tyler also manages SPY’s social media channels and produces photos for special features. A New Jersey native, Tyler received his a Bachelor of Arts degree in Photography at Montclair State University and studied photography at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Tyler has worked on a number of personal photography projects (which you can check out here) and specializes in film photography, from medium format to 35mm to, of course, instant film.