We took hundreds of photos with the 7 most promising instant cameras on the market in 2020 in a quest to find the best methods for whimsically documenting your next adventure. We brought our cameras to dimly lit parties, bright and sunny beach days, and everything in between, all to assess how each performs in the full range of lighting conditions. We also delved into every advanced setting and creative mode offered by each camera. Our resulting top picks cover everyone, from bargain hunters, to those that want the best available picture quality, to creatives that want as many artistic options as possible.
The Best Instant Cameras of 2020
Best Overall Instant Camera
Fujifilm Instax Wide 300
If you want pictures that are large in size like the Polaroids of yore, and want to take them with a camera with similarly retro styling, look no further than the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300. It produced the highest quality and most consistent photos in our testing. This, combined with an extra wide format (that more closely matches the photo size of older cameras, and is actually slightly wider) allows it to produce the most savable keepsakes of any of the models we tested. The size and aesthetics of the body generally make people aware that this is an instant camera, thus you're more likely to get the desired reaction when using it at a party. This is also a very simple camera to use, with simple adjustments for the flash, light and dark settings, and 2 focus modes, making it easier to get the shot you're hoping for. It's almost inevitable you're going to end up with a few toss-away photos when using one of these cameras, but in general fewer photos ended up in the trash when we were using the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300.
While we love the slightly quirky, oversized look of the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300, that size does make it a bit of a pain to carry around. Luckily it's quite light so it doesn't feel cumbersome, but its footprint takes up enough space in a bag that most people will only tote it along when they're specifically planning to use it, rather than throwing it in a bag just in case inspiration strikes. The camera also lacks some of the more creative options that others offer, like the ability to take double exposures or use color filters. However, the solid color composition and consistent quality of the photos left us reaching for this camera most often.
Read review: Fujifilm Instax Wide 300
Best of Both Worlds
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6
For the most part, instant cameras ask that you choose one end of a spectrum: you either get large photos and deal with a much larger camera, or choose a lower profile camera and deal with smaller photos. Likewise, you often have to choose between a camera that offers lots of image modes and creative opportunities but can be somewhat difficult to use, or a straightforward point and shoot that is foolproof but lacks opportunities for creative expression. The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 is a compromise of these things in a number of ways: it offers a decent bevy of creative options, but stops short of making its operation too complicated, it provides an in-between photo size that gets you a bit more area to play with without making the camera too large, and its styling hints towards retro without going full out into anachronism. If you're looking for a camera that can do a bit of everything without being too bulky or complicated, this is a great choice.
Taking a middle-of-the-road route in many instances means the Instax Square SQ6 might not check all your boxes if you're looking for something specific. For example, though it allows for taking double exposures and includes flash color filters, it lacks a long exposure mode, a feature some people may be looking for. The 2.4" x 2.4" prints also feel much smaller than the 2.4" x 3.9" film the wide format cameras use (though it does provide much more breathing room than the 2.4" x 1.8" mini prints). However, for many people we think the Instax Square SQ6 will be a much more pleasant companion to bring along on adventures than a wide format camera, and will yield much more enjoyable results than a mini format camera.
Read review: Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6
Best Bang for the Buck
FujiFilm Instax Mini 9
For those looking for the fun of instant photos on the cheap, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 is one of the best options on the market. It excels at taking photos in low light situations, making it ideal for parties and other social gatherings. It is also small and rugged enough that we had no qualms just throwing it our bags on the off chance we'd be struck with inspiration. Finally, it is quite simple to operate, allowing friends to easily pass it around and get some quirky shots.
The main drawback of this camera is its performance in bright light. Almost all the outdoor photos we took on anything but very cloudy days ended up looking washed out and overexposed. The photos are also on the smaller side (about the size of a credit card), which may be a bit of a disappointment if older Polaroid photos are your reference point. The camera also lacks the creative adaptability present in some of its more expensive competitors. If you can live with those drawbacks, however, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 is a great and fun camera that can produce nice keepsakes.
Read review: Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
Best for Creative Shooting
Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide
Many people are drawn to instant cameras because the format, by its very nature, elicits some creativity that traditional cameras just don't demand. If you fall into this camp, you're going to have the most fun with the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide. This camera offers far more adjustability and photographic opportunities than its competitors. This is thanks to interchangeable wide and macro lenses, color flash filters, a lens splitter, and the ability to take multiple and long exposures. Those extra features are backed up with good photo quality and an extra wide format that more closely resembles the size of original Polaroids.
Like most of the cameras we tested, the Lomo'Instant Wide does tend to overexpose photos taken in bright sunlight. It is also one of the bulkier cameras on the market and sits at the more expensive end of the spectrum. But if you can deal with the extra size and cost, this camera offers the most in-depth and engaging instant photo experience that we've found.
Read review: Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide
Why You Should Trust Us
In this review we leaned heavily on the expertise of our in-house photographer, Jenna Ammerman. Apart from exponentially improving the aesthetics of our website for the last 3 years, Jenna has spent well over a decade as a professional photographer. In that time she has worked behind the lens, as a photo retoucher, and in an educational capacity, completing lifestyle, documentary, brand, and product photography projects both domestically and internationally. She even tends to keep a vintage Polaroid Cool Cam from the 80's in her bag for when the mood strikes. In the last 3 years authors Steven Tata and Max Mutter have reviewed more than 100 image-centric products, including projectors, camera drones, security cameras, and dash cams, and have thus developed a keen sense for ranking relative image quality.
These test results represent more than 100 hours spent taking over 1000 photos in lighting conditions ranging from dimly lit bars to sun-soaked beaches. This gave us the chance to use every setting, feature, bell, and whistle for each camera. It also gave us ample opportunity to assess each camera's overall user-friendliness, and plenty of film with which to compare image quality.
Related: How We Tested Instant Cameras
Analysis and Test Results
In a world where our memories are increasingly recorded as a series of ones and zeros, instant cameras offer refreshingly real, physical keepsakes of time spent with friends and family. Our tests led us to the cameras most likely to produce photos worthy of a spot on your dresser top or bulletin board, whether you're just looking for something inexpensive and reliable, or want a little more firepower so you can let out all of your creative flair.
Related: Buying Advice for Instant Cameras
While instant camera prices don't occupy too wide of a range, there are certainly opportunities to maximize your dollars. If you're looking for the best price to performance ratio, we would suggest the FujiFilm Instax Mini 9. This relatively inexpensive camera offers most of the performance of the heavy hitters, but for a fraction of the price. If you're after the best photo quality possible, we'd suggest moving to the middle-tier price of the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300. Despite avoiding a high-end price, this camera provided the most consistent, high-quality photos of all the models we tested. If you're coming from a photography background and want to do some experimenting with instant film, spending just a bit more on the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide would be our top recommendation. It's the most reasonably priced model we've found that offers creative extras like flash filters, multiple exposures, and interchangeable lenses. And, if you're looking for a compromise between all of these attributes, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 presents a middle point, both in terms of functionality and price, when compared to most of the other cameras on the market.
These cameras are pretty much useless if their associated analog mementos are faded and blurry, so we spent the majority of our testing time meticulously comparing photo quality. In doing so we made sure to take photos that ran the entire gambit of lighting conditions, from bright sunny days to the dimly lit parties and pubs where these cameras are most apt to materialize. We then compared all of the resulting photos side-by-side, focusing on things like clarity, color saturation, and exposure. We also paid attention to how consistently each camera produced usable photos, versus how often each produced a costly dud that was destined for the trash (no camera was perfect, but some had more of a propensity to waste film than others).
Earning the top score in this metric, the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 provided the most consistent and high-quality photos in the widest range of conditions in our testing. Its photos generally come out with vivid colors, good clarity, and proper exposure, all with that vintage analog patina that most people are looking for. It is also one of the few instant cameras we've found that can generally handle outdoor shooting on sunny days without washing out large areas of the image. Lovers of old Polaroid cameras will certainly appreciate the wide film format, which more closely approximates the size of those older models than many of its modern siblings.
Just behind the top scorer, the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide provides similarly high-quality images, also in an extra wide format. Its only shortcoming when compared to the Instax Wide 300 is that it tends to wash images out a bit more when shooting in bright sunlight. However, it does offer a lot more creative modes that somewhat make up for this limitation (but more on that in a bit).
Rounding out the top 3 in this metric, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic provides great clarity and color composition in indoor settings. However, when used outside the photos look noticeably washed out when compared to the top two models. It can still produce good outdoor photos, but the results are going to be much better without shooting towards the open sky or when shooting in the shade. It also downgrades the photo size to a smaller 2.4" x 1.8" (about the size of a credit card), which makes film cheaper but may not be what some people are looking for in an instant photo keepsake.
Dropping just out of the high-quality tier and into the upper end of average, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 again provides just what you want from an instant camera, sharp photos with that vintage aura, when used indoors. Shooting outdoors can is a bit more of an issue with this camera than the higher scorers, however, as it struggles with overexposing bright outdoor scenes.
Picking up the perfectly average score of 5 out of 10, the FujiFilm Instax Mini 9 excels at taking indoor photos, especially when its flash is used. It also does a reasonable job outside as long as the sun isn't too bright and your subject is a darker color.
However, anything white that is lit by sunlight, including clouds, snow, and buildings, tend to become completely washed out, with that overexposure often bleeding into darker areas of the image as well.
To earn a low score in our image quality testing cameras had to display noticeable shortcomings in lighting conditions other than bright sunlight. The first such camera we came across is the Polaroid Originals OneStep 2 VF. We were able to get good looking photos in ideal conditions (indoors without too much ambient light using a flash) but otherwise the colors came out looking quite flat and muted. It also tended to completely overexpose shots taken on bright sunny days, to the point where they were often completely unusable.
Our least favorite camera when it comes to image quality is the Polaroid Snap. Instead of using film it essentially functions as a mini, portable digital photo printer. This yields an odd graininess and vertical lines that look much more digital than analog. It also has a propensity to saturate red to the extreme, which can lead to some odd coloring if there is any red in your image.
Instant cameras really shine in social situations, thus you'll want their operation to be simple enough that you could pass it around at a party and end up with some nice photos. If you're looking to get more creative with your camera and are going to try out some advanced features like double exposures, the controls for selecting those modes need to be simple and intuitive. Every double exposure that goes awry because you didn't' have the correct settings dialed in is wasted film, and just a tiny bit heartbreaking. To assess user friendliness we used every function in every camera, passed them all around to newbies to get their thoughts, and loaded tons of film packs.
Of all the cameras we tested, there are 4 that we would consider foolproof enough for anyone to pick up and get a good photo with no instruction. Those models include the FujiFilm Instax Mini 9, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic, the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300, and the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6. All of these models offer basic point and shoot functionality. While they all also have some additional settings that can be fiddled with, they are clear enough that even a newcomer might pick them up the first go around, and even if they don't it's unlikely the photo would be totally ruined.
Just behind the top scorers, the Polaroid Snap also offers a very straightforward shooting experience. However, as it prints photos rather than using traditional film, there are a few settings for the style of print (no border, traditional Polaroid border, and 4-photo grid) that require a quick look at the manual to get straight.
One more step down on the user-friendliness ladder, the Polaroid Originals OneStep 2 VFis fairly straightforward when it comes to taking photos. However, you have to take some extra steps while those photos are developing to make sure they don't get ruined, namely by making sure the exposed film is completely covered during the entire developing process. You can accomplish this either by placing the developing photo face down on a flat surface, or by leaving it sheathed in the cover that pulls out as the photo exits the camera. This extra step may not seem like that big of a deal, but it's surprisingly hard to remember to keep the developing photos covered when you're documenting a party with friends.
The only camera we tested that we might call somewhat difficult to use is the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide, and this is only because it offers additional accessories and more manual adjustments than the other models. The controls are fairly clear and they open up many more creative opportunities, but the camera takes some experimenting and certainly has a bigger learning curve than any of the others.
Many people choose to take photos with spartan instant cameras instead of intricate digital ones because, as the saying goes, "Creativity is the mastery of simplicity." Still, having more control over and options for your pared-down camera is going to let you flex that creativity muscle even more. For this metric, we evaluate how much each camera allows you to control and adjust the image it creates, and considered any additional creative features like double exposure or colored flash filters.
The Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide far and away offers the most settings and image adjustments of any of the camera we tested, making it our hands-down recommendation for anyone looking to get really creative with their photos. These settings and features include long exposures, multiple exposures, a macro lens (that lets you get 4" away from your subject), an ultra-wide lens, color flash filters, the ability to slit one piece of film into multiple photos, and exposure compensation.
Sharing a distant second place in this metric, both the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 and the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic offer a respectable variety of shooting modes. The Square features auto, selfie, macro, landscape, double exposure, and light and dark modes. The Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic offers essentially the same set of features, along with a long exposure mode.
Sitting right in the middle of our image setting score sheet, both the FujiFilm Instax Mini 9 and Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 offer different settings that allow you to adjust to specific lighting conditions, but have very few creative modes. The Mini 9 takes a more instructive route with its lighting modes, offering Indoor/Night, Sunny/Slightly Cloudy, Sunny/Bright, and automatic settings. It also has a hi-key mode that makes colors look very saturated. The Instax Wide 300 takes a more manual approach, providing just dark and light settings. You can also force the flash to go off even if you're in a bright situation, but you can't manually turn the flash off.
Sharing the bottom score in this metric, both of the Polaroid cameras we tested are generally fully-automatic and provide little user control. The Originals OneStep 2 VF does offer some exposure control, and the Snap leverages its digital DNA to offer color, black and white, and sepia modes, but that's about it.
As we're all used to the nearly infinite nature of digital photographs, the cost of using actual film can add up much more quickly than expected. When calculating the cost per picture of each camera, we assumed buying habits in line with someone that is planning to use their camera at least semi-regularly. Case in point, we assumed most people would buy a 60-pack of film at a lower per-unit cost as opposed to a higher priced 10-pack. We also used color film as our main reference point, but you should keep in mind that black and white (often referred to as monochrome) film generally costs a bit more, and often can't be bought in bulk.
The Polaroid Originals OneStep 2 VF film costs almost double the average, making it by far the least economical option in our selection. On the other side of the coin, the Best Buy winning FujiFilm Instax Mini 9 costs nearly half of the average, providing the best overall value we've found on the market.
Both the Editors' Choice and Top Pick winning Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 and Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide's film costs come out to just above average, so while you are paying extra for better image quality and creative control, respectively, it's not too much of a premium.
An instant camera can add a whole new dimension to the way you record your life, and can let you have some fun along the way. We've certainly enjoyed all the goofy poses these cameras can elicit and the nostalgic tokens they can create. We hope that this review has led you to a camera that will help you make some memories.
— Max Mutter, Steven Tata, and Jenna Ammerman