We took hundreds of photos with the 14 most promising instant cameras on the market in a quest to find the best methods for 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 a wide range of conditions. We also dove into every advanced setting and creative mode each model offers. Our results cover everyone, from bargain hunters to those seeking the best picture quality to creatives who want as many artistic options as possible.
Numerous controls to adjust for lighting conditions
Lots of creative features
Compact body is durable and scratch-resistant
Long battery life
REASONS TO AVOID
Slight learning curve
Autofocus is not the ideal setting
No multiple exposures
With its compact size, excellent image quality, and a myriad of additional features, the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay came out on top as the best instant camera that we tested. Its sleek and thin design makes it incredibly easy to carry around, as it will fit in any bag and most pockets. Many of the smaller cameras sacrifice image quality for portability, but not this one. The LiPlay is a hybrid that utilizes the best parts of digital and film, all in one convenient and compact package. The review screen, in-camera filters, and frames offer quick and easy creative control over the image, and the digital storage option allows for more than one copy of a photo to be printed. A world of possibilities opens up with the use of a compatible app. By connecting your phone to the Mini LiPlay, features like remote capture, time stamping, and adding recorded sounds via a scannable QR code are easily accessible. Although some of the prints came out a bit dark, this camera's numerous settings give the user more creative control, enabling them to get a great shot in any situation.
While it's helpful to be able to make adjustments in the camera's settings, the additional control features, especially those offered by the app, also require a little more time to get familiar with, giving the Mini LiPlay a bit of a learning curve. When using the autofocus, the printed photos often come out dark, so it's important to get the settings just right for different types of light. Being less point-and-shoot-ready means it's harder for anyone to just pick this camera up and start snapping pics, so if you're looking for a camera that you can easily pass around a party, others require less time to understand. But overall, the Instax Mini LiPlay has supreme portability while also taking high-quality photos, and offering numerous creative options, making it the best of the bunch.
If you're looking for an instant camera that takes great photos without needing to mess with settings beforehand, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 is a nice, easy-to-use option. Along with being straightforward to operate, this camera produces square mid-sized photos, which were among the most accurate with their range of colors in various lighting conditions. The stunning images displayed vivid blues, rich reds, vibrant yellows, and lush greens, with realistic highlights and contrast. The design of the SQ1 is modern and stylish, and its performance was consistent and reliable throughout our testing. We happily kept reaching for this camera, as it excels at capturing fun and cherished moments by simply pointing and shooting.
Even though the SQ1 is user-friendly and consistently takes great pics, it doesn't allow for much creativity. While it does have a selfie mode and a little mirror to help with framing, that's as far as the additional settings go. There is no adjustable flash, timer, filters, or multiple exposures, so the controls are as minimal as it gets. The biggest annoyance with this model is that the film packs are susceptible to jamming. This only happened to us with two packs, but it's worth noting because, along with wasting film, it caused the shot counter to malfunction and display an inaccurate reading. Fortunately, this hiccup wasn't a constant occurrence, and we found this camera to be otherwise reliable in its functionality and ability to produce amazing images.
Battery Life: 50-60 prints | Flash Adjustment?: No
REASONS TO BUY
Good photos in indoor and low-light situations
Both camera and film are relatively inexpensive
Multiple exposure settings
REASONS TO AVOID
Tends to overexpose when used in bright sun
Smaller photo size
Limited image settings
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 is one of the best options for instant photos at a lower price. It excels at taking pictures in low light, making it ideal for sharing at parties and other social gatherings, and it's also small and rugged enough that we had no qualms with just throwing it in our bags just in case the right moment presented itself. This camera is also very simple to operate, as the focus, flash, and exposure are all triggered automatically, allowing friends or kids to easily pass it around to get some fun and quirky shots. It comes in a variety of colors to match any personality, making it a great and fun option for everyone, from children to grandparents.
Our main gripe with this camera is its performance in bright light. The majority of the outdoor photos we took ended up overexposed, with the background being washed out. There's no way to turn the flash off, which further increases the chances of the images looking overexposed. The images are small (about the size of a credit card), which can be disappointing, as smaller details tend to get lost due to the size of the prints. This camera also lacks the creative controls present in some of its more expensive competitors, so it's difficult to know if/how the photo will turn out until you see it. Another slightly annoying thing was that the shot count indicator was often inaccurate; at times, it would show that there were prints left when it was actually empty, which may not seem like a big deal, but it's enough to ruin the moment of more candid shots. However, if you can live with these drawbacks, the Instax Mini 11 is a fun camera for all ages that can produce nice keepsakes.
Many people are drawn to instant cameras because the format and flexibility are fun and offer creative opportunities. The Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide is a great option for more experienced photographers or those who don't mind taking some time to get familiar with their camera settings before use. This camera provides far more adjustability than most of the others, as it comes equipped with interchangeable wide and macro lenses, color flash filters, a lens splitter, and the ability to take multiple and long exposures. These extra features are backed up with beautiful photo quality and an extra-wide format that clearly shows a wide range of colors and smaller details. In fact, the Lomo'Instant Wide had the best color accuracy and consistency of saturation of all the cameras we tested and did the best at adapting to the different lighting conditions, proving its high-level capability in any situation.
Like most of the cameras we tested, the Lomo'Instant Wide has a tendency to overexpose photos that are taken in bright sunlight, though not to the extent of most of the others. It is also one of the bulkier models on the market and costs a bit more due to its premium creative features. The most frustrating thing about this camera is that the printer is susceptible to jamming, which often results in wasted film — we even had some entire packs of film that were unusable after removing a jam. The film is also quite temperature-sensitive, so shooting in colder conditions can lead to prints showing signs of damage with weird lines and/or vignetting. However, when the camera functions properly, the images that it produces are beautiful. So, for those who are willing to spend a little more to get extra creative control and larger, high-quality prints, the Lomo'Instant Wide is definitely worth checking out.
Battery Life: 100-120 prints | Flash Adjustment?: Yes
REASONS TO BUY
Classic vintage style
User-friendly app with many controls
REASONS TO AVOID
Color depiction is inconsistent
Bulky and awkward shape
Film is expensive
Film is temperature sensitive
If you're a fan of the classic Polaroids from back in the day, the Polaroid Now+ i-Type is a fun and updated version from the brand that started it all. While keeping with the same vintage styling as the originals, this model is compatible with a mobile app that gives it a modern upgrade. By connecting to the app, creative features like double exposure, remote shutter, light painting, and more are easily accessible, giving the user many options for self-expression. This camera also comes with a set of five color lens filters, along with a carrying case, so getting creative is easy even without the app. Most of the competitors that have app connectivity are digital cameras that print digital photos, but the Now+ i-Type is an analog machine that prints on film while also offering many of the benefits of digital.
Even though the Now+ i-Type has some updated features, the quality and consistency of the images could have been better. Its limited color range and tendency to overexpose resulted in prints being blown out most of the time and small details often got lost due to the lack of clarity. This camera is also a bit bulky, which makes it harder to transport, and its shape and design make it somewhat awkward to shoot with. On top of that, the film for Polaroids is more expensive and takes longer to develop than most of the others, which would be more understandable/acceptable if the image quality was better. Still, we found this camera to be easy to operate, and the app gives it a fun and contemporary update. If you find the retro look and feel appealing but would also like the option of making adjustments to your film prints, this camera is worth checking out.
For this review, we dedicated weeks to using each camera in numerous places and under all kinds of lighting conditions to determine how each performed. Our test results represent more than 100 hours spent taking over 1000 photos in lighting conditions ranging from dimly lit bars to sun-soaked beaches. We also let our creativity run wild and took hundreds of images using long exposures, flash filters, multiple exposures, and every other creative option these cameras offer. We then compared the different results to determine the best contenders.
Before we snapped a single photo, we laid out a comprehensive plan for analyzing each product. From there, we launched into market research to solidify our top contenders and purchased each one at full price to ensure total objectivity. We put each aspect of our test plan into real-world scenarios spanning all manner of lighting and temperature ranges.
Our testing for instant cameras is comprised of four rating metrics:
Image Quality (40% of overall score weighting)
User Friendliness (35% weighting)
Features (15% weighting)
Battery (10% weighting)
Our testing experts for this review were professional photographer Laura Casner and product tester Genaveve Bradshaw. Together they put each camera through dozens of tests, comparing all the prints side-by-side. They were joined by Adam Yee, who has been around all types of cameras for his whole life, as his grandfather was a professional photographer for more than 50 years. Adam first developed an interest in photography as a teen when he started shooting skateboarders, documenting the antics of his young friends. These days, Adam works in the production field producing everything from studio shoots to photojournalism projects worldwide. Together, this trio brings a wealth of knowledge to these fun little devices.
Analysis and Test Results
In a world where we increasingly rely on digital platforms to preserve cherished experiences, instant cameras offer refreshingly real, physical keepsakes of time spent with friends and family. To find the best analog or hybrid machine for capturing memories, we focused most of our testing on overall image quality. We also carefully considered how easy each camera is to use, the different image settings and creative options offered, and how long the batteries last. Ultimately, our goal is to help you find the best fit for your lifestyle and photography desires.
While instant camera prices occupy a relatively narrow range, there are certainly opportunities to maximize your dollar. If you're seeking the best price-to-performance ratio, we suggest the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11. This relatively inexpensive camera offers the classic instant camera experience at a fraction of the price. For some fun features, great portability, and fun tiny prints, the Polaroid Go Instant Mini comes at a great price. If you have a background in photography and want to try a bit more experimentation, spending more on something like the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide may serve you well. It is the most reasonably priced model we've found for what you get, and it offers creative extras like flash filters, multiple exposures, and interchangeable lenses. For those seeking a compromise between all of these attributes, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 presents a middle point, both in functionality and price.
We spent the majority of our testing time meticulously comparing photo quality from camera to camera. In doing so, we made sure to take photos that spanned the entire gamut of lighting conditions, from bright sunny days to dimly lit parties and pubs. We then compared all of the resulting photos side-by-side, focusing on clarity, color saturation, and exposure. We also paid attention to how consistently each camera produced usable photos versus a costly dud destined for the trash. The reality is that no camera was perfect, but some had more of a propensity to churn out top-tier keepsakes.
Earning the top score in this metric, the Lomography Lomo'Intant Wide provided the most consistent, high-quality photos in the broadest range of conditions. Its images generally came out with vivid colors, good clarity, and proper exposure, all with that vintage analog patina that is a hallmark trait of film. It is also one of the few instant cameras we've found that can handle outdoor shooting on sunny days without washing out large areas of the image. Lovers of old Polaroid cameras will undoubtedly appreciate the wide film format, which more closely approximates those older models' size than many of its modern siblings.
Not too far behind, the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay provides similarly high-quality images. Compared to the Lomo'Instant Wide, its only shortcoming is that the prints are much smaller and tend to shoot dark, especially when using the autofocus. However, it does offer numerous creative modes that allow the user to make the necessary adjustments and get a great shot in any situation.
Rounding out the top three in this metric, the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 provides excellent clarity and color composition no matter the environment. However, it doesn't offer the creative controls of the others, having only two modes: standard and selfie, the latter of which also works well for any shots that are taken up close. Despite lacking any additional features, the SQ1 produces remarkably rich hues and sharp contrast, resulting in beautifully crisp images.
Only slightly below the podium in this metric, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 provides excellent clarity and color composition for indoor use. However, if you take the camera outside, the photos look noticeably washed out compared to the other top models. It can still produce good outdoor images, but the results will be much better without shooting towards the open sky or when shooting in the shade. Like the Mini LiPlay, it also downgrades the image size to about the size of a credit card. This allows the film to be cheaper, but it may not be what some people want in an instant photo keepsake.
Dropping just out of the high-quality tier and into the upper end of average, the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 creates larger wide-format photos, which often come out dark but display rich colors. The available settings allow the user to make the necessary adjustments for differing conditions. This camera captures textures well, shoots best in ambient indoor lighting with dispersed natural light, and produced the most lovely black and white images of any camera we tested.
The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 consistently captured a wide range of colors, with blues and cooler tones showing up especially vibrant. The images that were shot outdoors with indirect light were gorgeous and did the best job of displaying accurate skin tones. This camera took some great shots indoors, but required a little more messing with the settings to accomplish this.
Instant cameras 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 try out some advanced features like double exposures, the controls for selecting those modes must be intuitive and straightforward. Every double exposure that goes awry because you didn't have the correct settings dialed in is wasted film and just a bit heartbreaking. To assess user-friendliness, we used every function on every camera, passed them all around to newbies to get their thoughts, and loaded dozens of film packs throughout the course of our testing.
Of all the cameras we laid our hands on, we would consider the Fuji models (the Instax Square SQ1, Instax Mini LiPlay, Instax Mini 11, Instax Wide 300, and Instax Square SQ6) foolproof enough for anyone to pick up and get a good photo with minimal instruction; all of these models offer basic point-and-shoot functionality. The SQ1 came out as the best in this category, which wasn't surprising because it is easy to get a great photo at a moment's notice with this camera. While most also have some additional settings that can be fiddled with, they are simple enough that even a newcomer should have success picking them up the first go around. Even if they don't, it's unlikely the photo will be totally ruined.
The Kodak Smile Instant Print also offers one of the more intuitive processes of the group. Its mostly digital design (essentially a digital camera with a small printer inside) allows for simple point-and-shoot functionality, so there is no need to fiddle around with settings beforehand. However, if you want to access some of its advanced features — like adding a border or filter — you'll want to read through the manual.
The Polaroid Now makes taking photos relatively easy, but you have to take extra care while developing. The Polaroid film must be completely covered during the developing process, either by putting the pictures face down on a flat surface or putting them in your pocket once they are taken. We often found ourselves out and about without any convenient flat surfaces to put developing photos, which is a bit of an annoyance. The film is also temperature sensitive, so it either needs to be kept close to the body in cold temps or cooled in hot temps while developing. We ended up with a few damaged prints while shooting in cold conditions.
The Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide scored lower here for a couple of reasons. This camera has issues with the film jamming, something we've unfortunately now seen across three different purchases over the years. On a more positive note, the Lomo also offers additional accessories and more manual adjustments than the other models, giving it a greater learning curve. The controls are reasonably straightforward, and they open up many more creative opportunities, but the camera takes some time and experimentation to fully master. While this brought the score down in this metric, this could be seen as a bonus for the right user. We've kept this camera in our lineup over the years because it really does have potential for greatness, but the film-jamming issue is truly unfortunate. Be sure you can return the Instant Wide from whoever you purchase it from, just in case.
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." Despite this, having more options and control over your pared-down camera can allow you to flex that creative muscle even more. For this metric, we evaluate the level to which each camera allows you to fine-tune your images. We also consider additional creative features like multiple exposures, colored flash filters, or digital integration.
Our hands-down recommendation for anyone looking to get creative with their photos is the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay. This camera offers the most variety in its settings and image adjustments of any of the options we tested. It includes a review screen, digital storage, multiple filters, ten in-camera frames, remote capture, a selfie mirror, the ability to print photos taken on your phone, and more via the compatible app.
The Lomo'Instant Automat Glass Magellan and Polaroid Now+ i-Type take the silver and bronze spots, respectively. Both offer a good variety of controls, like an adjustable flash, multiple exposures, and a remote shutter. Both also come with colored lens filters, but the Polaroid can only access its extra settings through its mobile app, while the Lomo's controls are mostly in-camera, with a handful of additional add-ons, like a close-up lens and a splitzer attachment.
The Kodak Smile Instant Print and Canon Ivy CLIQ2+ both sit just below the middle of our features score sheet, offering control settings like flash adjustability, updated features like digital storage, and a few creative options like in-camera filters. However, they lack the ability to take multiple exposures and can't be attached to a tripod. Each of these two cameras has some small options that the other doesn't, so you may have to select an option based on your preferred features. For example, the Kodak Smile has a review screen and a timer with 3 or 10-second options, while the Canon has a mirror on the front for taking selfies and includes a wrist strap.
With all the technological advancements of the 21st century, it's not surprising that rechargeable batteries are commonly found in instant cameras. They are cheaper, more sustainable, and more convenient overall. However, only slightly more than half of the cameras we tested have made this switch, and the others still have single-use batteries. For this metric, we looked at the shots per charge as listed by the manufacturer and tested the accuracy. We also considered the time it took to recharge or the cost of replacing the batteries.
Quite surprisingly, four of the higher-scoring cameras here have single-use batteries. The one rechargeable high-scorer is the Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay, adding to the reasons why it was an easy all-around favorite. Fujifilm dominated in this area with four models receiving high marks, with the Lomography Lomo'Instant Wide and Polaroid's Now+ i-Type and Go Instant Mini also coming out toward the top. All of these top-scoring models used the same batteries or a single charge throughout testing and were never completely drained, either meeting or exceeding the manufacturer's claims.
Occupying the bronze medal spots of our scorecard are the Kodak Smile Instant Print, Polaroid Now i-Type, and Lomo' Instant Automat Glass Magellan, with only slightly lower scores than the top performers. The Lomo lasted all the way through our tests, but the fact that it doesn't come with the two CR2 batteries needed caused it to lose some points. The Kodak and Polaroid both required one partial recharge during testing. The Kodak lasted a surprisingly long time after it read as "out of battery." We never reached Polaroid's claim of 15 packs or up to 60 days, but we also never killed the battery completely. However, after about six packs of film, it seemed to lose some juice, and we couldn't use the self-timer until giving it a brief charge.
An instant camera can add a whole new dimension to how you capture and commemorate your life, whether it be everyday happenings or special events. A great one will also allow you to have some fun along the way. We've certainly enjoyed all the goofy poses these cameras can elicit and the token nostalgia that comes with them. We hope that this review has led you to a camera that will help you make some memories.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.