To find the best instant camera for every situation, we bought the very best on the market and put them through the wringer side-by-side. We split our tests into five distinct metrics: image quality, user-friendliness, camera features, and battery. In the following sections, we'll dive into the details of the specific tests we conducted within each metric and how we scored each product.
Our image quality tests fell into two main categories: lighting conditions and color accuracy. To see how each one performed in different lighting scenarios, we used all of our cameras in the same settings and made sure to cover all possible conditions. This included photos taken outdoors with indirect light, outside with bright direct light, indoors in ambient light, indoors in dim light, and outdoors during "golden hour" in the early evening. This allowed us to get directly comparable, side-by-side examples of the strengths and weaknesses of each camera in varying lighting situations. We judged the color accuracy of the cameras based on the hue, saturation, and range of colors displayed on the printed images and how closely each came to what was seen by the naked eye.
We also tested all of the cameras in real-world settings, taking them to parties, pubs, and on trips to see how easy or challenging it was to get a good photo under real-life conditions.
Having taken hundreds of photos for our image quality testing, we had plenty of opportunities to assess each camera's general user-friendliness. In scoring how easy each camera was to use, we focused on three main criteria. First was the learning curve: can the camera be passed around a party for anyone to pick up and snap pics with, or does it take some time to figure out the controls? Next was convenience: how do the size, weight, and shape affect portability, and how comfortable is it to shoot with? Lastly, we considered each camera's development process: how long does it take for the camera to print and for the photo to develop? Are the prints sensitive to certain conditions like temperature or light while developing? And how many prints are usable versus wasted or damaged?
Some cameras offer almost endless adjustability over the resulting image, while others are basically fully-automatic and don't allow you to do anything more than point and click. In this metric, we scored each camera on the creative controls offered, such as the ability to adjust the flash, use filters, and take multiple exposures. We compared the useful features on the camera's body, like a review screen, selfie mirror, and tripod dock. We also considered other additional features, like digital storage, detachable lenses, or compatibility with an app.
To test each camera's battery, we split them up into two categories: rechargeable batteries and replaceable/single-use batteries. For the latter, we considered the replacement cost, and for the former, we timed how long each took to recharge. From there, we researched how long the manufacturer claimed the battery would last and put it to the test by measuring how many photos each could take on a single charge.