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 4 distinct metrics - image quality, user friendliness, image settings, and film cost. In the following sections we'll dive into the details on the specific tests we conducted within each metric, and how we scored each product.
Our image quality tests fell into 2 categories - controlled and holistic. For the controlled tests we took all of our cameras to the same spots and quickly took the same photo back-to-back. In doing so we made sure to cover all possible conditions. This included photos taken outside on a sunny day, outside on a cloudy day, indoors in bright light, and indoors in dim light. This allowed us to get directly comparable, side-by-side examples of how each camera performs in varying lighting conditions. We also tested each camera's close focus range by taking a photo of an apple on a blank background with each camera. For these tests we measured and put each camera exactly at the distance that the manufacturer claims to be the minimum focal distance.
Our more holistic testing involved using all of the cameras in the real world, taking them to parties, to pubs, and on trips, to see how easy 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 the intuitiveness of the controls, how many adjustments were needed to create a desired photo, and how much film was wasted when using the camera in a normal capacity. We also made sure to hand each camera off to an instant photography newbie and get their opinions on the user experience. We did keep notes on how easy it was to load film into each camera, but as we found very little difference in this process between cameras, it didn't factor into our scoring.
Some cameras offer almost endless adjustability over the resulting image, while others are basically fully-automatic and make pretty much all of the decisions for you. In this metric we relatively scored each camera on how many image settings are offered. These settings include basic things, like exposure adjustments, and more advanced creative features, like double and long exposures. For cameras that offer these additional creative settings, we also completed side-by-side comparison akin to what we did for your overall image quality testing.
In scoring film cost we calculated the cost per photo for color film slides, the most commonly used film (black and white film is more expensive, but that extra cost is generally proportionate to the color film costs). For these calculations, we assumed that people would want to use their camera relatively frequently, and would thus buy in bulk to a reasonable extent. For example, we assumed the average person would choose to buy a 60-pack of film instead of a 10-pack when the 60-pack cost significantly less per photo. However, we didn't take into account any of the super bulk, multi-hundred film packs that offer bigger discounts but cost a lot more up front.