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The best instant cameras you can buy right now

Photo Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

We found the best cameras for your budget and needs

Even with the ability to take excellent photos with our phones and instantly share them across the world, there’s something magical about the old-school instant camera. With just a click of a button, you can capture a moment in a photo that you can see and touch almost immediately. Images captured by an instant camera aren’t as pristine or perfect as modern digital cameras, but their soft images and imperfections are often a big part of the allure.

Yet not all instant cameras are the same, and some of them are better suited for different needs and budgets. That’s why we tested some of the most popular instant cameras on the market from brands like Fujifilm, Polaroid, and Kodak.

All of the models featured in our best instant camera guide here are enjoyable to use, but each offers a different set of features at a different price point. As a result, some are more appropriate for a child or the budding photographer, while others are more advanced and provide added creative control (for a price). When it comes down to it, though, we consider print quality, ease of use, and affordability to be the hallmarks of a quality shooter. That’s why we picked Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11 as the best instant camera for most people, as it ticks all three boxes wonderfully.

If you’re looking for more creative control or features like filters, however, the Instax Mini Evo is our choice, one that boasts great image quality and allows you to choose which photos you’d like to print. Other instant cameras, like Polaroid’s Now Plus and Kodak’s Mini Retro 3, also offer a variety of advanced creative modes for those who desire more.

Check out the full list of best instant camera picks below to find the best fit for you.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The Instax Mini 11 is as simple to use as it looks.

Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11

The best instant camera for most people

If all you’re looking to do is just click a button and get a decent print for a reasonable price, we recommend Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11. It’s a basic instant camera that’s easy to set up and use, which makes this a good choice for kids or those new to photography. It took us less than five minutes to insert the included AA batteries and film (not included), quickly read the instructions, take a photo, and print. The image took about 20 seconds to begin showing up and less than a minute to fully appear.

The Instax Mini 11 uses credit card-sized Instax Mini film that typically costs around $0.99 a sheet and comes in packs, some of which offer up to 20 prints for around $19.99, although you can currently buy it for $13.98 from Walmart. You can easily purchase the Instax Mini film at most major retailers, unlike some other films, such as the film needed for Kodak’s Mini Shot 3 Square Retro.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The intense flash made the cat frown and her eyes look yellow, but the dog didn’t care, and the photo quality was still pretty good.

For an instant camera, image quality is better than most of the other cameras I tested, producing relatively true-to-life photos. Most of the cameras I tested struggled to capture low-light conditions well, and this one is no exception, but the camera’s built-in flash does help. On the flip side, however, the flash — which you can’t disable — can be overpowering in some instances, resulting in a few overexposed images.

True to its name, the Mini 11 is one of the smallest instant cameras I tested and very light at around 10 ounces, which made it easy to carry it around and maintain a steady grip while taking pictures. It uses a plastic build like many others and comes in a variety of fun colors ranging from pink to blue to white. The included selfie feature — which is really just a small mirror mounted on the front of the camera — is simple but effective, even if the flash was still overpowering and didn’t capture my features or skin color particularly well.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The front of the Instax Mini comes with a small mirror you can use to take selfies.
 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
On the back of the Instax Mini 11, there’s a small counter that displays the remaining number of shots.

The Mini 11 has a number of other niceties as well. I appreciated the larger-than-average viewfinder and the fact the camera comes with a small counter that displays the remaining number of shots, which is a feature many of the other instant cameras I tested lacked. It’s easy to lose track of how many photos you’ve taken, especially while out for drinks with friends or sightseeing during a vacation. Yet, given each print costs about $1, it’s important to be mindful of how many shots you’ve got left.

All in all, the Instax Mini 11 is a basic camera that caters to all ages and experience levels and gets the job done — and done relatively well. It doesn’t feature Bluetooth or pair with a companion app that allows you to edit photos, nor does it offer advanced features like filters, lens options, or portrait modes. But if you’re looking for an instant camera that offers a great, traditional analog experience, this is it.

 Becca Farsace / The Verge
If money was no object, the stylish Instax Mini Evo would be the best instant camera to buy.

Instax Mini Evo

The best premium instant camera

Fujifilm’s newest instant camera, the Instax Mini Evo, is my colleague Becca Farcase’s favorite — and it’s mine as well. A hybrid camera that bears a resemblance to Fujifilm’s more expensive Fujifilm X100 line of cameras, it looks good and boasts vintage dials and buttons so stylish that they even caught the attention of passersby as I walked around Los Angeles taking photos.

It’s easy to balk at its $199 price tag, but this camera offers a level of flexibility that could save you money in the long run if you plan on using it a lot. That’s because the Instax Mini Evo includes a full-color LCD screen that lets you see and select which images you want to print before doing so, which can help you avoid wasting film on unwanted shots. The added flexibility gave me more room for creative experimentation, too, as I wasn’t worried about running out of film. I also loved using the Instax Mini Evo app to print photos from my smartphone. Plus, unlike the Instax Mini 11, it’s not battery-powered. While it’s a shame the Evo uses a Micro USB port for charging, the fact it’s rechargeable means you don’t need to keep wasting money on buying new batteries.

 Becca Farsace / The Verge
The Instax Mini Evo comes with a large LCD screen that doubles as a viewfinder and allows you to choose which photos to print.

Like Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 11, the camera took less than five minutes to set up and uses Instax Mini film. However, you can actually turn off the flash on the Mini Evo, which helped me take far better photos, as did the large three-inch LCD screen you can use as a viewfinder. You can also use the menu to adjust how bright you want the film to look when it’s printed out. That was helpful given neither the Evo nor the Mini 11 is particularly great at capturing dark environments, though it didn’t solve the problem completely either.

Additionally, you can use the dials to apply various lens options and filters, ranging from retro to monochrome shades, as well as a mirror lens, vignette, soft focus, and more. You can take app-based remote shots, too, which adds an extra element of photographic control that can help you take better selfie shots than the selfie mirror in the front.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
Being able to adjust the brightness of the prints helped me capture night photos and a low-light immersive exhibit a little more clearly and realistically, which is a feature the Instax Mini 11 doesn’t offer.

Of course, it’s not a perfect device, and there are some downsides to consider outside the price. For instance, although you can add some filters and make a few edits using Fujifilm’s companion app, it just isn’t as feature-rich as some of the apps available for the other digital and hybrid instant cameras I tested. The Evo’s extensive menu system also wasn’t particularly easy to navigate, and it took me some time to figure out how to turn the flash on and off. Plus, if you rely on internal storage solely, you can only take 45 images before the device is full. Still, all of these are minor issues, and I was very happy overall with how portable the stylish camera is, as well as how easy it is to take good photos quickly. Just be aware that as this is a new and popular instant camera, it can be hard to find it in stock at the moment and you can only buy it from Best Buy at the moment.

 Becca Farsace / The Verge
The Instax Mini Evo, like the Instax Mini 11, shines the best when capturing photos taken in well-lit environments.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
With its feature-rich app, Kodak’s Mini Shot 3 Retro is more modern than retro. It’s also a ton of fun.

Kodak Mini Shot 3 Retro

The best instant camera for social occasions

Whereas the Instax Mini Evo’s companion app is more functional, Kodak’s hybrid Mini Shot 3 Retro is all about fun. The camera’s accompanying mobile app allows you to apply frames, stickers, filters, and a plethora of customization options to photos, making the camera great for scrapbooking. There’s even a beauty feature within the app to conceal blemishes, as well as a set of Snapchat-like filters you can use to add, say, dog ears, making this a fun instant camera to use as a mini photo booth of sorts at parties.

Like the Instax Mini Evo, Kodak’s Mini Shot 3 Retro comes with an LCD screen (albeit a much smaller one) you can use to decide whether or not you want to print a shot. It also supports Bluetooth, and you can use the Kodak Photo Printer app to upload photos to social media or to print decent, relatively crisp photos from your smartphone. Unlike the Mini Evo, however, Kodak’s Mini Shot 3 Retro retails for around $150 and includes a pack of a film (it’s also often on sale for a lot less). It also uses cheaper film; you can pick up a 60-sheet cartridge for about $19.99 on Amazon at the moment, which equates to roughly $0.33 a shot. The fact the film is cheaper arguably encourages play and creative experimentation.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The LCD screen on Kodak’s Mini Shot 3 Retro is much smaller than the one on the Instax Mini Evo.

However, there are notable drawbacks to the Kodak Mini Shot 3. For one, the camera prints larger, 3 x 3-inch square photos on Kodak’s film — which feels lower-quality and more flimsy than Fujifilm’s and Polaroid’s. Also, although you can add colorful borders within the app, they’re modern-looking as opposed to retro, which might be a turnoff for some.

Perhaps my biggest issue with the Kodak Mini Shot 3, however, was that it doesn’t print photos taken with the camera itself anywhere as crisp nor as clearly as it does pictures shot with a smartphone. Photo quality wasn’t consistently as good as the Mini Evo’s or Mini 11’s nor, for the most part, as clear and sharp. The photos also sometimes had an excessive pink tint that interfered with quality. It doesn’t store images the way the Mini Evo does, either, which means you can’t decide whether or not you’d like to print them later.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
Photos taken with the Kodak Mini Shot 3 aren’t particularly sharp and can have an excessive pink tint.

Design-wise, the Mini Shot 3 is noticeably heavier and not as stylish as the Mini Evo. Having said that, there is the option to buy a white and black model that, at least on paper, looks nicer. Also, while I eventually got the hang of the camera and found it easy to use, it took a little longer for me to set up out of the box, as there were more instructions to follow than with Fujifilm’s cameras. The instant camera doesn’t run on disposable batteries and wasn’t fully charged when it arrived, which means I was also only able to use it for a few minutes before charging. Yet after recharging it with the included Micro-USB cable, it lasted most of the day afterward.

Nonetheless, if you don’t mind compromising on photo quality and want a relatively affordable hybrid camera that comes with a bunch of fun app features, the Kodak Mini Shot 3 Retro is a good choice.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The Polaroid Now Plus is a good combination of old school and modern but was way too big for me to hold with just one hand.

Polaroid Now Plus

The best instant camera for retro fans

If you’re looking for an instant camera that offers the most old-fashioned, instant-film experience, the Polaroid Now Plus is the camera for you. Compared to the other instant cameras on this list, the Polaroid Now Plus most closely resembles vintage instant cameras like the Polaroid 600 with its classic, retro-inspired design. Meanwhile, its square I-Type film prints and iconic Polaroid-style frame give photos a more authentically vintage look.

Yet, at the same time, the Polaroid Now Plus also comes with the convenience and usefulness of more modern features, like the ability to recharge with the included a Micro USB charging cable. It also offers Bluetooth support and a companion app boasting several creative modes that allow for greater photographic control. These include a remote shutter, a self-timer, and a “Polaroid Lab” where you can adjust the exposure and various color settings. The app also features a handful of shooting modes — including a manual option and one for capturing multiple exposures — while the camera includes a set of five colored lenses you can snap onto the front. These were enjoyable to play with and allow for more artistic expression.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The Polaroid Now Plus comes with a set of color lenses you can snap onto the camera.

If there’s one thing the Polaroid Now Plus isn’t known for, it’s portability. Given how heavy, large, and awkwardly sized it is, it’s not the kind of instant camera you can easily slip into your purse or carry around. Plus, it takes up to 15 minutes for prints to develop, and you have to make sure it’s not exposed to light while developing. That’s quite an inconvenience if you’re out with friends, say, at the beach on a sunny day.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The Polaroid Now Plus is too big and awkwardly sized to easily fit into a bag, but I did like that it has a small counter on the back underneath the power button.

If you’re looking for an instant camera that can easily print a good, clear photo without much effort on your part, this is not the camera for you. Of all the cameras on this list, the Polaroid Now Plus struggles with low-light environments the most, making it extremely difficult to capture a good shot in darker conditions. Images are not as clear in comparison to Instax film, and both contrast and color saturation levels tend to be quite low. While this gave my pictures more of a vintage, dreamy look that felt artistic — and you can use the Polaroid Lab to slightly adjust saturation and exposure settings — that could prove to be a lot of work and frustrating for some.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
I could only take clear shots in the morning, and even then, they’re not that true to life. They do, however, give off an old-school vibe that I did find charming.

For the most part, I barely could see images I took indoors, and I found I was only able to get the clearest shots when the light was directly behind me during the day — more specifically, in the morning. Given the Polaroid Now Plus lacks an LCD screen for selecting photos, it’s easy to waste film, which can prove expensive. After all, you only get eight I-Type sheets for $16.99, and that’s in addition to forking out $149.99 for the camera. Luckily, the Polaroid Now Plus has a small counter on the back so you can keep track of your shots.

Truth be told, however, you could argue that many of these shortcomings are typical of a retro, Polaroid-inspired instant camera and thus part of the experience. If that’s what you’re looking for, and you don’t mind the price, the Polaroid Now Plus is the perfect camera for you.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge

Polaroid Go

The best instant camera for portability

Whereas the Polaroid Now Plus is huge, the Polaroid Go is tiny. When I first held it, I couldn’t help but find it adorable. It easily fits into the palm of my hand — which is saying a lot given I’m petite and a little over five feet tall. In fact, it’s so small there were times I forgot I was even carrying it in my purse, making this easily the most portable instant camera on our list. It even produces the tiniest prints of all the instant cameras I tested, which could be nice if you’re trying to save some space and want something even smaller than Instax Mini prints.

Weighing just over a pound, the Polaroid Go is also the lightest instant camera I’ve ever held, and you can easily use it with one hand. That’s actually pretty convenient, given I sometimes struggled to take pictures with the heavier Polaroid Now Plus and, to a lesser extent, some of the other instant cameras I tested. In fact, if the images produced looked more true-to-life and didn’t require you to hide them from light for about 15 minutes while developing, I’d be tempted to call this the best instant camera for travel or small children.

The Polaroid Go is one of the most affordable Polaroid cameras currently on the market, with film that costs just a little more than Fujifilm’s Instax Mini shots (or about $19.99 for a 16-sheet double pack). Thankfully, the low price doesn’t come at the expense of image quality. While the Go struggles with capturing low-light environments like the bulk of the cameras on our list, it’s not to the same extent as the Polaroid Now Plus. Surprisingly, it was easier to capture clearer photos indoors, which meant I didn’t waste as much film. Contrast and color saturation levels are still low, but in a way that still exudes the vintage, almost dreamy look of the photos the Now Plus prints.

 Photo by Sheena Vasani / The Verge
The Polaroid Go produced tiny, slightly clearer photos than the Polaroid Now Plus, although still struggled to capture low-light environments.

Unlike the Polaroid Now Plus, however, it lacks creative modes and more advanced features, although double-pressing the flash button does give you double-exposure shots. There’s also no Bluetooth support and thus no fancy app that will allow you to add extra effects – although, thankfully, it is rechargeable and includes a Micro USB charging cable. In addition, as mentioned, the prints are even smaller than the Instax Mini, which could be a drawback for those who prefer larger, more traditional Polaroid photos. While it produces similar vintage-style shots, design-wise, it doesn’t look anything like old-school Polaroid cameras either, which could also take away from the retro experience some desire.

That said, none of the older Polaroid cameras came with an app either. All in all, the Go’s simplicity makes it a suitable candidate for those seeking a camera that provides a more traditional instant film experience – one they can take advantage of just about anywhere.

Source: The Verge

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