We’re heading into the holidays of yet another year in which film photographers have seen price increases, discontinuations of beloved films, and supply chain issues. But if there’s one thing we know about the future of film, it’s that instant film isn’t going anywhere. Fujifilm and the latest incarnation of Polaroid are still manufacturing loads of film, and if you walk into a Target or CVS you’re more likely to find instant film and instant cameras than rolls of 35mm film.
Instant cameras may not offer the highest image quality or creative control, but they make fun gifts for people who just like to take pictures, and sometimes the control freaks among us just need to let go and have fun. And you know how people are always saying to print your pictures? Instant cameras do that! In fact, as roll film becomes more expensive, you might find that the price per image of instant film is actually pretty competitive these days.
Anyway, let’s get to the cameras. Here’s a complete list of every instant film camera you can buy today.
Fujifilm Instax Cameras
Let’s start small.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 – There are lots of camera options which use Instax Mini film, ranging from brightly colored to more classically styled. The Mini 11 is the latest iteration of the entry-level Instax camera. This is the camera you get for your kid, tween, or for your friend who wants an instant camera but doesn’t know much about photography, or for your friend who knows everything about photography but wants a camera that’s not black or chrome.
The main improvements from earlier Minis are automatic exposure (no more setting for sunny/cloudy etc.) and better flash compensation. There’s a selfie mode that also works for closeups and… basically no other features. Which is a good thing. Simply point and shoot!
The Instax 11 costs just $59 and also comes in a variety of bundles with film, cases, frames, albums, stickers, and anything else you can imagine attaching to a camera or its resulting images for fun. If you have a child (or just an inner child) they probably want one, even if they don’t know it yet.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 – If your inner child is trying to act more grown up, there are slightly less cute Instax options. The Instax Mini 40 has retro black-and-chrome styling but still shoots auto-everything. Its creative features (or lack thereof) are basically identical to those of the Instax Mini 11, but it wouldn’t even think of existing in purple or having stickers on it. It costs $89.
Fujifilm Instax Mini Neo 90 / Neo / Classic – A step up from both the Mini 11 and Mini 40 in creative control, the Instax Mini 90/Neo/Classic (some combination of those words) comes in analog-looking combinations of black, red, and brown with silver, and offers bulb mode, double exposure mode, and exposure compensation. The macro mode behaves similarly to the Instax 11’s and 40’s selfie mode, allowing for subjects as close as 30 cm, but the name is geared toward photographers who are more likely to take a picture of a flower than themselves. It costs $119.
Fujifilm Instax Mini LiPlay – The final mini camera in Fujifilm’s lineup is the hybrid Mini Liplay. The main advantage of this camera is that it allows you to take images digitally and select which ones you want to print, so you don’t need to waste film, although it somewhat dampens the serendipity and slightly delayed gratification of direct-to-film instant photography. It also offers a bunch of filters and frame options to customize your prints, and through some curiously applied wizardry it allows you to save a sound as a scannable QR code to turn your image into a multi-sensory memory.
It also allows you to use your phone as a remote shutter release (my ears finally perked up). Most of these are features I would never have thought to ask for, but they might be perfect for you or someone on your list. It costs $159.
Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo – This is the newest Fuji Instax Mini camera, and it might be the best one ever made. James reviewed it recently and said as much, after all.
It’s a hybrid digital/instant film camera, which means that we have ultimate control over whether or not the camera prints the photos we make. Take the photo, and we choose to print it or not! It also offers ten different “lens effects” (double exposure, light leak, etc.) and ten “film effects” (pale, vivid, sepia, etc.) to apply to your digital images. It can even print images directly from your smartphone using the (amazingly good) app!
The fast 28mm lens, classic styling, and extensive features (including exposure compensation as well as selective printing and all the effects) will appeal to more serious photographers. It will cost around $200, which is a lot for an Instax camera, but may be worth it for a camera that can give you the images and user experience you’re looking for. A full review of the camera can be seen here, and when you’re ready to spend $199 to own the best Instax Mini camera in the world, you can do that from B&H Photo here.
If your head is spinning from all that, take a deep breath and get ready for the Square and Wide Instax cameras!
Let’s talk about squares, first. Most people of my generation (I’m a youngish Gen X-er) grew up with Polaroid instead of Instax, and that classic square image is still what we think of when we think of instant film. The Instax square image is a little smaller than regular Polaroid film, but like all Instax, its colors are more saturated (the black and white film is cooler than Polaroid’s, tending toward purply), it develops more quickly, and the developed image is more stable than Polaroid’s current emulsion. Plus, while Instax Square costs more than Mini film and doesn’t come in a zillion frame options, it’s cheaper than Polaroid.
Fujifilm makes two cameras for its Instax Square film.
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 – The SQ1 is the most basic Instax Square camera that Fujifilm currently makes. It offers no user control besides selfie mode. Even so, James loves his for its simplicity and its ability to take great photos despite (or because of?) its lack of features [see his full review here]. It also comes in colors like terracotta and glacier blue that are fun but a little less tween-girly than the Instax Mini 11 colors. If you’re looking for a point-and-shoot Instax camera that is a little more mature and shoots a bigger image than the Mini options, this could be it. It costs $99.
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 – The Instax SQ6 is a more advanced camera than the SQ1. It includes features such as double exposure, selfie, macro, and landscape modes, and exposure compensation (well, light and dark modes). It comes in a variety of metallic colors, something rather different from the candy-colored Instax Mini 11 and the retro styled Mini 90. It comes with three flash filters in different colors, and more importantly for a lot of photographers, allows the flash to be turned off – which you’d think would be a given, but isn’t, for a lot of Instax cameras. This camera has been quietly discontinued by Fuji, so in a couple of months it may be difficult to find one. This likely means that a new mid-level Fuji Square camera is coming soon. For this reason, your best bet to buying one will be to find one on eBay. It costs around $139
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ20 – The Instax square also comes in a digital/film hybrid option, the SQ20. Like the Liplay, it gives the user the ability to select images for printing (adding a “time grab” feature to select a frame from a short video) and add various filters to images. It also takes advantage of the larger print area to allow for collages. Bulb, double exposure, and brightness control allow more creativity to the more experienced photographer. This camera has also been quietly discontinued by Fuji, so in a couple of months it may be difficult to find one. This likely means that a new digital/film hybrid Fuji Square camera is coming soon. For this reason, your best bet to buying one will be to find one on eBay. It costs around $200.
Want the biggest Instax instant photo you can get? Then you want to shoot Instax Wide film. And to do that with an official Fuji camera, there’s only one option.
Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 – The only camera option from Fujifilm for this format is the Instax Wide 300. There’s one color choice (black and silver). There’s a flash that you can use for fill lighting in backlit situations, but you can’t turn it off. There’s exposure compensation. There’s a tripod socket. And that’s it. But it takes big photos If you want an Instax Wide camera with more features, there are a few offered by other companies, and we’ll get to those later in this article. It costs $109.
Fuji is the most prolific of the instant camera manufacturers. Now that we’ve covered them, let’s turn to Polaroid.
Here’s Every Polaroid Instant Film Camera
Polaroid, which has metamorphosed from the Impossible Project to Polaroid Originals and now back to just Polaroid again (with maybe a little DNA from the original Polaroid), still makes cameras that use that big square film that Outkast says you should shake it like. But don’t! Stick it in a dark place and don’t look at it for half an hour or so. Polaroid refurbishes classic SX-70 and 600 cameras for resale, and also makes several new cameras that can shoot both 600 film and the company’s i-Type film that uses the battery in the camera instead of each pack coming with its own. It’s a little cheaper than SX-70 and 600 film, and a little more environmentally friendly.
Polaroid Now – The Polaroid Now is the entry-level Polaroid camera, perfect for beginners, or those who are looking to have fun and not worry about photography beyond pointing and shooting. If you’ve a young kid who’s interested in a Polaroid camera, this may be the one to buy. It is an autofocus point-and-shoot camera in typical Polaroid boxy form that comes in black with that nifty little rainbow as well as a bunch of bright color options like Mint Green and Yellow. Along with ease of use, it offers basic features like double exposure and self timer modes. It uses I-Type film and costs $120.
Polaroid Now+ -The Now+ is a more advanced but very similar camera to the Polaroid Now. The biggest difference is that the Polaroid Now+ connects to a mobile app that allows for far more creative control (finally, a camera with aperture priority!) and comes with five experimental starburst/color/vignette filters. Both cameras have internal rechargeable batteries. It uses i-Type film and costs $150.
Polaroid Go – Polaroid has its own recently introduced teeny film format for its almost equally teeny Polaroid Go camera. Instax Mini cameras shoot small formats in what are often bubbly, boxy cameras, but the Polaroid Go literally fits in the palm of your hand, or close, depending on your hands. Like the Polaroid Now, it features double exposure and self timer modes, but is otherwise an itty bitty point and shoot instant camera. For the shooter who likes the Polaroid aesthetic and small versions of big things, the Polaroid Go is the perfect gift. It even comes with a necklace so you can wear your camera. It shoots the tiny Go Film and costs $99.
That’s it for the cameras made by the current mass-market manufacturers of instant film. “But wait!” you (or your giftee) will say. “I’m a serious photographer! I don’t want hinky digital filters, I don’t want to connect my phone with Bluetooth. I want some control over my photos, and I want to stick my hinky filters to the outside of the camera!” Well, has Lomography got some cameras for you!
Lomography Instant Cameras
Lomography makes instant cameras for all three sizes of Instax film. We’ll cover those first .
Lomography Cameras for Instax Mini Film – The Lomo’ Instant and Lomo’ Instant Automat use Instax Mini film and come in a variety of colors, tending more toward the retro/analog look than the basic Instax Mini cotton candy shades. The two cameras are similar in appearance and features, but the original Lomo’Instant has a wider 48mm lens (27mm equivalent in 35mm) vs. the Automat’s 60mm lens (35mm equivalent). Both cameras automatically set exposure but give the user multiple creative options, including multiple exposure, bulb mode, exposure compensation, and flash control (i.e. you can turn it off, or add funky color gels). Optional add-on lenses allow for wide-angle, closeup, and fisheye shooting, and the lens cap on the Automat can be used as a remote shutter release. The Lomo Instant Automat Glass pairs these features with an even wider 38mm f/4.5 glass lens that allows more depth of field control than is possible with any other mass market instant camera, if you can nail the zone focusing.
Lomography Cameras for Instax Wide Film – Lomo makes one standalone camera for Instax Wide film, and one instant back. The Lomo Instant Wide shares multiple and long exposure features, flash control, and exposure compensation with its siblings, and also includes a PC sync socket that allows the use of external flashes.
The LomoGraflok 4×5 Instant Back might be hard to get under the tree this year if you haven’t preordered, but it is something entirely different from everything else we’ve covered so far: a film back for Instax Wide film that attaches to any 4×5 camera with a Graflok back. Of course you need to have such a camera already, but if you do, the LomoGraflok allows ultimate exposure control, and at the reasonable price of $149 (reasonable, that is, if you have a camera to attach it to). It’s clearly not meant for snapshots and requires an existing large format setup, but for the experienced photographer with the right gear who wants to make their own decisions about exposure settings and doesn’t want to spend a ton of money to shoot instant film, it’s a good way to get started.
These are the major manufacturers of instant cameras. There are a lot of other players, so I’ll briefly take a look at a few. These cameras tend to be more specialized, expensive, wonky, or some combination of the three.
Everyone Else Making Instant Cameras
Mint Camera refurbishes classic Polaroid SLR cameras and upgrades them with features such as shutter speed control, dual format compatibility (SX-70 and 600 film), and external flash sync. The prices reflect the amount of time and customization; they are not cheap, but they offer the most features of any Polaroid camera. They also produce modern Instax cameras: the InstantKon RF70 [see our full article here], a bellows-folding rangefinder with full shutter and aperture controls that shoots Instax Wide film, and the InstantFlex TL70 [see our full article here], a TLR with shutter speed control and exposure compensation that shoots Instax Mini film. The price of these cameras (also not cheap) is offset by Mint’s free film program, which sends registered Mint camera users a free pack of film for every four images taken by the camera that they post on social media (Instagram/Facebook) and get 45 likes on.
Like Mint, other companies such as Brooklyn Film Camera and Retrospekt refurbish classic Polaroid cameras, offering them for sale on their websites or restoring cameras which customers already own. They’ll also convert SX-70 cameras to use Polaroid’s higher ISO 600 films.
Jollylook is in the preorder stage for three instant cameras that look like little view cameras with folding bellows: the Auto Instant film camera in Instax square and mini sizes, and the Pinhole Zoom in mini size. The Auto cameras let the user choose the aperture aperture and automatically set the shutter speed, while the Pinhole comes with a fixed aperture and a neutral density filter to allow for longer shutter speeds with the fast (ISO 800) Instax film. They also sell Square and Mini development units for photographers who want to cobble together a back for their own camera.
The Nons42 SL42 shoots Instax Mini film in an SLR body that can accept a variety of lenses from different manufacturers, with a native non-electronic Canon EF mount. The camera can be purchased with a suitable 50mm lens to save the trouble of finding something compatible. The shooter chooses a shutter speed and the camera recommends an aperture for correct exposure. It’s an expensive way to shoot Instax mini film, but entirely unique among all the available options.
And then of course there are the hundreds of classic Polaroid cameras which you can buy from reputable camera shops such as F Stop Cameras (which is run by James, the founder of Casual Photophile) and Blue Moon Camera. You can also try your luck buying a used Polaroid camera on eBay, though when these are untested it is a definite risk.
That just about covers the easily available cameras for shooting instant film in 2021. If I’ve missed any (and I probably have!), please offer your suggestions in the comments. There might not be something for everybody, but there are so many choices that you should be able to find something for yourself or the aspiring instant film photographer on your list.
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