Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture
Instant film has made a big comeback in recent years. Even though the original Polaroid has been shuttered for years now, Fujifilm’s Instax business is thriving, offering (relatively) low-cost analog capture, and the Impossible Project, now renamed Polaroid Originals, has worked to keep older cameras loaded with film, albeit at a premium price, and has even dipped its toes into making new hardware.
There are lots of reasons to reach for an instant camera. The ability to hand off a photo to someone right after you’ve snapped it can’t be matched with digital capture. Instant film is a big hit at weddings and parties because of this, and it can be a great way to capture moments for posterity in a way that is very different than just another smartphone image. And you can’t discount the artistic crowd, drawn to the allure of making their work stand out in a crowded landscape.
Instant Film Formats
Getting your head around the varying instant film formats is important in making a buying decision. Let’s start with the most popular, and oddly enough the smallest in size, Instax Mini. Developed by Fujifilm, Instax Mini film is about the size of a credit card when you take its border into account, and has an image area that is 2.4 by 1.8 inches (HW) in size.
Color Instax Mini film is pretty affordable. If you buy in packs of ten you’ll pay a bit of a premium, about $0.90 per shot for color and a dollar a shot for black and white. Fuji doesn’t offer
If you prefer a bigger image, you can opt for the Instax Wide format, also available in color or black-and-white. The image size is about double that of Mini—basically two mini shots side-by-side at 2.4 by 3.9 inches. But it’s not double the cost of Mini—it costs about $1.20 a shot if you buy a single pack, but you can cut that to $0.75 if you buy a two-pack, and bulk shooters can get a 10-pack (100 shots) for $70. The monochrome edition sells for a premium, about $1.80 per image.
For some photographers, instant film is
But what if you’ve got an honest-to-goodness Polaroid camera? Polaroid Originals makes
Black-and-white film is also available, but only in single packs, for the same price as color film. And there are many variations available, including duotone film in yellow, red, or orange tint,
You can save a few pennies on film for the I-1 or the OneStep series, as the cameras have their own batteries. A three-pack of color film (24 shots) sells for about $45—$1.88 an image—and a single pack is $16—$2 an image.
Polaroid Original’s color film is not on the same quality level as Instax. The company has worked hard to reverse engineer the Polaroid process, but changes in availability of chemicals and some other factors have led to images that must be shielded from light as they develop, take up to 20 minutes to fully form, and don’t have the same level of color saturation as you’d expect from modern instant film. The black-and-white film is a lot better, developing more quickly and showing strong contrast, but it does have a tendency to acquire a sepia tint over time.
Converting Digital to Instant
If you have a favorite image that you shot with a digital camera and want to preserve it on instant film, you’re in luck. You can print any photo stored on your smartphone onto Instax Mini film using the Instax Share SP-2 via a Wi-Fi connection, or onto the square format with the SP-3.
On the flip side, you can also digitize your instant prints. Check out our guide to preserving your photos for tips.
Despite it being a very digital age, you have a good number of instant cameras and film formats from which to choose. If you’ve got an itch to shoot film again, and don’t want to have to find a local lab to develop your shots,
Pros: Fun to use. Powered by AA batteries. Optical viewfinder. Selfie mirror. Includes macro adapter. Color and black-and-white film available. Lots of color options. Inexpensive.
Cons: Not fully automatic. No tripod socket. Shutter placement makes landscape shooting uncomfortable.
Bottom Line: Whether you’re looking for a new creative outlet or just want to share physical images with friends and family, Fujifilm’s affordable Instax Mini 9 camera delivers.
Pros: Compact. Sharp, ultra-wide lens. Automatic exposure. Built-in flash. Selfie mirror. Multiple exposure support. Includes close-up filter and split frame mask. Color and monochrome film options.
Cons: Uses CR2 batteries. Instax Mini format is a little small.
Bottom Line: The Lomography Lomo’Instant Automat Glass instant camera has a sharp glass lens with an ultra-wide view that makes it a great choice for landscape and travel.
Pros: Uses large Instax Wide film. Exposure compensation control. Built-in flash. Multiple exposure capability. Manual focus lens. Sync socket for external flash. Wide-angle and macro conversion lenses available. Selfie mirror.
Cons: Bulky. Can be expensive for high-volume shooters.
Bottom Line: Instant film lovers will fall for the Lomography Lomo’Instant Wide thanks to its manual control options, multiple exposure capability, and support for off-camera lighting.
Pros: Fun to use. Instax Mini film is easy to find. Wide-angle prime lens. Built-in flash. Supports multiple exposures. Adjustable f-stop. Bulb exposure mode. Focuses to 0.4-meter. Optical viewfinder. Front mirror for selfies.
Cons: Uses smaller Instax film size. Regular use can be expensive. Fixed 1/125-second shutter speed.
Bottom Line: The Lomography Lomo’Instant is a fun instant camera with a wide-angle lens and support for multiple exposures.
Pros: Fun to use. Instax Mini film readily available. Wide-angle lens. Automatic exposure. Built-in flash. Selfie mirror. Multiple exposure support. Accessory lenses available.
Cons: CR2 batteries can be hard to find. Mini film format is small.
Bottom Line: The Lomography Lomo’Instant Automat improves upon the original, adding automatic exposure control for easier snapshots.
Pros: Purely analog instant camera. Glass lens. Folding design. Automatic exposure. Multiple exposure support. Built-in flash. Includes wireless remote.
Cons: Tricky viewfinder parallax. Some trial and error. Instax Square film costs more than other formats. CR2 batteries aren’t as common as AA.
Bottom Line: The Lomography Lomo’Instant Square is the first true analog camera to use Instax Square film. It also has a nifty folding design and a seriously sharp lens.
Pros: Makes square instant photos. 3.6MP digital image sensor. Bright f/2.4 lens. 28.5mm wide-angle field of view. In-camera filters and editing tools.
Cons: More expensive than purely analog instant cameras. Instax Square film is pricey. No way to save filtered digital images. Printing from other cameras finicky.
Bottom Line: The Instax Square SQ10 is a new type of instant camera, blending digital capture with true analog film output, but images are difficult to share online.
Pros: Uses large Instax Wide instant film. Includes close focus adapter. Creates charming physical prints.
Cons: Limited exposure control. Big. Can be expensive for high-volume shooters.
Bottom Line: The Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 is a simple camera that takes photos using instant film, and can be a lot of fun to use.
Pros: Twin lens design for precise manual focus. EV compensation control. Manual aperture control. Bright focusing screen with magnifying loupe. Built-in flash. Free film program. AA battery power.
Cons: Expensive. Nailing exposure can be tricky. Landscape shooting is impractical. 35mm field of view not as wide as Instax cameras.
Bottom Line: The Mint InstantFlex TL70 2.0 is an instant camera with a throwback design and a premium price, but it lacks true manual exposure control.
Pros: Uses classic Polaroid square film format. Color and monochrome films available. Easy to use. Close focus mode delivers crisp portraits. Includes Bluetooth for manual exposure control. Charges via USB.
Cons: Expensive film. Color materials are finicky.
Bottom Line: Serious shutterbugs shopping for an instant camera should take a look at the Polaroid Originals OneStep+, but the cost of materials makes it a tough sell for casual snapshooters.