Updated: Jul 28
Interested in an instant camera? Before you commit to one, there are several elements to think about before 'hitting that commit' button. Head to the bottom of this article for a comprehensive summary chart comparing common instant cameras.
Consider: Film (Affordability / Quality / Availability)
Polaroid Film Attributes
If you don't mind spending about $2.37 per shot (600), a Polaroid could be the ticket! Polaroid film has become widely available from specialty camera shops, to your local Rite Aid. The only film stock that is trickier to track down is the film for the SX-70s.
We always recommend purchasing an extra pack more than what you 'need' in the moment (just like Cinestill 800). Polaroid also offers gorgeous limited-edition frames (the border around the actual image -- typically classic white), that you can collect seasonally and squirrel away for a better time. These frames are limited to the 600 and i-Type film packs. Around the holidays, they have their metallic frames available (red/gold metallic frames are a hit come Xmas and New Years).
The tedious thing about Polaroid film itself, is that the film can be vulnerable to temperature when
shooting. When shooting in warm conditions (70+ degrees in full sun), we've noticed the film to lean into the warmer tones if exposed to the heat (we recommend placing the film in the shade while developing). When exposed to cooler conditions, (40 or below), the colors will shift into blue-ish tones (not flattering for most purposes). To avoid this, store your film closer to your skin -- in a chest pocket or up your sleeve. The film is additionally difficult to keep pristine when shooting in an older camera as there is the common occurrence of 'streaking' in images. The sleeve/tongue that pops the image out will get dirty or bent, and will scrape the film as it ejects out -- causing these markings (artistic at best, but more annoying when it streaks through your subject unattractively). Rumor has it that this is not
Additionally, keep in mind that not all Polaroid films are the same speed. Your SX-70 film will be for strictly sunny or brighter days as the ISO is 160. 600 and iType is at 640 ISO, which is better for just about all scenarios when accompanied with flash.
Despite the cost, I own about 8 Polaroid cameras and I don't regret it at all. They are gorgeous and I sparingly use them on road trips. The anticipation of the shot, and the 'risk', makes the perfect image all the more loved.
FujiFilm Instant Film Attributes
Fujifilm is a crowd pleaser. Affordable, readily available AND consistent in terms of not having 'surprise' streaks throughout images. There is nothing 'major' to complain about Fuji's instant film as it really does work around the issues surrounding Polaroid's film. The ONE element to keep in mind though is that that the film is 800 ISO, so make sure to hit the 'darken' button to increase contrast in situations where the whole scene is ridiculously bright.
We WILL admit though -- Instax Wide and Instax Square sizes are not commonly found 'everywhere'. Just like our advice with Polaroid, grab an extra pack when purchasing in-store as you won't find the film as often as you like. If you are shooting with the 'mini' film packs, keep an eye out for their value pack (60 for $49.99).
Based off of their film pricing alone, Fujifilm has the best gift-worthy cameras out there. Inexpensive prices for a new instant camera, and inexpensive film, makes for the perfect gift.
I own the Mint TLR Instax camera along with the Instax Wide. The wide's frame is perfect for landscapes or gatherings of people.
Canon Zink 'Film' Attributes
Canon's zink printer paper will be called film for the sake of comparison. The film itself does not have a set ISO, which is convenient, as the camera itself has an auto ISO of 100 - 1600. You can find this film just about anywhere where you typically find Canon products.
Out of all the films available for instant cameras, Canon's Cliqs use the most cost effective film at $.49 per shot! You can use an app to edit your print before printing via bluetooth (Cliq+ and Ivy Printer). Add borders, text and more. The zink film is additionally sticker-backed, so the film could easily turn into a sticker for scrapbooking or tagging your personal belongings.
When thinking about cons of the 'film' itself, there are none -- besides the 'smallness' of the frame (2x3). What we find really neat though, is that the camera can print out several bits of an image to create a larger print out for wall decor and more. The film doesn't need to sit for a few minutes to dry or develop. It comes out in a minute, ready for use/showing off.
Consider your Options (Price / Functions / Style)
The newer Polaroid Onestep2 VF, have a built-in timer, flash as well as a fixed focus design for focusing on subjects as close as 2' away. The camera additionally offers charging via port, rather than relying on AAs or CR2s. Older Polaroids (vintage), don't always have a flash, autofocus or timer (or even a tripod mount).
If you spot a vintage Polaroid with sonnar pictured, it will have a built in autofocus system (pretty accurate). SX-70s currently have third party accessories that you can add-on to your thrift store find, including light bars and a timer button, however a timer button could cost a pretty penny, averaging about $50-70.
If you do happen to find a Spectra camera that works, and you deem hunting for film a welcome challenge, this could be an ideal thrifty find. Most Spectras we've seen have both Sonnar AF, a timer, AND a flash (along with the typical exposure compensation switch).
The choice with the most function buttons is the Instax Mini Liplay. This camera can print images from your phone, be controlled by your phone (remote), and can even print out QR codes on your prints to 'attach sound'! Imagine receiving a card in the mail with a QR code attached to your print with a sweet message from a loved one. Take my money! The LiPlay also doubles as a digital camera, so you can select which photos you want to print, rather than having to print out a blurry photo. This camera charges via cord.
Want that classic square shape? Check out the Instax Square Series. This camera's AF is linked to three 'zone' modes, so you do have to be a little more conscious of the distance between you and your subjects. Comes with a built in flash, THREE flash gels (orange, purple and green), as well as a double exposure mode. This camera is charged by 2 CR2s.
The Instax Mini 70 is the perfect inbetweener for a slick looking camera that has some interesting features. The Mini 70 has a built in flash, AF as well as a built in 10-second timer. What stood out to us, was that this camera also offers a 'dual photo' mode when you set the timer. The dual photo mode allows for two photos to be taken consecutively, so instead of having to retake the same photo again, you can take two photos at the same time for a near identical copy to give away.
The classic Fujifilm instant camera most people typically can recall, is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 9. This instant camera is built in a way where it could take a couple drops and still function at full capacity (my 8 year and 6 year old nieces own this camera -- and I have seen some swinging around of this camera). Out of all the instax series, the Instax Mini 9 comes in a rainbow of colors. What we like about this camera? You have a little bit of aperture control, between f/12.7 - f/32. Comes with an automatic flash, along with a 'high key' mode to create purposely overexposed prints. The focus is fixed from 2' to infinity for sharp images at any distance. This instant camera is powered by 2 AAs.
My personal favorite! The Instax Wide 300.
The Instax Wide 300 is a camera has a retractable 95mm f/14 Lens -- for sharp images throughout the image. Prints are 2.4 x 3.9" in size on a 3.4 x 4.3" (Polaroid shots are 3.108 × 3.024 inches (photo area) and 4.233 x 3.483 inches). This camera is simple. It does not have a timer or double exposure mode, just the normal exposure compensation mode and a flash that you can trigger. This camera requires 4 AA batteries to operate.
There are two IVY Cliqs on the market right now, as well as an IVY printer. If you are looking for a simple instant camera that takes your photos with no extra bells and whistles, go for the original IVY Cliq ($59.99 until Aug 1st, 2020. Normal price $99.99). If you are looking for a printer where you can customize your prints prior to printing, and print via bluetooth -- get the IVY printer ($99.99 until August 1st. Normal price $129.99). If you want BOTH, the ability to take photos, print from your phone, with a timer and selfie-light, get the IVY Cliq+ ($89.99 until Aug 1st, 2020. Normal price $159.99). The Cliq series is easy to operate and there's no rummaging through the few settings to find the 'right exposure' for you as this instant camera is at heart -- a camera that prints instantly and accurately, without waiting for the chemistry in the film pack to settle.
In Conclusion... We Have Created a Chart to Summarize Common Comparisons.
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The Shutterbug is a Oregon Family Owned & Operated Camera Store, with four locations in Oregon. We have been in the industry of helping photographers like you since 1971.