Best Instant Cameras of 2018

Smartphones aren't the only way to campture memories. Instant cameras are a fun alternative for taking on-the-go photos. Use our shopping guide to determine which one is right for you.

The Best Instant Cameras for Vintage-Style Photos

Sure, you can take a bunch of pics with your smartphone, clog up your device's storage, and then struggle to pick which photos to delete when it comes time to decide on that perfect group shot. But if you want less of a hassle and a lot more fun, instant film cameras offer a stylish alternative for snapping photos on the go.

Instant cameras are perfect for parties, weddings, or any event where you want to capture the moment. They don't produce a digital copy but a physical photograph that's printed instantly from the camera.

These cameras are also a great travel accessory since compact versions are easy to pop in a bag or purse. Plus, the printed pictures are an ideal way to decorate an office corkboard or dorm room walls. And with an instant camera, there's no need to go through the annoying task of slogging through thousands of digital files to print your favorite images. An instant film camera is a great gift idea as well.

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Follow Instructions for Camera and Film Storage

Store film properly. Keep film away from light to avoid damaging it before you load it into your instant camera.

Why Buy an Instant Camera?

The benefits of picking an instant camera over a digital camera are numerous. These devices are user-friendly and often feature a slew of automatic settings to help you take a great pic regardless of your skill level or the outdoor conditions.

Prolonged battery life is another advantage of an instant film camera. Because there are no digital screens, instant cameras require less battery power. They're also portable and easy to bring to any event or occasion. Best of all, they deliver instant results. There's no need to drop off photos for professional development like with old-school film cameras. You also don't need to plug into a computer to browse and print your snapshots like with digital cameras.

With a digital or smartphone camera, you can snap away until you get the perfect shot or until you run out of storage space. Scroll through the average person's smartphone camera roll, and you'll no doubt find an array of similar photos. With an instant camera, snapping away isn't really an option, unless you have money to burn on film. You're more likely to take candid pictures and snap instant takes without all the multiples. With instant film, mistakes can become art, which is the beauty of instant shots.

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Instant Cameras Are a Fun Way to Liven up a Party or Social Event

If you're hosting an event, an instant camera is a great way to capture the fun, and the printed photos make memorable party favors for your guests.

How Do Instant Cameras Work?

Instant film cameras utilize one of two processes to print and develop photos instantly. The most common is the chemical process. The physical film contains chemicals, and rollers inside the instant camera distribute the chemicals down the film sheet as the photograph is printed. Your cute selfies or gorgeous sunsets then develop accordingly.

The other process involves thermal-based dyes. These dyes respond to heat to create an image. This method usually delivers faster results, but the quality isn't as good as instant cameras that use a chemical process.

Quick tip: Don't get too close to your subject. That can result in a blurry photo.

Picking the Right Instant Camera

Selecting an instant film camera isn't just about features and performance. When you settle on a camera model, you'll also be committing to a particular type and size of film. Do you want square Polaroid-style photos that offer a nostalgic feel? Are you interested in taking mini wallet-size pictures to save as keepsakes? Instant cameras use different film sizes, so choose wisely. Consider the whole package when selecting your new device, and factor in the cost of film, too.

In terms of features, pick those extras that will help you take the best photos. A flash is a must-have, but for added help with photo snapping, pick a model that offers an auto exposure function and different lighting settings. Timers are useful for solo travelers or taking group shots, but check that your chosen camera also has tripod support, so you don't have to set your device down on an unstable surface to use the timer. You can also choose between instant cameras that are powered by replaceable batteries or a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

Film is available in different types, including color, black and white, and options that feature decorative borders.

Getting the Perfect Shot

New versions of instant film cameras are highly adjustable, so getting a good picture is fairly simple, and it's much more difficult to waste film. Some instant cameras even automatically adjust to the ideal settings. An auto flash function is designed to help you take pics in dim light, for example.

Don't be fooled by the name, though. Instant camera prints still need time to develop, so be gentle with them. A couple of minutes is the average development time for most types of film.

Don't expose a developing photo to bright light, which can ruin the resulting image.

Should You Buy a Refurbished Polaroid Camera?

If you're a nostalgic photographer or artsy photo-taker with money to spare, purchasing a refurbished Polaroid camera may seem like an attractive option. Just be aware that film for these old-school cameras costs a pretty penny.

We suggest, instead, using a defunct vintage Polaroid as a decor item and picking up a new instant film camera for actual picture taking.

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Accessories for Vintage Polaroid Cameras Are Still Available

Polaroid no longer sells instant film, but companies such as the Impossible Project sell film that can be used in vintage or refurbished Polaroid cameras.

Can an Instant Camera Replace a Digital Camera?

Instant cameras are intuitive and easy to use, but there are reasons why an instant model won't replace your digital camera for all photo taking. Instant film is pricey across the board. Usually sold in packs of 10, you're likely to pay at least $7 per pack.

Another downside with instant cameras is that there's no way to preview your photos before snapping them, so you risk wasting film. We don't suggest an instant camera for capturing your official wedding photos, for instance. Instead, dole out a few instant cameras to guests who can take endearing and spontaneous shots during the event.

The quality of images from instant cameras is also nowhere close to the high-quality photos produced by digital devices. But, of course, that's kind of the point. There's something attractive about imperfect photographs. It's all part of the retro charm of this type of camera.

Just realized your pack of film is expired? Don't worry. You can still use it in an instant camera. The color composition of your photographs may look off, but if you want a vintage style, that might be just what you're looking for.

What Instant Cameras Cost

Regardless of the instant camera you plan to buy, consider not only the immediate purchase price but also the cost of film. Instant film cameras range in price from just over $50 for compact models that produce mini-size prints to well over $500. More expensive instant cameras are typically designed for advanced photographers and allow for manual control over the settings.

Be aware that taking outdoor winter shots might not work so well with an instant camera. Film may not develop correctly in the cold.