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5 Things To Know Before Buying an Instant Camera

A Fool-Proof Guide to Buying Your First Instant Camera

Photo by David Yogi

As Stephen King put it, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” Over the years, we’ve seen trends come and go – and come back again. It happened with vinyl records, vintage fashions, and now the instant camera is back on the scene. 

In the late 90’s and throughout the 2000’s, instant photography was scarce at best. Who would have thought twenty years later, this niche would find new life in an overwhelmingly digital world. 

Perhaps, it’s the nostalgia for Gen Xers and millennials; maybe it’s the novelty and the simplicity for Gen Zers. Whatever the case, it’s not unusual these days to see someone put down their smartphone and pick up their choice of instant camera. Want to hear a staggering statistic? According to FujiFilm, “young people around the world have embraced a particular high-tech but easy-to-use device as a creative tool for self-expression: instax! In 2015, Fujifilm sold over 5 million units of the instant camera, and its mark continues to grow.” 

Today, instant photography has become so popular that consumers new to the medium may find the buying process overwhelming. With Polaroid and Kodak back in the game, and companies like Leica entering the market, how does one pick a camera body and film that suits their casual or creative needs?

We’ve taken a look at our own inventory and have narrowed the playing field. Here are five things you need to know before buying your first instant camera. 

Before we jump in, here’s a quick overview:

  1. First – Ask Yourself This Question…
  2. For Casual Shooters
  3. For Photo Enthusiasts
  4. Going Analog
  5. Digital Hybrids

Experimentation or Nostalgia?

Photo by Ramon Salinero

What first comes to mind when you think of an instant camera? Maybe early childhood memories or flipping through family photo albums come to mind. Or, perhaps they are more of a novelty – a tech throwback that’s become a trendy accessory. 

Whether one’s motivation is nostalgia, creative experimentation, or sheer curiosity, determining what purpose that new gadget will serve will help narrow down model and film types. Up ahead, we’ve identified three categories of instant camera shooters, along with a couple pointers about making heads or tails about instant film formats.

The Instant Camera For Casual Shooters

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

For a user-friendly and affordable introduction to the world of instant photography, casual shooters need to look no further than the FujiFilm Instax Mini series. From kids, to teens, to adults looking for a fun option that the whole family can enjoy: It’s as simple as snap and shoot. 

As previously mentioned, Instax cameras are incredibly popular because of their ease of use, compact body, and variety of colorways. The latest model in this series, the Instax Mini 11, boasts a couple upgrades.

Instax Mini 11

A step up from the Mini 9, the latest model features a new Automatic Exposure function and Selfie Mode that allows you to get up close and personal with its built-in macro mode and selfie mirror.

Let’s say you’re a college student active on social media. You want all that the Instax Mini 11 has to offer sans the bright pastel body. The next best thing is the Instax Square SQ6.

Instax SQ6

The INSTAX SQUARE SQ6 is the first analog instant camera within the INSTAX SQUARE lineup. It is the perfect tool for users who want to be creative and use instant photos to express themselves and their everyday moments in a square film format.

In other words, this is a must for avid instagrammers interested in analog film. 

The Instant Camera For the Photo Enthusiast

Photo by Charles Deloye

From creative to camera collector, the photo enthusiast will definitely be on the hunt for one of two models: pure throwbacks like the Polaroid 600 Square Instant Camera or models that put a modern spin on vintage tech like the Fujifilm INSTAX Wide 300 Instant Film Camera.

Also, remember how we mentioned experimentation as a potential motivator towards an instant camera purchase? As modern photo history has proven, instant photography isn’t just for the average consumer. Artists like Any Warhol, Mark Klett, and Keith Haring proved that this niche medium has a place in the fine art world. If you’re a content creator in need of a creative boost, picking up one of the models mentioned in the blog may be the thing you need. While you’re at it, check out the work of these emerging instant photographers: Anika Neese, Ariel Shelleg, and Koichiro Kojima.

The Instant Camera Has Gone Digital

Photo by Ian Dooley

Understanding that a pure analog mode may not suit everyone, especially those who are very attached to their smartphone and Wi-Fi, a solution came in three words: mobile device compatibility.

Companies like FujiFIlm, Polaroid, and Canon have introduced digital-hybrid instant cameras and mobile printers to the market – providing more flexibility for the Gen Z and Millennial crowds. If Bluetooth capability sounds up your alley, here are some recommended models:

Cameras

Polaroid OneStep+ Instant Film Camera

Polaroid OneStep+

Based on the original Polaroid OneStep from 1977, the Polaroid Originals OneStep+ Instant Film Camera reimagines the classic instant film camera by using Bluetooth to offer mobile device compatibility and expand its creative potential.The OneStep+ integrates with an iOS or Android mobile device with the Polaroid Originals app installed, which can activate the camera’s remote trigger, noise trigger, or manual mode.

Canon IVY CLIQ+ Instant Camara Printer

Canon Ivy CLIQ+

The Canon IVY CLIQ+ Instant Camera Printer (Pearl White) is the small and fun Instant Camera and Mini Photo Printer that can fit in your pocket so you can take it anywhere! The IVY CLIQ+ features a large 2″ Selfie Mirror with an 8 LED ring light for great looking selfies! Easily connect your mobile device to the Canon Mini Print app via Bluetooth and take a photo with your mobile device’s camera or choose one of your own photos. 

Printers

Fujifilm INSTAX SHARE SP-3 Smartphone

Instax Share Sp-3

Select your best shots from your smartphone and get instax prints by just transferring the shots from the app to the SP-3 via a Wi-Fi connection. You can also print images from your Instagram, Facebook, Google Photos, flickr and Dropbox accounts.

Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer

Polaroid Zip Instant Printer

The Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer is designed to print vibrant, colorful instant photos from a variety of sources. Print directly from your mobile phone or tablet in less than 60 seconds using Bluetooth or NFC technology. The Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer gives you 2×3” full-color, smudge-proof photos with a sticky back for extra fun.

Film is Not Dead

Photo by Designecologist

When digital cameras became the consumer preference in the mid 2000’s, it looked like the end of the road for instant and disposable cameras. As it turns out, analog film just went into hibernation. As a matter of fact, there has been renewed interest in both instant and vintage cameras within the last decade thanks to social media. In 2020, Lomography, another manufacturer of instant cameras, asked emerging creatives why analog film has found an audience on popular social platforms like Instagram. Photographer Ria Silver replied, “I use social media to let people know that film photography is not just about taking nice photos with awesome color gradients, but it is an experience overall. Getting back to your roots and rediscovering light and shadows in a different way.”

Today’s specialty and camera stores have sections entirely dedicated to film photography. At first glance, one quickly realizes that this is a much different world from digital solutions. There are just as many types of film as there are camera models. For example, for FujiFIlm Instax cameras, there’s instax wide, square and mini. And, these formats come in monochrome and different border styles. But, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. 

Once one has settled on a camera model, given the box a once over – compatible film types are clearly stated on the packaging. Or, if a one-stop solution is preferred, ask your local camera pro about in-stock bundles.

Final Thoughts

Before you take the instant photography leap, do a little research, check out the products mentioned in this blog, or ask your local camera expert which products and accessories they recommend. These steps will not only help make the buying process much easier; you’ll spend less time surfing the web and more time capturing meaningful moments with your brand new instant camera. 

Destiny A. Lopez About Author

Destiny A. Lopez is a writer based in Los Angeles. Destiny has previously covered pop culture, lifestyle, tech, and personal finance for various media outlets.

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