Tips for Picking an Instant Camera

Instant cameras offer an interesting combination of modern and vintage cameras; they allow you to immediately print the picture without having to transfer it to your computer or any other device, and are great for capturing memories on the go. However, with so many models available on the market, choosing one can take some time and effort. This post will discuss benefits, pros and cons, and tips for picking an instant camera that suits your needs and preferences.

What Is an Instant Camera?

As the name implies, an instant camera prints out a picture immediately after it is captured. It is equipped with internal mechanisms and a self-developing film that allows you to have the image instantly after it is captured. An example is the Polaroid camera that produces a picture using a special self-developing film. 

Digital vs Film Cameras

A woman photographing with an instant film camera

A digital instant camera allows users to capture, store and view a picture before it is printed whereas film cameras use traditional film to capture and immediately print the picture. Most digital cameras have the functionality to edit the picture before printing and allow users to digitally store and share the captured pictures. On the other hand, images captured by film cameras cannot be edited or shared digitally in their raw format. Moreover, film cameras require the film to be replaced after a certain number of shots. Both cameras have their pros and cons and the choice between them ultimately comes down to what you want from a camera.

Benefits of Using an Instant Camera

There are many benefits of using instant cameras, some of these benefits are:

  • Immediate Printing: As we have discussed above, the most focal benefit of using an instant camera is that they allow you to print a picture immediately after it is captured. As such, instant cameras are a great way to capture candid moments.
  • Hands-on Feel: Using an instant camera provides users with a tactile and hands-on feel when using it, which can be a refreshing change.
  • Physical Print: A physical print of an important moment in your life is more personal and carries sentimental value which is not possible with digital pictures.
  • Limited Shots: Although this may seem like a drawback of using an instant camera, with a limited pack of instant camera films, you are likely to be more thoughtful of the pictures you capture and take your time while capturing, which will ultimately lead to better pictures.
  • Fun: An instant camera offers an interesting way to physically engage with the pictures you capture and the process itself is usually an enjoyable experience. The benefit is more pronounced for the recent generation that is accustomed to digital pictures. 
  • Affordable: Most instant cameras are priced reasonably, which makes them accessible to a wide range of consumers. 

Drawbacks of Using an Instant Camera

A man capturing a picture of two individuals at the sea

Although instant cameras come with several benefits, there are some drawbacks that you should consider before purchasing one:

  • Cost of Films: Most instant cameras use film to print pictures immediately after they are captured. But the cost of these films can add up quite substantially if you want to take a whole bunch of images.
  • Limited Films: There is a certain number of films that can be inserted in an instant camera, and as such, the number of pictures you take is limited, which can be frustrating if you run out of these films in the middle of an event.
  • Reduced Image Quality: Instant cameras usually offer a lower resolution compared to digital cameras that come with advanced processing capabilities. In addition, they lose their quality further as they are printed.
  • No Digital Backup: Instant cameras do not have the feature to store and share pictures digitally. As such, if you lose the physical print of an image, there is no way to recover this image.
  • Bulky: Instant cameras tend to be bulkier than digital cameras. This is because they are fitted with internal mechanisms to print and develop a picture.
  • Limited Zoom: Instant cameras have limited zoom capabilities than digital cameras, which is why they are mostly used for closed ups..
  • Not Suitable for Rapidly Moving Subjects: As there is a delay between capturing and printing a picture with an instant camera, they are not suitable for rapidly moving subjects. As such, they require the object or the subject to remain stationary until a picture has been captured.
  • Low Battery Life: Most instant cameras require frequent replenishment of batteries as their battery lives are not up to the mark when compared to digital cameras (because they involve many moving parts).
  • Limited Lens Options: Instant cameras are mostly used for capturing day-to-day activities e.g., a beach day or an event among friends, and as such, they do not offer a wide range of lens options.

Things to Consider When Buying an Instant Camera

Here are things to keep in mind when buying an instant camera.

  • Print Size: Each instant camera has a specific print size, which varies from one company to another.. Some common print sizes with borders include 3.4 x 2.1 inches, 3.4” x 4.3” and 4.2 x 3.5 inches.
  • Image Quality: As with any other camera, the quality of the image taken by an instant camera will differ depending on the film ISO, the settings, the environment, and other factors. Before purchasing an instant camera, it’s a good idea to have a look at customer feedback to gauge whether an instant camera is worth buying or not.
  • Film Style: The usual white borders on every photo can become boring over time. As such, many brands of instant cameras also come with a wide variety of film styles such as black borders, rounded borders, and filled with rainbows or colors. Depending on your personal preference, you should explore the different styles of films available and pick accordingly..
  • Lens: Depending on the type of pictures you want to take, different instant cameras come with a specific lens option. For example, some instant cameras come with a lens that allows you to take photos of subjects as close as 35-40cm away.
  • Multiple Exposures: Some instant cameras have the feature to capture pictures in multiple exposures on a single print which can help you capture images in compositions that are creative and unique.
  • Battery Life: Battery life might not be such a big thing if all you want is to snap and print a couple of pictures. But if you plan on printing a lot of pictures, consider the battery capacity, which is represented in mAh. The higher the number, the more its battery will last.. 
  • Size and Weight: As there is a wide range of instant camera models available on the market, they all come in different sizes and weights. Although they tend to be heavier than digital cameras, you might want to consider the lightest among them for better portability.
  • Availability of Films: Instant cameras are not widely used, and as a result, the availability of their films can be limited. Make sure that the films you need are easily available in the market.
  • Cost of Films: The cost of films can add up and can be substantial. As such, you should weigh up the cost of films with your budget when buying an instant camera. If you take a lot of pictures, buying a digital camera and a dedicated photo printer might be a more practical solution and make more financial sense.
  • Additional options and settings: Adjustment options such as a brightness dial and additional features like a flash unit can enhance functionality and make an instant camera more useful.
  • Film Interchangeability: Although instant films are not interchangeable between different brands, some of them are interchangeable among the same brand. It’s better to go with a brand for which films are either locally available or you can buy online without any hassle.

Top Instant Camera Brands

There aren’t too many players in the instant camera niche, so your options mainly come down to local availability of cameras and films. Your main options include Poloroid, Fujifilm and Kodak. You might also come across some cheap options, but they might not be worth your money because of quality issues and lack of film availability.


Instant cameras offer many benefits including immediate printing, physical prints, hands-on feel, and affordability. However, you also need to keep drawbacks in mind including no digital backup, cost of films, limited shots, and limited camera functionality. With that being said, there is still something special about instant cameras; a feeling of nostalgia that no digital camera can offer.