Kenneth Bachor for TIME
By Kenneth Bachor
June 15, 2017

Instant cameras are nothing new. The first commercial instant camera was the Land Camera Model 95, invented in 1948. Edwin Land, who created the camera, was an American inventor and the founder of the instant photography giant Polaroid in 1937.

Over the years, instant cameras have had many reinventions. After Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2008, the fate of instant photography seemed uncertain. Almost 10 years later in 2017, it’s anything but that. Instant photography has taken on a new life through multiple brands and formats.

Companies like Fujifilm now dominate that market, introducing on a yearly basis new camera models and formats, while other respected photography brands like Leica are finally entering the ring.

Just in time for summer, TIME takes a look at some of the best instant cameras you can buy right now. This overview in no way is meant to be an all-encompassing list, but rather a useful general guide for instant photography enthusiasts shopping for a new toy.


Leica Sofort

Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Pros: First off, it’s a Leica. The camera’s compact size and fun colors make it the perfect companion for a vacation or party. It has a number of different settings (macro, action, bulb, self-timer, etc.) and incorporates an impressive lens (Automatik-Hektor 60mm, 12.7f), especially for an instant camera. For selfie mode, there’s a mirror on the front, so you can correctly frame your face.

Cons: It only uses the smaller size of instant film. This camera is also on the pricier side of instant film cameras, at just under $300.

The verdict: The Sofort is a great all-around instant camera, backed by Leica’s superior quality. If you don’t mind the price, it’s a great purchase.

Buy now: Leica Sofort, $280, Amazon


Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10

Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Pros: Sleek, compact size, it sort of feels like you’re shooting with an oversized hockey puck (in a good way). Fujifilm’s new square Instax film is a great in-between size, versus the Mini and Wide. It has a digital screen and is a “hybrid” camera. With this, you can control a variety of settings, such as exposure. You can even add filters, or vignetting to an image.

Cons: With the Instax Square, some of the pros can also be seen as cons. Since you’re able to review and edit everything before printing the film, that sort of defeats the purpose and magic of what an instant camera sets out to do: capture spontaneity. The true meaning of what this camera is chasing after vanishes. It is also Fujifilm’s most expensive Instax model.

The verdict: Since you can preview and edit images, that has its obvious perks. The square film format is a plus. At the end of the day, if you’re not a film purist and don’t mind that it’s a digital hybrid camera where you can control the exact specifications of each image you take, go for it.

Buy now: Fujifilm Instax Square SQ10, $280, Amazon


Fujifilm Instax Wide 300

Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Pros: The Instax Wide is a great all-around camera. The body’s design is very simple and it’s succinct when it comes to settings, because that’s all you need with the Wide. For something like exposure, you can only choose “light/normal/dark.” The price is also unbeatable at under $100. The larger film format can also be seen as a plus, if you’re someone who prefers that versus the Fuji Mini size.

Cons: The Fuji Wide’s body is a bit larger and bulkier, so keep that in mind if traveling with it. The film quality is a bit lo-fi, but then again that’s what this camera is essentially meant for.

The verdict: Because of this camera’s price and versatility, there is no reason why this shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s camera collection.

Buy now: Fujifilm Instax Wide 300, $90, Amazon


Lomo'Instant Automat Glass Magellan

Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Pros: This is a very interesting addition to the Lomography family. One of the best aspects of this camera is definitely its wide lens, with a 38mm focal length and maximum aperture of f/4.5. This makes it a great street instant camera, while still being fun for party photos and portraits. As is standard for Lomography, the user can also experiment with features, including Color Gel flash filters, multiple exposures and even a remote shutter release.

Cons: The design and functionality may not seem user-friendly to some consumers.

The verdict: The Automat Glass Magellan is a fun camera that is meant for experimentation, it’s perfect for social situations and traveling.

Buy now: Lomo’Instant Automat Glass Magellan, $189, Lomography


Impossible Polaroid Two-Tone BW 600

Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Pros: For those who love the old school Polaroid models of the late-1970s and 1980s, this is the perfect camera. Impossible is selling refurbished originals, complete with a custom two-tone black-and-white exterior. It’s compatible with both Impossible black-and-white and color films. The 600 is extremely simple and easy to use, you just point and shoot.

Cons: As great as this retro camera is, it’s bulky and Impossible is reportedly selling these in a limited quantity, so get them while you can.

The verdict: The Polaroid 600 is the real deal for instant film lovers. It is a chance to own a part of history and one of the most recognizable instant cameras, especially if you are looking for an authentic retro vibe.

Buy now: Impossible Polaroid Two-Tone BW 600, $179, Impossible Project

 

 


Impossible I‑1

Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Pros: Impossible Project did the impossible. After a long wait from instant camera enthusiasts, they finally were able to create their own instant camera in 2016 to be used with their own type of film (black-and-white or color). Its sleek design is visually appealing and features like the LED ring flash gives off a cool tone for portraits, or it is perfect for outdoor use. The I-1 is a great engineering achievement in instant photography because of its compatibility with an app for both iOS and Android, which features options such as a remote trigger via bluetooth.

Cons: First off, it’s pricey. Also, if you’re on vacation or in a rush, make sure this camera is charged beforehand, as it could take a long time to charge (an hour with a smartphone charger). The Impossible film can also take a long time to develop.

The verdict: This is a fun camera to experiment with for the more serious instant film enthusiast.

Buy now: Impossible I-1, $299, Impossible Project

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