Tinged with nostalgia and fuzzy around the edges like a memory, a photo captured with an instant camera speaks a thousand words. It can slip into a loved one's wallet, in an empty slot of an album or go up on the wall straight away - instant cameras produce immediate and tangible results, unlike their digital and film counterparts.
Is it worth getting an instant camera?
No special occasion is complete without one. Instant cameras came to us in 1948, and even today, among fierce competition from mirrorless and point-and-shoot cameras, Gen Z would rather stack up on vintage Polaroid films. It's the cooler camera to own, and the reasons for that are plenty.
Anastacia Shishkova (@anastaciashishkova), a Dubai-based art director and photographer, has been capturing her clients exclusively on instant films for six years. "There's something very intimate about Polaroids. You capture a fleeting moment, and you only get one chance to do that shot. It's tactile. On digital, you can't touch the photos nor can you tell how real the image is," she told Gulf News.
With the Y2K or the 2000s sentiment still strong, instant cameras and their retro vibes fit right in. Shishkova explains the lure: "When we go through our old photo albums, everything looks so picture perfect, even the colours are different, a bit pastel. I think people want to go back to a time [when life was] good, especially after Covid-19, and capture their youth, in a sense. I mean, VHS tapes, vinyl and cassettes are coming back, too."
How do you take good instant picture?
If you've decided to give instant cameras a shot, here are some things to keep in mind. Shots are limited to the number of films in your cassette, which is usually around ten films, bought separately. Shishkova describes this as one of the charms of owning an instant camera, referring to the words of the renowned French candid photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson: "You get one 'decisive moment'."
To capture that moment perfectly, pay close attention to the ambient light, our expert advises. Even though they're fairly simple to use, analogue cameras rarely let you preview images. But it doesn't always have to be a labour of trial and error when you can pick the right time to photograph.
"The best time to shoot with an instant camera is in the early hours of the morning, around 7 or 8am, and during sunset," advised Shiskova, who adds that the prints end up too bright otherwise. "After the sun sets, the camera doesn't get enough light, so the flash automatically turns on and it can't be turned off manually."
Another important tip is to store your developed images immediately. "It's easy to get dust and scratches on instant photos, so I'd store them someplace where they can't get damaged, in an album or a box. The best way to store unused film is inside its original sealed packaging," she said.
And if you're looking to pick up instant photography as a serious hobby, Shishkova recommends seeking inspiration from prolific Polaroid photographers like Ansel Adams, Helmut Newton and Ellen von Unwerth.
Find Shishkova's best instant camera pick below, along with some of Amazon's highly-rated options, for endless fun this holiday season. Make sure to shop with a Prime membership to get free, fast delivery.
1. Best Overall: Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 Instant Film Camera
- Wide film photography
- Lens can get as close as 40cm to the subject
- Large automatic flash
- Light and dark control
- Flash can't be turned off at night
Having gone through various models, Shishkova's go-to instant camera is easily the Fujifilm Instax Wide 300. Instax films develop instantly, unlike Polaroid films, which have to be stored in a warm place, away from direct sunlight, she adds. The Instax Wide 300 captures images on an 86 by 108mm film, perfect for squeezing in more subjects. You can play around with the focal zoom dial, from 90cm to 3m, to get a close-up shot from the retractable lens. The light and dark control button lets you fill in for what the ambient light lacks, while the flash turns on automatically in dim settings. Reviewers are impressed with the clear picture quality, and say that it's worth the upgrade from the Instax Mini. It feels more fragile, however, so buyers caution careful handling.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh43.67 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh35 and two years for Dh49.
2. Best Premium: Polaroid Now 2nd Generation I-Type Instant Camera (16 Color Photos)
- Autofocus lens with zoom
- Self-timer option
- Solid build quality
- Adjustable exposure
- Built-in battery charges via USB-C
- Expenisve films
Relive the years with an instant camera manufacturer that paved the way - the pioneering Polaroid itself. Its beginner-friendly camera, the Polaroid Now (Generation 2) uses a two-lens system, like the Instax Wide 300, but it's capable of autofocusing. Another feature that you might enjoy is the self-timer option, if you want to nail every pose without the hassle of pressing the shutter. You can adjust the exposure according to the lighting as well, or hit double exposure to capture two moments in one. The Now Generation 2 is also easy to recharge via a USB-C cable. Our pick lets you get started right out of the box, which is bundled with 16 photos of Colour i-Type Film. Buyers confirm how simple the mechanisms are and highlight its well-made body. The lighting with Polaroid cameras can take a while to master, but once done, it's worth the expensive refills, they add.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh47.27 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh35 and two years for Dh49.
3. Best Full-Featured Camera: Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo Instant Camera
- Large three-inch LCD preview screen
- Prints photos from mobile gallery
- Saves captured images on microSD card
- User-friendly features - adjustable exposure, filters, flash, digital zoom and self-timer
- USB-C charging
- No dedicated zoom lens
An analogue camera with modern features, meet Fujifilm's Instax Mini Evo. From a built-in selfie mirror to smartphone connectivity, this instant camera makes the transition from a digital camera less jarring. Films are of mini size (two inches by three inches), but you can pick and choose which shots to print from either the microSD card or your phone gallery, and this way, you can avoid wasting film on blurry shots, say reviews. It captures in two modes - rich and natural - giving you the option to saturate a shot or let it retain the classic look. You're getting more control over white balance, exposure, turning the flash on or off and the self-timer. The best part? Instax Mini Evo has a three-inch display for previewing pictures. Reviewers who own mirrorless cameras and DSLRs name it their favourite instant camera for on the go. The only qualm is that the camera doesn't have a secondary zoom lens.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh64.96 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh46 and two years for Dh65.
4. Best Digital Instant Camera: Kodak Smile Instant Print Digital Camera
- Camera-printer hybrid
- Autofocus camera lens
- 40-print battery life
- Inkless printing on sticky film
- LCD viewfinder
- Needs a memory card
- Camera quality is merely decent
Kodak's digital instant camera clicks and prints right away but without the nostalgic imperfections. It's a point-and-shoot model with a 10MP sensor fixed to a slim, smartphone-like profile. The 8mm lens is hidden behind a casing that can be slid to the side once you're ready to shoot, complete with built-in flash and automatic focus. All images are printed out on Zink paper in HD, a sticky-backed photo film that uses zero ink technology. A small viewfinder on the back makes it easier to toggle settings, from auto flash to picture editor. Get up to 40 prints on a single charge, enough to last an entire evening of fun. Reviewers find this a good deal for creating photo albums on the spot, thanks to the adhesive film. It's also a fantastic travel camera where printing out pictures might not be feasible.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh29 and two years for Dh41.
5. Best Budget: Fujifilm Instax Mini 12 Instant Camera
- Built-in mirror selfie
- Zooms when the lens is twisted
- Pictures develop quickly
- Uses AA batteries
- Automatic flash
- No light and dark exposure control
The most pocket-friendly of the bunch, and, naturally, popular among Gen Z, the Instax Mini 12 keeps it simple and fun. The instant camera prints out photos that are two inches by three inches, which develop within five seconds. A tiny selfie mirror next to the lens helps you click an appropriately framed picture. To enter close-up mode, twist the lens twice over to get all the details, and then twist back to return to the original zoom setting. Unlike other cameras, this one only needs a change of two AA batteries every once in a while, to keep the photos coming. At this price, however, exposure and flash controls are automatic. Reviewers note how much sharper the images are compared to the preceding Instax Mini 11 model. Several wrap it up as a gift for their loved ones.
Warranty: The manufacturer offers a one-year limited warranty. Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh18 and two years for Dh25.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.