6 color choices. Very convenient – small enough for your pocket or clutch, and prints instantly without needing a computer. Can use app to personalize beyond the basic, default white border. Different picture settings. Can print photos from almost any device.
Quality of ZINK paper is disappointing to some users.
LCD display can serve as viewfinder or for photo editing. Stores 13 megapixel photos on SD card for transfer to computer. Integrates with iPhone or Android over Bluetooth for printing.
Uses ZINK photo paper, which is cheaper than film but still expensive. Prints are only 2 inches by 3 inches with fair (but not outstanding) quality.
Camera is small and easy to carry. Automatic flash and scenery settings work surprisingly well; focus is sharp, colors are vibrant.
Spits out photos that are the size of a business card, not the "classic" Polaroid square. Film can get expensive.
Captures high definition photos and videos. 18 megapixel resolution. Numerous effects, stabilization, and face recognition features. 10X optical zoom and 4X digital.
Requires a microSD memory card which is not included. Can take several seconds to focus, resulting in missed or blurry captures.
16 megapixels and a 2.4-inch LCD screen. Waterproof up to 10 feet deep. Comes in red or blue. Lightweight and easy to use. Decent zoom. 1-year limited warranty.
Needs a microSD card and 2 AAA batteries, neither of which is included. Reports of blurry photos – best for use around water, not in it.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
In the dark ages before smartphones and selfies, Kodak’s Polaroid instant print cameras rose to fame and fortune, giving rise to the 1970s-era “Polaroid wave” — fanning the blank square that emerged from the camera. (It dried the film, and you watched the image take shape.)
In recent years, the Polaroid has made a comeback. Perhaps because so few phone photos make it into print, these cameras are making a splash at weddings and parties as well as for instant memories while travelling.
While the idea is retro, as well as some of the new cameras’ designs, today’s Polaroids use new technology all the way. While all offer the capability to instant print directly from the camera, there are also some that download photos to a computer, take video or send images to a smartphone via Bluetooth.
Check our selection to see which features work for you. Some print to film for a clearer (but pricier) photo, while others use paper. The size of the photos also varies, as does the resolution and zoom capabilities.
Modern instant-print cameras come in two basic designs. One type of instant camera builds on the original Polaroid® design, making use of film that turns into the print. The other design relies on ZINK technology.
The film for an instant-print camera is sold in packs. Each pack usually contains enough sheets to make 10 prints. (Some packs have 15 or 20 prints.) The pack has all of the chemicals and materials required to develop a finished photo print.
After you insert the pack into the camera, it will load one of the sheets of film. When you press the shutter button, the camera exposes the sheet, which will become the final print. The sheet then ejects from the camera. The chemicals work on the sheet, causing the photo to appear after a few minutes.
This type of instant photo print process is similar to that of the first Polaroid® cameras from several decades ago.
If your instant-print camera makes use of something other than film, it almost certainly uses ZINK technology. ZINK, short for zero ink, uses a special kind of paper that contains crystals that respond to light.
A ZINK sheet consists of three imaging layers. Each layer responds to a different color of light, representing yellow, magenta, and cyan. As the right type of color in the light strikes the layer, it changes the crystals in the layer, creating the appropriate color.
When all three layers are stacked together in the final print, your eyes blend the different colors in the layers, and you see the color photo. If cyan, yellow, and magenta sound familiar, those are the colors used by inkjet printers. When blended in different intensities, those three colors can create any other color.
If you’re wondering why someone would purchase a Polaroid® instant camera instead of a digital camera, you’re not alone. A digital camera will outperform a Polaroid® instant-print camera in nearly every way. We’ve listed the four primary ways below.
Digital cameras allow you to adjust the settings on the camera to create the best possible image. A Polaroid® camera offers minimal manual controls.
Instant-print cameras can be expensive. You have to buy film regularly, and every photo you shoot gets printed, even if it turns out poorly. With a digital camera, you don’t have the expense of printing photos that look bad. And you can store thousands of photos on the same memory card over and over, so you have no ongoing expense for film.
Instant-print photos are limited in size by the type of film or print paper that will fit inside the camera. This size usually is similar to a business card or credit card.
With a digital camera photo, you can create multiple prints that are as large or small as you want them to be.
Image quality runs far higher with a digital camera than with an instant-print camera. And you can edit the photo’s image quality with post-processing software.
With an instant-print camera, once the image is exposed, it cannot be changed.
So why would anyone pick an instant-print camera over a digital camera? Put simply, Polaroid® instant cameras are fun to use!
Having the ability to shoot a photo, watch it develop, and hold the finished print a couple of minutes later remains enjoyable, even many years after the technology initially appeared.
Sure, the photo quality of instant prints ranks below average, but they’re still fun to look at and create. And for people who used Polaroid® cameras several decades ago, these cameras provide a sense of nostalgia that today’s digital cameras cannot replicate. (Notably, however, some digital cameras attempt to replicate Polaroid® photos using special effects.)
As occurs with digital cameras, Polaroid®-style instant-print cameras are available at a multitude of price points. As a general rule, the more you pay, the more features you’ll receive.
However, the enjoyment of using this style of camera often means more than the image quality and feature set. In truth, these tiny instant prints will likely never end up in a frame on your wall. Instant cameras are meant to be fun, and because fun is the main goal, a lower-priced Polaroid® may easily meet your needs.
The most basic instant-print cameras will use film. For less than $100, you won’t receive many advanced features or larger-than-average print sizes. Some of the most popular types of instant-print cameras fit in this price range.
A Polaroid®-style camera in this price range might use film or ZINK technology. You may also be able to make prints larger than the standard credit card-sized print with a camera in this price range.
Many times, a Polaroid® camera with a high price tag will be an authentic, vintage, refurbished Polaroid® camera. And some companies have recreated the old-style Polaroid® look in a modern, off-brand camera, which also tend to cost more.
Instant-print cameras also have some ongoing costs.
You will have to buy film packs or ZINK paper on a regular basis to refill the camera. The cost will run from about $5 to $10 for a 10-pack of sheets. This can add up quickly if you give a child a Polaroid camera and they run through the entire pack in half an hour.
Most instant-print cameras run on the power of throwaway alkaline batteries rather than rechargeable batteries, so you will likely also have to purchase batteries on occasion.
Because of the below-average image quality of Polaroid®-style cameras, most people don’t use these models for everyday photography needs. Instead, they purchase and use them for special events and situations, such as the following.
Kids’ cameras: Some people like to give a child a Polaroid® style camera to play with, almost as an introduction to photography. This works well, as small kids will be thrilled with seeing the print immediately. However, kids will almost certainly burn through a pack of film quickly, which can become expensive over time. So you may want to limit the number of shots the child can take until they learn to be responsible with the film.
Relaxed photos: People tend to be more relaxed when being photographed with instant-print cameras, because they know the photos won’t be instantly shared on social media.
Parties: Giving party guests an instant-print photo of the night’s activities can be a nice party favor. Using a Polaroid®-style camera can also be a fun party activity.
Weddings: If you want to create some cool-looking photos at a wedding, place some instant-print cameras on guest tables. The guests may create some photos that will give the bride and groom a different set of memories from the wedding.
Q. Why do my instant prints look so poor?
A. With Polaroid® cameras, you don’t have a lot of control over the exposure of the instant-print film. These are automatic cameras that don’t offer manual control options. This makes adjusting the camera's settings to compensate for poor lighting conditions almost impossible. So try to shoot photos with your instant camera in areas with adequate light to improve the look of the images. Avoid scenes that are dark and lit only by light bulbs. And avoid scenes with harsh overhead sunlight, which can create dark shadows.
Q. Why does the paper jam inside my instant-print camera?
A. The problem of photo paper jamming as it tries to exit the camera is one of the biggest problems with these types of cameras. A dying camera battery could be the culprit, as could incorrectly loaded paper or film. To remove a jammed sheet, you will likely need to open the film compartment and gently pull the paper free.
Q. Can I make any changes manually to the Polaroid® camera’s shooting settings?
A. Some instant-print cameras are completely automatic models, but some offer minor manual control options. For example, you may be able to slightly adjust the camera’s brightness setting, allowing you to compensate for really bright or dark shooting conditions. Occasionally, an instant-print camera will allow you to zoom into the scene or to save photos to a memory card.
Q. Why are instant cameras so bulky?
A. Most instant cameras are larger in size than point-and-shoot digital cameras or smartphone cameras. Instant-print cameras must be larger and thicker than simple digital cameras in order to provide interior room for the film or ZINK paper.