With a smartphone, showing a photo to hundreds of your followers is as easy as pressing the share button. But if you want to create something tangible and more exclusive to share with those close to you, an instant film camera can add a fun and welcome dose of analog charm to your digital world. The best instant film camera we’ve found is the $93 Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S.
What Is an Instant Camera?
Instant cameras use packs of film emulsion that include all the chemical developers and substrates needed to print a photographic image within minutes of pressing the shutter button. Each film pack includes the negative to capture the image and the positive paper needed to produce the finished print.
As the print emerges from the camera, the development process begins. Soon, a blank sheet turns into a color photograph.
As the print emerges from the camera, the development process begins. Soon, a blank sheet turns into a color photograph. Film packs come in bundles of 10 exposures and the cameras have countdown windows that let you know how many shots are left before you’ll need to swap in a new pack.
Referred to most commonly as a “Polaroid” (after the company that popularized the technology) the instant camera foreshadowed some of the convenience that digital cameras would later bring. With an instant camera you could see your photograph within minutes of taking a picture instead of having to take a roll of film to the lab and wait for it to be developed.
Although digital cameras have made the instant camera obsolete in almost every way, there is an undeniable charm and whimsy to pressing the shutter button and having a physical print emerge from the camera, watching an image develop right before your very eyes. Even for a photographer like myself who remembers spending hours in the darkroom, the whole process still feels like magic. No, you won’t get the brilliant colors and wide range of highlight and shadow tones that even an entry-level digital camera can offer, but each print is a one-of-a-kind memento that can be physically passed around and shared in a face-to-face, rather than virtual, environment.