While most of us have a smartphone glued to our hands that can easily take an endless number of high-quality photos on the go, more and more people are returning to a style of photography that our parents and grandparents used to have grown up: instant cameras. .
We take so many digital photos with our phones, but we’ve moved so far away from physical photos that we can display in the real world. This is partly because real film cameras are much less convenient to carry around and have a greater learning curve to use them properly. They also ask you to bring your film to be developed and then (*gasp*) wait days before those physical photos are ready to be picked up and taken home. Even simple point-and-shoot digital cameras still require you to upload your photos online and send them in to be printed by a service, like Shutterfly (aka After expect).
But in a technologically advanced world where everything we do seems to be centered around instant gratification, it actually makes a lot of sense that we’re drawn to instant cameras that allow a photo to go from one point to point to be printed in a matter of seconds.
What is an instant camera and how does it work?
Simply put, an instant film camera is designed with its own small in-house development studio in which all the mechanisms needed to develop instant film exist. These instant film cameras should be equipped with self-developing film, so you don’t have to develop the film yourself or bring it somewhere where it can be developed for you. Instant film cameras are also generally very easy to use, with simple buttons and minimal functionality so beginners can get started with very little experience.
In more technical terms, the self-developing film in an instant camera usually contains multiple layers sandwiched together – with dye, developer, etc. – which contain all the chemicals necessary for the photo development process. These layers are arranged in such a way that they trigger a chemical reaction once you take an image and tell the camera to print it. Then the printed photo is ejected from the camera, but you may need to wait a few seconds or even minutes for the image to fully develop.
The first and most famous of these instant cameras was (and still is) known as the Polaroid camera. In fact, most people still refer to instant cameras and the resulting photographs as “Polaroids”, regardless of camera brand. Today’s Polaroid cameras are a bit more advanced than those of the past (i.e. the original Polaroids took up to 15 minutes to develop), and many competing brands create photographs that grow much faster than the original camera.
What types of instant cameras are there?
One such competitor is Fujifilm, whose Instax cameras tend to dominate the market with a whole range of instant film cameras to choose from. However, regardless of brand, most instant cameras work the same, although there are some variations in terms of creative control (eg adjustable exposure, interchangeable lenses, etc.). Also keep in mind that some instant cameras work with replaceable batteries, while others are rechargeable via a USB cable.
That said, the biggest difference between the huge range of instant cameras on the market is the size of the photographs they print. The aforementioned Instax film range alone contains film sizes ranging from mini to square to large. Then there are other brands, like Polaroid and some Kodak cameras, that print a more classic, slightly larger Polaroid style photo.
It’s also worth noting that some instant film cameras allow you to review your photo before printing, ensuring that you only use your auto-developing film on the images you really like. Others, however, automatically print every photo you take – even if you’ve blinked or photobombed or just don’t look immaculate as you wished. (Although there’s certainly something to be said for capturing moments exactly as they happen, unfiltered and unedited – like BeReal’s tangible equivalent.)
Is instant film expensive?
While we’re talking about film and how quickly it can be used depending on the type of camera, it’s worth noting that instant film can be quite expensive. Each brand of instant camera generally only works with its own brand of instant film – and in the case of the Instax range, the film specs narrow even further. (For example, an Instax Mini cannot use Instax Square film, and vice versa, even if they are two Instax films made by Fujifilm.)
Some brands are a bit more expensive than others, but generally expect to pay around fifty to sixty cents per photo. Buying multiple movie packs in bulk, however, will significantly reduce this cost – as long as you know it’s a hobby you’ll stick with for a while. But keep in mind that instant film can expire! So don’t expect to get too wild with these bulk movie packs either.
Some brands’ instant film has an adhesive on the back so you can use the printed photos as stickers. Some instant films allow the photo to fill the film edge to edge, while others have a white border around the image like classic Polaroid camera photos. Or, if you want to get even fancier, you can opt for instant film with colored borders (like this rainbow-colored film from Instax(opens in a new tab)) – although it will cost you more per photo.
Are Instant Cameras Worth It?
There’s an instant camera for every budget and every shooting style, so it can be a lot of fun to play around with, whether you’re a casual photographer taking glamorous photos of your pets or a seasoned professional looking for a new outlet for your photographic creativity. The little pictures are fun to use for scrapbooking and photo albums, and they make for a really great and creative way to add personalized decor to any space. (And you don’t have to be a teenage girl to enjoy those mini-portraits, either.) These nostalgic cameras are also a fun addition to parties and special celebrations to allow guests to instantly take memories home in the palm of their hands.
That said, instant film cameras can get a bit pricey – even if you go for the most economical option – as you’ll have to continually replenish it with more instant film. But, as long as you keep this extra cost in mind, instant film cameras are definitely worth it. (Photographic pun most certainly intended.)