Around 2015, instant-print cameras became trendy again, thanks to beloved pop stars playing with Polaroids in their album art. Physical instant photos taken by friends and celebrities dominated my Instagram feed. (Before that, I’d associated them with family get-togethers and popsicle craft frames I made as a kid.)
SKIP AHEAD Other photo printing options
As instant cameras grew increasingly more popular, I toyed with the idea of buying one to be on trend. But because I only worked a summer job, my disposable income was not impressive. (Okay, it didn’t exist.) Fear not: That’s what Secret Santa is for. In 2019, my brother-in-law drew my name and it all happened: He bought me an Instax Square SQ6 camera.
Unfortunately, even though it was released just four years ago, the Instax I own is no longer widely available. (It’s available on Amazon through a reliable third-party seller, but the seller has increased its price from $130 to $200.) And while I’ve loved using the SQ6 — it’s aesthetically pleasing and extremely user-friendly — it’s just as important to sing the praises of Instax as a brand. Thankfully, there are a couple of cameras available to buy that seem similar: specifically, the Instax Square SQ1 Instant Print Camera and the Instax Mini Evo Instant Print Camera.
I love that the SQ6 has seven modes for taking photos, and I’ve loved all the photos I’ve taken with it so far. Though the SQ1 offers fewer modes, it still gets the job done: like the SQ6, it offers automatic and the ever-important selfie modes. (Picture me, sticking out my tongue and waving a peace sign in the air. Yep, that’s it.) The Mini Evo offers even more modes with 10 lens effects and 10 film effects, from fisheye to sepia and more.
The SQ1 offers the same lens specifications as the SQ6, meaning the quality of the photos should be great (at least in my experience). And since they both use square film, the size of the photo and time of development should be the same too. The brand says the film can develop in 90 seconds, a quick time that aligns with my experience.
On the front of the SQ6, SQ1 and Mini Evo cameras, there is a small reflective mirror that shows what’s in the frame, which makes taking selfies with friends easy and fun. Unlike the square cameras, the Mini Evo uses Instax’s mini film, which means you can shoot in both landscape and portrait layouts.
Unlike my SQ6, the Mini Evo is Bluetooth compatible, which means it can be used with the Instax smartphone app. You can print photos from your phone through the camera, save printed photos to your phone or use your phone as a remote control for remote shooting. The Mini Evo also has internal memory, which means it can store up to 45 photos inside it, according to Instax.
The three cameras are all lightweight and easy to carry: At their heaviest, they weigh 14 ounces, and they come with straps to wear around your neck if you’re worried about dropping them. You can also buy accessories like the Ultimaxx Small Camera Bag for even easier portability — I have one of my own and it fits the camera, my flash filters and a stash of extra film for my convenience.
Other photo printing options to consider
Here are some other instant print camera and photo printing options to consider, if you’re looking for a different brand; a different old-school option; or something more high-tech.
Polaroid is effectively synonymous with instant print cameras. With multiple options, the Polaroid Now+ has the most similar offerings to the Instax camera I love: it has an autofocus shooting mode and five lens filters so you can play with colors and contrast (my SQ6 came with three). The camera has a tripod mount at the bottom so it can be used with a tripod. The camera uses i-Type film, which the brand says takes 10 to 15 minutes to fully develop. Polaroid also has a mobile app to unlock even more filters and photo modes.
Remember when everything was a “Kodak moment”? I know it might sound old school, but if you like having printed 4x6 photos, try a disposable camera instead. This 35mm option from Kodak offers 27 shots — enough for a night out and then some. Kodak says the film delivers “extra sharpness” when the photos get enlarged. The brand also says that the Kodak Gold 800 film in the camera delivers bright photos across a wide spectrum of lighting and with natural-looking skin tones in every picture of a person.
If you want to print your pictures through your smartphone, a mini photo printer — like this highly rated one from Canon — might be the best option for you. It’s small enough to bring on the go and it prints via Bluetooth through the Canon mobile app. (Canon advises you only use the printer when the temperature falls between 59 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit.) It prints 2-inch by 3-inch photos using Zink photo paper that has a sticky back. The photo printer has a rechargeable battery and doesn’t require ink.