Every few months I find myself on Amazon.com agonizing over the ins and outs of buying an instant camera.
My latest instant camera fantasies revolved around the Polaroid Now+, one of the best instant cameras we’ve tested. Its iconic design makes it look like a modern take on a retro snapper, and it comes with modern conveniences like a companion smartphone app that opens up new creative possibilities for your images. But at $150/£139 for the camera and around $2/£2 per shot, it’s just not a purchase I think can justify.
So I close the tab and continue for several weeks before inevitably starting the cycle all over again. But now that cycle could finally come to an end, and it’s all thanks to the Fujifilm Instax Mini Link 2 printer.
My love for instant cameras developed during my childhood. Sometime between the ages of three and five I was gifted a Polaroid P600, the first device ever that felt like it was mine.
This wasn’t the Sega Mega Drive that my parents set up and then put away when my playtime was up; It wasn’t the home computer either, which I had difficulty using without help. This was my camera and it was easy to use and it looked beautiful covered in stickers.
So when I’m looking for an instant camera today and I can’t find it, I’m really looking for that bit of nostalgia, that thing that takes me back to the early 2000s. The problem is that I’m not a kid anymore and over time I’ve become aware of issues with instant cameras that I never realized before.
Shaky like a Polaroid picture
For me as a four-year-old, every picture I printed out with my Polaroid P600 was a masterpiece. I kept each one in a folder (actually three folders since the first two were full) and proudly showed my work to everyone I could – whether they wanted to see it or not.
But I wasn’t a good photographer, and even now I’m not sure I have the skills to use an instant camera properly.
For some people, that flash-and-push mechanism — which has shot to fame — is what elevates instant cameras above even the best mirrorless or DSLR cameras. But as my younger self demonstrated, if you’re not careful, your entire roll of film can be wasted taking blurry photo after photo.
And as a kid, you don’t care. You burn through the shots you have and then one day a new roll of film magically comes along and you can naively start snapping again. But now, as an adult who has to shell out every painting myself, I don’t want my income to be wasted on my artistic incompetence.
(Here I would put some of the pictures I took when I was younger of dimly lit haunted houses, half-eaten cupcakes and my dog, but my parents couldn’t find my photo album. So enjoy this recreation instead)
To that end, I prefer the spray-and-prayer method with my Google Pixel 6. Ask me to take a picture of you, and you’ll find 10 to 100 new snaps in your phone’s camera roll afterwards, each a subtly different version of one photo you wanted. That way, an inappropriate blink or awkward holding of the camera won’t ruin the day – somewhere in the crowd of images you’ll find perfection.
But if you’re using a smartphone, your snaps are only digital, and you can’t enjoy the magic of watching the sheet of film emerge blank and slowly evolve into your masterpiece.
Hybrid instant cameras like the Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo have tried to bridge the gap between digital and instant cameras, but the quality of the digital images isn’t great compared to what most smartphones can do. Also, the Mini Evo requires you to print out the picture before you can share it on your smartphone, making keeping pictures you like but don’t love more of a hassle than it needs to be.
A better solution is Fujifilm’s Instax Mini Link 2.
It is a Bluetooth smartphone printer that you can connect to your smartphone to print out images from your camera roll of instant film. Just like with an instant camera, you can see the film developed in minutes and your images will look like you used a Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 – or any other retro-style camera.
You can also print your images as is, or with a grayscale or sepia filter, use the printer’s LED to draw in the air and make words and images appear in your snaps (or your finger and the phone app use for the same). Effect). You can even print a video that will output as a stationary image along with a QR code that you can scan to bring the image to life.
What’s more, the printer costs just $99 / £114 / AU$179, and while the film costs around $1 / £0.75 per sheet (which can add up), you have a lot more control over your image composition. Because you choose what to print (and what not), you never feel like you’ve wasted a try, making the cost feel justified.
The only downside is that the prints are smaller than I would like. That’s a pretty easy fix though – I just need to swap out the Instax Mini Link 2 for the Instax Wide printer or some other alternative that uses larger film (which is only marginally more expensive).
So if you’re considering buying an instant camera like I was considering, I’d highly recommend looking at a smartphone printer that uses instant film instead. If your artistic integrity lets you get over the fact that it’s not a real Polaroid picture, then you’re sure to love the results.
Now if you have a smartphone printer, you might want to browse our picks for the best camera phones to make the images you print look as stunning as possible.