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How to Use an Instant Film Camera

Instant film cameras are simple, spontaneous, creative, and fun.

Instant film cameras are simple, spontaneous, creative, and fun.

The Instant Film Camera Isn't Gone

Instant film cameras have faded from the forefront of the marketplace as digital cameras have taken over for the average consumer. However, there are still models on the market that allow you to enjoy the ability to take shots and create prints instantly from the same device.

Fujifilm, Polaroid, and Leica are the primary brands.

When to Use an Instant Film Camera

You can use this type of camera for just about any of your casual photography needs but there are instances that make them the perfect choice:

  • Parties: These cameras can liven up a party, get your guests involved, and leave you with great memories of the event. Just leave your camera out and encourage guests to pick it up and capture the shots you'll all enjoy. Guests can also make notes on the prints to really capture the mood.
  • Weddings: Just like parties, weddings provide another opportunity to get everyone involved in the memory-making.
  • Reunions: Like parties and weddings, a family reunion is a great place to use these handy cameras. In many cases, there may be far-flung family members present that you seldom see. Being able to produce a print on the spot is ideal to assure everyone gets some shots before they walk away.
  • Classrooms and class trips: These quick little cameras are great for use in the classroom, where being able to snap a shot and use it or post it instantly is important.
  • Just about any situation with kids as the photographer: Young kids can have a lot of fun and learn a great deal through the lens of a camera. A camera that produces a print instantly can help them learn more about handling a camera properly. They can adjust distance, their camera hold, framing, and so forth with the immediate feedback that a print offers on how well their previous effort turned out. For this reason, instant film models can make great cameras for kids.

Features to Look For

A good instant film camera should have:

  • Auto flash to help in low light situations or perhaps a brightness setting
  • Selectable shooting modes and exposure compensation to help you get better image quality from a variety of distances and changing lighting situations
  • Cose-up adapter
  • Red-eye reduction
  • High ISO speed for improving performance in low-light settings (e.g., indoors)

Overall, however, they are much more simple than the average digital camera and should be appreciated by those who like simplicity, novelty, or just old-fashioned fun.

The Advantages

So with all of the great features that a digital camera offers, why would you want an instant camera?

  • Nostalgia: The old Polaroids of yesteryear pack a lot of powerful memories for older folks, and for younger folks an attraction to "retro" isn't uncommon.
  • Fun: These cameras are a bit of a novelty. They are often a bit larger than an ultra-compact or compact digital camera so they grab everyone's attention and soon they want to snap some shots too.
  • Immediacy: This is another positive quality that attracts users to these devices. Although you can check out your photos on the LCD immediately after taking them on your digital camera, it's usually a while before you get them to a printer in order to share or swap prints. With an instant film camera, your shot prints out immediately for all to see and enjoy.
  • Sure handling and photo framing: Both Polaroid and Fujimax cameras are large. They are best handled with two hands assuring a good grip and potentially a steady shot. In addition, they have viewfinders which many digital cameras lack. This means that even in bright sunlight you can put the viewfinder to your eye and frame the shot. You don't have to rely on an LCD screen that is very difficult to view in bright light.
  • Cost: From simple models to those with a few more controls, these devices are generally priced from $55 to $200.

The Drawbacks

Instant film cameras are great for many purposes, but if you choose one remember:

  • Size: They generally aren't as small as a compact digital camera.
  • Cost of the film: You have to pay for the film separately, and it may be hard to find. In fact, Fujifilm and Polaroid are currently the only manufacturers of instant film.
  • Fewer features: These instant cameras do not offer all of the controls and features that the average digital camera does. You can't expect the same photo quality for this reason. This is especially true in low-light situations such as indoors.
  • No editing: Unline digital images, you can't edit these photos
  • Print size limitations: You typically can't print them in various sizes although sometimes you have the option of two sizes.
  • Online transfer: You would have to scan them to share them online.

A Few Tips for Great Pictures

For good photos there are a few things to remember:

  • Know how to make adjustments to assure the best shot in any given situation.
    Read the manual and know how to adjust brightness, exposure, and so forth.
  • Know the focusing distance. If you don't want blurry photos, know how close you can get.
  • Be aware of lighting. These cameras tend to perform best outdoors, but indoor shots are possible by using the flash. While the bright flash is necessary for a dark setting, it can easily wash out features so be aware of this when taking that close-up shot.
  • Bright lights (from the sun or a window for instance) can also be problematic if the photographer is facing it. For this reason, it's often best to have the light behind, or perhaps to the side of, the photographer.
  • Know the best way to handle newly printed images. Again, read the manual. These photos often need to be set aside in a dark area for a period of time to dry and fully develop the right way.
  • It's important not to bend the printed image and placing fingers directly on the image is seldom a good idea due to the oils in your skin. Later, it's also best to place the images in an album if you wish to keep them versus throwing them into a container.
  • Keep your camera in good working order. For instance, you may want to wipe off the rollers that eject the film. The rollers help distribute the developing chemicals on the film and you want it to spread evenly.
  • Know how to handle and store the film. Read the instructions. Sometimes it's important to store the film in a refrigerator to get the best performance.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Christine Mulberry


PaperNotes on October 10, 2010:

Now I know what I would ask Santa for my Christmas gift, lol!

Tony McGregor from South Africa on July 17, 2010:

I used to have Kodak instant. I think they subsequently lost a court case when Polaroid sued them. Anyway the camera was bulky but fun. Still have a box of the photos, which at the time I was told would not survive more than about 10 years. Well it's now more than 20 and they still look fine, though I have taken the precaution of scanning them all.

Thanks for this interesting Hub.

Love and peace


Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on March 02, 2010:

I remember those.

Christine Mulberry (author) on February 26, 2010:

I had one as a kid and loved it. But, I know what ThePartyAnimal means, I'm so into the digital thing, it's easy to forget these other things still exist!

ThePartyAnimal on February 26, 2010:

Wow I almost forgot what they were - lol. Great tips and great use ideas.

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on February 26, 2010:

Instant cameras are really great if you are on a trip and don't want to lose a camera, or you need to get a camera for a child. We did that for my 11 year old and it worked great.