Unraveling the instant confusion, part one
Unraveling the instant confusion, part one

Unraveling the instant confusion, part one

Instant photography never lost its appeal, holding a “real”, physical photo immediately after it was taken is a magical experience, let’s find out what’s going on with those Instaxes and Polaroids!


Instant photography is a bit of a misnomer. It definitely isn’t really instant, but it is almost as quick when compared to traditional film photography, and it’s a physical, “substantial” medium when compared to digital photography which lives only on screens.

Modern-day instant photography comes in two different formats – Fujifilm Instax and resurrected Polaroid.

In this first part, let’s cover the most significant facts – films and cameras currently available. The plan is to go deeper into technical details in subsequent posts.

Polaroid i-Type and Polaroid Go photos

Jump to: Polaroid, Instax, Comparison, Comparison table, Conclusion


Polaroid instant film is the original instant medium known throughout recent history. The iconic Polaroid film has a square, ~8 × 8 cm photo with white borders. There are 8 photos per pack.

Polaroid square photo integral film has been in production since the early 1970s, in various versions.

Polaroid film

Polaroid SX-70, Go and i-Type film side by side
  • i-Type – modern Polaroid, 79 × 79 mm square, for use with recent cameras;
  • Go – a smaller version of the i-Type film, 46 × 47 mm square, for use with Go cameras;
  • SX-70 – traditional Polaroid, 79 × 79 mm square, for use with older compatible cameras;
  • Type 600 – traditional Polaroid, 79 × 79 mm square, for use with older compatible cameras, i-Type cameras can use this film.

All film packs contain 8 photos, film packs for older cameras (SX-70 and Type 600) have internal batteries, while film packs for modern cameras (i-Type and Go) are battery-free.

Polaroid cameras

Polaroid I-2, Now, Go and Now+ cameras side-by-side
  • I-2 – cameras with an internal battery, use i-Type, Type 600 or SX-70 films;
  • Now Gen 2 – cameras with an internal battery, use i-Type or Type 600 films;
  • Now+ Gen 2 – cameras with an internal battery and smartphone-enabled features, use i-Type or Type 600 films;
  • Go – a smaller version of the Now camera, uses Go film.

There are a lot of older cameras, using many different Polaroid films, but currently, only two compatible types are still manufactured:

  • SX-70 compatible – for use with SX-70 SLR folding cameras, TimeZero, OneStep 1000, Supercolor 1000, Pronto!, and many other rigid cameras;
  • Type 600 compatible – for use with 600-series, One600, OneStep 600, Supercolor 600, Amigo, Impulse, Spirit, Spirit, Sun and many other rigid cameras.

There are two Polaroid printers, Lab and Hi-Print. Instant film printers will be covered in future posts.


Fujifilm Instax is a modern instant film, introduced in 1998 for the Japanese market, but it was soon available globally. Instax film is available in three sizes, all sharing the same sized vertical axis – 62 mm – and has white borders, albeit slightly thinner and less symmetrical.

Instax film

  • Mini – upright, portrait-oriented, 62 × 46 mm rectangular format;
  • Square – Polaroid-like, 62 × 62mm square format;
  • Wide – horizontal, landscape-oriented, 62 × 99 mm rectangular format.

Instax cameras

Fujifilm Instax Mini 12, Mini 40, SQ1 and Wide 300 cameras side-by-side
  • Mini – analogue and hybrid cameras, for the mini film;
  • Square – analogue and hybrid cameras for the square film;
  • Wide – analogue cameras, for the wide film.

Fujifilm keeps Instax nomenclature clean and straightforward, there is almost no place for confusion. There’s a printer for digital photos for every format, but that will be covered in a future post.

Other manufacturers are making Instax-compatible cameras, namely, Lomography with their Lomo’Instant series and Instax backs and versions of some cameras. MiNT Camera is building advanced cameras, Jollylook is making cardboard and wooden folding cameras, and there was even a Leica Sofort, Instax mini camera made by Leica.

MiNT InstantFlex TL70, Lomography Lomo’Instant Square, Lomo’Instant Automat and Jollylook Auto Square cameras side-by-side


Both Instax and Polaroid films provide instant photography in a reasonably “instant” time – 5 to 15 minutes for a fully developed photo. It usually takes around 90 seconds for the image to start appearing, but it takes 5 to 15 minutes for a photo to develop fully. Outside temperature and film temperature can skew that number in both directions. Instax states no difference between films, while Polaroid specifies development times of 5-10 minutes for monochrome films and 10-15 minutes for colour films.

Instax has three different sizes with straightforward and descriptive nomenclature – Mini, Square and Wide, and those names describe the films perfectly; Mini is the original one, oriented vertically, Wide is oriented horizontally, and it doubles the width of Mini, and Square is, well, square. Every size has its own line of cameras, and there is at least one digital printer for each size, as well. Older cameras work with fresh film, there are no incompatibilities – all Instax Mini cameras work with all Instax Mini film.

Polaroid has a heritage spanning almost a century, and the company survived bankruptcy. During that time, many different formats and films were made, and many different cameras were manufactured, so Polaroid’s list of incompatibilities is extensive.

To the present day, only the iconic square format survived, and only two legacy films are still being made – SX-70 and Type 600 films, both include a battery for powering older cameras.
The modern i-Type film is identical to Type 600 film, except for one significant detail – the i-Type film pack does not include a battery, making it inherently incompatible with older cameras.

Small Go film works with Go cameras, the i-Type film works with modern-era cameras, while old cameras need their respective films – some work with SX-70 film, some with Type 600 films. Also, all i-Type cameras will work with Type 600 film packs, it will ignore the pack’s internal battery.

Let’s compare the main features side-by-side:

Instax MiniInstax SquareInstax WidePolaroid i-TypePolaroid Type 600Polaroid SX-70Polaroid Go
Film size (W×H)54 × 86 mm72 × 86 mm108 × 86 mm88 × 107 mm88 × 107 mm88 × 107 mm53.9 × 66.6 mm
Image size (W×H)46 × 62 mm62 × 62 mm99 × 62 mm79 × 79 mm79 × 79 mm79 × 79 mm46 × 47 mm
Aspect ratio1:1.3481:11.618:11:11:11:11:1
Film speedISO 800ISO 800ISO 800ISO 640ISO 640ISO 160ISO 640
Photos per pack1010108888
Pack price~12 €~14 €~14 €~17 €~20 €~20 €~21 € (double pack)
Year of introduction1998201719992017198119722021
Use prices as a guide only. Prices are averaged across a few local web shops, in August 2023, and are subject to change.

Polaroid square photos – except Go – are a bit larger but limit you to a square format only. At the same time, Polaroid Go is the smallest instant format, it is about two-thirds of Instax Mini.

The Instax film has more versatility with three different formats, but every format needs its own cameras.

Both manufacturers are selling both colour and monochrome versions of their films, and there is often at least one version of differently coloured borders – usually black. Instax Mini has the most choices, with different colours, gradients, patterns and even cartoon characters. Polaroid options are mostly only single colour, but there is an interesting variant of Polaroid Type 600 film with fully round image borders, producing a circular photo. How long will that option be available, and if it’s going to be available with i-Type film, is unknown.

An interesting option on some Instax Mini and Square cameras is a hybrid workflow – Fujifilm is selling a few digital cameras that are basically digital point-and-shoots with an Instax printer built-in seamlessly, allowing you to preview the image before printing it.


Whatever your choice is, instant photography is a fun activity, and having a real photo almost immediately is a magical experience.

But, mastering instant film photography is not for the faint of heart. Taking multiple photos to get the exposure right is often needed, and film packs aren’t exactly cheap, but with current film prices, it is not as outrageously expensive as they once were. On the other hand, Instax has a few hybrid cameras, where you can see what the final photo will look like, at the cost of spontaneousness.

Both manufacturers have a “small” and a “big” format – Polaroid Go and Instax Mini. Polaroid Go is the smallest instant format, with the smallest camera, but with the least options, either for films or for cameras.

There are a lot of vintage Polaroid cameras with many options, but finding one in a like-new condition could be next to impossible.

Almost all instant photo cameras are fully automatic, allowing for just a few adjustments, if at all. That makes them extremely easy to use but also makes them somewhat frustrating for experienced photographers expecting results similar to digital cameras. That’s missing the point of instant photography, and fun, but nonetheless, it’s an issue.

For the next post about instant film photography, let’s dive into currently available cameras for both systems.


Jump to: Top, Polaroid, Instax, Comparison, Comparison table, Conclusion

Further reading

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