Instant photography: its worth in a digital world

Instant photography has seen a resurgence in recent years; it’s no longer being seen as a gimmick that has somehow lasted beyond its bygone era. But the question still remains: why do people choose to use an analogue device when so many digital options are at their disposal? By examining what makes instant photography so captivating to so many, we can possibly find an answer to this subjective question.

I believe that those who fall in love with instant photography aren’t just falling in love with the photographs; they are actually falling in love with the imperfections of those photographs. Shooting with film and Polaroid limits people, not creatively but physically; when I use my Instax camera, I know I only have 10 shots before I’m forced to replace the expensive cartridge, and it does certainly become pricey. It currently costs me €0.80 per photograph, so when I can take thousands of photographs for the price of nought on my phone, why do I keep coming back to my Instax SQ6? Hopefully, I’ll find a way of answering that.


With instant photography, there’s a nostalgia for a time lost within each picture when the camera is produced at parties (do you remember what parties are?), there’s an excitement that’s made from the novelty of the camera, with its analogue nature, even the simple “ka-chunk” that comes with the creation of each photograph becomes a conversation piece in itself. The expensive price of each photograph is almost justified by the anticipation that comes when eagerly waiting for your photo to develop, to see if the moment is truly captured as evocatively as you hoped.

Instant photography’s resurgence in today’s pop culture has a distinctive alliance with the 1970s aesthetics that has seeped into modern fashion and into many of today’s popular aesthetic trends. The 1970s were rocked with an anti-conformist approach to style and living, and that anti-conformist attitude very much aligns with the appeal of instant photography today. By rejecting the ease that comes with mobile phone cameras, for something that’s just so much more conservative and restrictive in its existence, allows you to appreciate the true value of the picture.

So, in the process, I have learned to love the blurry photographs with their far too dark shadows and overexposed colours just because I know I’m not able to take a thousand pictures of the same moment. Taking away the possibility to pick and choose what photos look best for me has allowed me to truly appreciate having a physical reminder of that moment. It becomes far more than the gimmick it is often described as being.

When the photos undergo their complicated process of creation, there’s an immense beauty that’s left behind, when you become aware that you’re holding the only copy in existence. Unlike in digital media, there is no such thing as sharing a copy, so, in the instant photography world, to give somebody your photograph becomes sharing more than the moment, you may as well be holding something as rare and as beautiful as a Monet or even a Rembrandt – that truly, only belongs to you.

Instant photography allows us to leave a physical trace, a marker that screams “we were here!” – that the digital media you can find on your phone just isn’t able to achieve the same effect. Plus, the modern generation has always lived on digital photos. To them, the world of film and instant photography is an unmarked one. When the digital becomes the default, discovering film is like discovering a long-forgotten craft.

Currently, the most affordable introduction to this relatively expensive form of photography can be found with Fujifilm’s Instax cameras, In the past, Fujifilm instant photography cameras seemed to live forever in Polaroid’s shadow. But when sales began to drop in the wake of digital cameras creation, Polaroid attempted to move on, but Fujifilm held strong, which has allowed them to garner their own fan base of loyal photographers, while also being the most affordable option for new instant photo fanatics.


Fujifilm’s instant cameras are often described as being the gateway drug into other forms of analogue formats, like vinyl, disposable cameras, and even second-hand vintage clothing, as they all are witnessing a harmonious return amongst modern consumers. It might be because analogue has a more human quality to it, compared to some contemporary pieces of technology, where the devices’ imperfections are constantly being updated and removed.  

The future of instant photography seems to be a bright one: Fujifilm went from selling only 400,000 cameras in 2004 to selling 12 million in 2019. Instant photography is once again beginning to shed its gimmicky appearances to become a widely used piece of artistic technology.

Sean Barrett
Sean Barrett


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