The instant camera is a type of camera with self-developing film. The most famous are those made by the Polaroid Corporation. Polaroid no longer manufactures such cameras. The invention of modern instant cameras is generally credited to American scientist Edwin Land, who unveiled the first commercial instant camera, the Land Camera, in 1947, 10 years after founding the Polaroid Corporation.
In February 2008, Polaroid announced it would cease production of all instant film; the company will shut down three factories and lay off 450 workers. Sales of chemical film by all makers have dropped by at least 25% per year in this decade, and the decline is likely to accelerate. Fujifilm is now the only remaining supplier of instant film in the United States.
600 series cameras such as the Pronto, Sun 600, and One600 use 600 (or the more difficult to find professional 779) film. Polaroid Spectra cameras use Polaroid Spectra film which went back to a rectangular format. Captiva, Joycam, and Popshots (single use) cameras use a smaller 500 series film in rectangular format. I-zone cameras use a very small film format which was offered in a sticker format. Finally, Mio cameras used Mio film, which was a film format smaller than 600, but larger than 500 series film.
Not only did Polaroid make instant still-image cameras, but they also manufactured a type of instant movie camera. The unit was called Polavision. The kit included a camera, film, and a movie viewer. When the movie was shot, it would be taken out of the camera and then inserted into the viewer for development, then viewed after development. This format was close to Super 8 mm film. Polavision film was different from normal film in that it was an additive film, mixing the primary colors (red, green, blue) to form the color image. The biggest disadvantage of the Polavision system was the low film speed (ASA 40), which resulted in having to use very bright lights when taking the movie, as well as requiring a special player to view the developed movie. Because of this, and combined with the advent of VHS video recorders, Polavision had a short history.
Some of the earliest instant cameras were brought to market before Edwin Land's invention of the instant camera. These cameras are, however, more portable darkrooms than "instant" camera. After Land's patent was brought to market, many imitators surfaced, some using Polaroid-compatible film and equipment, such as cameras by Keystone, Konica, and Minolta. Others were incompatible with Polaroid cameras and film, the most notable of these being made by Kodak, such as the Kodamatic. These cameras accepted a Kodak-branded integral instant film, similar to Polaroid's SX-70 film. Polaroid brought a patent-infringement lawsuit against Kodak, and eventually Kodak was forced to stop manufacture of both the camera and film. Kodak was also left to pay a settlement to some customers who were left without a way to use their now-defunct cameras.
In more recent years, Fujifilm has introduced a line of instant cameras and film. This includes film compatible with certain Polaroid models. None are sold officially in the United States, although the Polaroid-compatible film is available through some larger photographic suppliers.
With the advent of digital photography, much of the instant camera's consumer appeal has been transferred to the digital cameras. Even most passport photo cameras have gone to digital, leaving instant cameras to a niche market.
Edwin Land's original idea behind instant photography was to create a photographic system that was seamless and easy for anyone to use. The first Roll film cameras required the photographer to use a light meter to take a reading of the light level, then to set the exposure setting on the lens. Then the lens was focused and the subject framed and the picture was taken, the photographer flipped a switch and pulled the large tab in the back of the camera to pull the negative over the positive, through some rollers to spread the developing agent. After the picture developed inside the camera for the required time, the photographer opened the small door in the camera back and peeled the positive from the negative. To prevent fading the black and white positive had to be coated with a fixing agent, a potentially messy procedure which led to the development of coaterless instant pack film.
Pack film cameras operated in a similar manner except for the fact that most of these cameras had automatic exposure. The development of the film required the photographer pull two tabs, the second tab which pulled the positive/negative "sandwich" from the camera, where it developed outside the camera. If the temperature was below 60°F, the positive/negative "sandwich" was placed between two aluminum plates and placed either in your pocket or under your arm to keep it warm while developing. After the required development time (15 seconds to 2 minutes), the positive was peeled apart from the negative.
Integral film cameras, such as the SX-70, 600 series, Spectra, and Captiva cameras went a long way in accomplishing Edwin Land's goal of creating a seamless process in producing instant photos. The photographer simply pointed the camera at the subject, framed it, and took the photo. The camera did the rest, including adjusting the exposure settings, taking care of focusing (Sonar autofocus models only), utilizing a flash if necessary (600 series and up), and ejecting the film, which developed without intervention from the photographer.