About a year ago, while on assignment in South Africa, I wandered into a tiny, dirt-floored market seemingly peopled entirely by small children. The kids went bonkers over my camera, yukking it up for a second of digital fame on my LCD screen. It was fun, but when the time came to go, I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. Leaving my new friends with a couple of snapshots would have been much more gratifying than a wave goodbye.
Until recently, photography’s digital revolution has ignored the simple pleasure of instant prints, preferring websites like Flickr and Facebook for picture sharing. But that’s changing. Today, there’s a groundswell of insta-photo products. The most promising use a technology called ZINK (Zero Ink), which embeds temperature-sensitive crystals in paper, producing images by generating heat instead of relying on clunky cartridges. Another option is a compact but more traditional printer, like the Canon shown here. And then there’s Fujifilm, which recently introduced the kind of old-style instant film camera that Polaroid abandoned in 2008—but their bulk does not translate into big prints.
With the exception of the Canon, none of these will give you the rich results you’d get back home. But in a tiny store in a distant corner of the world, I promise they’ll look pretty darn good.
Like the Polaroid, Dell’s Wasabi Ultramobile photo printer relies on ZINK paper. The pocket-size device (3 x 5 inches, 1 inch thick) is more versatile, though; it works with most digital cameras and even some Bluetooth-enabled camera phones ($149; dell.com).
The PoGo from Polaroid is one of a kind: It’s a digital camera with a mini ZINK paper printer built in. But the promise of a one-device solution falls short—the camera is an anemic five megapixels, and its prints beg to be brighter and sharper ($199; polaroid.com).
At 2.1 pounds, Canon’s Selphy pushes the limits of portability, but its large prints (up to 4 x 8) are superb—on a par with home printers and close to lab quality. Great for road trips and barbecues, the 7 x 5 x 3 inch box lets you pop in six different memory card formats to crank out enlargements ($99; usa.canon.com).