The Paper Shoot camera is a highly portable point-and-shoot digital camera that eschews a screen to mimic the photography of yore. And, after watching countless videos of the Paper Shoot camera on TikTok, we decided to spend a few weeks with it to see how it feels to stay in the moment rather than constantly stare at our phone.

Playing up the mystery of film photography, which some people may have never used, the Paper Shoot is simple to put together, add some flair and snap away.

Want to get in on point-and-shoot photography without plopping down big bucks for a fancy camera? Here’s why you’ll want to consider giving the Paper Shoot camera a look.

A highly portable point-and-shoot camera

The Paper Shoot camera is an affordable, simple-to-use device that gives you all the fun of a disposable or film camera with the high-quality images of a smartphone lens.

The who, what and how

Who it’s for: The Paper Shoot is best for anyone looking for a fun and eco-friendly alternative to a disposable or film camera.

What you need to know: For $120 you’re getting a lightweight portable camera that requires some setup. The camera will only work with two AAA batteries, and you can even use the included Micro USB cable for the rechargeable kind. The Paper Shoot works best in natural light and, much like a film camera, can be finicky if it’s darker, especially since it doesn’t have a flash.

How it compares: The Paper Shoot works like a disposable camera, is closer to a smartphone in terms of photo quality and offers higher-quality prints than similar Polaroid cameras like the Now+ or Go. It also provides a different result than adding lenses to your smartphone, as those change the camera’s perspective but not the image style. Compared to a film camera, the $120 starting price tag is reasonable, especially when you consider how expensive that technology can be and the money you’d spend getting pictures developed. Because it’s a digital camera, you lose the downtime of having to wait for those photos to be developed, though you will have to transfer them to an SD card before you can download them to your phone or computer.

The look and the setup

There’s some setup required with the Paper Shoot, starting with the camera board, which is akin to the guts of the camera. This comes complete with an exposed lens, some circuitry and all the tech needed to take a shot. Luckily the whole thing took under five minutes, and plenty of instructions are included. Just pop the batteries and SD card into the board and attach a case. This is where you can show off your personality and pick from a bevy of designs from Paper Shoot. While your choice of case is included, you’ll have to purchase others separately.

The camera is about 4 inches long, 2.7 inches wide and about half an inch thick. It’s smaller than your phone and roughly the same thickness as an iPhone with a case on it. Sans batteries, Paper Shoot includes everything you need in the box — just power it up and start snapping.

Like a smartphone camera, the Paper Shoot has different shooting modes, though here you’ll only get the basics: color, black and white, sepia and blue. Unlike a more traditional camera, however, there’s no messing around with shutter speeds or aperture adjustments. The only thing you have to worry about is pressing the shutter button, which lives on the front left-hand side of the camera. If you hold the Paper Shoot with your right hand, the shutter button is in an easily accessible spot (sorry, lefties). Though it’s small, the camera is comfortable to hold, and we were never worried about dropping it or losing our grip. Plus, it makes a cool, classic shutter sound when you click that button (which was a nice touch), and two blue LEDs light up next to the viewfinder to let you know you’ve taken a picture.

Getting the shot

There is no glass or plastic viewfinder; it’s just open space between the front and back of the case, which means the only thing you need to pay attention to when capturing images with the Paper Shoot is what’s in the frame. Initially, we were worried this would make it difficult to frame a shot, but our final images ended up representative of what we were expecting.

It takes about three seconds for the Paper Shoot to fully capture a photo, and it makes a soft whirring sound as it does so. And because you’ll be left with a blurry photo if anyone decides to move during this time, you may want to give everyone a warning to stand their ground before you shoot. Thankfully, we only had trouble with this with our pet. Go figure.

A 16-megapixel lens is embedded onto the camera board to allow for auto adjusted focus, exposure and other core specs. And after several hundred test shots, we were pleased with the image quality. You can see a few different shots below, but here are a few scenarios:

  • The Paper Shoot is best used for capturing portraits, keeping background details crisp while clearly focusing on a specific subject.
  • Shots of moving objects, pets or people are more difficult to capture with the Paper Shoot than they are with a digital camera, giving us blurrier photos. You may want to save action shots, animals and babies for your phone.
  • Across color modes in pictures of flowers, animals and people, we were able to clearly pick out details like petals, fur and eyelashes. And when it came to trying out the color modes, shooting in color, black and white, sepia and blue did not affect the image quality.
  • When shooting in darker lighting, adding some light from the flashlight of a smartphone gave us better and brighter photos. Shooting in natural light and room lights gave us high-quality photos like those you’d take on a smartphone. So, yeah, sometimes we found ourselves defaulting to our smartphone when we didn’t have the right light. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, and we liked that the Paper Shoot delivers a different aesthetic than any of the preset filters on our iPhone. Plus, it was a fun talking point when used with our friends, especially when we told them they’d have to wait to see how the snaps ended up.

Additional lenses are also available from Paper Shoot and can easily snap onto the camera. If you purchase one of these $150 sets, you’ll get a camera with two additional lenses (a wide-angle and a macro) as well as an SD card.

The lenses attach magnetically and are secure enough to stay on while shooting. However, when we went to put the camera away, the lens popped right off. It’s something to keep in mind, and Paper Shoot doesn’t include a bag or any protection to keep them safe while not in use.

Since the Paper Shoot mimics a film camera, you won’t get instant gratification — even though it is digital. Photos need to be imported from the SD card to view, so you can either use a computer or laptop with an SD slot or purchase an external SD card reader, such as this hub from Satechi or this Lightning to SD card reader from Apple.

A sustainable option

In addition to being built from recycled materials, the Paper Shoot strives to be sustainable. And unlike disposable cameras, which are nonbiodegradable single-use plastic, the Paper Shoot is reusable and offers digital prints that won’t waste paper. The best part is that you’re left with photos that look like film without the plastic waste.

Bottom line

At $120, the Paper Shoot camera is an affordable, simple-to-use device that gives you all the fun of a disposable or film camera with the high-quality images of a smartphone lens.

The price is comparable to other small, instant cameras (like the Polaroid Go, Polaroid Now+ or Instax Mini) even though the experience is very different. We loved shooting with the Paper Shoot, and we’re excited to keep it in our back pocket (both literally and figuratively) for get–togethers with friends, travel adventures and much more.