This is the Leica Sofort, and not only is it probably the prettiest instant film camera ever made, but it’s Leica’s initial breach into a world in which it has never previously set foot.
For near a decade Leica offers shifted its image, pulling it from its older roots of making beautifully crafted and robust rangefinders, to making, well, the same items really – just digital. But in the last few years they’ve shifted even further from cameras of leisure and heritage to digital cameras of ‘today’ and efficiency; the SL and Q, are evidence of that.
But last year they threw us a bit of a curveball at Photokina and unveiled the Sofort. Not only was it an instant film camera, but it was the only brand-new offering they uncovered at the present. Amongst all the modern tech Leica went vintage, and right now there, in its Art Deco white, orange, and mint varieties, it stood as a statement that Leica could, actually, have a little fun.
Leica SOFORT: Price
Check Out: Best Leica Cameras
Leica SOFORT: Design
Looking at it, there’s no denying it’s properly pretty. Like that other well-known German export, Claudia Schiffer, it looks good from any angle. All of the classic Leica design cues are here, making it instantly recognizable, even when it’s all been stretched over a chunky, boxy, instant-film body, and with its leatherette, it just works. And that’s something of a feat, really. In a sea of instant cameras more fit for a child or ‘Hello-Kitty-toting-tourist’, the Sofort looks like something you as a person of taste, with your thoroughly curated Spotify playlists and neatly tailored wardrobe, could, in fact, carry with a direct face.
That’s actually a talking point because unlike the offerings from Lomography and Fuji (spare the Neo90), walking around with the Sofort doesn’t make you feel like you (I, as a grown man) need to explain anything. You don’t have to qualify your decision and you will bring it on a night out confident that it’ll end up being received well.
This matters because you will actually use it. Few cameras, if any have got I used, steal furtive glances and act as an ice-breaker like this. People wish to know what it is; they want to see it, hold it, and they want to try it and show their friends. Really, where a regular Leica makes you a bit stand-offish, this, using its looks and quick film causes you to a magnet for interaction.
There’s a price to be paid for all that, though, and it’s about double what you’d pay for the nicest Fuji 90mini right now there is, and for some as always, that’ll be a tough pill to swallow. After all, it IS plastic, and with a Leica reddish colored dot on it, you would expect some heft that basically isn’t there.
The leatherette is a nice touch and makes it easy to hold, but for the price ($299) some metal would be better or expected, also at the cost of weight. So what are you getting for the money? Well, let’s not kid here that at $299 it’s still not blisteringly expensive and style counts for a lot, but in addition, you’re actually getting a good and high-functioning instant shooter.
Leica SOFORT: Performance
While the buttons are all nicely defined, fine to press, they correspond to a bevy of functions. In fact, this is a more manual camera than you’ll come across from Fuji, and with more features. As far as shooting modes now there are selfie, party, sport, macro, double direct exposure, and bulb modes, and each function rather well, though I suspect 99% of the time it’ll be still left on auto where you can shoot to your heart’s articles, and given you get about 100 pictures per charge, you really can do that.
Even in auto, however, there is one setting you should be aware of and adjust accordingly, and that’s the focal length. The Fuji Neo 90 mini includes a fixed focal range with a macro environment, whereas the Sofort has the macro, but additionally, a twist of a ring around the lens that works as a switch lets you shift its 34mm lens between 06-3m to 3m-infinity, and that’s a good touch and one used a whole lot.
Now, for quick film digital cameras we can’t sit here and speak about edge-to-edge sharpness and dynamic range or color rendering, but suffice to say it does very well. In my time with it, there were a few where, at no fault of the large OVF (I hadn’t got the distance set correctly), were missed, but no more so than any various other, and there seems to be hardly any perspective distortion which is definitely nice.
If we were to discuss saturation, however, we could speak about the various films offered and there are options because not only can you use Instax film from Fuji, Leica has their very own color and black and white types. If I’m honest, I think the Fuji films are in fact better and more consistent than Leica’s color film, which is nice because Fuji’s cost less and Leica’s are less readily available.
Leica SOFORT: Conclusion
So it’s all rather lovely then as Leica provides helicoptered in the Sofort as the top tier of an instant-camera cake, and it symbolizes an offering with an increase of functionality, the same flexibility, and better design than its contemporaries. But a Leica instant camera…why a ‘Leica’ immediate camera? Why would they do it? The question ‘why’ is actually a bit redundant because quick film cameras have been an extremely fast-growing sector of the sector, and with an economy in favor of high spending, many people desire ‘nicer’ options.
So no, it’s not a matter of ‘why’, but when thinking of and speaking about the Sofort, the issue is more ‘at what cost?’, and not to you the consumer, but to the brand, Leica. It’s here that there are mixed feelings abound. Does this branch out into instant cameras lessen the brand? Will it taint the popularity by engaging and seeking a camera that we can believe will fly off the shelves and line their pockets, but probably may not embody what Leica truly stands for?
I would say, no. Frankly, I’d wager Leica has done far more to injure the brand with some of its pointless and uninspired stage & shoots than will ever be done by the Sofort. Because an instantaneous camera gives something that’s a moment in time and is a little bit romantic. It’s about joy, spontaneity, and character. Those are about the most Leica tenets there are, so in that way, it’s about simply because of Leica as it gets.