When the Leica Sofort was announced last year, I was sure it was a hoax perpetrated by a savvy Photoshopper with too much time on her hands. Leica, the company best known for its high-end shooters, making a camera out of plastic? It seemed like a perfect joke, like if Bugatti rolled out a hatchback commuter car.
But, here we are. Leica released the Sofort to stores last November. You, faithful consumer, can now purchase a camera designed by Leica in Germany that shoots tiny, business card-sized pictures. This is a product that exists, and Amazon can even ship it to you.
The Leica Sofort is a great little instant camera. It has the obligatory red dot front and center, and it comes in three appealing, surprisingly un-German colors (I sampled the bright white version but vastly prefer the orange and mint color schemes). And, it’s compatible with either Leica or Fujifilm Instax Mini film packs, which can be bought at just about any Urban Outfitters from here to Rhode Island.
Having shot most of the instant cameras that are available today, I more or less knew what to expect from the small Leica. That’s because Leica has based the Sofort off of Fujifilm’s Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic, the best instant camera that Fujifilm makes. The two competing cameras have similar lenses, use the same battery, and look like cousins, if not fraternal twins.
Great design in some eye-catching colors. Intuitive controls make it easy and fun to shoot. Uses utterly ubiquitous, affordable Instax film. Rechargeable battery is convenient, and spares are affordable.
Square shape can be hard to hold. Shutter button is inconveniently placed. Almost three times the cost of its Fujfilm-made cousin.
In some ways, Leica has improved upon the Japanese flavor. I really like its adorable design, which is more modern than retro, although it proudly sports a faux leather wrap around its perimeter. The Sofort also reshuffles the controls to make the camera easier to use, tying focus distance options (either .6m-3m or 3m-infinity) to the ring around the lens. I found the Sofort very easy to figure out without even peeking at the instructions.
Its plastic enclosure, despite sporting an attractive Bauhaus look, wasn’t well designed from an ergonomic standpoint. At least in my hands, this Leica wasn’t especially comfortable to hold, so I’d definitely recommend putting its included strap on for support. Whether it was in portrait or landscape orientations, the camera’s boxy corners made it hard to reach the small shutter button while gripping the camera.
Among all the Instax-compatible cameras, I’d have to put the Sofort close to the top of the list. I really wasn’t expecting to kinda love this little square bundle of joy, and was surprised when using it was a pleasurable experience. But there’s still a pretty big hurdle to giving the Sofort a full go-buy-it-right-now kind of recommendation: the price.
The Sofort costs just under $300, which, for anything labelled “Leica” is a total steal. Recall for a second that this is the same company that partnered with Lenny Kravitz to sell a limited-edition camera for $24,000. After all, red dots aren’t free.
Contrast the German entry with what Fujifilm’s peddling and you’ll come back down to earth pretty quickly. The Fuji Instax Mini 90 routinely sells for a little over a hundred bucks on Amazon. Sure, the Fujifilm feels less luxe, you’re getting at least 80% of the same experience for almost a third of the cost. Even the quirky Lomo’Instant Automat Glass Magellan gives you a wide-angle lens and creative options for only $189.
I gotta say there’s something about the Sofort that makes you feel like you got what you paid for. No, you won’t feel as cool as if you were carrying around a full-metal Leica rangefinder but it’s got a lovely look and that darn red dot. If style and sharp design speak to you as much as the idea of happily snapping away instant photos, then the Sofort might be for you.
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