Leica Sofort Review
The Leica Sofort is a new instant film camera. Numerous modes and options are available on the camera, as well as creative programmes for multiple and timed exposures. For easier ‘selfies’, the Leica Sofort features a rectangular mirror on the front, and the focusing distance can be set independently from the selected programme mode. In addition to colour film, Leica also offers a monochrome film option. The Leica Sofort instant camera is available in a choice of white, orange and mint at a suggested retail price of £215 including VAT / $299 in the US.
Ease of Use
It would be easy to become jaded in writing about cameras if each successive generation merely involved the proverbial nip here and a tuck there. However, the new Leica ‘Sofort’ (not a reference to battlements, but rather German for ‘instant’) is something refreshingly different: it’s the premium brand’s first-ever instant print analogue camera – the launch of which adds a welcome dose of almost frivolity to a previously oh-so-serious brand image, one largely built on both a very distinguished heritage, but also those high-ish price tags.
So is this possibly the most plush consumer-orientated instant camera there has ever been? Sharp eyes will have spotted that the Sofort bears a very close retro-styled resemblance to the Fuji Instax Mini 90 – and indeed the Leica is able to utilise the Fuji’s Instax film packs, which work out at around a pound a picture/print. At the time of writing there are also Leica branded film packs coming that, like the Instax range, include a monochrome film option to broaden the appeal beyond the happy snapper brigade. At a manufacturer’s suggested £230 however, the Sofort is twice the price of an equivalent Instax (the Leica film packs are also a pound dearer). However the other point to make is that such cost is still relatively inexpensive as far as owning a camera with that iconic red Leica logo is concerned.
|Front of the Leica Sofort|
It’s worth bearing in mind that this Leica produces miniature credit card sized instant prints (at 62x46mm) smaller than the output from the old Polaroid instant cameras we’re familiar with from our childhoods. Undoubtedly, though, there is still the same thrill to be had from such chemistry and analogue simplicity, and in watching the finished image slowly emerge before our eyes. For those of us who were children of the 1970s and 80s, and recall the old instant consumer cameras (with their bigger prints and bulkier bodies) from the first time around, there is also inevitably a whole heap of nostalgic charm guiding any purchase decision.
As well as being available in a ‘classic’ white finish – the version we received to look at – the Leica Sofort comes in the choice of two further, less stark, contemporary options: orange and mint. Why does this matter? Well, because owning this Leica is as much of a fashion – or, perhaps, status – statement as it is a practical consideration. Our review unit also came with a Leica branded neck/ shoulder strap, which can be bought separately for £15. The use of said strap is wise, as the physical size of this boxy camera at 122x94x58mm means it’s not one for being able to otherwise easily slip into a jacket pocket, or handbag. Without rechargeable lithium ion battery or film inserted, the camera weighs a fairly standard 310g, so it’s certainly light enough to be conveniently transported however.
|Rear of the Leica Sofort|
As the product shots indicate, the design of the Sofort is very square and hard-edged, partly down to the fact that this is indeed a camera and printer combined. It’s a bit like a child’s drawing of a camera, the simplicity of its layout being again, we guess, part of its charm. Inspecting it from the front, we get a window for the viewfinder, a small mirror to aid with the composition of the inevitable selfie, and a large flash window, top right of the lens, sitting just beneath the optical viewfinder. For those more used now to using screens to compose and review images, the compositional viewfinder appears tiny – but then again we’re probably not going to be peering through it for extended periods of time; this is a camera for picking up, taking a snapshot and handing on to somebody else to do the same. Keeping things simple in such social circumstances, the only control on the camera’s top plate is a shutter release button.
The actual power button is kept out of the way of accidental activation, being located on the backplate. It’s the top control in a vertically stacked row of five, nestled next to a tall and narrow LCD window that reveals the operational settings chosen via simplistic icons. Like the buttons themselves, these are again presented in a stack, the top self-explanatory setting being an indicator of the number of shots remaining. Press the activation button and the camera is quick to power up, ready for action in a couple of seconds, as the lens whirrs from its internally stacked storage position to its fully extended setting.
The 60mm lens with f/12.7 aperture provides the focal equivalent of a 34mm lens in the 35mm format; in other words a reasonably close approximation to what we see with the human eye. Surprisingly perhaps for what is essentially a point and shoot camera, there are two fixed focus stages, selected by using the lens encircling focus ring, as well as a macro/close up setting selectable via a press of the mode button on the camera back.
|Top of the Leica Sofort|
Squeeze the shutter release and almost immediately we’re rewarded with a familiar, distinctly analogue whirr as a virgin white print emerges from the side of the camera, dry to the touch. It takes a few minutes for the image to slowly and fully emerge from said print – but such anticipation is surely a large part of the fun. We’re not 100% sure what we’ve captured – in part due to the eye strain-inducing small optical viewfinder – until the print fully reveals itself to us.
On the rear LCD panel we are given indicators of the camera’s power status/battery life, plus the aforementioned picture counter – counting down from the 10 shots available in each pack – plus the focus setting – with a twist of the front ring allowing adjustment from 0.6 metres to three metres, or three meters to infinity, complete with a motorised whirr as adjustment is made. We also get selectable picture modes, including the options of self-portrait, people/party scenario, action and sport, close up, double exposure and bulb (long exposure) settings. Finally, at the bottom of the five-user operable buttons there is a brightness setting.
Flash settings range from automatic to fill-in flash/always on, to flash plus red eye reduction, and finally to off. We also get a self-timer setting of either the standard 10 or two seconds delay. Automatic exposure control is a claimed equivalent of ISO800 (the Instax film packs provided are ISO800).
|The Leica Sofort In-hand|
To the left of the row of buttons is a slider switch for opening the camera back, allowing the film pack to be inserted. When the film is inserted and the camera is in use a red indicator is shown just above the switch, to presumably warn against opening the camera back – though it also inadvertently acts as a ‘what does this button do?’ lure for the fingers of younger family members. Overall the Leica Sofort’s build is otherwise solid and not overtly plastic-y, though the boxy build may be a love-it-or-hate-it ‘Marmite’ moment for many.
Power is provided by the rechargeable BP-DC17 lithium ion cell provided, which slips under a thin flimsy feeling plastic cover at the rear is good for 100 shots, according to the manufacturer. A simple charger and mains plug is provided in the box for replenishing your supply.
So what of the images it produces? Well if you’ve ever handled a Polaroid or more recently a Fujifilm Instax camera you’ll pretty much know exactly what to expect. But read on to discover a few of our thoughts...
Instant analogue cameras are arguably more about the delight of a near instant print than professional image quality – and, set against a clear, crisp film or digital image the results from the Leica Sofort are never going to be the sharpest.
Familiar tropes expose themselves immediately (no pun intended). For example, use the flash from any closer than three feet away and the bleaching effect means your subject runs the risk of resembling a ghoul on the final print. Luckily the flash can be manually disabled and there is a red eye reduction setting usefully offered too. We didn’t notice any instances of red eye when using the flash. Also the selfie mode – probably the setting that will be most commonly used on a camera such as this – seemed to work well, avoiding a blurred image even when we could only hold the camera at arm’s length. On the whole we got properly focused images from general use of this camera, even if resultant prints are a little softer than we’re now used to seeing from processed digital files anyway due to the nature of the medium.
As we noted at the start of this review; you’ll be buying this camera primarily for a bit of fun and the spectacle of images slowly developing before your eyes rather than pin sharp results every time. View the picture prints this camera produces as an aide memoire and a record of a certain moment in time and you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve got children or are using the camera in a family setting this is when the Leica Sofort comes into its own, as both a object of fascination and a tool with which to entertain.
The promise of life long memories in an instant is a powerful draw – and the Leica Sofort is one of the best looking instant cameras out there – alongside its Fujifilm Mini 90 near twin. It certainly has the requisite 1970s/80s charm, even if, and our only real nit-pick, the battery cover felt a little flimsy on our sample. We could argue until the cows come home about whether its price tag is personally justifiable when it’s twice the cost of the competition, yet at a manufacturer’s suggested £230 at the time of writing it is also the least expensive Leica camera you could hope to own, and is never going to be a mass market concern, something else worth bearing in mind. It’s been designed by Leica Camera Germany as the exterior proudly announces, not Fuji Japan, and that comes with a premium.
Operationally, the camera functions well (identically well to the Fujifilm in fact) and certainly does the job. There’s still an inherent thrill to be had in waiting a couple of minutes for an image to full emerge from the cloudy gloom of the developer, just like in the hobbyist darkrooms of yore.
It’s a long time – 15+ years – since we’ve used a camera without a backplate LCD, though the Leica does provide a narrow function display panel and a row of function buttons stacked vertically alongside it, which neatly hides both the rechargeable battery and compartment for stashing the film pack. For those who want to get creative – or merely point and shoot – there are the selectable shooting modes described in the body of the review, including one for the ubiquitous selfie (handy mirror window provided above the lens), along with flash and self-timer. Of course, this is the sort of camera you want to be able to hand to someone a party and have them taking your picture straight away, so a lack of clutter when it comes to controls makes sense.
Like Fujifilm, Leica is offering a monochrome film pack for its camera (at £11), which, as with the colour packs (at £9.50), affords 10 shots/exposures. Colour packs that provide 20 shots in total are also available at £15.50, which suggests better value and brings the price per print down considerably. Put simply, this is a rare opportunity: a Leica mostly anyone can afford and, moreover, a Leica that anyone will be able to pick up and use from the get go.
|Ratings (out of 5)|
|Value for money||3|
Listed below are some of the rivals of the Leica Sofort.
Born out of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Lomo Instant is the most advanced instant camera on the planet. Using the widely available Fujifilm Instax Mini film, the Lomo Instant offers advanced features like manual aperture control, a built-in flash, and a bulb mode for long exposures. Read our Lomo Instant review now...
The new Lomo Instant Wide uses Fuji Instax Wide film, which is twice as wide as Instax Mini film. The Lomo Instant Wide offers advanced features like three different shooting modes,a fully programmatic shutter, a built-in flash, and unlimited multiple exposures. Read our Lomo Instant Wide review now...
Product: Leica Sofort
Camera type Instant camera
Picture format 62 x 46 mm
Film type Leica instant film pack: 10 shots, colour or monochrome, Instax-mini format, speed ISO 800
Aperture/Focal length 60 mm f/12.7 (34mm in 35 mm equiv.)
Focusing Area 3 Focus Steps: 0,3 – 0,6 m (Macro)/0,6 – 3 m (close range)/3 m – infinity (far range)
Shutter Speed 1/8 – 1/400 sec. (mechanical shutter)
Viewfinder Optical real image viewfinder 0,37x with target spot and parallax compensation for macro mode
Mode Dial/Mode Button Automatic, Selfie, People & Party, Action & Sport, Bulb, Macro, Self-timer, Double exposure
Exposure mode Time automatic
Exposure compensation -0,7 EV/0,0 EV/+0,7 EV
Light metering Automatic exposure control LV 5.0 – LV 15.5 (ISO 800)
ISO Sensitivity ISO 800
Self-timer 2 Sec. / 10 Sec. waiting period
Flash Built-in electronic flash
Auto, Forced on, Forced off, Forced on with red-eye reduction
Temperature working range 5 – 40°C
Battery Lithium-ion battery (supplied)
Voltage/capacity 3.7V, 740mAh, 2.6 Wh
Battery life (approx.) 100 pictures at 20°
Dimensions (W x H x D) ca. 124 x 94 x 58 mm
Weight (without battery and film pack) approx. 305 g
Scope of delivery Camera, battery BP-DC17, charger BC-DC17 with adapter plug (varies from country to country), carrying strap, brief instructions