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Leica's Sofort instant camera is better than it looks

Engadget Engadget 20/09/2016 Aaron Souppouris
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A $300 Leica? An instant Leica? Strange things are afoot. We were a little taken aback by the announcement of the Sofort, a $300 instant camera from the storied German camera brand. It doesn't look very... Leica-y, and instant cameras aren't really known for the level of quality that the Leica dot typically signifies. Nonetheless, when the opportunity arose to spend some time with the Sofort at Photokina 2016, we jumped on it.

After roughly 30 minutes, I came away pretty impressed with the Sofort. It looks a lot better in person than the promotional images suggested, with a solid, albeit plasticky, build and decent handling. The lens, according to the representative I spoke to, is Leica made, and fixed at 60mm. That translates to about 34mm on a full-frame camera, which is a nice all-round focal length. Being a film camera, there's no display for previewing images, meaning you need to peer through a viewfinder to frame your photos. From there, you can choose from numerous scene presets including selfie and macro modes. There's also a mirror on the front to held you frame your face correctly.

But, and this is a huge but, the Sofort is, as far as I can tell, an (admittedly thorough) rebadge of the Fuji Instax mini 90. It takes the same film -- although Leica will sell you its film for around $15 for 10 shots -- has the same focal length and the same basic shape as Fuji's camera. Leica says it's reengineered the aperture system, lens and flash (it fires a little later than the mini 90), and the result is a superior product.

My experience with Instax has been at the low end of Fuji's range, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that I was impressed by the quality of the shots I took with the Sofort. I used Leica's monochrome film, and got a sharp image, with a lovely range of shades despite my subject wearing black and the background being mostly black.

I'm told that the mini 90 is a similarly strong performer, though, and that camera costs about $150 right now. So there's really one question that you should ask yourself: Are you willing to pay an extra $150 for a Leica badge and a few tweaks?

​​​​​​​Steve Dent contributed to this report.

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