Even among the now-crowded niche of instant cameras, Leica’s Sofort 2 stands out, representing the idealized version of a modern-day instant camera.
The $389 Leica Sofort 2 combines the easy print-on-the-spot satisfaction of an instant with the straightforwardness of a digital point-and-shoot. It’s not the only camera model to do so, joined by the likes of Fujifilm’s Mini Evo and the Kodak Step Touch, but it still represents a step up from the entry-level instant cameras flooding the market.
The Sofort 2 feels less like a plaything, as many of those instant models do, complete with candy-colored builds with rounded kid-friendly edges. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with said entry-level cameras, but it’s nice to have options.
Leica Sofort 2: Out of the Box
It’s quite easy to get a feel for the Leica Sofort 2, with or without prior photography experience. Much like a standard point-and-shoot, you can take the camera out of the box and start experimenting right away. From there, it feels natural to start dipping into the multitude of settings. There are 10 film and lens settings each, all of which can drastically change the style of the result.
This is where things start to get fun, especially for anyone who’s a fan of instant cameras and their physical prints but simply wants more out of the shooting experience. The settings often veer into vintage styling. There’s a light leak lens effect, for example, to truly capture the lost randomness of film in a highly controlled environment. Naturally, there are sepia and monochrome film effects, which feel more expected than a nod to nostalgia. But there’s also the bluntly labeled “Retro” film effect. It’s a nice nod to the 1970s era many associate with instant cameras, and it makes sense to give people the aesthetic they’re likely looking for.
The controls further mimic those of an analog SLR. The dial around the lens, rather than adjusting the focus, ticks through the 10 lens settings. Another dial at the top lets you scroll through film settings instead of shooting priority settings. But the most satisfying is the print lever, which apes the advancing of film.
Most instant cameras automatically spit pictures out, which is, of course, how they’re meant to work. But the Sofort’s physical crank when selecting just the right shot is delightful. Moving the various film and lens effects to their own dials also keeps users from having to waste time in menus, making it easy to try variations on a shot within seconds.
There are two print settings: “Natural” and “Rich.” Natural, I found, has slightly higher contrast but can look a little washed. “Rich” brings out the colors with great fidelity and I was extremely impressed the final results. Natural felt better for monochrome images, but I gravitated toward the “Rich” print setting in every other use case.
Leica Sofort 2: Build Quality
Leica’s Sofort 2 is without question one of the most mature-looking instant cameras available. Even others in its cohort, the aforementioned Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo and the Kodak Step, look more kitschy. The Mini Evo, to be sure, has a lovely design but it is clearly trying very hard to ape the old-school leather-clad vintage aesthetic. It’s trying and succeeding, but it’s still a bit of a gimmick. Kodak’s Step leans more into the modern and sleek look that the Sofort sports, but the overly rounded corners and lack of buttons feel more toy-like.
The Sofort 2 doesn’t offer the gravitas of Leica’s more traditional lineup, but it arguably gets the closest. The white and black options are more subdued, but the red feels eye-catching. The color does make it veer closer to the toy-style look of many instant cameras, though, if that’s something to avoid. Naturally, as a digital camera, the Sofort 2 is heavier than most instant options out there, which helps it feel more tool than trinket.
One difference from many of the instants available lies in its default shooting position. The ubiquitous Fujifilm Instax Mini captures images in portrait when held upright. Other options, like Fujifilm’s Instax Square line or the Polaroid Insta, print square images, making the orientation irrelevant.
But the Sofort uses the same film as the Instax Mini, which comes with a larger border at the bottom when in portrait orientation. This makes the positioning of the Instax models feel more natural when thinking about the final product, whereas defaulting to landscape with the Sofort leaves users with an asymmetrical thick border on the right side. Yes, obviously simply turning the camera is an option, and thanks to the Leica model’s digital capability, rotating after the fact is possible too. But there’s a slight disconnect in the functionality that felt ever so slightly disappointing.
That said, the fact that the soft uses Instax Mini film from Fuji, albeit with Sofort labeling, is a massive plus. Not only is it highly accessible, but it’s also made by a company that actually makes film, unlike Leica. Outsourcing the film is smarter than trying to make its own when others already know how to do the same thing well.
Leica Sofort 2: In-Use
Using the Sofort 2 is as satisfying as shooting with any other digital point-and-shoot and it’s a massive step up from non-digital instant cameras. This also makes it easy to experiment with the different settings it has to offer. I found this most useful when making sure the exposure levels were where I wanted them or to tweak the white balance beyond the preset options. Part of the charm of instant cameras comes from the slight mystery, wondering whether an image came out as expected. But film costs money, and it’s well worth it to know what’s coming before printing.
Users can print a photo immediately after taking it or choose from the library. The internal memory fits 45 images, which is very little. However, it’s possible to add external storage using a microSD card. Without that though, don’t expect to get much mileage out of the Sofort while out on a shoot. The alternative is to keep printing while working and clearing out the memory in the meantime.
Being able to adjust for the exposure, white balance, flash, and other details is a needed upgrade for a premium instant camera. Still, the lack of manual focus was frustrating, possibly in light of how much else is possible to customize with the Sofort. The juxtaposition made the limitation feel far more pronounced compared to when using an Instax Mini, for example. It’s also the kind of detail I, perhaps wrongly, expected from Leica. At the very least, I would have preferred being able to choose what area of the image to focus on using the screen. Hopefully, if there’s a third iteration, Leica will remedy this.
Additionally, I didn’t notice a difference when shooting close-ups with and without the macro setting enabled making me question why the mode is even there — you can’t shoot closer with it enabled and the results compared to non-macro mode looked identical to me.
As with many instant and basic cameras, don’t expect much when it comes to low-light shooting. That’s probably not surprising, but it’s important to further keep in mind that the filters will amplify this problem. Using the “Retro” and sepia settings made it next to impossible to see in the display. The Sofort can bring some more light in the actual capture, but it struggles to focus, and of course, it becomes prone to blurring and grain.
Leica Fotos App
You can also transfer printed photos to the Leica Fotos app. That’s great, but it would have been far more useful to transfer any photo to the app, regardless of whether or not it was printed on the camera.
Far more useful, however, is the reverse: you can print images from your smartphone library with the Sofort 2. Using the feature is fast and the images look great. This allows for even further customization and editing using phone apps before printing than the camera can offer.
Connecting the Leica Fotos app with the Sofort 2 is also incredibly simple. It took less than a minute and didn’t require signing up for or logging into a Leica account.
The Leica Sofort 2 is a Delight
The Leica Sofort 2 is a delightful instant camera to use, and anyone who enjoys the specific medium should consider the digital hybrid. At close to $400, it certainly needs to deliver to justify that price point. But the solid build, capable shooting, display, and settings already make the Sofort a step up from the standard instant. The ability to print from a smartphone, essentially combining a point-and-shoot, instant camera, and photo printer, truly solidifies what a powerhouse this is.
Are There Alternatives?
There are other digital hybrid instant cameras. The aforementioned Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo and the Kodak Step Instant Print Digital camera are the leading alternatives. The settings and features of Fujifilm’s are the most similar, and it, of course, uses the same film. For about half the price, it’s certainly worth checking out. The most glaring different is in the body. Both cameras opt for very different styles, and while that doesn’t affect your shooting, it’s silly to act like that doesn’t matter at all. Some people, ironically likely a good part of Leica fans, will find the vintage leather style quite appealing. For others, the simplicity of the Leica Sofort 2, especially in the more subdued black will feel more appropriate.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. If you’re a fan of the instant camera medium and are looking to step up what you can do there, absolutely. Instant cameras and their small prints have their own unique appeal, but it’s difficult to really take your shooting to the next level when you can’t control any settings. The other obvious reason to buy is the ability to print directly from a smartphone. If you’ve been eyeing one a photo printer, especially those that use instant camera film, and might be even slightly interested in picking up an actually instant camera, this is a no brainer.
Yes, the Leica Sofort 2 is pricey compared to other instant cameras, but you’re getting more bang for your buck with the printing.
Image credits: Photographs by Lisa Marie Segarra