It might seem strange as a photographic enthusiast, but I’m over cameras. There was a time, when I was working in photographic retail, that I visited DPReview a dozen times a day and was forever pressing F5 on nikonrumors.com, waiting for the rumoured release of a brand new 12 megapixel full frame DSLR.
Not any more.
After selling these products for years and seeing the same people come into the store and purchase mark I, II, III and IV of the same cameras, I realised we had reached the point of diminishing return with digital cameras. Incremental increases in autofocus speed and image quality had not improved the photography of these chumps. All they were getting were larger photos of the same unimaginative crap. For almost all photographers today, the limiting factor is not the camera, but the idiot behind it.
This is why it’s so nice to find a camera which makes me excited to go out and take photos again: the Leica Sofort.
The Leica Sofort is an instant camera that uses Fujifilm’s popular Instax Mini instant film. It is essentially a slightly more brutalist — and more expensive — version of a Fujifilm Instax Mini 90. Why would you go the Leica over the much cheaper Instax? For the same reasons anyone buys a Leica product: because it’s a Leica.
Operation of the camera is straight forward, with a power button, flash and exposure settings on the back, and a lens that offers close range (1–3m) and distance (3m+) settings.
This simplicity makes the Sofort a blast to use.
Travelling overseas recently, I shot around 60 exposures with the Sofort, and part of me thought, in the event of a mugging, I’d much rather lose one of the “real” cameras in my bag than my irreplaceable Sofort frames — don’t take that as an invitation!
Instant film allows photographers a different way of seeing. As someone who came into photography at the tail-end of the last instant film era, I can appreciate why the new films and cameras are so popular.
For me, instant film is a sort of visual notebook far more tangible than what can be done with a smartphone and its in-built camera.
The importance of physicality can’t be overstated. My 2 year-old son knows exactly what the Sofort is for. I’ll get the camera out, and before I’ve even turned it on, he’ll be saying “CHEESE!” with the toothiest grin I’ve seen. I’ll never forget his first gasps as the picture developed right before his eyes — a picture of himself. Then I was able to leave a couple of frames on his grandfather’s fridge before we jetted back to Australia. Cue the old man voice saying “you can’t do that with digital”.
The only slight letdown is the quality of the lens. Yes, I know this is instant photography, but the Sofort isn’t cheap and the Leica name is synonymous with extreme glass, so it’s sad they sully their good name with cheap plastic. Instax film is very capable when shot with real glass. I can only assume it must have been cheaper for Leica to repurpose the Fuji Instax lens, rather than designing their own. No doubt the inevitable Leica Sofort Super Elmar starting at $599 (plus $299 for the Limited Edition Ostrich Skin Edition) will address some of these issues…
So is the fun of instant photography exclusive to the Leica Sofort? No, of course not. Any Instax camera provides a similar experience — and the larger format Instax Wide looks very enticing — but none does it with the same bold presence as the Leica Sofort. Anyone who truly loves images owes it to themselves to give one of the Instax lineup a try.