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Leica Sofort review: The coolest and priciest way to take instant snaps

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There are so many bad things I can say about the Leica Sofort instant camera.

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Leica Sofort

The Good

The Leica Sofort looks great and it's perfect for taking instant snaps at house parties.

The Bad

You can get the same features from instant cameras that cost a quarter of the price.

The Bottom Line

If you can stomach the cost, the Leica Sofort is a beautiful way to explore the fun of instant photography.

I can tell you how I struggled to make it focus, how expensive it is compared to other instant cameras, how the film's plastic packaging is wasteful or simply how it's fundamentally pointless in an age of affordable digital cameras.

But if you're looking for an instant camera, you don't care about any of that.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Leica Sofort is for anyone who loves the retro thrill of instant photography and wants a camera from an iconic brand. You just have to decide whether it's worth splashing out for that pleasure.

The Leica Sofort sells for £230, $349 or AU$399 with 10 sheets of film starting at £10, $15 or AU$17. That makes it significantly more expensive than the Polaroid Snap or the Fuji Instax Mini, the latter of which costs only £55 ($55, AU$99) and uses the exact same film. While the Leica has a few additional features, such as its double exposure mode, you're mostly just paying for the cool design and Leica name. But that's no bad thing.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Pure megapixel counts and dynamic range don't matter in instant photography -- you want a camera for your party snaps. It's for snapping a quick photo of your mate stuffing his face with cake and having the print up on your fridge within minutes. That's why I enjoyed using the Sofort. It's the best-looking instant camera around. And without an LCD display to help me review my shots as I took them, I was genuinely excited to see what I'd captured.

The Sofort lacks autofocus, so you have to judge a shot based on distance, which can be tough to get right in my experience. Many shots came out with very soft details as a result. It has a narrow f/12 aperture which doesn't let in much light, so the flash was in near-constant use. Unlike the Polaroid, there's no digital sensor and memory card to save your photos either, so you'll need to scan the prints if you want to share them online.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I'd immediately delete most of the Leica's shots if I'd taken them on a dSLR, but the flaws in the image quality are what give instant photography its distinct charm. If perfect exposure and crisp details are your priority, send your dSLR shots to the printers.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This isn't something to buy if you want top-notch image quality. It's not even the best choice if you just want a mess-around camera -- get the much cheaper Instax Mini. But if you've set your heart on instant snaps at your next house party and you want to shoot in style, the Leica Sofort is the way to go.