The new Leica Sofort is an instant picture camera for a new generation

If you've previously been unwilling to part with four or five figures for the honour of standing alongside the world's greatest photographers, an initiation into the cult of Leica can now be yours with the launch of the new Leica Sofort instant picture camera.

Propelling itself into the world of instant picture cameras, a market currently dominated by hundred-dollar, multi-coloured happy snappers, it's quite possible this new, $399 camera will give many pause for thought.

You read correctly; a camera emblazoned with Leica's trademark red dot for less than $400. Even if you add a zero to that figure, many would still consider it a mistake.

The company, synonymous with history's greatest shooters – such as Jacques Henri Lartigue, Catherine Leroy, Robert Capa, and even Brad Pitt, to name but a few – has taken an interesting step back into instant printed photography at a time when the world is engrossed in smartphone/point-and-shoot photography. It's a bold move indeed.

Trading on name?

It's said that you never forget your first Leica. The optics, unmistakable design and unerring precision combine to create the most sort-after quality any personal product manufacturer could hope for: desirability. Each Leica camera is the sum total of 100 years of German engineering.

It's also one of the most expensive cameras you will likely ever buy. Some recent models will lighten your wallet of several thousand dollars, but climb the ranks and you're looking at six figures.

A comparable DSLR from Canon or Nikon, on the other hand, may cost you less than half that. This factor alone keeps many would-be owners staring through the windows of the Leica candy store, never entering to enjoy the sweet treats within.

Retro charm, signature design

Like many lifestyle products, what will likely determine the success of this 'cut-price' Leica is its emotional appeal, of which instant picture cameras have in spades.

Instant photos, which skyrocketed in popularity in the '60s or '70s, have always found a way to capture something more romantic than just the moment. From men in bell-bottom pants and handlebar moustaches huddled around a motorbike, to women playing a frenetic game of badminton, instant photography captured every moment of our lives.

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Times, like gender stereotypes, have changed quite a bit since those days, but the thrill of an instant photo remains the same.

Even throughout the '90s, as the world stood on the cusp of a digital photography revolution, instant photography found a renaissance in popularity as a younger market enjoyed the thrill of gratification that comes from instant photos.

Despite being a decade out from feeding the social media juggernaut that became Facebook, instant photos, while undeniably personal and shown only to a privileged few, became the genesis of a culture of sharing personal content.

Under the hood

Embracing the modern digital photo mentality of 'shoot first, see what you photographed later', the Sofort accommodates versatile shooting styles thanks to a variety of automatic modes. Using ISO 800 Instax film, the 60mm (34mm equivalent standard) lens captures images up to 1/400 of a second, with the f12.7 stop ensuring each shot achieves great focal depth; from selfie to wide panoramic. A variety of flash settings encourage creativity at the press of a button.

Although the company has abandoned a number of the physical features for which it has became known, such as those chunky dials, the Leica Sofort's large screen viewfinder – similar to the design of the new Leica T – affords all the functions and controls needed.

Leica wouldn't be the first prestige brand to leverage the halo-effect of its legacy to encourage interest in a low-cost product, nor will they be the last. Displaying the company's unmistakable understated style, the Leica Sofort is a gateway to instant photographic gratification in a sophisticated and functional package.

At this price, it will be the cheapest Leica camera you ever own.