The transformation of leucine incorporation rates to prokaryotic carbon production rates requires the use of either theoretical or empirically determined conversion factors. Empirical leucine-to-carbon conversion factors (eCFs) vary widely across environments, and little is known about their potential controlling factors. We conducted 10 surface seawater manipulation experiments across the world's oceans, where the growth of the natural prokaryotic assemblages was promoted by filtration (i.e., removal of grazers [F treatment]) or filtration combined with dilution (i.e., also relieving resource competition [FD treatment]). The impact of sunlight exposure was also evaluated in the FD treatments, and we did not find a significant effect on the eCFs. The eCFs varied from 0.09 to 1.47 kg C mol Leu−1 and were significantly lower in the FD than in the F samples. Also, changes in bacterial community composition during the incubations, as assessed by automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA), were more pronounced in the FD than in the F treatments, compared to unmanipulated controls. Thus, we discourage the common procedure of diluting samples (in addition to filtration) for eCF determination. The eCFs in the filtered treatment were negatively correlated with the initial chlorophyll a concentration, picocyanobacterial abundance (mostly Prochlorococcus), and the percentage of heterotrophic prokaryotes with high nucleic acid content (%HNA). The latter two variables explained 80% of the eCF variability in the F treatment, supporting the view that both Prochlorococcus and HNA prokaryotes incorporate leucine in substantial amounts, although this results in relatively low carbon production rates in the oligotrophic ocean.