Leica made headlines this week with the launch of its new Leica M11, a camera that’s probably the best rangefinder yet – and also one of its most expensive. With a whopping price tag of $8,995 / £7,500 / AU$13,500, it has sparked an age-old debate – can Leica cameras ever justify their price tag, or are they now merely symbols of luxury status?
Leica cameras are expensive either way, but they are also renowned for their exquisite design, exceptional build quality, great image quality, and unparalleled shooting experience. Over the years, I’ve used and reviewed several Leica cameras from the M, SL, and Q series, and thoroughly enjoyed using them. But would I buy one? This is a difficult and surprisingly complex question to answer.
I love shooting with Leica cameras because they are beautiful in every way. But I don’t have one myself and right now, have no intention of buying one. I primarily shoot with Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras because of their versatility and the wide range of quality optics they offer. And it all comes long before even thinking about the high prices Leica cameras and lenses command.
But that doesn’t mean Leica cameras can never justify their price tag to other photographers. After all, if that were the case, the company could never develop and launch cameras like the M11. Like most of Leica’s lineup, the M11 is a distinctive camera with a very specific character – and it is this, along with other factors such as their longevity and price appreciation, that make consideration of whether Leica’s price is really exorbitant. important factors to do.
How expensive are Leica cameras though? Given that its range was given a small price hike in April 2021, it’s time for a quick temperature check on the red dot tax…
Leica’s cameras are certainly the most priceless of their kind, except for the D-Lux range created in collaboration with Panasonic.
On the lower end, they start at the Leica TL2 ($2,595 / £1,720 / AU$2,900), but accelerate through the savings-shredding gear with the full-frame, fixed lens Leica Q2 Compact ($5,700 / £4,500 /AU$8,500) move on from. , Then there’s the Leica SL2, which is more like a standard full-frame mirrorless camera, but still costs $7,000 / £5,500 / AU$10,300.
However, there’s perhaps a more revealing comparison between the Leica M11 ($8,995 / £7,500 / AU$13,500) and the Sony A7R IV ($3,500 / £3,200 / AU$4,670), two cameras that likely use the same 61MP sensor. They are very different probabilities from other methods, but the scale of the price difference reflects the effect of that famous red dot. Even the Sony A1, which on paper blows the M11 out of the water, is cheaper than Leica’s new camera at $6,500 / £6,500 / AU$9,000.
With special-edition M-series cameras often pushing into five-figure territory, it’s clear there’s still a lot of Leica premium to be found. But can it be justified? It depends on a few different factors, starting with the design and build quality.
less is more
Leica cameras are handmade in Germany with top plates that are often made from a single piece of machined aluminum or brass with a brass baseplate. The craftsmanship and attention to detail are still second to none, and they are quite simply built like tanks.
The M-series cameras are also so small, quiet and unobtrusive that they have become a favorite of professional street, reportage, fashion and portrait photographers for more than 70 years. This is a group for which cost isn’t a deciding factor, but the shooting style and image quality on offer are still of the utmost importance.
The signature shooting experience of most Leica cameras focuses on the fundamentals of exposure – ISO, aperture and shutter speed. These are the three most important controls on every camera, and with the Leica M model you have direct access to them, with the other settings neatly hidden in the sumptuously designed camera menu. This means there are only a few buttons on the back of the camera along with the D-pad.
Not only does this design simplicity look amazing, but it allows photographers to focus purely on the settings that matter by not getting anything else in the way. This reverses conventional camera wisdom, which generally says that the more complex a camera, the higher its price tag. But such minimalism requires clever design of both the camera and the user interface. And like Bang & Olufsen’s speakers, that simplicity is something many people are willing to pay for—especially when their camera pays their bills.
Do Leicas Take Better Photos?
Very few, if any, professional cameras are objectively ‘better’ at taking photos than their rivals these days. Typically, professionals buy a camera for its features, size, weight, control layout and, to a lesser extent, sensor size and resolution—all with the intention of making the camera better suited to their style of photography and way of shooting.
Cameras like the Leica M11 offer a unique practical feel and discreet shooting in a small and lightweight package. Full-frame mirrorless cameras can be extremely small, and Leica has taken advantage of this by providing excellent image quality alongside smaller manual focus lenses, while maintaining their traditional Leica M design aesthetic.
Autofocus is amazing these days, thanks to incredible motion and features like Eye AF, but if Leica M series cameras offered features like autofocus and image stabilization, the size and weight of the M body and lens would need to increase significantly. . Not only will this make something completely different about the Leica M series cameras, but it will inevitably drive up the cost even more.
The sophisticated shooting experience offered by Leica M cameras is as close to traditional film shooting as you can get with a digital camera. But rather than taking a step back, it’s more about maintaining a shooting style as much as it is unique. And although there’s no video shooting available with the M11, it’s all about the ‘pure’ photographic experience – a true photographer’s camera.
Another factor in the ‘value’ debate is what happens to the price of the camera after it is purchased. There aren’t a lot of cameras made these days that can become more valuable over time. Like the fine Vine, Leica cameras are not manufactured in as large a number of models as Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus or Sony models, so each model has an inherent drawback and exclusivity.
And then there are the limited edition models that are not only collectible, but can add to the value, making them a greater investment as a great photographic tool. The limited-edition Leica M10-P Edition ‘Safari’ camera, for example, was released in 2015 and was limited to only 1,500 units.
You can buy used versions of this seven year old camera on eBay today for partially more than the original price, which equals a ‘free’ camera if you bought it at launch and it’s in good condition today. sold. It will likely be a similar story with this year’s Leica Q2 ‘007 Edition. Conversely, it’s safe to say that your average camera will only be worth about a third of its launch price after three to five years.
But let’s try to put the cost in perspective even for the ‘standard’ Leica M model. How often do you upgrade your camera? Every 2-4 years, or sooner in some cases? If you’re spending a few thousand dollars or pounds every time you upgrade, it only takes a few upgrades before you outgrow the cost of the Leica M.
Leica fans are known for hanging on to their cameras for long, sometimes lifetimes, rather than following an upgrade cycle and buying after every new model is launched. So, when you split the initial cost over a longer period of years, the cost is effectively reduced and may eventually be lower than more mainstream brands – it’s certainly food for thought.
price of admission
From my point of view, Leica cameras like the M11 and their lenses are very expensive. But that’s far from a simple conclusion and leaves me with somewhat of an internal turmoil, because I too appreciate why they’re expensive—and that’s a dichotomy we all have to come to terms with.
On the one hand, Leicas are highly prized for the technology they provide. But on the other hand, it is a luxury camera brand where the cameras are made by hand using high quality materials in Germany. If Leica were to mass-produce cameras like the M11 to reduce costs, the quality of the materials would need to be reduced as well and the design would inevitably take a hit. So will Leica lose much to make its cameras so unique and special?
Leica cameras offer a unique set of features that meet the needs of a specific set of professionals working directly as well as the lucky hobbyist who can afford them and are used to paying for premium brands. But there is more to ponder over; Leicas tend to keep their value much better than other cameras, and in some cases, they can increase in value due to their scarcity and limited edition, so it may even be seen as an investment.
The limited-edition ‘Drifter’ M monochrome with a snakeskin, produced with composer Lenny Kravitz, is one such example. And in this state of scarcity and collectibles, a Leica camera essentially pays for itself. So, if you can afford the initial cost and you need the shooting style they can afford, Leica cameras can be a great option for some. For the rest of us, we may just have to keep dreaming.
- The Leica M11 camera phone is a glorious relic in the age of convenience