If there is one thing in life that’s a guaranteed, nailed-on certainty it’s that when Leica releases a camera, the Internet goes crazy with comments about the price. The latest Leica M Monochrom ‘Drifter,’ designed in collaboration with musician and photographer Lenny Kravitz, is no exception. ‘My camera can take better pictures and only costs 1/8th of the price!’ posts Outraged Dave. ‘You’re just buying the brand, not the camera!’ laments Peter. ‘It’s become a piece of jewellery!’ types Curmudgeonly Chris.
The price of a Leica camera shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. They have always been extremely well engineered and designed cameras, and command a price to match. Sure, in the digital age where the defining feature is of course the sensor, it is easy to compare one camera to another by sensor alone, but that would neglect a lot of other features, including experience.
The truth is, that to some extent, most of the comments are correct. Leica cameras don’t fare much better than others in terms of image quality. The features are often lacking compared to comparable cameras, and a large part of that price is paying for that brand and a lot of hand-built precision German engineering. Let’s not get started on the lenses – I mean they are incredible bits of glass at equally incredible prices.
Unfortunately for Outraged Dave, he doesn’t get to decide the price of the latest limited-edition Leica; Leica does. And Leica bases its prices on the perceived market value. Quite simply, if people weren’t buying these limited-edition cameras, Leica wouldn’t be making them, and the fact that it is and that it currently operates from shiny new offices in Wetzlar, Germany (below) would suggest that there are more than enough people buying them.
Whether or not you will buy a Leica comes down to whether you can afford it and whether your values match the price that Leica puts on a camera. For many there is something about using a rangefinder camera that can’t be replicated. There may be a working method and familiarity from years of using a Leica M film camera, and then there are those for whom it is a thing to lust after, a lifetime wish – much like owning a Ferrari, but cheaper.
And so we come back to the angry photographers on the internet. They pour scorn over the price of Leica cameras and shout with pride that it isn’t about the camera, but about the images. Yet rather than being out taking photos and showing them off to the world, they are stuck at a computer or staring at their phone waiting to shout down the camera with some features they don’t agree with.
Full disclaimer: I once owned a Leica III and shot a few rolls of film, but have no desire to own another Leica until it does a custom model with a spalted walnut burr panel, reminiscent of a classy Mini Cooper.
Richard Sibley was formerly Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer. He now writes about cameras and photography as well as runs the Photo Gear News YouTube channel. Find him on Instagram at @richsibley.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Amateur Photographer magazine or TI Media Limited