The cost of my M4 body (bought new overseas) spread over 41 years of use comes to $5 per year. The lenses, mostly older, are even more of a bargain. For some, Leica is a status symbol. For others, a fine example of craftsmanship and function. For me, an inexpensive tool. The seven vehicles I've bought new in those 41 years each cost many times as much as the complete Leica outfit, and I have only of of them now. That makes Leica seem like a great bargain.
Does that calculation include how it is that you (or your heirs) could sell that M4 now for several times more than you paid for it 41 years ago? USD $205 in 1970. Wow. What would it bring now?
It appears to me that the true cost of owning a Leica M, or any camera, is something like this:
(Purchase Price) less (Selling price adjusted for inflation, plus maintenance)
By this measurement, Leica M is very reasonable to own, more so than many alternatives perceived to be better values. The OP's concern about "astronomical prices" only looks at the first element in the equation. So it misses the point of true ownership cost altogether.
There can also be a cost to swapping about on the way up to what we needed in the first place.
A Certified Dinosaur
Nikons F, F2, D700, Leica M3, & Kiev 4a
I do agree that many Leica cameras have astronomical prices that many people simply cannot afford. But then again I cant think of any othr company who has offered what they do (in terms of craftsmanship, style, quality in optics and hardware, etc) so prolifically.
Capitalism has a hard time applying value to intangibles, that's something the buyer must provide. I say if you can sleep at night, pay what you want and move on. That said, I'm still puzzled by the early Summicron's reputation for scratched front elements. Sounds like sloppy optical design, no matter how good the image out of the box. I'm Nikon, cradle-to-grave, but would appreciate clarity about that choice of (soft?) coatings. What were they thinking? No flames please.
Originally Posted by tron_
Amazing how much interest this has stirred up! Leicas are a bit like the Brazilian rainforest, most will not visit, but great to know that it is there. However, everyone should try(not necessarily buy) a Barnack Leica just for the sensation of amazing quality.
The M Leicas don't quite have that "feel" but are much more usable cameras all the same. This probably sums up the Nikon verus Leica debate. If you really like shooting with rangefinders (and I do) then you really can't compare a Nikon F to an M3, they are completely different beasts.
I use a very beat up M2 with an array of CV lenses as you can buy a complete set for the cost of one Leica lens. I do have an old 50mm Summicron as well, but in reality the Cosina lenses are great image makers. If the M2 fails, I would most likely just buy a CV R2 or similar to replace it....still nice to have a Leica though!
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By analogy, I've spent years studying fine old Italian violins, including Strads, Guarneris, and others, which are perhaps poster children for expensive "mystique" items (I maintain one of the largest databases in the world). There are a few observations I would like to make, which may or may not be relevant to this discussion. I do not mean to hijack the thread..
-Price (as much as $millions) simply reflects an extreme case of supply and demand. Supply is a few hundred, demand is millions.
-Price does not relate directly to sound quality, in fact professional appraisers do not play the instruments.
-Part of the element of price is high markup by elite dealers who are highly paid
-Repeated blind tests over many years show that even educated listeners cannot tell the difference between a good modern violin and an expensive old Italian master violin.
-Studies of materials, glue, varnish, etc indicate no consistent differences between them and the materials available today to make new ones.
-Value is highly tied to condition, as well as to certain preferred eras within makers' lives.
To tie this to Leicas, I would ask whether Leicas are in very limited supply, but very high demand? Do competing or new brands perform just as well? Can people generally tell little or no difference looking at photos by Leicas vs other good cameras? Are materials or engineering significantly better than other makes?
Or does it mostly boil down to mystique, and simply a camera version of the Stradivari violin?
Comparing those ultra-rare, unplayed violins-as-fetish-objects with something
1) that's pretty readily available in decent condition and still being produced,
2) functions to a gernerally very high standard compared to many other mechanical objects
3) is relatively unique compared to anything else available on the market (save the Bessas, which IMHO are a great boon to the Leica marque and user community) and
4) holds value for users, of which there are many, as well as collectors
doesn't seem to hold much water.
Most Leica owners are likely users who like both their machines and the results they can get with them, despite the well-represented and well-heeled collector crowd. Go onto any photo forum and Leica owners will be there. Not easy to find a Stradivarius player on a musician's forum, I imagine.
And as you pointed out, no one owns a Stradivarius because they like the way it sounds when they play it.
There's definitely mythology and exaggeration and downright bullshit surrounding the Leica, which can be offputting when dealing with something that costs a bunch more than a used Nikon FM and early AI lenses, but the machine itself is what it is.
And Leica's not the only camera company that's put out ridiculous collector editions or commands a high price for a historical model in pristine condition.
Well, they are nowhere as limited in supply as an exotic violin. But there is considerable demand for the ones out there. Perhaps that explains the prices they command in the used market space.
To tie this to Leicas, I would ask whether Leicas are in very limited supply, but very high demand?
By what measure? The pictures, in handling, intuitive use, access and operation of controls, durability, social statement, pride of ownership, retained value? Some newer cameras may perform better by some measures, but probably not all.
Do competing or new brands perform just as well?
This is probably true. A good imagemaker's images will come through no matter what tools he uses. A cheap Fed or Zorki with a good Zeiss copy lens just might work splendidly in his capable hands. Likewise, a poet can write a poem with a five cent pencil or with an $850 Montblanc 149. The message will come through. He might like using that nice pen better, however.
Can people generally tell little or no difference looking at photos by Leicas vs other good cameras?
Maybe not altogether better materials. I have read that the creator of the first Canon copy of a Leica was taken aback by the fact that there were no exotic materials in the Leica of that time (early 1930s). And he set out to make an equally good clone of that camera for less. I understand that Canon missed the mark by not getting the thread pitch exactly right. IIRC, the Leica of the time had an English system derived thread pitch of 25 tpi which was close, but not exactly 1 thread per mm (25.4 tpi). But that early Canon probably was comparable to the Leica of which it was greatly a copy.
Are materials or engineering significantly better than other makes?
Engineering may be better with the Leica M by reason of the fact that it is well conceived and not loaded down with useless "features" that can get in the way of one who actually knows how to use a camera. Fit, finish, and smoothness and relative quietness of the shutter put it above many me-too cameras, IMO.
I would be interested in the opinions of users of Zeiss Ikon's M body who may be Members here. That Cosina camera looks to have lots of M-like culture to it, maybe even surpassing the M in some ways.
A Certified Dinosaur
Nikons F, F2, D700, Leica M3, & Kiev 4a
To my knowledge there are three manufacturers that have and or are still producing 35mm film Rangefinders in the 21st Century: Voigtlander Bessa (Cosina), Zeiss Ikon via Cosina, and Leica. Leica still sells the M7 and MP film line alongside the M9 and S2 to this day. So if you want a modern body with bright viewfinders and quality, I doubt anything beats a modern day MP. I mean an M3 is the standard that these newer cameras are judged by, but hell, you can buy a brand new Leica M7 or MP fresh off the Solms factory floor.
T42 basically summed it up for me. The red dot has its attractions from a prestige standpoint, but it's backed by engineering and a company that delivers. My Leica lust object is the M4. It was the M of choice during the Vietman War for Leica togs. If the M can survive the mud, heat, jungle and war, it can survive me. Hopefully within 2012 I'll have an M4 to call my own.
If the R3M had a reliability track record (and long term repair viability) of the M2/M3/M4, I'd have no qualms going that route instead.
I've been using cheaper lenses (FSU, Canon, Yashinon) for the most part and have been happy with the results. I find the red dot branding a turn-off.
At the same time I'd love a M because I want a camera that is likely to remain useable as long aa possible - say until 2060 or so. The M4 is the sweet spot for me as well as I shoot 35/50/135 lenses.