Well Leica have always been a 'premium' brand, so on that basis we have to assume all those photojournalists working in war zones like Vietnam were more interested in social status than covering the story in the best possible way? Absurd I know, but you said it, you can't suddenly take a camera type that has always cost more than a Nikon and suggest it is only used as a misguided form of one upmanship. Let's throw Hasselblad into the mix while we are talking about social climbing, those astronauts went to great lengths to go up in the world, they could have used a cheaper camera.
Originally Posted by David Lyga
Let's also look at a few more social climbers, Garry Winogrand, Lee Freidlander, Robert Frank, Joel Meyerowitz, who all pathetically used a Leica because it brought them status. The M type Leica is one of the few types of camera always found wherever the world news was happening, one of the few types of cameras at the centre of world media in documentary work, one of the few types of camera at the centre of the 'arts' and the way photography was pushed forward into the Guggenheim etc. And it is still used in each of those areas nowadays. Today there will still be a photojournalist using a camera that is essentially derived from the original 1953 Leica M3. And they are bought for status you say?
If people wanted status from a camera they could pay much less. If I go out with my MP I would guess that in the last decade I might have been asked once or twice 'what sort of camera is it', and once with my M9 (which looks similar) somebody even asked if I could still buy film for it. If I go out to an event with a DSLR I get numerous questions about what lens am I using, or is this body that much better than the last. So I'll tell you what 'buying status' is in photographic terms, it is the need to be seen with a long telephoto lens on the latest Canon or Nikon, because nobody knows what a Leica is. A one day old MP is an old camera to 99.9% of the world. The only reason to buy one for the majority of photographers is that it still does its required job better than the alternatives. Much of the work it became iconic for is still there, documentary hasn't changed much in output, the arts haven't changed much in direction, publishing may now be niche but content suitable for a Leica is still extant.
Perhaps the temptation to think of an M type Leica as a status symbol is derived from the quick turnover of modern cameras. Look only at everything inside the bubble of what is available right now and an MP is anachronistic. But unlike the vast majority of modern camera's you can't separate it from its lineage of nearly 60 years. It has always been doing the same types of job, and it has remained at the same relative price point, those things have never changed. Numbers may have diminished, but it isn't realistic to think that it is social status driving more sales than actual interest photography. There are a lot of photographers who over the years have made sacrifices and gone without other things to buy a Leica. Which I think is more a commitment to their belief in their photography than seeing what they might 'get away with' cheaper.