Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2010/03/10

[Author Prev] [Author Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Author Index] [Topic Index] [Home] [Search]

Subject: [Leica] Leica prices
From: Frank.Dernie at (Frank Dernie)
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2010 10:09:06 +0000
References: <> <>

Hi Phil,
I don't remember exactly how old you are but FWIW I did not earn enough to 
buy a Leica until I was in my 30s and bought my first new Leica, a R6.2 I 
already had a used M6, in my late 40s. I have only bought 4 new Leicas in my 
life, the last 3 being M8, M8.2 then M9 I only bought new because used was 
not yet a possibility. I have only bought 2 new Leica lenses, the two 
tri-elmars, I have bought dozens used.

Larry must have been incredibly rich in 1966, by UK standards at least. I 
got my first job in 1968 and a M3 with Summicron would have cost me over 2 
years net salary, at that time. Whilst quoting the 1966 price makes current 
Leica items -seem- expensive, they always have been. In the UK at least a 
Nikon F series camera used to be 2 to 3 times less expensive than a Leica, 
whereas nowadays my M9 cost less than my Nikon D3x.

For me there are several points worth noting.

Canon are reputed to make a loss on every EOS 1D-series body sold, but 
accept it since it is a premium product which gives them a good image to 
help sell the mega profitable cheaper items that sell by the million. Leica 
can not do that, and could never have a multi-million selling cheap body to 
subsidise them. A Canon EOS 1Ds mk3 is much more expensive than a M9.
Amortising design and development cost over so few cameras, even where every 
part possible is carried over from past models to minimise production cost, 
will make every unit pricy. A Leica unit probably has to carry 20 to 50 
times more R&D cost in its price than a Canikon.

Leica probably makes their only profit from lenses. Guys like us that buy 
secondhand are the reasons why new stuff can be sold expensively, buyers 
know the total cost of ownership is not too bad. I am in the process of 
downsizing, my Leica lenses are, almost without exception, worth more than I 
paid for them. My Canon lenses, despite being mint, are probably worth about 
25% of what I paid. Most of them were bought used too, BTW.
The Asph lenses do indeed have moulded aspherical surfaces, with one 
exception, I believe the 90mm f2 asph element is too large in diameter to be 
formed thus. OTOH the ceramic dies for the pressing process are 
spectacularly expensive, so again, for Leica the amortisation cost per lens 
is probably 20-50 times more than a Canon moulded asph lens.

I am not sure that Leica is that much more expensive, relative to Nikon, 
say, than in the 60s. The USA was pretty much spectacularly richer than any 
other country at that time. Now it is not, and the relative wealth of 
Europe, Japan, China, Russia and the USA is -much- different than then. Not 
accepting that changes in global wealth and currency values plays a part in 
why Americans perceive Leica as more expensive is a bit "Ostrichesque".
I think Leica lenses were very good value for quite a few years, 
particularly used. The price has risen substantially since a digital M has 
been available, almost certainly a supply and demand affect.

Two things are certainly true. Leica is not the automatic professional 
choice of miniature camera, as it may have been way back then, in fact it is 
in a tiny niche. Leicas are indeed very expensive, but in my world always 
have been.


On 9 Mar, 2010, at 18:31, Philip Forrest wrote:

> Very nice. I've never bought any new Leica equipment. With this factory
> warrantied pre-owned M8 + two filters, maybe they are losing money, but
> I doubt it. The only way I'll be able to own a brand new Leica anything
> is if I win the lottery (I don't play so that's out), receive a large
> inheritance (nobody in my family has anything to pass down, so scratch
> that one), or save up for the better part of a year and purchase
> through the student program. At my current rate of income, that's
> impossible. Last year I only made $4k more than an M9 body alone, but I
> get by.
> The cameras and lenses are that expensive because people continue to
> pay for them at Leica's prices. This is why I buy everything used and
> also off-brand. I love the camera gear I've earned over the last 10 or
> so years. It's the best I can afford and I use it all, therefore it's
> the best to me.
> Leica has priced themselves out of the range of most of the new
> generation of photographers with an interest in shooting the best. As
> we grow older and Leica loses their adherents due to age, the company
> is going to falter because in this day and age most people cannot
> rationalize using a $7000 camera with a $3000 lens when the same
> results can be had from a used version at half the price or less of the
> lens and body. Or even some other alternative which is even cheaper.
> They have to innovate and cut prices or they will die with the baby
> boomer generation, then I'll be forced to shoot Nikon or Canon SLR's
> which I'd rather not do (it's just personal preference). 
> I was talking about this last night with my best friend who is a
> photographer out in LA and he said "who the hell would buy a $4500
> prime lens?!" We both agreed that if we had unlimited funds kicking
> around we would, but for the price of a 35mm ASPH 'lux, you could buy a
> D700 and two very, very nice Nikkors. That's the kind of kit one builds
> a freelance journalist business on. Our question is will there be
> enough people in the coming 20 years who will both be financially able
> and willing to buy such ridiculously priced goods to keep Leica alive?
> With war, health care, war, oil, food, water, energy, soil, housing and
> every other service & commodity price going up the world over, the
> answer is most likely "No."
> But that's just my opinion.
> Phil Forrest
> On Tue, 9 Mar 2010 12:35:51 -0500
> Lawrence Zeitlin <lrzeitlin at> wrote:
>> Let me say at the outset that if Leica had buyers like me to count on
>> they would have gone bankrupt years ago. I've only purchased four new
>> items from Leica in 50 years. In 1954 I bought a brand new M3 (first
>> edition) with an Elmar 50 mm lens. Because I wasn't sure how the new
>> camera would perform, I bought a IIIF with a 50mm Summicron at the
>> same time figuring I would dispose of one later. Both cameras were
>> bought at a duty free airport store for the princely sum of $154
>> each. I still have the receipts to prove it. And incidentally, I
>> still have both cameras. The M3 held up very nicely, thank you.
>> In 1973 I bought a CL with its 40 mm Summicron. I believe I paid
>> about $375 at a large NYC camera store. For years it was my favorite
>> travel camera. Finally in 1999 I bought my first really functional
>> digital, a Leica Digilux Zoom. It cost a bit more than $400 from B&H
>> and came with a Photoshop disc. This 1.3 MB Digilux camera was made
>> by Panasonic and simply rebadged as a Leica.
>> All my other Leica equipment, and I have a drawer full, was bought
>> used at camera stores or pawn shops. Fortunately my university office
>> was in the middle of NYCs Gramercy Park photo district, one block
>> from Leica's USA headquarters. Cheap Leicas were available as fashion
>> photographers abandoned their Leicas to move to Nikon and Canon SLRs
>> and Hassleblads.
>> That being said, at one time Leica had very competitive prices. I
>> have in my hand a Leica catalog from 1966. That was the year that
>> Leica stood atop the heap of quality camera sales. A new M3 SS body,
>> reputedly the best 35mm camera ever made, sold for $288. With a 50 mm
>> Summicron, the highest resolution normal camera lens that Modern
>> Photography ever tested, the price was $438. A Leica M2 body was $249.
>> Lenses too were cheap. A rigid 50mm Summicron was $150. If you wanted
>> the lens in a a dual range mount with an optical viewing unit, you
>> paid $189. A 35mm Summicron f2.0 was $163. The 35mm f1.4 Summilux was
>> $198. Other Leica equipment was similarly low priced. The 50mm
>> optical bright line viewfinder sold for $19.50 and no other
>> viewfinder cost more than $54. For those of you that have agonized
>> over the price of Leica lens caps, be aware that in 1966, a chrome
>> cap for a 50mm Summicron cost $1.95.
>> But that was in 1966, 44 years ago. How do those prices compare with
>> today's prices. The cost of living in the US has increased at an
>> average rate of 4.1 percent a year since WW2. In the 44 years since
>> 1966, living costs have increased 5.86 fold. I bought a Volkswagen in
>> 1966 for about $1200, gasoline was $.39 a gallon, and a Sunday issue
>> of the New York Times cost $.50. Assuming that Leica prices tracked
>> the cost of living index, a Leica M3 with Summicron, if available
>> new, should cost about $2600. The body alone should cost about $1700.
>> The M2 about $1500. But I assume that by this time all the machinery
>> and development costs of the cameras would have been amortized many
>> times over and automatic production process employed so the cameras
>> should actually cost less to make.
>> So why is the M9 and its associate lenses so expensive. Don't give me
>> any bullshit about the relative ratio of the Euro to the dollar. Or
>> the increase in costs of optical glass. The material costs of a Leica
>> are trivial compared to the sales price. Electronics are supplied by
>> various vendors and there is a ready sully of silicon foundries. For
>> most technical industries, labor costs are 85% of manufacturing costs
>> and labor cost track the consumer price index quite well.
>> I'm sure that no one on the LUG will claim that the M8 and M9 are
>> superior mechanically to the M3, in fact just the opposite. Once a
>> lens design is established and the glass grinding techniques worked
>> out, the manufacturing process of a modern lens and older Summicrons
>> are nearly identical. Aspherics are generally molded, by the way, not
>> ground. I'm sure that not even Leica will claim that you get three
>> times the picture quality from a $3000 lens compared to a $1000 lens.
>> In fact only marginal improvements, if that, have been reliably
>> demonstrated over the picture quality for far less expensive Nikon
>> lenses.
>> So we must conclude that Leica pricing is market driven and has
>> comparatively little to do with actual manufacturing costs. Just as
>> DeBeers diamonds would sell for a fraction of their price if the
>> market was uncontrolled, Leica prices are inflated because the
>> company has decided to market them as luxury goods. The professional
>> market for Leicas, except possibly for LUG members, is so small as to
>> be inconsequential. But get Leicas into the hands of rich and
>> powerful, or celebrities, and you have a viable "must have" ego
>> boosting item.
>> Comparative picture quality be damned, "It costs more but I'm worth
>> it."
>> Now I feel better. But I won't be buying any new Leicas.
>> Larry Z
>> _______________________________________________
>> Leica Users Group.
>> See for more information
> _______________________________________________
> Leica Users Group.
> See for more information

In reply to: Message from lrzeitlin at (Lawrence Zeitlin) ([Leica] Leica prices)
Message from photo.forrest at (Philip Forrest) ([Leica] Leica prices)