Sunday Musings: photography isn't expensive, even for Leica owners

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by Karim Ghantous, Jan 15, 2022.

  1. Photography isn’t expensive, and you don’t have to make that many compromises to get the photos you want, either. If you are a pro, semi pro or serious enthusiast, a Leica system is more affordable than you would think prima facie.

    But I’m going to show this indirectly. It’s not the cameras that are expensive, it’s your lifestyle that is. I’m going to keep this in USD to keep it simple. I am not an American resident though, so keep that in mind.

    The typical range of salaries in America for 2021 was between $62K and $72K. That’s really pretty good, although it doesn’t sound like a lot. But, purchasing power is always relative. If you’re spending 95% of your $100K salary, you’re less well off than the person who is spending 90% of his $50K salary.

    I’m all for buying new cars, but that’s if you can easily afford them. A new Volkswagen hatchback is, say, around $20K or more. But a really well looked after used car, whether the same brand or not, can be 1/2 of that price, depending on what compromises you are prepared to accept.

    But it’s not only the big purchases that cost money. It’s also all the little ones that you really don’t need.

    The mean price of a new car in 2021: $46,000 (according to Consumer Reports). PlayStation 5: $700 or so. Games for PS5: $30ea. iPhone 13 Pro: $1,000. Chanel No.5 1/2oz: $180. An evening at a nightclub: $100. Two coffees per day: $1,000+ pa. Typical vacation (within CONUS): $1,000+. Typical vacation to Europe: $2,500 - $4,500. Adobe subscription just for PS and LR: $120 pa. Concert ticket: $100. Designer sunglasses: $200 - $1,100. Designer t-shirt: $40+.

    (Cost of not investing any of your money: more expensive than anything above.)

    Living life well - a vast subject outside the scope of this site - does not mean you can’t have nice things. It doesn’t mean you should be a miser, or skimp on important things. It means you have to have your priorities.

    For many, the cost of all the above, and then some, isn’t anything compared to a Phase One XF system. But if you’re not a full time pro, you would likely not be using a new Phase One kit anyway. Even if you are a pro, medium format isn’t necessarily appropriate for your subject matter.

    Let’s also be clear that some items in the above list aren’t as expensive as they appear. A new iPhone is $1,000, but even if you upgraded every year, you would probably sell your old one immediately afterwards, unless you wanted a back-up. There are lots of variables.

    So, how much is a Leica kit, and is it justified? If you are like a lot of Leica owners, your camera usually lasts a long while. Or, if you upgrade every 4 years or so, you can get good trade-ins, as the prices of Leica cameras tend to depreciate less than other brands. (But just keep in mind that cameras are meant to be used, not treated as museum pieces).

    If we’re going from new prices, here is the price of an arbitrary Leica M kit:

    Leica M11: $9,000

    Leica 21 Super-Elmar: $3,400

    Leica 28 Elmarit: $2,700

    Leica 50 Summicron: $2,800

    Leica 90 Macro-Elmar: $4,000

    Total: $21,900​

    Or, an SL2 kit:

    Leica SL2: $6,900

    Leica Super-Vario-Elmar 16-35: $6,300

    Leica 24-90 Vario-Elmarit: $5,600

    Total: $18,800​

    This doesn’t take into account second bodies. Most of us actually need two. Perhaps substitute the new M11 for a pair of used M10’s. Or swap the SL2 for a pair of SL2-S’s, bringing up the total there to $21,900.

    This also doesn’t take into account VC primes for the M11, or Sigma and Panasonic primes for the SL2.

    Expensive? Yes. Out of the reach of the average person? If photography is your life, and if you are not desperately needy for a $46K car or annual overseas vacations, the answer is evidently no.

    P.S. After I wrote this draft, I came across this video while searching for M11 reviews. It is about how to find the best value on a budget. It's similar subject matter to this post. There is a second part, which I haven't listened to yet. It’s what I would call a ‘Sunday magazine’ type presentation:

    movingfinger likes this.
  2. Dunno what to say. 1K€/$ should buy a month of existence, as a student or expat. But "saving up for Leicas" is surely a right thing to attempt; it will grant the cash needed to be thrown at more serious financial emergencies.
    Did your search for M11 reviews reveal a list of less suited lenses? The 60MP are a huge jump in resolution from M9's 18, on which almost everything seemed working well enough. My uninformed guess would be that everything not "apo" could disappoint, when resolution is the goal.
  3. I like Roger Cicala's (Lens Rentals) comments on this...

    If you have a reasonably good lens and/or a reasonably good camera, upgrading either one upgrades your images. If you ask something like ‘is my camera going to out resolve this lens’ you sound silly.

    The appendix at the bottom of this article..

    More Ultra High-Resolution MTF Experiments

    In the appendix at the bottom of the page: Why Perceptual Megapixels are Stupid
    Jochen likes this.
  4. Years ago I did a study of the prices (corrected for inflation, etc.) for common items in the Sears and Montgomery-Wards catalogues going back to the 1890s.

    I found that in terms of comparable items, here the cost of a full professional photography outfit, the items evolved rapidly, but the cost of the kit was (corrected) very stable- - that is, that the numbers of hours of work necessary to buy the kit remained fairly constant.
  5. It is highly unlikely that a person living in the US earning about $70K, without any other financial support, would be able to drop $22K - $26K into their B&H cart (before sales tax) and add that amount to their CC balance. (note that you forgot the pro tele zoom for the Leica L system - about $7.3K). Folks who make a living doing this, and need to justify their purchases on an ROI basis could buy a Canon R5 plus the 3 required f2.8 zooms for about $11.9K. I would think that a similar kit in Nikon Z / Sony A / Panasonic L flavor would price out at a similar amount. A person with a pile of disposable income could certainly write the check for a new Leica kit as described above or if financially frugal, accumulate a Leica M kit slowly with used options as they can afford to do so. For many pros and amature photograpers, a 60mp Leica M for $11K, without AF, zooms, long lenses, WA lenses (that don't require an accessory VF to use), macro lenses, or fast continuous frame rate, may not be all that useful.
  6. Photography is expensive if your country uses valueless "Mickey Mouse" money , good used equipment , (which is hard to find here) notwithstanding :D.
  7. My M240 was cheap to buy..

    Say, compared to the offerings from Sony, Nikon etc.

    Hey, it is a Leica..
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2022
  8. Do we really need 60 million pixels? 24 million is already a overkill.

    Leica is really about the rangefinder and lenses. I cannot imagine any Leica owner counting pixels. But the fondlers would I suppose. My Leica M240, still has all the packaging, including on the live view screen..

    You can use them to photos. Really.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2022
    allancobb and mjferron like this.
  9. My Z5 was $999 on Black Friday. Yeah I know it’s not a Leica but if using quality old Nikon glass like my 28mm 2.8 AIS and AIS 55 F2.8 and utilize focus peaking and magnification it make a pretty decent manual focus camera. I do not have 21k to invest in camera equipment but if I did then the M11 would be tempting. Maybe when I sell the house and downsize? Who knows. Affordable is relative.
    James Bryant likes this.
  10. As I get older I intend to increase my living space. I also am healthier in my mid 40s than I was in my 20s (although I was never overweight).

    I also intend to continue to improve the quality and quantity of my photography. If I can do that with cameras I really really like, all the better.

    Then again, our lives have cycles. Some long term, some short term. I have owned a total of a dozen Leicas and I bought my first one in my 20s. I have not had a Leica since about 2015. That's fine though, because I love delayed gratification.

    If the M11 gives others the chance to get M10's and M240's at good prices, that alone justifies it, even to those who don't want to pay for one.
  11. Good point though Leica cameras hold their resale value quite well.. I upsized my house 11 years ago in my late 50’s. Housing prices have exploded around here and I could live mortgage free in a different area in a downsized house with a M11 in the bag.
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  12. I like Hugh’s suggested three lens setup.

    I have a 50mm f2 version 5 and the 24mm f3.8 Elmar. For the 90mm I don’t have an Elmarit but do have a Canadian final version of the 90mm f2 Summicron f2 pre-ASPH that came from Tamarkin in like-new condition in the original box. I wound up sending it to Leica to have it six-bit coded and serviced/calibrated. Performs like a champ.

    The 24mm f3.8 Elmar used on my M262 is one outstandingly sharp optic.
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  13. Oh, and that 135mm f3.4 APO Telyt-M....highly recommend it too.





  14. I have heard nothing but good things about it. I would consider it. I'm always up in the air about lens sets. 24, 35, 75, 135 vs 21, 28, 50, 90. The tyranny of choice!

    ATM I'm testing a Canon P with a 50/1.8 by taking it with me on my evening walks. But that's for another thread maybe.
  15. Leica is legendary brand, was used by famous photographers, but now its more like luxury item. Doesn't really add to quality of pictures.
    Just like Rolex vs Timex, both are perfect at timekeeping.
  16. My dream Leica is a Leica Q3. I do regret selling all my Leicas, R and M, but it was financially necessary for me in order to make the digital transition at the time. I would like an M11, but I don't think I could ever afford one now.
  17. It really depends on your priorities. I wouldn't mind a Phase One IQ3150. But would I buy one, if I had the funds? Nah. Unless of course I had a very specific job that justified it. Probably not going to happen.
  18. Not being fond of sitting behind a computer nor than necessary, and continuing to shoot film, I don’t know if I fit into this conversation. However, I use Leicas from my 1936 IIIa, through M3,4, and 5. (The Ms bought new). After Leitz lost control, noticed that quality gradually slipped. Current management seems to be on the right path as far as company strategy is concerned, following the examples of other luxury items. Article in WSJ yesterday discussing frequent thousands of dollars increases in handbags without resistance from willing customers. Nobody complains about high cost of Ferrari, only about difficulty getting on waiting list. Will it get you from point A to point B any better than a lot of other brands?
    If you can afford a Leica M11 without penny pinching, and it gives you joy, go for it. Doubt if pictures will be any better or worse. I have a friend who just puts a red dot on his Nikon, and he’s satisfied.
  19. One of the best features of the M11 is that it made the M10 a little cheaper. ;-)
  20. Cost is relative. For some people, an $8,000 camera is no more extravagant than an $800 camera would be for someone else, or even an $80 camera for another person. Indeed, nowadays, many (most?) people might think it's silly to buy any camera when we already have a pretty good one in our smartphone.

    When Leica announces a new camera or lens, it always provokes numerous critical comments. The commenters ridicule anyone who would pay such high prices and denounce Leica owners as snobs. It never occurs to these critics that their $500 camera would seem equally frivolous to people who are poorer.

    I've read that we tend to associate with other folks in the same approximate income bracket. We don't often associate with others who are much richer or poorer than ourselves. That tendency lulls us into thinking we are "typical." In my experience, most people can't comprehend what it's really like to be much richer or much poorer. We think we know, but we don't.

    One of my relatives works in a restaurant. Her much richer friend is getting married and has asked everyone to fly to a resort in Puerto Rico for her bachelorette party. For her and maybe for her other friends, it's a minor expense. But it isn't so minor for my relative. She's never even flown on a plane. To help her, I doubled my usual gift of birthday money. But I think a destination bachelorette party is a bit much to ask. Yet for some folks, it must seem typical.

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