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Leica: Is it really worth the price tag?

By Anthony Thurston on March 13th 2013

leica

No doubt if you have been into photography for any amount of time you have heard of the Leica and the expensive price tag that the name demands. I, like most of you, have never even touched a leica but I assumed the image quality and features were top notch for such a price. That was until I saw these latest rankings courtesy of DxOMark in which the Leica M9, M9 P, and M-E Typ 220 earned really bad scores when compared to other DSLRs.

As you can see in the image below, when compared to the recent Nikon D600 (an entry level full frame in Nikons lineup) and the Canon 5D Mark III (Canon’s latest Pro Full Frame) the Leica M9 P ranked significantly lower.  Yet the price difference is astounding, The Nikon D600 runs for around $2000, the 5D Mark III run about $3200….. The Leica M9 P runs for $6200!

leica2

This begs the title question, is it really worth it? Is the design of the bodies and the name recognition of the brand worth an extra 3,000 to 4,000 dollars over Canon and Nikon bodies that are tested to be superior? If you are asking me, the answer would be a huge resounding no. But as I mentioned before, I have never actually used a Leica nor seen one in person…. But I find it hard to believe that by having seen or used one that my mind would be changed much.

So now I put the question to you, is a Leica worth the price tag in your eyes? Is there something that I am missing here? Let us know in the comments below.

[via Steve Huff Photo]

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Good cameras.

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  2. Ivan Horvath

    Does anyone havre any information
    On SONY Alpha?

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  3. Ivan Horvath

    Does anyone have any info on SONY alpha?

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  4. tom

    Most of these comments in favor of Leica say the lenses are why the price is high & worth it because of quality. OK I concede. So the body? Its no better than any quality ILC or DSLR they use the same sensors the real heart of a camera. Don’t believe me?lokk at the difference in quality between any medium format shot & any DSLR OF THE EXACT SAME SUBJECT.
    Now if Leica matched their body price pro rata to lens price/quality ratio that would be interesting. Check Leica forums, there are as many posts about faults as there are on Canon/Nikon forums so for 3x price the build quality is not that much better.
    A $7000 body should never have a fault but they do & just as often as any canon

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      As the dude above mentioned the Leica cameras and lenses are handmade. By trained professionals in Germany (with the electronics constructed in Portugal). They are assembled and tested and calibrated over and over until perfect.

      The build quality is much better than a typical DSLR it’s got a full magnesium frame with a solid brass top and bottom plate. I’d stand on top of my Leica without hesitation, but not any of my DSLRs. And the brass top plates are machined one piece at at time on a machined manned by an actual human being. These don’t roll off the assembly line. You have to pay a price for having actual humans work rather than robots.

      I’m not sure what you consider as a “fault”? Because they don’t have the IQ of the Canikons? I’ve had my M8 and M9-P for a long time and every once in awhile I adjust the rangefinder, which is a necessary thing, like changing spark-plugs in your car.

      I mean, the Leica isn’t the top dog in technology when it comes to sensors, but it took them a long time to get the sensors made to the exact specs that they wanted because of the limitations of the rangefinder system. They have to use their sensors longer because they need to recoup R&D. This is a privately owned company, not a conglomerate.

      In any case, if you know how to use the camera you can make great images with it. I use an M9-P to shoot concerts and I use timing to wait for the perfect light and perfect pose to get a good low-ISO shot. I also shoot concerts with the Df and the images are clean up to ISO 8000, but they don’t have the Leica look.

      It really depends on the person whether

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  5. TKSD

    Some of the price difference is in the cost of the glass but the main price difference is in the amount of time it takes a professional to hand build a Leica camera or lens. A friend of mine works for Nikon HQ and I asked him why a D4 costs US$7000, the D800 US$3500 and a D600 US$2000. Especially why the huge jump from D800 to D4? Surely it can’t all be technology?
    He explained that the main difference is that the D600 and most of the D800 is built by machines. Likewise with the prosumer lens. The machines are really accurate and precise but no one checks the clearances and alignment on every single unit prior to dispatch. In contrast, a D4 is hand-built by a well-paid Japanese professional who hand-builds, checks and calibrates every step. It apparently takes him / her a few days to build a ‘perfect’ D4. Most of the additional cost is essentially in their professional fees.
    Apparently Leica’s are the same, they hand-built, checked and calibrated each step of the way.
    (It is also apparently why some folks get absolute gem D600’s, D7000’s etc and some get dodgy – most of aligned etc, but not all).

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  6. Onno Kemperman

    Just try out a Leica and you will see the difference. I shoot with a Canon 5D markII and a Leica M9 with a summicron 35 mm 2.0. My photos with the Leica are always more crisp and contrasty. Leica is old school photography and manual focussing takes time. I prefer my Canon for studioshoots. But every time I shoot my Leica the results are always better then my Canon. Is it worth the price difference?  Maybe not, most DSLR’s give fantastic quality. But when I look at my pictures there is a difference that is hard to explain, the Leica ones always look better and it is fun to shoot with such a compact viewfinder camera.

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  7. Ricardo Consonni

    I believe having a Leica is like having a Porsche. It may not have the same (broad) overall performance as a Volvo, but it sure gets more attention from your friends – and , sure, it performs exceptionally well in what it does.
    DxOMark is biased on rating cameras according to Dynamic Range and Color Depth only (mainly because that’s what we’re really interested in). If a Weight ratio was introduced, the Canons and Nikons would rate far worse.

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  8. Dirkie Uys

    Well I haven’t used a Leica camera myself, but as for other equipment that they make I am able to give an opinion. Leica exists basically of 3 independent companies. A camera and microsystems division based in Germany and a Geosystems division based in Switzerland. I don’t have experience with the cameras or microsystems, but through profession I have used a number of geosystem products, more specifically Total Stations. These are, in the simplest explanation, a telescope that measures angles and distances.

    Well to get to the point I have used Leica primarily, but on occasion have used Trimble (American brand), pentax, nikon, etc. Of all that I’ve used the quality of the glass in the Leica is in another class.  On the pentax and nikon the refraction, as well as blur caused by latent heat made use of the instrument almost pointless. Trimble was much better but still not Leica quality.

    This difference is evident in the price. A Leica total station such as the Leica Viva runs at about R600 000, that’s about ($65000USD) whereas the nikon or pentax is about R90 000 ($9000USD). Trimble fits nicely in the middle. On board features are all about the same throughout the brands and the only significant difference I found between them was the quality of glass.

    So in my experience in the massive difference in price is primarily due to the quality of the glass.

    To get a bit technical, quality of the glass comes down, but not only, to the following : spherical aberration,coma,astigmatism and chromatic aberration.

    Spherical aberration is caused by axial rays not coming into focus at the same point due to imperfect grinding of the surfaces of the elements of the lens. The image of point thus formed is not a point, but a blurred circle,called the circle of confusion.

    Coma is similar to spherical aberration,except that it applies to the failure of oblique rays, instead od axial rays to come into focus at a point. instead of the image being a circle it is in the shape of a comet.

    Astigmatism is a condition in which lines in the object that are perpendicular to each other do not come into focus at the same image distance (image distance = distance from front of first lens element to image plane or sensor). It is caused by unsymmetrical lens surface due to imperfect grinding of the lens.

    Chromatic aberration is caused by the different refractive characteristics of the various colours which make up white light. The various colours fail to focus at the same point.

    Well this is a lot of reading and maybe pointless to most but still nice info to have. So the better the lens the better the handling of the above will be. DigitalRev’s recently had a video showing basically the difference between good and bad glass http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk5IMmEDWH4.

    Finally, a year or so back the previous CEO or MD or some high ranking official within the Leica corp. explained why the cost of Leica products were so much higher than their competitors and it all boiled down to the amount of time and money they on the glass.

    Just my opinion

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  9. Jeremy

    I have been a very heavy canon user for many years. I am an amateur photographer and very passionate about it. I own a 5D mk iii with a lot of L lenses. I love that camera a lot and would take it out everywhere, no matter if my shoulder and back would hurt from carrying all the lenses + tripod and filters (and timer)

    Recently I have bough a leica M8 and a 35mm summicron. More than the M8, I was looking for a good and sharp street lense and was curious about such a small size. And I really love it. 
    The leica lense is the sharpest lens I have ever had. And distortions are close to neal. 

    The size of the camera, and equipment is another huge benefit. Whenever I go for a walking day of shooting I can fit everything around my neck and a pocket (no bag pack) without any pain. Makes it a breeze to take it with you everywhere you go.

    It is unobtrusive. It doesn’t scare people with a big clunk clunk of the mirror release and a huge DSLR body pointing at them. If you like candid & street photography  the leica is a really good choice.

    Finally is has brought a lot of fun back in my photography. I realized I enjoyed using the leica because everything is manual. It’s like learning photography again. The learning curve is very enjoyable, and between the many bad shots, you’ll find a couple of gems that will be worth it.

    I still keep my 5D mk iii for rare uses for my job (I am a professional graphic designer), and don’t feel the leica could replace my entire photography usage/arsenal. But it definitely suits me for an everyday personal use.

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  10. Jim

    Technical note: the Leicas are Rangefinders, not DSLRs.

    I’ve never used them either, but I generally trust Steve Huff’s opinions on gear because he does not rely on strict technical test but on real world use and results for his testing. And Steve thinks highly of Leica. But note that he is also more than willing to be negative on products if he genuinely does not like something.

    Also note that other than the Sony RX-1 (which you are stuck with the fixed focal length since you cannot change lenses on it), there is no other “full frame” digital camera that is as small as a Leica. If Leica can give you decent to great RESULTS, would you rather carry a small bag with a small system or a huge heavy bag full of gear? Granted Leica is manual focus only and does not offer super telephoto lenses or macro. But for subjects where the Leica excels, I’d want one if I could afford one.

    I bought a Voigtlander film rangefinder since it was cheaper than a Leica. If they’d come out with and affordable digital version, I’d love to try it. Price is the ONLY reason I have not jumped on the Leica band wagon.

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  11. Rich

    I wonder if its the Leica Glass that justfiies everything?  Just an un-educated guess. 

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