Camera Owners Can Be Ruthless, Learns New York Times Author Writing on Leica’s Eye-Popping Prices, With Photos to Match

Over at Leica forums the article is named and shamed — mainly because Ken Rockwell (who at least has made a name for himself) is interviewed as a Leica authority. But leaving personal grudges aside, the New York Times article Leica Cameras Have Eye-Popping Prices, With Photos to Match is a good read — and Rockwell’s statements are accurate in spirit.

Fact is, Leica cameras aren’t cheap, costs are a factor and even honorable Luminous Landscape’s Michael Reichman recently concluded that, for various reasons, he might skip the latest Leica M incarnation, the M Typ 240:

I am no longer in a great rush to actually buy one. I have a couple of other cameras that do a very nice job with my M lenses, and while not necessarily offering the absolute resolution or other possible IQ advantages of the M, do a quite admirable job and are suitable for my current needs. I reserve the right to change my mind (depending also on the state of my bank account at some future point in time), but for the moment I’ll live without a Leica M, the first time that this has been true in some 40+ years.

Cost is a factor. “A complete Leica setup, including a camera and lenses, can cost as much as $20,000,” knows the Times. The question is, asks the article’s author Nick Bilton, whether your love of photography — and perhaps your skill — runs deep enough to justify dropping enough money to buy a car, on a camera.

BTW, shortly after publishing his Leica piece Bilton wrote an update — A Lesson Learned About the Intensity of Camera Enthusiasts. It’s an absolute must-read article which says a lot about keyboard warriors who know so much about photography — but never seem to leave the forums. Leica gear clearly seems to bring out the best, and worst, in people. And I quote:

Within hours of the piece being published online, my inbox filled with vehement messages from all kinds of photographers and camera fans. They took to Twitter and Facebook, too.

The Canon faithful attacked me for not writing a similar profile on Canon cameras, which, they noted that in their opinion are the only camera worth buying. The Nikon owners denounced Leica, calling it a waste. There were even film camera enthusiasts who came to the defense of film. But none of the comments were more vehement than those of the Leica owners.

Leica owners picked through every detail of the article, many sending long emails to complain that the experts I quoted in the article were not really “experts” at all, and that they, the people sending me emails and leaving comments, knew more about Leica cameras.

A homeless man in Munich in front of a government building. Taken with the Leica M Monochrom and 28mm Summicron. | Nick Bilton / New York Times
A homeless man in Munich in front of a government building. Taken with the Leica M Monochrom and 28mm Summicron. | Nick Bilton / New York Times

Passions can rise so high on many of the serious camera websites, Bilton learns, that reviews even come with warnings and disclaimers to readers. And even Steve Huff gets quoted, and I can only sympathize with Steve.

Now back to the original Leica story, here the key quotes that are oh so controversial…:

For most people, the Leica is absolutely the wrong camera. But if you’re really, really dedicated to the craft, then the pictures it can take are beautiful.

We learn, surprise, that focusing with a Leica rangefinder is not as easy as just snapping a picture with your iPhone. In the end it’s all about the glass:

The Leica lenses are so special because they are smaller, faster and sharper (…) The Leica glass adds that special ethereal quality to the image that no DSLR can match.

And on the completely manual photographing experience:

The control I have with a manual Leica makes me realize that today’s abundance of buttons and features on most cameras often makes people take poorer pictures.

There are, however, drops of bitterness, says the author. Although Leicas are tough and rugged, if your camera does break, be prepared to wait a couple of months for it to be fixed. If you do buy a Leica, it will also take a long time to become completely used to the rangefinder and manual setup. Leicas are in such high demand that there is a three-month wait to purchase several of the latest models.

To conclude with H.E. Rockwell:

Don’t think that if you buy a Leica you’re going to be taking the same photos as the world’s best photojournalists. The camera doesn’t take good pictures; the person holding it does.

(via NYT)


  • B. D. Colen

    My first ‘real’ camera was a used Leica IIIC. Over the years I shot with M2s and 3s, M4ps, and in my final film days with three Leica M6 TTLs and a pair of Nikon F100s. I have owned and used Leica lenses from the dual range Summicron, through the current 21, 28, 35, and 90 aspherics. There is no question Leica makes the world’s best glass. There also is no question that today’s Leicas are neck jewelry, status symbols, not “must have” tools for all but the tiniest fraction of working photographers. There also is no question that, in terms of producing electronic camera bodies, Leica is very much an also ran.

    • In a few words you’re explaining what countless forum punters haven’t yet found an answer for.

  • PWL

    Well , as a Leica user for 18 years, from IIIfs to M9s, I have frankly never understood the Cult of Leica–that is, the rabid Leica fanatics who insist that the can be No Other Camera. Ditto for the rabid Leica haters , who are just about as irrational.

    And I must say the same about the equally crazed fans of Canon and Nikon, who insist that their brand is the Only True Camera. Way I see it, ANY good camera brand will take photos just about as good as any other camera brand–bear in mind how much of the shot is due to the photographer.

    There’s room for ’em all, in my opinion. In my time, i have shot with such underdog brands as Minolta & Olympus, and gotten results out of them which rival my Leicas. In fact, these days, my Olympus EM-5 sees more action than my Leicas–which, I guess in the eyes of the Leica Cultists, makes me a blasphemer and apostate…