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Tuesday, 08 September 2009

Comments

Mike,

BINGO!

I am a professional photographer. If I did not make a living, I would still make photographs. I tried the zeiss ikon it did not have the feel of a Leica. I wanted to like it as it would mean I could sell my MY^ get a zi and have a few bucks left in my pocket. As a working pro I am not rich I am struggling money wise. If a camera does not have the right feel I am not going to wrk with it as well. The Konica M camera had a long shutter delay as does my canon 5d mk 11. I do not like a camera like that for my personal work. The Zeiss just quite frankly felt like crap to me I did like the viewfinder hated the shutter sound and just did not like the feel of that camera. You get what you pay for.

Mike:

For my "money" this is "right on". Perfectly stated, well argued and it won't make any difference at all, people being people.

five stars...

Spot on, Mike.

But there is *no* conundrum, just reliable ol' human psychology. Most people seem to want something for nothing. It's an American entitlement written into the bill of rights, after all! ;^)

I mean, if we were all Buddhists, it wouldn't be any fun! And we wouldn't have names like Veblen to bandy around. Heck we might not even have Leicas...

I bought Naim gear years ago and promptly stopped reading and lusting over hi-end audio to spend my time listening: I know what I like and my point of diminishing returns.

I still haven't gotten to that point with a digital camera. The "new cameras" each year continue to do everything but get out of the way of making a photograph. Or they come close but have some Achilles' heel.

Well, enough complaining. Must go make photos, lest I become a Buddhist. ;^)

"By way of comparison, though, consider that, among audiophiles, pro audio products are considered way below standard for true high-end home stereos."

Does this mean what I think it means?

There are people who only consider music reproduction systems that are of supposedly higher quality then the systems used to capture or create said music? What fills in the difference? Hot air? Noise? Spiritual essence?

Veblen or no Veblen, that's truly beyond me.

Much of what you discuss is brand recognition and placement. In the United States, it would be more difficult to sell an automobile for $60,000 that is branded as a Toyota than if that same car were to be branded as a Lexus. If Leica were to sell cameras that were too inexpensive, it would probably hurt the brand, and make it more difficult to sell their better cameras at higher prices. On the other hand, higher prices must be accompanied by better quality, or the extra cost will not be justified by the customer, and the product will fail in the marketplace.
For example, in an attempt to capture BMW 3-series drivers, General Motors once took low-end Chevrolets, slightly restyled them, equipped them with leather interiors and different name badges, and tried to pawn them off as Cadillacs. They didn't fool many people into thinking these cars were anything other than what they really were. Those "brand managers" did much damage to GM.
If the Leica M9 is a great camera, as it initially appears to be, then the value will be there, and it will be a successful product, for both Leica and for photography.
Finally, your dissertation on high-end audio makes me grateful than I have not been hooked into that stuff!

Thank you. Very well said. Now maybe I understand why such a strong reaction. I am one of those odd people who wants a cheaper leica but respect what they do. (I own a Voigtlander Bessa T with the 50mm f 3.5 and love it.) I have other expenses that prevent me from purchasing such a dream as you have stated above. But the same goes for owning a MV Agusta motorcycle. I just don't understand why someone would be angry about them producing it.

What a fine, perceptive piece of writing! As someone who went through Marantz (back when it meant something), then Macintosh, then Krell, with speakers by JBL and then Apogee, I look back at it now and wonder what the heck got into me to spend all that money. Maybe my ears have just grown old, but today even sensibly priced audio gear sounds great. Perhaps the difference with photo gear is that to get a great picture requires some skill. Expensive stereos you just turn on, and with cars you just turn the key. Cameras and, for the same reason musical instruments, are somewhat immune to the "special sauce" syndrome because they require active involvement and real effort to master.

Some very good points made there, Mike. One of the most interesting websites I've seen recently is http://tokyocamerastyle.com/
Definitely worth a look for anyone who thinks that young people can't afford, or have no interest in, Leicas.

I have no quarrel with the lack of a $2,000 Leica digital rangefinder.

However, it would be nice to have a $2,000 Epson (or other brand) digital rangefinder.

Very interesting comments about sound systems, Mike. I like good sound as much as the next guy, but I had no idea the world of audio was that extreme. I'm totally satisfied with my $100 pair of computer speakers! A week ago I felt like a snob for telling my roommate his built-in TV speakers were lame. Now I don't feel so bad.

I have bought and sold two Leica M6 and a handful of Leica lenses. The cost of owning any individual item has never exceeded € 10 per month of ownership. OK, the initial outlay was always relatively high and I mostly bought demo items (but from authorized dealers.)

Funny, but I feel a little like a cheater when I read something as coherent and astute as this post. Somehow, I get the feeling that it should not be that I can read something intelligent or illuminating for free. I feel like I am getting away with something and that if I'm caught, it will end.

Very interesting musing. My own little story is as such. I badly wanted a Leica MP, and I was prepared to save for it, and for a couple of lenses. But. The reason I wanted the MP was the fact is all mechanical. Simplicity and unending ability to be repaired, until I wear it thin. In the end I decided to get more lenses and more technology for my money. So I got my Olympus OM-3 and all desire for the MP disappeared in thin air, I kid you not, cross my heart. Go figure.

(All I can add is that, should I choose to go the rangefinder way, I'd get a Zeiss Ikon without any doubt, and with all my heart).

"There's no Nikon ~14–24mm zoom that costs $10,000 or $20,000"

There is, however, a Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 that costs $29,000. (I think it was "only" 25K a year ago)

Interesting analogy, one I've thought about myself. 15 years ago I got caught up in the audio fervor, and wound up with a pretty good system, one that most people (and my wife) would call outrageously expensive, but that others would call "a nice starter system". I was at the Stereophile show at the Waldorf in NYC, and after the show was pretty much over I spotted Luke Manley of VTL, the man who designed my amps and who also had a $100000+ pair of amps on display. He was clearly exhausted, but gracious enough to talk a bit. I wanted to tell him how much enjoyment I got from listening to my amplifiers, and I mentioned that every time I thought about upgrading, I sat down and listened to music, and I was pleased and the urge went away. He smiled and was happy to hear this; he talked a little bit about the design choice he'd made in the amps I had (something I'd asked about, they use the unusual 807 tubes), and then he advised me to stop reading magazines. His point was that what I had made me happy, and I was only dissatisfied when I was comparing what I heard to what someone else was telling me that they'd heard. That was over 10 years ago; I've never purchased another piece of audio gear, and I'm happy with what I have (even though a complete replacement set of 12 807 tubes cost more than many audio systems).

My Canon 40D was a stretch; the lenses I've chosen, they've been a stretch, too. But I've taken some pretty nice photographs, photographs that please me (and they please my wife, far more than the stereo ever has). Do I have camera envy? Sure. I want a 5DMk2, I want a 7D, I want I want I want. But there is an easy cure. I go out and I take photographs. I learn two things. First is that the 40D is a camera that has as many features as I can possibly use. And second is that if I take my time and think out my shots, I can take some really nice photographs with it. In other words, it makes me happy, and I only become unhappy by comparing what I have to what someone else tells me I should have. Veblen goods? Sure, they're great. I love 'em. But I want to be happy.

Well, personally, I'd go for a full-frame rangefinder digital camera with a good range of interchangeable lenses that I didn't have to empty my savings account to buy.

I keep telling people to pay attention to what the thing is. But what I do I know? I'm just a cranky old bird.

For me, expensive means "what I cannot afford". The numerical value changes. One day an M9 is expensive, another it's a $50 lens.

Hey Mike,

Its been a long time since I was intimately involved with Audio but one of my all time favorite HI-FI quotes was from Mr. Wilson of WAAM fame. 20+ years ago when he was asked if he thought his $40,000.00/pair speakers were expensive, he replied; "But you do understand that I recommend two pair".

have fun,

dale

I am reminded of the $100,000 Panama hat. I just got one for $52 and it suits me well, while others cannot be seen wearing a straw hat that costs less than $25,000. There ARE people who are not price-sensitive.

A straw hat... for $100,000. A camera for $8000. Expensive is relative indeed.

The camera Veblen itch is periodically scratched by Leica offering special editions, eg the recent white M8 for $9 grand or so. Funny thing is they end up in a Japanese collector's safe.
There's a few units on ebay for mid $8's. Too cheap for my blood.... I'll wait for a special edition M9.
bd

Sometimes getting the nod from someone in the know is enough. On occasion I used to go out to take candid pictures with whatever camera I had at the time, in this case a Hasselblad, I never was bothered by anyone, since a camera that unwieldy and old looking can't possibly be worth anything. Only twice did I get a comment on it. Once walking down the street this fellow remarked that you don't see many of them out on the streets, and the second time when I was photographing a friends wedding at a country club, where one of the members said that I must be a good photographer since I was using a Hasselblad. It just feels good using a quality tool, doesn't matter if it is 4 weeks old or 40 years.

I hope that Leica manages to produce a MINI Cooper with the X1. Just the way MINI captures the spirit of driving that is essential to a BMW, the X1 should allow photographers to capture the world around them with a "pure" photographic tool that doesn't get in their way. While I may never be able to justify spending money on a BMW, I can and do throughly enjoy driving a MINI. Looking forward to what Leica brings to the table. By the way, what do you think of all the M8s that are suddenly going to depreciate tomorrow onwards?

Excellent post Mike.

Well written and something that's been on my mind lately as I ruminate over the suspected price of the M9.

Furthermore, after much thought, I believe the economics of it all sort of make sense.

Even if Leica could sell the thing for $4K, why would they? They surely would sell more. But how many of those "more" would then go and buy new Leica glass? I'm guessing not many. And how many would that "more" actually be. Again, I'm guessing not many in the big picture.

Leica must maintain its brand status. As such, it must charge a premium beyond materials and quality. Those of us who cannot afford said premium (including me) must accept it and move on with our lives (as if they're so bad!).

And I love my ZI and wouldn't trade it for any Leica (with the exception of an M9).

Incidentally, I am also nuts about photography and high end high fidelity stuff, and I used to read a lot (not any more) on hifi stuff. But I am also nuts about music, about Prince music even more...

Now back on topic, I fully agree with you: there is a huge number of extremely expensive hifi gear, whose supposedly superior quality can only justified by using magic, as there is no way to differentiate their audio quality from stuff costing 100 times less. And this is certainly missing in the photography field, even if sometimes you can read arguments from fanboys of certain brands which belong entirely to the magic category of some sensors, or some lenses and so on...

All of the above is true, and here are a few additional (and hopefully complementary) thoughts:

(1) Most of the cost of a Leica is not derived from its status as a Veblen good, or from the line of millionaires anxiously clamouring to pay ANY amount to buy one, but rather from the fact they are low-volume, high-quality, high-precision goods. Like it or not, a Leica costs the consumer more because it costs LEICA more than a D3/D3x costs Nikon or an A900 costs Sony or a 1d Mark III costs Canon. And remember, Sony, Nikon, Canon and the others eventually use the technology in their flagship cameras in their lower-end cameras. Leica doesn't. This may change insignificantly with the announcement of the Leica X1, but the R&D that went into the M8, for example, didn't wind up feeding into an M80, an M800 and an M8000. It all went into one camera. Which also helps explain why it initially had problems.

Furthermore, a small increase in the cost of MAKING a camera can lead to a very large increase in the cost of BUYING a camera, once all of the other costs in the distribution chain are taken into account. Thom Hogan has stated that the retail price of a product must generally be at least three times the product's cost (I'm paraphrasing here, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). That number might even be higher for Leica given their low volume.

What do you think the profit margin on a Nikon D3/D3x or Canon 1d Mark III or 1ds Mark III is? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the profit margin on a Leica is actually LOWER than on those cameras.

(2) Those who rail against the rich, the poseurs, the fashionistas buying Leicas as props and accessories are misguided. If more of these people buy Leicas, then they help to make Leica a more efficient and profitable company, allowing it to continue making high-quality products and supporting its continued existence. I wish MORE people would buy Leicas as fashion accessories or buy them to stick shrinkwrapped in a display case.

(3) How can a Leica be overpriced? An object is "worth" whatever someone is willing to pay for it. If there are people who are willing to buy Leicas for what Leica charges, then all is fair. Might Leica sell more at a lower price? They might briefly. But then they would be bankrupt (see #1, above).

(4) Leica is not making bags and bags of money, folks. It has repeatedly flirted with bankruptcy. Maybe the new products will turn it around, maybe not.

(5) Value is a funny thing. In the previous post, Keith B. commented that "If one shot one 36-exposure roll of pro transparency film per day, and had it developed, you'd be at approx $6600 in one year. At that rate of shooting, the M9 should pay for itself in about a year and a half." And that's without even considering the cost (in terms of money, time and opportunity) involved in scanning film or in waiting for it to be developed.

(6) By way of example:
- The D3 costs ~$5,000.
- The D700 costs ~$2,700, yet it can do 95% of what a D3 can. So the D3 is wildly overpriced, only purchased as a status symbol (I know this isn't what you're claiming, Mike) and nobody in their right mind would buy a D3 instead of a D700, right?
- The D300s costs ~$1,800, yet it can do 95% of what a D700 can (basically it is 1 to 1.5 stops worse in terms of high-ISO performance). So why would anybody in their right mind buy a D700?
- The D90 costs ~$900, yet it can...etc.

By this logic (and I don't claim its wrong, depending on your point of view), the only rational Nikon dSLR purchase is a D3000 and possibly a D5000. Yet people value the small differences between all of these cameras enough that they are willing to pay more for the higher-priced models, whether due to performance, image quality, features, you name it.

So how do you value a full frame digital rangefinder with excellent build quality (and likely high image quality, even if you assume it isn't the highest image quality on the market)? What are you going to compare it to? Other cameras? Other full-frame cameras? Other rangefinders? Other digital rangefinders? Other digital rangefinders with full-frame sensors? What makes a Nikon D700 or Canon 5D Mark II the most appropriate basis for comparison? If you don't know what is a legitimate substitute for an M9, and you don't know what that substitute would cost, how can you argue the M9 is overpriced?

(7) Some things make us happy, even if they are overpriced and irrespective of whether they are used to their full potential. There may be a select few among us who only purchase the bare minimum of what we need to get through life, but most of us splurge a bit, buy a little more than we need and derive pleasure from such purchases. Maybe it makes us superficial, but it also makes us human. There are people out there who will buy an M9 and it will give them pleasure (possibly on a daily basis) for the next few years. Not all of them will be rich, and not all of them will be able to afford it without making real sacrifices, but they will buy it anyway and be satisfied. Did they choose poorly?

(8) Some people will drop $10,000-15,000 on a one or two-week vacation and feel that was money well-spent. Some will spend $50,000 renovating a bathroom. Some will buy a sports car, a luxury SUV or a badass pickup truck, just because they want one, even though a Kia Rio would technically suffice. Some will decide to buy a slightly bigger house, and increase the size of their mortgage by $100,000 as a result. Others will attach little value to such things and buy an M9 instead. Which of the purchases above is irrational? Who overpaid? Who was most foolish, most irresponsible?

Best,
Adam

This is an excellent piece of writing
-you don't need to publish this comment-

Let me add one additional observation: jealousy is a very real and completely expected element in economic life. Often it ties to ambition, which is generally a really good thing in a capitalist system. But other times, it's just jealousy.

Dick Karl is a surgeon who also writes a monthly column for Flying magazine. He owns and flies a 30 year-old turboprop airplane, which is a far more capable and expensive device than most pilots could ever aspire to.

Yet...Dick longs for a jet, something he will probably never be able to afford. He's written about this at length over the past few years and gets an amazing amount of near-hate mail from people who think he's a jerk for having aspirations beyond his already staggeringly expensive airplane. Some of these letter just drip with a kind of provincial moralism that's pretty antithetical to what I believe most people think of as the American Way: work hard, be smart and earn the ability to live your dreams.

In other words, they're jealous. Completely understandable.

"... people don't actually want cheaper equivalents of a Leica; they want a Leica. They just don't want to have to pay for it. ..."

Exactly! Another example is Photoshop: people often complain how (ridiculously) expensive it is, yet, when told there are similar but cheaper programs, some of which are actually totally free (e.g., Gimp), they respond that they want Photoshop, only cheaper (i.e., somewhere between a freeware and whatever-I-can-afford-ware).

Nah Mike, I'm afraid I'm one of the (admittedly few) that really "gets" the rangefinder thing. I shot digital between 04 and 07 before selling all of my Canon to buy a Leica with a 35mm lens. Film is a pain but my pictures have improved no end. I keep looking at the EP-1 and the new Panasonic and wondering if it would replace my M4-P....it won't. The M9 - perfect - but the price tag - well, I won't be able to afford a second hand M8 even though they will likely plummet in value. Guess I'll just buy another pack of Tri X and keep waiting...come on Cosina/Zeiss....pleeeeease!

Wonderful text Mike.
I still want one (an M9).
And I still can't justify the price.

I'm just really happy I never got into audio equipment. I don't think my marriage would have survived that ;-)

The Leica special editions like the white M8, the Titanium M7 or the Hermes MP would definitely qualify as Veblen goods.

Wow, as a fellow audiophile who used to shop in Andrew Singer's store, I have to say there's as ton of truth in this post about both industries. If I had the ready cash, I'd have pre-ordered the M9 already and wouldn't bat an eyelash. I'm not complaining about the price; I wish Leica charged less just so that I could afford one, not that it isn't worth it.

A good reading which is full of wisdom.

I knew nothing about Veblen goods until now and I wholly agree with your reasoning. A Bessa R3A, for example, will always be regarded inferior to a Leica even though it is practically impossible to consistently differentiate them by examining usual "prints". I know, they are technically quite different (number of parts, the used materials, workmanship etc). Still, the prints rarely show these differences; they do not really "materialize", so to speak.

Following your audio analogy, the price jumps between various class products can have a reasonable basis. However, that does not mean that your few remaining auditory neurons will be hearing much better when you buy the "higher end"items. It is certain, on the other hand, that you will have have hundreds of satisfied neurons somewhere else in your nervous system firing happily ever after the purchase. And that, unarguably, is a good thing!

"Expensive" means I'll notice what I spend on it. "Too expensive" means I won't be able to have it. The D700 was expensive, as was my Fuji S2 back in 2002. My D200 was actually not expensive, given the ebb and flow of my cash and when I bought it. My Nikkor 70-200/2.8 was expensive (although it cost about the same as the D200; different time, plus different standard).

The M9 seems certain to be "too expensive", especially since I don't have a stock of M lenses any more. My M3 plus 50mm lens was not expensive -- cost me $250 in 1973. (Stolen around 1979, along with 35 and 90mm Summicron lenses.)

Flanders and Swann, from the recorded intro to "A Song of Reproduction" (quoted from memory): "I can't imagine anything I'd like less than an orchestra actually playing in my living room."

"But what I realized a long time ago is that people don't actually want cheaper equivalents of a Leica; they want a Leica"...

"They just don't want to have to pay for it."


Exactly! Part of my job is in sales, and when price comparisons pop up, I've said "Yeah and I'd like a Ferrari for $10.00 too"! I usually would get a smile, because we all understand that we want to be the only one that got a Ferrari for 10 bucks.

Sean

Mike wrote: "But what I realized a long time ago is that people don't actually want cheaper equivalents of a Leica; they want a Leica. They just don't want to have to pay for it. "

With those two sentences Mike has crushed the proverbial nail squarely on its little head. The Epson R-D1 would seem to have proven that. Epson's R-D1 digital rangefinder was on the market long before a digital M was even hinted. It accepted M-mount lenses and was not a bad camera according to those who became enamored with it. At a rarely-discounted list price of over $3,000 it was also not inexpensive by any measure.

But the R-D1's image in the market always seemed, unjustly, like that of a novelty and didn't really quench the public thirst for a real Leica. Sure enough, along comes the M8 and the R-D1 immediately exits the market, something that still puzzles me a bit.

Mike's also dead-right with his remark: "Anyone who has owned and 'worn' a Leica knows that the marque tends to draw the admiration of other photographers and enthusiasts but doesn't earn much in the way of status admiration from the general public. It's too far under the mass zeitgeist. It ain't bling. Except to those in the know." When using a Leica I tend to be approached or noticed only by two types of onlookers. (1) Photographers and enthusiasts who recognize the camera, and (2) folks who think it's an antique and ask how old it is.

In my admittedly small world photographic status and stature derive wholly from photographic output, not from camera equipment. None of my friends or photo-related acquaintances take much, if any, note about anything beyond prints and bodies of work. Cameras and lenses may sometimes become subjects of conversation but they're not really status symbols in my world. They really are just instruments selected for particular needs or for personal comfort, perhaps not unlike golf clubs (I'm not a golfer so I could be in trouble with this analogy).

I originally bought a (film) Leica camera largely out of curiosity in a personal quest to occasionally work with a more spartan camera. Like many others, I became hooked quickly and now have a hard time imagining not having a Leica, which I use for perhaps 1/3rd of my work. But I certainly do not consider my Leica a status symbol and have never personally encountered another Leica user who does, either.

May I suggest to anyone who resents Leica's prices, and those who seem to pay them, that you find a way to refocus your energy towards your photography. You probably already own a camera that's far more versatile than any Leica M. Concentrate on using it to provoke envy from others (including Leica owners!).

My Leica dealer always makes a clear difference between 'expensive' and 'a lot of money'. Depending on the object in question those are very different things indeed.

Expensive is a relative term. It can be used to describe the price difference between the upcoming M9 with lenses to other picture makers (cameras) having same size sensors.

And I'm relatively sure that the differences in printed images to any given size should be relatively small or nonexistant.

So, how does one justify the price differential between tools that potentially can produce the same result?

Easy. Long ago, human nature has formulated justifications for such situations. No need to fabricate any; there's an endless supply to choose from.

Dear Mike,

I, too, get bothered by reading so many letters that boil down to: "That camera is too expensive for me. I know I am a typical photographer. Therefore that camera is too expensive, period."

I pulled out an interesting historical document; back in 1986, Darkoom Photography magazine commissioned a market survey of its readership to send out to advertisers. The detailed results are rather interesting, and the various dollar amounts involved aren't atypical for a photography magazine of the period.

Correcting everything to current dollars, about 10% of the readership had a household income greater than $200,000 a year. 25% of the readership owned $12,000 or more in camera gear. 13% owned $9000 or more in darkroom equipment (no information on the overlap). 7% spent $5000 or more a year on equipment purchases. The *average* reader used 20 rolls of film a month. A about 8% of the readers were spending $5,000 or more a year on film alone, exclusive of processing or printing costs.

Except for the film used number, these are not presented as being "typical;" what they represent is a definitely-not-ignorable high end. Looking more closely at the data, we (the staffers and contributing editors) concluded that 2-3% of our readership was spending more on photography each year than any of us earned. We dubbed that segment "retired-doctors-who-live-in-Florida-and-collect-Leicas" (based on no data at all, pure prejudice).

That said, the Leica is simply too expensive, because there's no way I could afford one, and I *am* the center of the universe [g,d,&r].


~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
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"This is an excellent piece of writing -you don't need to publish this comment-"

Oh, but I want to! It took me three and a half hours this morning to write that essay. Glad you liked it.

Mike

I'm an exception to the last comment. Sort of. I wouldn't settle for a Yashica or Seagull or Minolta TLR when I decided to buy one - it had to be a Rollei. But a used Rollei isn't as expensive as a Leica. And while I acknowledge the mystique of the M series, and have seen photos of well worn, brassy Leicas that conjure images of photojournalism in romantic destiations, I tried a new M7 & 50mm lens a few years back and was thoroughly unimpressed. I'd happily buy a 3rd party equivalent.

It's interesting to see Panasonic & Sony making use of the Leica & Carl Zeiss names. I see it working. On Sony forums, I see people new to the brand talking about the Carl Zeiss lenses as if they were crafted of molten crystal super-heated in subterranean lava pits by hammer-wielding dwarves.

Regarding the opening of the article, I attended a one-day seminar sponsored by Nikon ("The Nikon School") some years ago. One of the two speakers did a 15-minute slideshow showing what you can do with a 600/4. At the end of it, he said that at a previous show, he'd been taken to task by a woman for wasting time on a lens that "costs as much as a small car". His reply: "Do you need a small car ?" Then he explained his point: sure, most people will never own or even use such a lens, but if you're going to specialize in the kind of photography that benefits from it, and you're serious enough about your photography, you can probably find a way to make it happen.

Finally, I think there used to be a certain high end quality associated with Nikon (more so than Canon) and they still might have it to some extent. Not the same kind of Veblen goods you're talking about, but the stature that consumers give to pro goods. As much as Canon dominates certain market segments, it seems to me, the name "Nikon" still holds a certain kind of sway in peoples minds. But at the same time, I think the pro brands are cheapening their names by actively pursuing the consumer market.

I think you are wrong on this one. I for one would like to have a $2000 Leica digital RF. In fact, if the prices of used M8s falls slightly, I might get one.

this post made for great reading. I'm nearing 12 months in my self imposed spending freeze on photographic gear. I realised
1) the spending was just ridiculous.
2) i was spending more time reading reviews and buying/returning gear than taking pictures
3) i was taking fewer pictures than when i had no camera of my own

Then I decided to stop the madness and I've somehow increased my photographic output from a couple of hundred photos a month to 3,504 for August.

Your riffs on high-end audio were quite fun to read too. Luckily, my journey through high-end audio began in college when I couldn't afford lunch let alone to mortgage a pair of speakers so I came to my senses about audio a few hundred dollars sooner than I have about photo.

Thanks for the blog - top quality thoughts and writing!

I also wanted to say that some of the marketing of high end audio stuff has a reverse effect on me. When I read that $8000 speakers are "passable", that a pair of $2000 speakers might be considered entry level audiophile, that $50K & up is the really "good stuff" then I just want to drop down a tier and pay $1000 or less for really good cr*p :)

Brilliant. Written to nearperfection. Thank you Mike.

I'd like to add, that photography won't be like audio until someone offers little $1000 dots for you to stick on your gear and maybe on your subjects, or even your light stands, little dots that will make your pictures look better....

Really good and interesting reading. Absolutely appropriate. (I've also read enough from the nay-sayers.)

Keep them coming.

Thanks!


Mike,
what you state regarding the relative price of the Leica M9 (any price) is true as well for the Leica S2. And the ones who will exploit the new possibilities of the S2 will probably experience that it will literally pay for itself, because they use it to earn many times its cost, as you did with your first DSLR.
What was the average income, when Leica sold its M2/3? What is the average income now compared to the Leica prices?
I recall from a BBC video about Henri Cartier Bresson, that he was able to afford one of the first Leica IIIgs because he was "a rich boy". Well, that "rich boy" became the godfather of photo journalism and a legend of photography.

The fact is, both Nikon & Canon work very well for professional needs. The Leica's of the past few years, M8, M8.2 have been a disaster as far as how well they work or should work in relationship to their price. People over the last few years who were or are still Leica users feel that they have been ripped off by Leica's pricing policies. There would not be the complaining if the cameras worked as advertised. They have been resting on their laurels for to many years. And yes there is a Veblen product in photography today. $10,000 for a Leica 50mm f1.1 lens. I hope Leica is very successful with both the S2 & the M9. If everything works as well as the Nikon D3x & the Canon 1dMKIII, the anticipated price of $7,500US would be right in line with what both Nikon & Canon are charging for their top end products.

"There are people who only consider music reproduction systems that are of supposedly higher quality then the systems used to capture or create said music? What fills in the difference? Hot air? Noise? Spiritual essence?

Veblen or no Veblen, that's truly beyond me."

When it comes to speakers and amplifiers, pro and audiophile gear is designed with different goals in mind. Audiophile stuff needs to sound pleasing to listen to, and enhance the quality of the recording somehow. Pro studio monitor speakers, on the other hand, only need to be accurate, and pass on whatever flaws are in the mix to the engineer so they can be corrected. Sometimes it is even considered desirable for pro speakers to exaggerate problems with a mix, and therefore sound uglier than even basic consumer speakers, so the engineer can be more sure that no issues are present.

Mike, I just want to comment about the public's reaction to seeing a photographer wearing a Leica versus a high-end DSLR (or even an SLR). I've walked around with M6s as well as various pro-type DSLRs and SLRs. The public's reaction is very much open to interpretation, and I believe it is not always what it may seem to be.

Merely because someone doesn't approach you or act animatively upon seeing your Leica doesn't absolutely mean you are inconspicuous, it may just mean that their reaction may not fit your preconceived idea about what being conspicuous or what being inconspicuous means.

It seems that people respond animatively to what they can relate to and understand and feel somewhat comfortable being around. As an example, if you ran into someone you knew from work who was an equal, you'd probably act very outgoing and bubbly upon seeing that person, but if you met someone from work who you had perceived to be a little better than you maybe by virtue of good looks or sharp intelligence, or maybe someone who was known to be on a fast track up the company's ladder, you might act very reserved or even standoffish, but that doesn't mean the person was inconspicuous, just that you didn't react in a way that is considered usual for someone who is indeed conspicuous.

I think there's a similarity upon seeing a photographer who looks like he knows what he's doing brandishing a classy and serious-looking tool like a Leica rangefinder. You noticed the photographer all right, but maybe you turned away because he seemed a breed apart or even superior to the usual photographer with a big Nikon, so you may have responded in a reserved manner, or tried to ignore him, or even acted as if you never saw him in the first place, and this Leica photographer WAS conspicuous when he believed all along he was inconspicuous by virtue of the reactions around him.

I believe there was a time in the distant past when one had to be vetted by Rolls Royce before one was deemed a suitable candidate to be allowed the honour of buying and owning a RR, a title or lofty position in society was desirable, simply having the wherewithal was not enough indeed it might even rule one out!
If you asked the cost of one you clearly could not afford a RR.

"I hope that Leica manages to produce a MINI Cooper with the X1. Just the way MINI captures the spirit of driving that is essential to a BMW[...]"

Er, you are aware that the BMW Mini is a wunderplastik immitation of the real Mini Cooper? And, as far as I can conclude, you want the original...

I don't know for sure but I'll hazard a guess that most folks reading this blog have incomes somewhere in the middle class range. Say $50-100K annual before taxes. I don't think it is a stretch to say 10-20% of your annual income for a camera is expensive. Whether or not a $9000. camera is worth the investment is up to the person paying the tab.

Speaking of Buddhists...
When I bought my Canon 1Ds used at Adorama, the personalization info was still in the memory. It turned out to have been traded in by a famous French scientist turned Buddhist monk, photographer, and author , alleged to be "the happiest man alive". It looked like it had been dragged a mile through a muddy field and wiped off with a very small towel.

Come to think of it I've seen a few Buddhist monks toting Leicas around town.

The most expensive cameras I have are the cheap ones I don't use much. The least expensive by far have been the 1Ds and my old really ugly Hasselblad.

If you want fandom that makes the Leica folk seem only mildly enthusiastic, google "Blackwing 602 pencil" It's only available from private dealers much like 120 Pan-X is. People pay $55 a piece for them and use them for their everyday writing. I'm sure they think they are a bargain.

You want expensive, how about the $20,800
Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil
http://www.plushasia.com/article/185
or if you want to scrimp and get the low bucks version:
http://www.amazon.com/Graf-Von-Faber-Castell-Perfect-Platinum/dp/B000WE6WI8?ie=UTF8&tag=theonlinephot-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B002MUAEX4

I loved this. I've been reading TOP for about a year, and this is the best post I've seen yet.

I'd like to offer a suggestion as to why Veblen goods havent entered the photography marketplace to the same extent as the hifi marketplace: The nature of hifi goods makes it difficult to expose chicanery.

More experienced ears can hear more subtle differences in sound reproduction, and so claiming to be able to hear the difference between two pieces of equipment gives the listener prestige. Photos, however, are subject to much easier comparison by way of side by side viewing of test shots at various magnification levels. And digital photos can be transmitted and published all over the web for the public to decide for themselves. To discern between pieces of hifi, the consumer must be in the presence of the equipment being compared, which also usually means being in the presence of a salesman who can claim to hear the difference.

I dropped my subscription to Stereophile after I read a review for a certain brand of solder that supposedly made your speaker sound more natural. Those guys are infected with something powerful.

Mike,
Your comment about expensive-ness (not a typo)is, as I'm sure you know, a simple way of putting it. This idea ["Some have it, some don't... end of story!"] is often used by the wealthy to distract all of us here in the U.S. from important problems that can only be resolved by more aggressive wealth re-distribution. [Now I'll be taken as some sort of socialist.]

Its been well-documented that the wealth & opportunity distribution in this country continues to be skewed in unhealthy ways. A greater and greater portion of our country's wealth is accumulating with a smaller and smaller percentage of people at the top of the income scale. That means that there are less and less funds for schools, health care, aging infrastructure, etc..

A friend of mine, a financial advisor, suggests a simple solution. "No one needs to make more than three times what a public school teacher makes." (This makes sense to me. Does a family need more than $200,000 a year to have a wonderful life??) The rest of the wealth created in this country could be better used solving our many problems.

And so (speaking to the wealthy reader here)... the public school teacher that made sure you got a great start toward your career, d**n well thinks $10,000 for a camera and lens is a waste of valuable money that could better be spent on helping those less fortunate. Period.

I think I've mentioned before, but collecting camera equipment is a different hobby to taking pictures.

I want an M9 because I love my ZI so much and half of the joy of taking the photos is in the "taking". The ZI makes it fun to do.

My Canon 5DII is just a tool. There is much less fun in the taking, almost none in fact - all the value is in the images it produces.

Where's Robert Pirzig when you need him? Have we lost sight of "quality"?

If an M9 lasts me 6 years and a 5DII lasts me only 3 then they cost the same per month. And for that whole time I get to use a Leica!

My wife bought me a really really expensive leather jacket when we were young and couldn't afford it. I bought her an Omega watch, way beyond what I should have spent. But I'm still wearing that jacket 20 years later and she still has her watch. Quality doesn't always cost more in the long run. I'm still using a 20-year old Yamaha amplifier whose sound I loved and was really too expensive at the time. Over the years I would have spent far more if I'd been more "sensible" and bought the cheaper alternative, and upgraded it every 4-5 years.

Leica make quality products. They last and they're good. That's why people got so annoyed at the M8 - it wasn't the cost, it was that the quality was down on what they had become accustomed to from Leica.

My monthly photography budget is £100. An M9 only needs to last me 4 years to be affordable, 5 if I want to finance it rather than save first. That should be well within my grasp. (Oops I seem to have just committed myself to something...)

Jamie,
I agree, there is a moral dimension to money. I used to propose that maximum income be tied to 100X the minimum wage. That way the fat cats would all compete to see how far they could get the minimum wage raised. [g]

Craig,
Do you think you'd be happy with the M9 for five years? I was just thinking about this, because I realized that of all the people I know who bought the M8 and were intending at the time to use it for the rest of their lives (their words), almost none of them are still using it.

Mike

Ctein -- that Darkroom Photography survey from 1986 suddenly makes me feel MUCH less guilty about the pile of photo gear I own!!! I also remember roughly what I made then. Apparently I was not very well off. Who knew?

This is all brilliantly written, but two tangential thoughts:

1. Although this isn't exactly a Veblen effect, I think a desire for a certain kinds of showiness drives a lot of the camera market - I see evidence for this in the 'bigger and heavier is better' (or perhaps 'better must be made bigger and heavier') theory that seems so influential in the world of DSLR, and I also see it in the way certain kinds of internet commenters are perpetually equating 'build quality' with 'size and weight'. (This always seems to me a bit like equating 'good engineering' with 'lazy engineering', but I'm not an engineer, so my opinion shouldn't count for much.)

2. This doesn't in any way count against your point, but the M9 is due to be impressively expensive even for a Leica. Let me elaborate:

Many of us, if we really wanted it, could tighten our belts for a few years and get ourselves, say, a new M7 and a decent lens to go with it. It would take real sacrifices in personal budgeting, and years of patience, but we could do it. Once we did, we'd have arguably the best 35mm rangefinder body in the world, and, if we took good care of it, we'd have arguably the best small format film rangefinder body in the world prettymuch forever. As Christer Almqvist said above, the month-to-month cost of ownership of Leica gear isn't so awful, if you can deal with the daunting upfront costs.

The M9 is due to cost more than the M7, but certainly there are still a good number of us who could tighten our belts and save for a few years and get ourselves a new M9.2 (it would be a few years in the future, remember?). Then, if we took care of our new purchase, we'd have the best small format digital rangefinder body in the world for-- Well, certainly not forever. Maybe for another few years. Of course, our M9.2 would probably keep working just fine forever, if we take good care of it, but (I think you made a similar point in a reply to a comment on one of the A850 posts), it'd still be disappointing, because we'd know that the much, much better M10 was out there.

When you consider the expected higher unit cost, shorter model replacement cycle, and greater marginal advantage of cutting-edge over slightly outdated models, digital Leica is shaping up to be a drastically more expensive proposition than film Leica.

There are good reasons for this, of course, and this certainly don't make the M9 (or the M8, or the M10) a pointless camera, but, in understanding the expense complaints, it's important to keep in mind that it's not just that the M9 is inaccessibly priced for a lot of digital photographers. It's probably inaccessibly priced for a lot of Leica photographers, too.

I am thinking $5,000 for your upcoming book would be a good price. ch

"It took me three and a half hours this morning to write that essay."

Time well spent. This was an excellent essay.

Charlie H.,
You jest, but I know plenty of people who have published photography titles and gotten $5,000 for them. Not for each copy, of course--I mean the entire author's profits from the book.

Mike

Hey, if nobody is shooting their M8.2 any more, anybody interested in trading me for an M3 (with some vulcanite loss) after I'm done with my Leica year? It'll look better on your display case with a handwritten sunny-16 scale on the back than that silly LCD.

Fine post, indeed.

And I do think that the "conspicuous consumption" explains the Veblen presence in cars, and its absence in cameras - most people know about cars, and have one, and therefore can relate (or envy) you in your beautiful 3.0 CSi Bimmer (one of the most beautiful cars ever), whereas most people don't know and don't care about cameras, their P&S being good enough (and that's not a bad thing), so the gloating factor is much less for the wannabe Leica bearer.

That said, it does leave the puzzle of where conspicuous consumption can possibly be involved in the ridiculous world of HiFi? (And I say ridiculous as someone who once seriously considered a $4,000 tube amp a sensible buy.) Surely, unless one lives on a ground floor and with large windows, where can the conspicuousness be?

I think a lot of the whining would stop if Epson/Cosina/Voigtlander would bring out an upgraded R-D1. A full-frame digital Bessa would be affordable for many who would like to own an M9 but will never be able to. Sure, maybe it's a Subaru to Leica's AMG Mercedes but so what? Most of us drive Fords and Chevs anyway and we get around quite OK with that. (Confession - I use an R3A and R4A).

Jesus wept! This is sad!
On another forum I just visited, this has appeared in regard to the M9 announcement, inviting people to respond in some sort of poll.

"Therefore: Until it has been announced, where will you be when it does get revealed?
Once it has been announced, where were you?
This is sort of a 'moon landing day' or 'Kennedy got shot day' idea."

Aaaaargh!

My grandfather, a prominent socialite in a southern town, once advised a friend on a new purchase, "Don't do it; the most important thing is the southeast corner of your bank statement."

Thanks to his family, I both can afford a M9, and could also never bring myself to buy one.

''Leica has for some time been a lightning rod for resentment, probably because it has been perceived as doing something akin to price-gouging. ''

I think the longer this type of discussion goes on the more I am prepared to consider the argument that a certain percentage of 'photographers' feel a manual focus camera, albeit a rangefinder type, may challenge their ability to produce images comparable to those they would take with an auto-focus one. Cost, in some instances may be just a smoke-screen.

This is in reply to a commenter's observation that the M9 will not hold its value the way film Leicas do.

He is 100% right about that. But:

1. Cameras purchased by shooters (as opposed to collectors) are not investments meant to appreciate or even to not depreciate. They are meant to be used. Thus the "depreciation" consideration only kicks in if the photographer chooses to sell the camera because he decides he needs a newer one (as the commenter put it, "[the old M9] would be disappointing, because [the owner would] know that the much, much better M10 was out there").

If the initial purchase decision was a sound one, that disaffection is the photographer's fault, not the manufacturer's. There are many photographers saying that 12 megapixels are all they will need, and the M9 is said to offer 50% more very nice pixels (18mp). The M9 should therefore serve ably for years any photographer who before he bought it had been content to shoot with a camera built during the Nixon or Kennedy administrations.

(Part of the beauty of the M9 is that it doesn't lack any big features that a Leica shooter longs for, so it's hard to imagine what could make an M10 "much, much better"--video? Live View? autofocus? Hardly! The M9 promises to eliminate the only two serious complaints about the M8: not full-frame and the IR filter thing. Oh, I suppose the M9's rear LCD could someday be higher-resolution, but that could be factory upgradeable without buying a whole new camera.)

2. The Leica still is likely to depreciate less than other digital cameras in its price range. I know firsthand about depreciation. I bought Canon's first full-frame DSLR for $8000. I sold it a little more than two years later for about $2600. I then bought Canon's second full-frame DSLR, again for $8000. I recently sold it for $1900. (I knew when buying each that I would have to make enough income from each to amortize them over a 2-3 year period, and I did, so I was not at all disappointed.)

Unless it gives all who touch it leprosy, there is no way the M9 loses 75% of its value in three years the way both of my $8000 Canons did. That fact doesn't make the M9 a bargain or a good "investment" for someone hoping it will retain its value the way film Leicas did. But it makes it a "less-bad" investment than high-priced DSLRs have been--should the photographer want to sell his M9 (which is by no means a given; see #1).

[God!, I hate to be the one who says this, but]...

I´ve got the impression that this is the tale of the Emperor´s clothes. But:

Some important precisions [you know, it is supposed to be little details the ones that bust a concept].

"I love music,..."
No, you don´t love music as far as the following sentences tell. You love the items that reproduce the music and how that music is channeled through, which is a very important distinction. Were you a music dilettante or lover, in reality you would never really care of where it is played, as it is part of the game.

You would take care of structure, rhythm, harmony, silence, reproduction capabilities of the player.

Then it would come over the audio reproduction source.

Thing is: there are different feelings people do get from different goods, no matter where they come from. Some people can not forget how dreadful the feeling of a Bimmer can be after sitting on a cheap and cheerful Suzuki Alto, which just does what promises, and "feels" honest.

A good or audiphile system does not make a bad recording good. It doesn´t make the music better. Probably, the onanistic experience of it. But not the music.

Do you like photography, or do you like cameras? See the distinction now?

Probably, MY biggest problem with Leica is that for the last years they have become a fashion accessory for fashionistas, for the fact that they were charging a very high premium for Panasonic goods for quite a long time [most brutally, the superzoom that was a copy of the FZ20]. It is MY take with no real objective reasons. And trust me, it can be very bling as they look like antiquities. It is like driving a 30´s Austin Seven.

My experience tells me that, AFAIK, the market wants a camera BRANDED Leica [the market, not the dilettantes]. The most blatant example: "I sooo want that very small Leica which is a digital SLR". By a pro photographer.*


By the way, a car is NOT a commodity. Wheat is a commodity, rice is a commodity. Not cars. They could be practical commodities, not real commodities.

PS:
I have to say that none of this is intended to be a basher, or a personal attack, by the way. Just some stuff that I thought were important distinctions, and may drive the whole subject to a different ending.

PS2:
And now, the joke of the day:
"Darling, at what time are you picking me up?"
"From 17.30 to 18.30, more or less. Will that be allrighty, sweetheart?"
"Oh! Is your car THAT long?"

* There has NEVER been a SMALL Leica SLR, nor a dSLR [which was the already quite big rebranded Panasonic L1].

But where does this philosophy fit in, morally speaking, with the fact that billions of actual people in this world would consider themselves rich were they to receive the cash equivalent of a Leica or any other Veblen good from us?

The argument for not judging the existence of Veblen goods (or not judging those who buy them) holds up well if you have a relativist moral frame. It does not otherwise, methinks.

Insightful column, Mike...and fun for me as a Leica owner as well as a consumer of what used to be considered high-end stereo.

On the camera front, I've kept Leica Ms in my arsenal for decades, even when I owned other cameras. The value relationship between pleasure/results and cost has just worked for me.

On the stereo front, I got on the upward cost spiral for a while, ultimately ending with $15k Wilson speakers. Eventually, however, I realized that I didn't enjoy my listening experiences nearly as much as when I bought my first Vandersteens for $1200 many years before. So, I sold the Wilsons and bought new Vandys for $1800, for reasons having nothing to do with cost, but everything due to value...for me.

On the other hand, I still own the same Sota turntable I bought over 20 years ago. I guess not all Veblens are created equally.

Oh, and my first "serious" digital (cd) playback system, bought long after the turntable, has since died and been replaced by a cheaper one. That analogue/digital experience helped to set my expectations for longevity of equipment as I recently switched from film to digital cameras.

Can't even afford a ratty M4-2 with an 35 f2 at this time. but I still want one. Strange, but I would want the M4-2 more than the M9. Never had a Leica but playing with one last year at a photo show convinced me to get one before I die. Now what can I put on da-bay?

Relatively speaking, I think for most class of people there is a "perception" of expensiveness/value ratio regardless of whether they can afford it or not.
As an example, many wealthy and affluent people took a very strong position when gasoline was well over a $4.00 per gallon, even though they could easily afford it but equate a sense of "value" in relative terms.
As far as cameras go, unless you're a:
1. Hobbyist (extreme) Photographer
2. Professional professional
3. Collector of fine cameras to fondle
4. Truly don't care about money
Most lay persons would think you're crazy to spend ohhh....let's say 5,000 dollars for a camera.
They could not relate to the value of what a 5,000 dollar camera can give someone.
For some familys, that could easily be the amount of food that they put on the table for a year.

Just Saying....

Here's one of those overly expensive items that has much lower cost and nearly as impressive competitors:
http://www.mapcamera.com/sho/search.php?MODE=M_VIEW&ACT=A_DETAIL&map_code=3000001531500&class=03

It's the Minolta 85/1.4 G D LE, the limited edition version of the rather wonderful Minolta 85/1.4 G D. The optical formula is refined to create the 2nd best bokeh of any lens known to man. Only second to the *not so expensive* Minolta/Sony 135/2.8 T/4.5 STF lens. I don't think it sold for $3000 new, and they only made 700 or so (IIRC). Is it "worth" $3000? Doubt it. People have paid more than that whenever they are available to the US market.

Great post, Mike. As a (now recovered) audiophile who used to sell mid to high end audio gear in my youth, and as a (not recovered) camera gear head who has bought and sold dozens of cameras through the years, including Leicas, I have a few corollary economic observations:

1. The relationship between "cost" and "value" for these sorts of goods is not direct and cannot be described by a straight line graph. Instead it is best described by a curve which is steep at its beginning, relatively flat in its midsection, and then becomes rapidly and progressively steeper as cost skyrockets at the right side of the graph. To wit: a $500 audio system may well sound more than twice as nice as a $250 system. A $1,000 audio system very likely sounds twice as nice as a $500 system. However, after that the relationship becomes much less direct. A $10,000 system surely will sound better than a $1,000 system, but it is very unlikely to sound ten times better. After that it is likely that for each small increment of improvement in sound quality one will pay progressively larger and larger buckets of cash far out of proportion to the improvement attained. The same can be said for almost any desirable object (cameras, cars, golf clubs, fly rods, etc.).

Most of us try to find that point on the flat middle part of the curve between "cost" and "value" that we feel we can "afford" after weighing our own set of priorities. Then there are those of us who both have enough disposable income and the desire/obsession for the highest quality/perfection/workmanship/etc. that essentially "price is no object", and they are quite happy to live on the steep right side of the curve. There is no right or wrong about this, it just is what it is. I suspect that this sort of thing causes more dissension among photographers because most still view (or tell themselves they view) cameras as tools, and there is a limit to how much people are willing to pay for a hammer, even a really great hammer.

2. To be honest, as a person who sold audio and bought cameras in the early 70's, the thing that is most striking to me is how cheap things are now compared to then. By that I mean cheap as in "what a good deal", not as in "cheap piece of s--t!". In 1971 if you wanted to buy a sort of mid-level stereo from me, the receiver alone would have cost you 450 1971 dollars for a 40 watt/side unit. Now you can go into a Best Buy and purchase a receiver for half that amount in 2009 dollars that likely is 5 times as powerful and sounds at least as good. According to the "Inflation Calculator" website, $450 in 1971 would cost $2,366 in 2008 dollars! I bought a Nikkormat FTN back then, and I am pretty sure it cost me at least three hundred bucks. You do the math. My point is, all of us have just gotten used to having access to better and better goods at cheaper and cheaper prices. We are actually way better off then we used to be in this regard.

I agree with one of the other posters that what really makes the very high end digital cameras expensive, is that they are at least as much computers as they are cameras and therefore depreciate like computers a la Moore's Law. The M9 is likely to have less than 1/10th the useful life as the M3 did, so its (admittedly high) price must be amortized over only a few years because of the steep depreciation curve. It seems unlikely that an M9 will be passed on as an heirloom through the generations....

"'I love music,...' No, you don't love music as far as the following sentences tell."

Yes, I do. I know full well what it means to love music, and am not lying or mistaken. I love music. You'll have to take my word for that.

Mike

I'm fairly young, only 21, but I really think more people should take what you had to say about taking how much a camera could earn you into account.

When I got more serious about photography, I bought the Digital Rebel. I was blown away by how much better it was than the P&S I had used until then. After a lot of practice and research, I was able to start charging for small portrait gigs. Ever since, I haven't ever really payed for a camera or lens out of pocket. Whatever I make from photography goes back to photography. Over the years, the gear gets better, but it's a slow process.

Certain things about the Leica M really appeal to me. And maybe someday, I'll be able to get one. In the meantime, I'll keep taking pictures and enjoying the camera I have. It would be a bit ridiculous for me to think I could enjoy the BMW of the camera world before I've paid my dues.

I once asked a designer of (surprisingly modestly priced) audiophile speakers why anyone would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an audio system instead of hearing live performances every night, and he said that the obsessive pursuit of high fidelity was not just about accurately reproducing live sound, but about experiencing the great performances of the past, and I had to admit that he had a point. I remember the first time I listened to a high end audiophile system belonging to a wealthy business executive: it was as if Cannonball Adderley was there in the room, and I could sense very precisely how his body was moving and where his sidemen were sitting. Personally, I'm content with the kind of professional audio equipment that sound engineers use in the studio and that is capable of producing that sensation of the uncanny occasionally, if perhaps not as frequently as an audiophile system costing many times the price.

How much would you pay to raise the dead? Will an M9 raise the dead?

Keith B. commented that the M9 costs roughly the price of a roll of transparency a day for a year. This got me thinking...

The M9 with a 35mm Summicron is likely to go for around $13,000 in my local currency. I pay about $8 per day to park my car at the office. If I give up driving for the next 5 years, I'd save enough (5x365x$8 = $14,600) just on the parking (not to mention gas), to get the M9 and still have change to take the bus.

Think I'll get the M9 ;-)

"How much would you pay to raise the dead?"

David,
Exactly. I just reacquainted with the wonderful Busch Quartet rendition of Schubert's 14th and 15th. I hadn't heard it in thirty years. Three times back from the dead--when I rediscovered this recording, and when I first discovered it, and when *they* resurrected dear Schubert. Wonderful.

Mike

The "audiophile" reasoning against professional audio equipment is silly, at least. That very equipment is used to record the music the audiophiles are enjoying and quality of the recorded sound can only be as good as the equipment used to record it.

One visit to the professional audio store dispersed all illusions I had about the expensive HiFi when I realized how much palpable hardware you get for relatively little money. (Musicians are not rich bunch either.)

Armed with that insight I purchased professional active studio monitors for my living room and was never happier with the sound emanating from the little wooden boxes.

I don't really mind any argument that forgives that certain subset of humanity, the wealthy, the fruits of their privilege. Humanity loves its proverbial fruit. Cameras, speakers, cars, or just luxury items in general can be wonderfully crafted and expertly engineered, and the status imparted by these exulted "super" items inspires many people across all incomes.

The only aspect of the Veblen psychology that bothers me is that it's unfair to say poor people who pine for Veblen goods do so because they can't afford it, they're a necessary part of the Veblen equation, and then end the argument there. That's as if to say such people aren't being manipulated in any way, or that those goods don't serve as a boundary between classes. It's always saddened me that the people who buy and sell these goods want us to believe in "just deserts" and And what behavior really merits rewards? After all that's the same logic McDonald's uses to sell junk food.

I've owned a few Leica M cameras over the years, M2, M3, M4-2, M5, and as desirable and expensive that they are, they don't make one's photography any better (didn't make my photography any better thats for sure). The Leica might inspire some but in the end a camera is just a camera and what you see through the viewfinder whether it be a Leica, Canon, Nikon or what ever is what counts.

If the M9 is as reliable as a film Leica or a pro level Nikon or Canon I'd be interested in buying it, even at the high price I expect them to ask for it. Unfortunately, the M8 seemed like a very unreliable digital camera from the reports I read and digital cameras and other electronics don't seem all that reliable to begin with when used outdoors for years at a time. These digital Ms aren't the bomb proof Leica cameras of old, and that makes the price very hard to swallow.

"Yes, I do. I know full well what it means to love music, and am not lying or mistaken. I love music. You'll have to take my word for that.

Mike".

I do not question you do love music. But the fact of loving music has nothing to do with the fact of loving audio equipment. That was my point [hence the "in the following sentences"].The fact of loving music does not justify the price tags of audio equipment per-se [I´m not saying if they are expensive or not].

Mike,

But didn't leica introduce the "$2000 leica RF" back in the day in the form of a Leica CL? And didn't its popularity almost kill the company? I don't know anything about this, I'm too young, but I keep hearing whispered references by old-timers to this kind of Tunguska event in Leica's history...

Leicas are expensive, no doubt, but I never really believed they weren't worth the cost even though I might have said as much. I believe the true source of resentment towards Leica is because of the snootiness of many Leica owners. How many times have we been lectured that if we have worry about cost then a Leica is not for us, or just because Porsches are built it doesn't mean that we should own one, or even that expense is relative and what's expensive for one person isn't necessarily expensive for someone else (as the Leica owner alludes to himself).

It's all true enough I suppose, but it's still pretty difficult to listen to. And unlike the Leica owners who are more than happy to point-out these economic realities to the "less fortunate," the students of these lectures can't seem to bring themselves to speak the truth that so many Leica owners are just full-of-themselves, to put it nicely, so instead these "students" fall back on, again and again, the euphemistic arguments about expense, bang-for-the-buck, and relative value, when all the while they just really resent Leica owners, and not the cameras at all.

The fact that some people will be able to easily afford an M9, maybe even 2 or 3 of them to leave in their various apartments, doesn't mean its not ridiculously expensive.

The benchmark is real value in relation to how much it costs to design and manufacture, not whether rich people can and will buy it.

You are endorsing greedy, exploitative, unrealistic pricing in your statement.

My view, shared by others I suspect, is Leica bozos are exploiting the name 'Leica' by over pricing their products, which creates exclusivity, which justifies high prices in the future, and so it continues. They've been doing it for decades.

No one denies Leica is good quality gear; thats not the point. The point is, the gear is over priced just like so called designer clothing: you pay for the name. In that respect, I do not like Leica because they exploit the photographic community.

Brilliant, Mike. Brilliant.

Bang on, Mike. Bang on.

That's why I come here.

I think that one of the problems with buying expensive camera gear is that there is competent inexpensive camera gear out there. One poster suggested that a $9000 camera is a lot of money for someone earning $50-100K. Yet I know plenty of people making less than $50K who spend silly money on motor boats, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, swimming pools, family trips to Disney, you name it. Somehow nobody scoffs at those expenditures and I suspect the reason is that you can't buy a cheap motor boat (or whatever).

One couple likes to tease me by asking "bought any new cameras lately ?" In truth, they spend more upgrading their iPods & iPhones on an annual basis than I spend on camera gear. It's entirely likely that they spend more time on their cell phones than I do behind my camera, but that's not the point :)

So I don't have a problem with any photographer choosing "expensive" camera gear - it's a hobby and plenty of people spend more on their hobbies than many of us spend on camera gear. But I'm personally affected by the knowledge that competent, cheaper gear is available. I'd have a hard time spending over $1000 again for a DSLR knowing what's currently available for $1000. That annoyance comes into play when I see, for instance, the Nikon D90 and Pentax models that are all the camera I'd need, when my own brand offers nothing in that range. (At the moment, the Sony A700 is just under $1000, but that's only because it's 2 years old). Similarly, any number of people have plunked down nearly $2K for Sony's 70-200/2.8 lens and then justify it by saying it's the best such lens for the Maxxum/Alpha mount so it's "worth every penny". But knowing that Canon sells a lens for far less that's every bit as good (if not better) makes the Sony's price a stumbling block for me. (In Sony's defense, the lens was always high priced even when it was sold by Konica Minolta, so it's likely expensive to produce for some reason).

Dennis, you should see the price Nikon's asking for their just-refreshed 70-200/2.8 VRII! http://www.adorama.com/NK70200AF2U.html

“… but at least I can report that it bothered me to be told how to feel about what things cost.”

Perhaps Lecia may not see comments like “Lecia cameras are admittedlyexpensive” as negative. If expensiveness is the only "negative" comment, they may consider their effort a success.

Despite what we think of a company when we look at it from the outside, we know that decisions on product features and pricing are never easy. Over the long run, if a company consistently charges a premium for its products, there must be a reason for it. It is probably informative to know about those reasons. Even though their decision may not be correct, but in today’s economic environment, no one would do something that obviously hurts themselves financially. I don’t believe it was easy for the technical team to get the go ahead for a full frame RF project. If the company’s decision turns out to be wrong, it is unlikely that the reason is simply ignorant or eloquent.

It is technically challenging and costly to building a small size full frame digital camera. I probably won’t need such a camera – a small size APS-C one would do. Price is not an issue for me in the case of the M9 (not that I have the money :-)). But it is still interesting to find out how well they solve the technical problem. Even though I don’t need it, I certainly would want to hold one in my hands.

And perhaps their effort might trigger others to think of something else, which in turn might give us better technologies that benefit everyone.

Thanks.

" One poster suggested that a $9000 camera is a lot of money for someone earning $50-100K."

Actually I suggested that 10-20% of your annual income is a significant expense. That applies whether you make 10K a year or millions. The point I was making is that the decision to buy goods is often not rational or reasonable in terms of income alone.

I'm not outraged by conspicuous consumption of goods. Everyone is free to set the limits of their desires as they see fit. If you are willing to pay the price you can buy whatever you want regardless of income. Is that free will? No too biblical.

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