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Sunday, 24 January 2010

Comments

On a related note, a persistent rumour exists that whenever Danish Hi-Fi & TV manufacturer Bang & Olufsen sees their market share rise above a certain limit, they will increase prices accordingly.

"Only a few people really want a digital rangefinder."

You should probably tell Oly and Panasonic that, since they're making tons of money selling pretty much that.

I know, I know. The EPs and GF1 are not rangefinders. But they absolutely were marketed as digital rangefinder equivalents (esp. the EP1), occupy the same place in a lot of folk's bag, people ran out and adapted Leica glass to them, and a lot of the weeping and gnashing of teeth over the EP1 was the lack of a optical range/viewfinder. I think a lot of modern photographers, who couldn't care less about Leica, want the utility of a type of camera that Leica happens to be the sole manufacturer of, at a more reasonable utility/price point ratio than Leica currently offers.

I could tell you why that's not going to happen, except I'm not allowed to tell you.

Beans spilled already on zeissrumors.com, namely that Sony will be out this summer with its own mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera... and it will use Zeiss lenses.

(Nikon too is also rumored to be planning a mirrorless interchangeable-lens system, for release in the fall.)

That said, the fundamental difference in focusing with a rangefinder versus anything with a 100% or less finder (including an LCD screen, a snap-on electronic viewfinder or an integral electronic VF) -- that a rangefinder lets you see what's outside the frame and lets you quickly adjust while not blacking out the viewfinder when the shutter is depressed -- means that if the expected or rumored cameras do come to pass there will still be no true digital competitor to the Leica any time soon.

How about a $485 volume control knob that makes the sound "much more open and free flowing with a nice improvement in resolution" (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/10-01-06)

Thankfully, we don't seem to have this sort of idiocy in the photography world. It's interesting that audiophiles seem to be especially susceptible to these scams.

The more I read about "high end" audio, the more I am reminded of Hans-Christian Andersen's story of the Emperor's New Clothes. I also consider it quite immoral that anyone could even consider spending that amount of money on a pair of wires when a substantial proportion of our brothers and sisters in the world do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Actually, what I'd like nowadays is not a digital rangefinder. I'm fine using a replaceable sensor with integrated off-line backup capability.

What I would like a good-quality scanner, for 35mm and MF, with ~3200-4000dpi actual resolution, one that takes advantage of production cost advances to be decently priced for the amateur.

There's the Nikon Coolscan 9000, but it's made and priced for small shops and professionals. It's also a quite old design - no USB connectors here - so connecting it to a recent computer is not painless either.

I could tell you why that's not going to happen, except I'm not allowed to tell you.

Or you'd have to shoot us? :)

Anyway, didn't you have a post about Veblen goods? Or it was a featured comment on a post? There was something about it here, I'm certain.

$16,000? Really? Let's not talk about such things, please. I only get depressed. So much photo gear can be bought for two metres of audio cable...

"**An alternative way of stating the same thing is, "It's time for the digital Zeiss Ikon." I could tell you why that's not going to happen, except I'm not allowed to tell you."

Looking forward to that press release and the following big fuss on the internet, Wonder how many weeks we'll have to wait?
Hope you didn't say too much in that apparently innocuous sentence Mike.

Cheers, Robin

I do understand that lower prices would indeed take the Leica reverence out of the Leica camera. People have argued that is why Apple hasn't fought harder to bring the iPhone to Verizon. Something about making it available to everyone devaluing it.

The Leica is still cheaper than a D3X, and far cheaper than medium format digital. So maybe I should shut up about the price, and hope for a Bessa R2-D.

I wonder how much a meter of pure gold cable would cost. At $16,000 a metre for the competition it can't be too far off feasible. From the manufacturers point of view it probably wouldn't have a multi-thousand % markup, so they are probably less likely to be interested.

The typical M9 buyer wants it to cost more than most people can afford. It's a status symbol, and status symbols that everyone can afford are no longer status symbols.

You've said this, or something similar, many times but I think you're wrong. Most M users that I know wish that it were less expensive, but understand at least in part why it isn't. Not sure what the value in this sort of post is.

On the other hand, Digital Photography (or at least the related forums) are full of people who buy every incremental update and have purchased maybe 7 digital cameras in the last 4 years.

Veblen. One of my faves.

Leica makes for the most part simply excellent optical products.
That said;
Of course the real question is whether not the Leica rangefinder in modern times (film or digital) owes most of its sales and its collection value to Veblen's most famous concept, "conspicious consumption"?
I am not dissing the Leica, just saying, i think most of the sales now days are right in line with Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class treatise.
That's why ya got the big red ball on them :)

The interesting thing is that high-end audio is enjoyed in the privacy of one's home and cannot be said to be truly conspicuous consumption, whereas a camera could plausibly be used as a fashion accessory (see Audrey Tautou's Chanel No. 5 ad, which features a M8, although Ms. Tautou is in fact a Leica shooter in real life).

Cameras would make more sense as Veblen goods, yet they are not (apart from the on and off Leica limited edition, and you will notice the frequency of those has declined as Leica's fortunes have picked up).

I guess this is primarily due to the integrity of Japanese and German camera engineers. Most of the audiophile snake oil is manufactured by US companies.

Having cut my teeth on rangefinder cameras the first time I looked through an SLR eyepiece it knocked me out. So I find it hard to buy into all this nostalgia for what most photographers couldn't wait to get away from.

there is a market segment which makes the heartrate of every salesman double: 'crazys with money'. A cable for 18k$, well... . I bet there is a company charging an extra 10k/year for the 'cable support plan'. I might be wrong, but what i remember even ISS and Space Shuttle cables come at a cheaper price / meter.

On another note: if you scratch along the lines of bankrupcy, then you might reconsider your pricing model, no matter what norwegian (?) economist gave his name to it.

Unless Sony comes up with a *rangefinder* then a digital Zeiss Ikon is long overdue. And if it won't exist, it's precisely because of this non-compete status quo which deprives people of real options. And this would sell even more than the (Panasonic) pancakes...

That's it. I've waffled long enough. It is time to go into the snake oil, I mean, interconnect business. All I need is a spool of wire and a copy editor who can lie shamelessly without technically lying.

LOL! i love perspective

"Only a few people really want a digital rangefinder. What people want is a Leica."

The first needs some substantiation. As the uptake for MFT has shown, many seem to want a competent camera in a smaller package, and are prepared to put up with shortcomings to achieve this. MR's original article underlines this. The second is probably only true when the selling price is taken into consideration.

If we're being honest, most people's commitment to photography is marginal and they're just not prepared to carry the kit required. Working photographers just buy what they need (like a 5D or a 4x5) and get on with it. What we're talking about here though are cameras as discretionary purchases commensurate with more limited needs. A well built small camera with some pride of ownership and at fair cost would fit the bill admirably, rangefinder or otherwise. I don't see this coming from Leica though for the reasons you outline.

Photographers do not want a digital rangefinder, they want a Leica. Mike, you've made this argument a number of times already, and I would like to suggest that you run a poll asking people (us) what they want more:

  • A Leica.
  • A non-Leica APS-C rangefinder for US$1,500.
  • A non-Leica FF rangefinder for US$2,500.
  • None of the above.

I'm curious. The 2nd option actually exists, in the form of a used Epson RD1, although marketing has been pitiful and its antiquated 6MP sensor has surely held sales back.

As for me, I want none of the above. I want a Pentax LXD; an APS-C sensor is fine, thank you. I suppose a Nikon F3D or Olympus OM-1D would also fit the bill. Basically any digital version of a classic, smallish SLR whose brand made nice, compact primes would be good.

>it increasingly seems curious to me that almost all products in high-end audio are Veblen goods, whereas almost none of the products in photography are.<

Actually there is a very simple reason for this....allow me to explain.

First off, some credentials: I work for one of the world's largest music companies, and I have produced or executive produced more than 40 high-resolution DVD-Audio titles for my company. I have, in the past, work in the film industry where I was also a post production supervisor on many titles. I have been able to combine these disparate work experiences to produce Blu-ray HD concert titles for my company as well. So I have a bit of professional experience in this area. (Plus I am a photographer, but it is not my source of income.)

As you might imagine, my company has the resources and equipment to test all sorts of claims about audio products and processes, which we do on occasion, mostly to settle internal disputes. Also in my company, there are a wide set of opinions about audio, ranging from the educated to the ridiculous.

The reason that there are so many bogus products in the high-end audio world compared to the digital imaging world is because hearing audio is basically a psychological experience. You can't freeze-frame a piece of audio and examine it. It's ethereal, fleeting, and difficult for most people to judge objectively. Any bias that you have in your mind about an audio product or process gets amplified in your brain when you listen. It causes you to experience stuff you don't really hear.

However, in the digital imaging realm, the actual image doesn't lie. Artifacts are either there or they're not. Fidelity is either there or it isn't. It is much easier to apply objective criteria to looking at an image than listening to audio.

So in the digital imaging world you mostly won't find such crap as $500 exotic-wood chickenheaded knobs, or special goo, or $10,000 interconnects, or any other such nonsense. If you can't demonstrate that it has an effect on the image, your product is a sham. And by demonstrate, I mean show me in the actual image. When my friends ask me where they should buy their HDMI cables, I tell them to get the cheap $3 cables on Amazon. Order 3 or 4, and if you have a bad one, you still come out ahead.

As an example of rampant audio psuedoscience, one myth that we deal with all the time at my company is whether MP3 files are significantly inferior to the original audio. When we remove variables like cheap 5 cent D/A convertors, 10 cent headphone amplifiers, and $1.00 earbuds most often found on portable MP3 players from the equation, guess what? For all people tested, MP3 audio files achieve transparency against the original material at around 160kbps. Most so-called audio "experts" refuse to believe this, but we've demonstrated it over and over again in blind ABX testing.

I am not saying that the MP3 audio codec is perfect, only that for most applications it damn near is. Although I wouldn't want to use it for a glockenspiel recording :)

Regarding Veblen goods in photography, it's often just like in high-end audio: the devil is in the accessories. What about a plastic lenshood priced at $599.95 (Nikon HK-29), a plain lenscap at for $139.50 (Canon E-145B), or a nice sensor brush at $249.95?

I globally agree with your analysis: nobody cares about rangefinders. But I bet many people would be willing to buy a no-nonsense camera with a real aperture ring, a real shutter speed dial with "Auto" setting, a +2/-2 EV exposure compensation and a reasonably accurate mean of framing and focusing the camera, but no autofocus. A rear LCD could do the job, if it has enough resolution and is legible in bright light. After all, large format cameras and most medium format cameras do not have an eye-level finder and it has never prevented photographers from taking great pictures with them.

Cheers!

Abbazz

Regarding the size of the market for digital rangefinders, I'm assuming that people who frequent sites like this think it's much larger than it really is.

In fact, I think people who frequent sites like this think the market for anything other than tiny point-and-shoots (incl. cell phones) is larger than it really is.

A bunch of people are asking for something, or complaining about something, on every photo blog/magazine/forum you visit, can really give a mistaken impression of the market.

I don't want a status symbol. I just want a small digital camera that has a nice 35/2 lens (not 35 "equivalent", an actual 35) and I'd like to not pay $10K for it. I don't really expect Leica to do this for me, it's not what they do, I think partly by choice and partly because they don't know how.

I'm also willing to admit that the number of people who want this camera is relatively small, but it's not small enough that such a thing did not exist in the film world (hi, Konica Hexar). The relative success of the small form factor cameras by Panasonic and Olympus also indicates to me that maybe more people want a camera like this than we give the market credit for.

So that's what I want. A digital Konica Hexar. I personally could care less if it were a Leica.

mike, I hope that that website with the review for the 16.000/meter reasonably priced cable is a paid subscription site... it has to be. What would be the point to be able to read such a thing for free?

The M9 isn't unreasonably priced. In terms of build and image quality it's in the same league as the D3x or 1Ds3, so it's not Veblen pricing if it costs about the same (which it does). It doesn't compete with those cameras in terms of automation or shooting speed, but they can't compete in size, weight, or low profile. If anything in Leica's line is outrageously priced- other than the clearly Veblen priced collectors' editions- it's some of their lenses.

To be honest, I don't think your economic analysis is at all accurate here, at least with regards to Leica. I won't comment on audio equipment because I have no knowledge of it, but I find it hard to believe Leicas are Veblen goods. I disagree unless you limit your comments to the various special editions, in which case I would agree, along with maybe some other specific examples like the Noctilux in the last 5-10 years, but I definitely do not think it applies to the M9 or their regular cameras.

Being a status symbol is insufficient, nor is the fact that the brand has special desirability. To be a Veblen good, sales would have to actually go down if Leica lowered the price. I highly doubt this effect would occur, and to make the claim I think you need to present a considerably more thorough argument. I do agree Leica likely would see diminishing returns--the moderately increased sales would not be enough to offset the lower revenue per sale. The same diminishing return is possible if they came out with a cheaper camera that cannibalized their more expensive models. However, this effect is a question of optimization for a classic demand curve, not a Veblen one, and fits with the small market niche role that Leica has. With reasonable confidence I think they would sell at least a few more cameras if they dropped the price. Even among what are clearly luxury products, a true Veblen good is not a given, especially if they have an objective utility, which a M9 does being a high-end picture taker.

It's a warped world.

When I was still in the IT industry, I could afford anything I wanted. Well, almost anything that was still reasonably priced anyway, like a Leica M6 was back in year 2002. I owned my first Leica M6TTL in that year at an age below 30, and really enjoyed shooting with it along with evolving DSLRs. There were friends who think I had no right to pretend to be hcb on the streets at that young age.

When I decided to do something I really love and gave up my cushy job to be a photographer / teacher, the gear I owned had to be downsized, but at least I still kept the M6. Life was poorer financially, but still good.

Then I fell in love, and got married to a wonderful girl. Buying a house, paying the bills meant the Leica and it's associated film costs had to go.

So now I m happily married, doing teaching and running a small photography business, but I no longer had the finances at this point to get a Leica because those wonderful Leica m8s and m9s had been priced way out of range of the average working photographer. If I had chosen to stay in my corporate job, I probably would have owned a couple of those babies by now.

I guess I just have to be content with my D700 :)

It's surprising and somewhat disappointing to hear that Leica buyers just want a Leica and the cameras and lenses are secondary to the name. I'm not saying it's not true just that I never thought that photographers were that shallow. Personally, I couldn't care less about the Leica name, and I've never purchased a Leica product because of the name. Also, I've never thought of a Leica as a status symbol but just as a niche product that has no competition which explained to me the relatively high price. I must be naive.

re: Slide Scanners

Look at Pacific Image PowerSlide 3650, 3600dpi, Automated, 35mm, Slide Scanner.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/430671-REG/Pacific_Image_PS3650_PowerSlide_3650_3600dpi_Automated_.html

I got myself one for Xmas and have been very happy with it.

My only problem is that is scans slides faster then I can do the data entry :-)

I must say, I get very frustrated when people say that Leicas are status symbols. I realize they are for some, but personally, this quality embarrasses me--I really dislike it when someone (rarely) stops me and asks if I'm shooting with a Leica.

What makes Leica unique is not its value as a status symbol, but its status as the only current production digital rangefinder camera. It does a particular thing that nothing else does quite the same way, and it does this very well. The $16,000 cable is doing the EXACT SAME THING as a normal cable--just better, we're asked to believe. The M9, for instance, does not do the exact same thing as, say, a high-end Canon. It is the ONLY WAY you can use certain manual focus lenses, at their intended field of view, in the digital realm.

Add to this the particular tactile, mechanical, etc., qualities of the M9--you don't touch your $16,000 cable. Its ergonomics are meaningless. You install it and forget about it. If you like Leicas, you like them because they feel a certain way, they work a certain way, and they give you a certain kind of image that is qualitatively different from what you get out of other cameras.

That said, I don't have one--it's too pricey for me. But I do have an M8. And I am thinking of becoming one of those people who put tape over the dot--because I don't want to be lugging around a status symbol. I want to be lugging around a camera I love to use.

Eeeep.

'Nuff said.

With best regards.

Stephen

I'm far from an audiophile; I'm just curious: why wouldn't you want a .mp3 glockenspiel recording?

Aaron

Nothing says high-end audio like The Clever Little Clock. Read all about it at:

http://www.machinadynamica.com/machina42.htm

It's from the same folks who sell The Teleportation Tweak. The entire web site is a must read....

Long live Blue Jeans cable, just a happy listener.

High priced cable is the favorite "whipping boy" for high priced audio outsider critics. My favorite (and I'm a card carrying audio nut) are the products that have a simple circuit and minimal features and are encased in a ridiculously bombproof chassis. And carry a ridiculously high price.
This overkill is in the name of vibration control. Okay, I can agree with that. But years ago they used to encase the circuitry in a "potted module" to accomplish the same thing (much cheaper).
The equivalent in photography would be a gold plated Leica.

The comments here just show how close to not being a Veblen good the Leica is.

Yes, there are numerous photographers who use a Leica because they want what a Leica offers. There are also a number of photographers who would happily use an equally competent product from a manufacturer without the Leica prestige. However, none of this obviates the value in realizing just how much of a status symbol Leica really is. The collectors' editions and the sealed and never used re-sale market testify to this side of the Leica world/brand. This idea of Leica as a prestige good seems especially strong in Asia. The growth of M7 sales in Shanghai and other similar markets speaks to this, I think.

The idea is in the west too. In the Chanel No 5 ad with Audrey Tautou, what camera would she be using except a Leica!

Not quite up there with that cable or knob as a Veblen good, but this is close.

As for the less (content) is more (money) Porsche has often sold versions of their cars that at higher cost came without heaters, AC, radios, and carpeting, and so on. Some people want the experience of a raw unintermediated machine that will do whatever you tell it even if it all goes terribly wrong, some people want comfortable transportation.

The M series Leica are hard to use, hard to buy, and best of all the only people who notice are impressed, unlike driving a Porsche.

In Europe for extra cost Mercedes will sell you their high end V12 cars with all the identifying badges removed. Of course as a consequence lots of people remove the identifying badges on the less expensive Mercedes cars.

On the other hand, I do think that Leica may have a good opportunity to exploit in digital with their emphasis on precision. The main problem with building the worlds most precise 35mm film cameras was that they used 35mm film but if quality was a big deal you used medium format or larger. Leica tolerances have actual utility with digital, high precision is the achilles heel of current autofocus DSLRs and most of the traditional medium format brands are in trouble.

Speaking of paying more for a brand
what's the diff between
Pacific Image PowerSlide 3650
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/430671-REG/Pacific_Image_PS3650_PowerSlide_3650_3600dpi_Automated_.html

and Braun Slide Scan 4000 ?

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/486036-REG/Braun_34502_Slide_Scan_4000.html

Besides $1003.00 and a revered german brand name?

This seems to be a variation on a theme. I love the featured comment by Jim. The hooey about $16,000 audio cables reminds me of the studies that have repeatedly shown that if you take inexpensive wine, re-bottle it with a Chateau Lafite label, and serve it with great flourish at a high end restaurant along with a great meal to an individual expecting to taste a great wine she will think the wine is the greatest she ever tasted. Expectations change perceptions. That's why blind tests were invented.
.

"The typical M9 buyer wants it to cost more than most people can afford. It's a status symbol, and status symbols that everyone can afford are no longer status symbols."

I don't know any other M9 owners so I cannot confirm or deny your statistics. But as an M9 owner myself I can honestly say that it's no "status symbol" to me. I've only one or two acquaintances who would even recognize a Leica camera body at all and neither would recognize any specific models. Most people on the street certainly think an M of any kind is either an antique or a toy today.

And, no, I don't want the M9 to cost as much as it does. I would have been delighted to have kept, say, half of that $7,000 in my pocket. But it's become commonly understood that the relatively high prices of Leica cameras are the resultants of several factors, not the smallest of which is the high-touch manufacturing processes that Leica employs in an economic zone where costs of labor have long since evacuated most manufacturing activities.

So, to your headline point, yes I'm sure that Leica cameras could be more expensive. But I strenuously argue your claim that a Leica M is a status symbol to the average owner. If it's generally considered a "symbol" at all it would perhaps be a symbol of connoisseurship. But even that claim would be tenuous.

Crikeys! I make do with lamp cord, off a spool.

Conferences are the leisure of the theory class.

Why would anyone want a digital rangefinder and miss out on the thrill of developing you own B&W film at home? I picked up a user M3DS and Elmar 2.8 50 and am having a ball with it. The camera and I are the same age and the M3 is holding up better than I am.

I totally agree with Tim Swan. While there ARE Leica-snob owners who don't want the unwashed to afford an M, count me as someone, along with a LOT of others who would jump at a kit at a far more affordable price.

I think the whole "Leica elite owners" thing is a myth and a crock. Leica owners are merely a reflection of society as a whole.

>I'm far from an audiophile; I'm just curious: why wouldn't you want a .mp3 glockenspiel recording?<

There are certain sounds that psycho-acoustical codecs can have a hard time reproducing accurately. Some lower bit-rate encoders can occasionally have trouble with hi-hats or ride cymbals on some material. Glockenspiels can also "break" codecs, or at least require much higher than usual bit-rates to reproduce adequately.

Another possible codec breaker is bird whistles. Fortunately they don't show up often in pop records.

However, in the last few years audio encoders have gotten very good at addressing these tough-to-encode audio examples.

Are Leicas particularly good status symbols outside big cities? I've been shooting a Leica for over a year now and, apart from photography enthusiasts (and, often, not even them), no-one I meet seems to have a clue what it's worth. My rather more humble dSLR, however, usually gets an admiring coo of, 'Oh, it looks very expensive...' Perhaps Leicas are more like Stradivarius violins which most people wouldn't be able to spot: they're expensive because they make great pictures, cost a lot to produce, and there aren't many of them around.

As for Leica users not wanting their equipment to be cheaper: a quick look at the thriving second-hand market would put paid to that idea surely?

A fullframe digital rangefinder is all I want, and I has nothing to do with status. I can't quite stomach the M9 for $7K, but a Zeiss Ikon digital rangefinder would be right up my alley.

PS Maybe one someone more knowledgeable about such things than I could cast an expert eye over Leica's recent fiscal report:

http://www.corporate.leica-camera.com/investor_relations/annual_reports/2009/index.html

But can you really manufacture a true Veblen product and make a loss of €4.8million at the same time?

High-end audio gear and high-end cameras are different in another way that’s been missed so far. The audio gear plays art created by others, and the designer of the gear gets the praise or blame, not the owner of the gear. Since a camera’s owner creates the art, he or she is responsible for the art. Sooner or later someone is going to ask to see the images…

I manage an audio R&D lab, and I have to say that Jim’s comments are spot on. In fact, when listening to normal material very few people can tell the difference between a CD and 128 Kbps MP3, and hardly anyone can tell the difference between a CD and 128 Kbps AAC. Glockenspiel solos aren’t really typical material, and for those you may need a few more bits.

To answer Aaron’s question: short, impulsive sounds like glockenspiels, triangles, and castanets are among the hardest sounds for MP3 to represent accurately. Newer audio coders like AAC and WMA handle such sounds better but not perfectly. That's why Jim wouldn't use MP3 for a glockenspiel recording, but he probably doesn't get much call for those anyway.


I don't know if this will influence anyone's notion of whether Leicas are Veblen goods, but while waiting for a haircut today, I saw a fashion magazine quick feature titled, "Spotted on the Street: Leica Camera Bags as Purses."

As someone who has been reading your blog for quite some time now, I have to say that I'm becoming increasingly annoyed by your repeating that Leica users are snobs assembling status symbols.

Sure, there are lots of wealthy Leica collectors who pay unreasonable prices for dubious "limited editions" and there certainly are people who "use" Leicas becuase they are status symbols. But I'd say that the real status symbol in photography nowadays is a huge Nikon/Canon dSLR slung around your neck. I've seen enough people carrying tons of "professional" dSLR equipment far more expensive than an M9 with them who couldn't see a decent shot if it hit them in the face.

I've been using Leicas since the beginning of the 90s and with one exception everything I bought I bought used. I know several others who did the same. There are enough people who simply use Leicas because they are significantly different from everything else that can be bought nowadays. And no matter what Olympus and Panasonic have released recently or what you might or might not know about Zeiss/Sony, the fact is that if you want to have a certain type of digital camera you either have to buy a Leica (or the virtually non-existent Epson RD-1) or nothing.

Maybe repeating your mantra over and over again is a nice knee slapper for the majority of your readers, but I feel a bit insulted by it.

With absolutely no good reason to comment, but general tiredness and frustration making me long for something approaching social contact:

My wife does research in linguistics: specifically, she's an intonational phonologist. When asked to explain what that means, I usually say that she studies the sort of musical aspects of speech: stress, tone, rhythm. She rolls her eyes and makes exasperated sounds when she hears me say that.

Anyway, mp3 apparently absolutely mutilates her datasets. The differences are not clearly audible, but the tools that she uses choke horribly when presented with waveforms that have been passed through an mp3 codec. But since what she's looking for are usually phenomena that are at the very edges of perception, that's really not too surprising.

She's pretty much a pixel peeper for the speech processing set.

On the topic of rangefinders: I still have, and have fun shooting with, the canonet I had in grade school. Leica, Shmeica.

The interesting thing is that high-end audio is enjoyed in the privacy of one's home and cannot be said to be truly conspicuous consumption,

Even things kept in the privacy of one's own home can be conspicuous consumption. After all, people still invite guests- often people they want to impress- into their homes, and they have clubs to talk about their interests. Somebody who buys expensive audio gear so they can show it off to their house guests and brag about it at the local audiophile club is engaged in conspicuous consumption, even if they never use it outside their home.

Your Odin cable example cracks me up. I am an audiophile, but there are limits. Crazy world!

The funniest 'audiophile' accesory I have seen is a gold plated battery terminal for your car to make the car audio system sound much better!

I'm not sure what the megabucks gold cable manufacturers think they are achieving but they should considere that their connectors are plugged into RCA sockets which are then soldered into a PCB. So at this point the signal is carried by lead, tin and copper. How do those electrons manage to get there on time?

Many of the commenters love their Leicas for their feel and function rather than because of the Leica badge. I haven't read Veblen's work but don't see a conflict with Mike's assertion about a Leica M9 being a Veblen good. There are undoubtedly people buying Bristol cars for the driving pleasure they provide, too. Veblen goods don't have to be bad products or deceptive in some way, do they? Just because many or most buy them as status symbols doesn't prevent them from being useful products to others.

As a side note, the similarities between Bristol and Leica are interesting—strong engineering backgrounds are part of the image, niche players, manufacture products expensively, rely on an older but proven approach (unstressed body and separate chassis in Bristol's case), make products that last forever and are expensive, are very reliant on major bought-in parts (big Chrysler engine & switchgear for Bristol, Kodak CCD and electronics for Leica), products bought by rock stars, royalty and stockbrokers, and are admired by some of the cognoscenti, at least. (For Bristol, the late LJK Setright's eloquent pieces did the work of a thousand Leicaphile forum posts.)

At least Leica sends its products out for review. Not so Bristol, though some people might find the exasperated tone of the reader rebuttals here (scroll to the bottom) familiar, particularly the one written by 'Enthusiast'. (For a little balance, here's the official story.

"For all people tested, MP3 audio files achieve transparency against the original material at around 160kbps."

That's exactly what I discovered with my computer/sound system.

"Only a few people really want a digital rangefinder. What people want is a Leica. It's not the same thing."

Sorry Mike, but this is nonsense.

Regarding cost vs. value of equipment, there is one rather interesting area to look into: digital audio cables. It would seem that there isn't much difference in how zeros and ones are transmitted, but still there is a factor of 100 (probably more) difference in prices.

Product reviews pages at Amazon provide treasures for products such as these, for example this one for Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable, priced at $500.

Here is an extract from a review (there are plenty more): "After I took delivery of my $500 Denon AKDL1 Cat-5 uber-cable, Al Gore was mysteriously drawn to my home, where he pronounced that Global Warming had been suspended in my vicinity. [...] Yes, I had perfect weather: no flooding, no tornadoes, the exact amount of rain necessary, and he pronounced sea levels exactly right and that they were not going to rise within five miles of my house."

Three comments:

(1) Whether its status influenced your decision to buy a Leica probably isn't highly correlated with whether you'll admit this. Any company must pay more attention to what people open their wallets for than what they talk about.

(2) The especially amusing thing about high-end audio is that much less expensive gear was used in the recording studio. The microphone sure as hell didn't have a $16000 cord on it.

(3) Those who think Leica prices are way out of line should get hold of a microscope price list. Labs don't buy stuff to impress anyone. The amazing thing really is how much great equipment we can get for so little money, these days.

...not the smallest of which is the high-touch manufacturing processes that Leica employs in an economic zone where costs of labor have long since evacuated most manufacturing activities.
-Ken Tanaka

Prices may be more expensive because of where it's manufactured, but note that Germany, a country of 80 million, has more manufacturing output than all of China. So labor hasn't evacuated just quite yet.
Even though the M9 is expensive, I think the price stands out more so given that other, good cameras have gotten so cheap.

So maybe I should shut up about the price, and hope for a Bessa R2-D.
-Mark Sperry

Epson R-D1?

The success of the Micro 4/3 cameras show that many people want a small digital body that rivals SLR quality. Although the demand for manual focus is low, there is surely a sizable market for someone to fill the niche. Just as we have three options for film rangefinders (Cosina, Zeiss, and Leica), surely we could get by with three digital options.

As an aside, I'm under 30 and use rangefinders. My first camera was a dSLR, but it [and more importantly, its lenses] were so big that I didn't enjoy shooting with it. I can imagine there are a handful, and only a handful, of others like me.

"Could be worse"

Well, yes...

"2009 marked the 60th Anniversary of Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). In order to celebrate the moment, Leica introduces its MP Golden Camera Limited Edition, which includes the Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 Gold lens.
Both the camera and lens are coated by 24k gold and the camera body is convered by Leica Red Box Calf leather. They have Mao Zedong’s front type 中華人民共和國萬歲 (Long Live The People’s Republic of China) red calligraphy and Tiananmen Square pattern.
Only 60 sets are available and special serial number starts from the year 1949 to 2009. The Leica MP Golden Camera and the Gold lens are contained by a luxury wooden box. Each set is price at 199,900 Chinese Yuan (US$29,284) and is sold in China..."

There is probably some proportion of a Leica's price that is subject to Veblen elasticity - remember the early rebadged Fuji P&Ss, which had a clearly measurable 'Leica premium' - it's just that the proportion is much lower that the almost 100% for high-end audio interconnects.

But what your post has made me consider is the qualitative contrast between listening to recordings on high-end audio, which is a primarily passive experience, while a Leica is used as a tool to create.

Perhaps it's this distinction, that the less you can do with an object (ie. simply own it) the more of its value can be susceptible to Veblen pricing. After all, Veblen didn't coin the phrase conspicuous creation

On the other hand, writing about experience with high-end audio is a very creative activity. But that's another story.

In audio equipment I went for really good stuff long ago even though I couldn't really afford it (it's all Linn). No regrets, every record sounds great 20 years later, no need to chase for new cables, amplifiers etc.
In cameras, if I had just bought the Leica, Hasselblad or whatever from the start, and new, it would've cost less than the pile of crap that I've accumulated over the years. And I'm still looking for the Linn equiv. in cameras. M9, perhaps?

Generalizations sometimes work, like a sucker is born every minute, even if a very old cliche. Being a cliche doesn't make it less true, just boring and hard to re-hear. Status objects and status seekers can be the dream world of a clever business, if they can figure out how to cloth the object to be so appealing to overcome what little common sense does seem to exist in such a world. Fun and profitable warping of reality!

Mike

Jim - thanks for the glockenspiel explanation. Everyone once in a while there's a question that Google can't answer...

Aaron

If I had $16,000 to spend on what amounts to a glorified extension lead I would spend it on getting out more.

The issue is whether they are different in kind or degree. Or, using the species comparison, can they mate?

A sound cable is not different in kind but only different degree of price. They can be interchanged and you can still hear the sound, perhaps with a different quality. But they are of the same species.

The problem with Leica M9 and Nikon D700 is that they are of different kind. You cannot easily interchange their lens. The way they look at the world is not the same. Hence, the price difference is irrelevant as they are of different kind. One would to have Zeiss Ikon Digital or Epson R2D2 (10mp with the Epson RD1 body) is ok for me. That is the issue with Leica M9. There is not even M8.5. (And the RD1x is silly for a new product.) We need a bigger pool.

They can play their Veblen card but they need a cheap alternative for that kind, if not from them. Otherwise they would extinct.

Jim's absolutely right. He's also a very brave man, unlike myself.......

So far as I can see, the only reason for a digital Leica RF is as a way to use all those very expensive lenses. The fact is that, whilst we may shed a tear, the world has moved on and RFs are an anachronism.

I do hope they can make a success out of the S2 though. Then maybe we'll see a poor man's version finally arrive from Pentax.

"'Only a few people really want a digital rangefinder. What people want is a Leica. It's not the same thing.' Sorry Mike, but this is nonsense."

Rob,
You're entitled to your opinion, etc., but (obviously) I don't think it's nonsense at all. If there were an even-more perfected M9--let's say smaller, weathersealed, with better data throughput, with native M-mount, but APS-C--and it was made by Nikon or Sony or Cosina, and it cost, say, $1300, I'll bet it would sell 5x-20x what the M9 sells--still a very small number in the larger camera market--and that would be that. Sure, some people would love it, and some talented photographers would use it. It would have its devotees. But it wouldn't be a significant seller. If it were full-frame and cost $2500, same deal.

This is all supposition, of course, because it's hypothetical until some company actually does it. But I bet I'm close.

Photographers don't always want what they say they want. Leica is an icon (with apologies to Zeiss!), and people want Leica to survive--a great many people are going to great lengths to help that happen. But most people don't want mechanical rangefinders, and most people don't want manual focus cameras, and most people don't want cameras that won't accept zooms. That's just the way it is.

Mike

Edi,
Don't put words in my mouth, please. I didn't call Leica users snobs. I didn't call anyone a snob. The point of the post is simply that Leicas would be less desirable if they weren't premium products and the "conventional wisdom" that they ought to be more affordable, oft repeated, is misguided in my opinion.

Mike

Actually, the success of the Cosina Voigtlander Bessas argues strongly that what the market wants is a rangefinder, not a Leica. Sure, Bessa shooters do move up to Leicas, but mostly because you're getting a better product (Better build, better focusing accuracy).

Note that Cosina, not Leica, is the most successful 35mm film camera company remaining.

You've reminded me of a point made about running shoes on a British comedy quiz programme call QI (for Quite Interesting). The quite interesting point made was that after about £60-80 a pair of trainers don't improve in terms of benefits for training or running as cost increases. But because people will buy them for fashion and prestige manufacturers make more expensive models because if they didn't one manufacturer might colour a pair gold, double the price and make a fortune as the only supplier in that market. Supply and demand is turned on it's head as people demand more expensive goods. As a runner I find this crazy. As an audiophile those cables make me want to cry, those things are two years of my current income (unemployment benefits) and anyone buying them could surely do something better with that money. Luckily as a photographer, I use Canon and I'm quite happy whilst also contemplating possible Sony or Pentax purchases. Though Leicas are pretty...

"they should considere that their connectors are plugged into RCA sockets which are then soldered into a PCB. So at this point the signal is carried by lead, tin and copper."

Steve,
They use silver solder. (I'm serious, they do.)

Mike

People like spending a lot of money for stuff, because they get to tell others about it. We don't hunt and gather anymore, so we don't get a chance to brag about that.

Good stuff always costs more, but expensive stuff isn't always necessarily good. It's a dilemma.

Mike
Its been said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"In the case of LEICA, a camera,a rangefinder camera,a digital rangefinder camera,by any other name would not be a LEICA.And although I cant afford an M9 I would not want LEICA to become just another camera.In a world filled with dime a dozen cookie cutter cameras its a delight to know there is still a company devoted to quality,craftsmanship,and precision.

Interesting contribution Jim, tx.
"The reason...is because" makes me cringe though, it lowers the level of your writing considerably. Nothing personal, just an observation/comment.

All the high end cables, tube amps and the like will not help if you have the wrong kind of electricity powering your system.
Only wind, solar or hydroelectric power will do. If you do not feed your system organic free range electrons you will have excessive noise.
Everyone knows this. One of the orderilies here at the sanatarium typed this for me.

A counterpoint to MJ's assertion about photography. Photographs have a 'Touch of the Veblen" about them. I am sure MJ and others could comment better here but all of art is infused with overprice for the import and impact of any given work.
NL

Too strange... What kind of Veblen good would require camouflage to perform its intended task? See what people do with the red dot. It must be something else, perhaps a mixture of Veblen in Asia, and the photographic equivalent of a cheap Stradivarius in the west. Photography is supposed to trigger emotional reactions, but with Leica, one doesn`t even have to take a picture for an intense reaction!

Forgot this relevant link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSINO6MKtco

Steve and Jim: Yes, blind tests. Very VERY useful; since our own brains (and never mind other people's brains) aren't completely trustworthy.

I've organized blind tastings on various ranges of wines, but the very first one I did was a Coke tasting. We demonstrated that everybody participating could tell diet from regular, and Coke from Pepsi (and was right about their preference), and glass bottles from plastic bottles from aluminum cans.

Most of us thought the 32oz glass bottles tasted best. (That is as likely to represent random variation in the bottling plant than anything real about the bottles, mind you; but, tasting blind samples in groups of 4, a strong majority preferred the 32oz glass bottle Coke.)

I came away with a considerably heightened regard for the sensitivity of the human senses of taste and smell.

In the Chianti tasting, a solid majority preferred a cheap wine in a basket-covered bottle to any of the Chianti Classicos in the tasting. This was generally viewed with great joy -- a cheap wine they liked! (Since bottles were present, though covered in paper bags, we decanted the one in the strange-shaped bottle to avoid that giving anything away. The act of decanting changes wine, though, so that may have skewed things. Testing is hard :-)).

The "interconnect" that really winds me up is the super-expensive POWER cables for audio gear. You plug them into the end of however many yards of cheap Romex are between the outlet and the power box, and they somehow make a difference. Yeah, right. (Haven't done blind tests, so it's possible I could be wrong on this. I'm not holding my breath, though.)

I have a tiny bit of sympathy for the position that it's immoral to let a sucker keep his money, but some of these seem to me to go too far.

Nigel,
That's not real, is it?

Mike

Whether or not a Leica is a Veblen good - we used to call them luxury goods last time I did any formal economics study - depends on the purchaser.

In my case, I want an M9 because I want a full frame DRF to use my lenses on.

Here's the crucial point: if they cut the price of an M9 to US$1,000 I would buy it tomorrow. If they increase it to US$10,000 my interest in one would decrease to near zero immediately. At US$5,000 I have to save for one for a while.

I'd argue that a small proportion of people want a digital rangefinder. That doesn't mean that there isn't rather a lot of them. A small proportion of people are Irish. There's still 4 or 5 million of us.

"A related mistaken belief is that "one of the big camera companies should make an affordable digital rangefinder that takes M-mount lenses."** Actually, they shouldn't. Know why? Because there's no market for that. (Well, there is, but it's a very small one.) Only a few people really want a digital rangefinder. What people want is a Leica. It's not the same thing."

Mike
I don't know, but I just did an eBay search for Epson R-D1, none available. And new they are heading into the Leica price range.

Incidentally, Mike, to what extent is your assessment of the Leica market driven by justifying your own decisions not to buy one? (And to what extent is mine driven by rationalising my own interest in RFs?)

Steve,
They use silver solder. (I'm serious, they do.)

I'm sure they do (so do we now as lead is banned) but the PCB is still tin plated copper (as are all interconnecting wires) and how many people think that all of the interconnects in the recording studio are of the same 'gold' standard as their own high end system?

As for the less (content) is more (money) Porsche has often sold versions of their cars that at higher cost came without heaters, AC, radios, and carpeting, and so on. Some people want the experience of a raw unintermediated machine that will do whatever you tell it even if it all goes terribly wrong, some people want comfortable transportation.

But in that case the increased cost is (somewhat) understandable. The had to pull the car out of the normal manufacturing process, and thus incurred higher labor costs. And this was done to increase utility; 911 Club Sports and the like have the creature comforts removed to make them lighter, faster and more competitive. That people bought/valued them for other reasons is at fact about which Porsche is very happy, but ultimately they aren't produced to cater to an aesthetic. From a purely price/performance standpoint, Porsche is the Canikon of the supercar world, capable of running with more expensive "prestige" marques while being fairly reasonable priced and offering down market versions. You'd have to look at your Paganis and Koenigseggs to find a piece of handbuilt, bleeding edge of performance, ridiculously priced piece of kit comparable to Leica.

What's funny is this exact discussion occurs regularly on gun forums, as someone argues that the new Superbambislayer Tactical is capable of shooting .125 MOA out of a cold barrel, and placing all subsequent shots so accurately that they actually decrease the size of the hole, and that if you're serious about hunting/competition/defending your yard you have to own one. And then someone points out that the Superbambislayer Tactical is $5K, and the $500 Pipsqueak 5000 shoots almost as well, and that there's nowhere near a 10x increase in performance for the 10x increase in cost, and that the increase has negligible real world impact for most shooters. At this point, the first guy says that the second guy is obviously a jealous, cheapskate n00b who doesn't care if his family is slaughtered in a weasel attack (which the Superbambislayer Tactical could have ended) and the conversation goes downhill from there.

I wish Leicas cost less and I wouldn't mind if every photographer in the world owned one. My M6TTL isn't abused, but it does go hiking, motorcycling, and out in the rain and snow. I'm actually embarised using one because of the negative perceptions associated with the user. (Although that's fading. Very few photographers even know what a Leica is, anymore. Ironic that people used Leicas for the supposed anonimity and now they finally have it, because Leica is so irrelevant, in terms of sales.) It's kind of like driving a Cadillac.

In the early 90's, I tried using a Nikon FM2 for the higher flash sync speed but the sound, noise, vibration, tactile feedback during the shutter release were "offensive".

Leicas cost what they cost for a reason. And the reason is that they have no direct competition in the marketplace.

"to what extent is your assessment of the Leica market driven by justifying your own decisions not to buy one?"

Not at all.

Mike

Steve,
You're not asking me to justify the $16,000 interconnects, are you?

Mike

No, no, people don't want a Leica (that is to cope with the real thing, particularly its shortcomings and lack of reliability). What people love is the Leica illusion: perfectly crafted, reliable, head and shoulders above everything else.

M9 buyers want the camera to be more expensive because it's a status symbol? Well, I dunno.

I bought mine because I have a passle of Leica lenses, and the M9 is about the only thing I can shoot these digitally with. If Zeiss had've come out with a digital ZM, I would've bought that instead....and would've appreciated the lower price.

I certainly didn't start shooting Leicas as some kind of status symbol. I started out with a beat-up, secondhand M3 because I was shooting in situations where SLRs made way too much noise, and Leica was the only game in town as far as good quiet cameras went. Then I fell in love with 'em,and the rest is history....

This comment may be a bit late in the game but here goes. Because an individual claims that they would buy a Leica if it cost less is not a proper argument against Mike’s assessment of Leica as a Veblen good. Individuals make decisions to maximize the use of their available resources to produce the largest return for that individual. The assumption is that all the collectors and Leicaphiles of the world would act in a similar fashion to the photographers who visit this site. In the case presented here, if the Leica was priced lower, more people with an interest in using them may buy more but even more collectors may be turned off by the diminishment of the ‘Leica prestige’ thus reducing the total sales. I, for one, would be happy to see this theory tested (i.e. a lower priced ‘photographers Leica’) but do not see this ever coming to pass.

"I wonder how much a meter of pure gold cable would cost. At $16,000 a metre for the competition it can't be too far off feasible."

Paul, if you can live with about 2.5 mm^2 cross section it's a sound proposal ;-) ...

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