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Tuesday, 08 September 2009


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"those who claim the Leica M9 will be "ridiculously" expensive aren't saying anything real, because they're making relational statements without knowing the exact objects of those statements. That is, some people are poor and strapped for cash and some people are rich and aren't, and it's meaningless to generalize across both categories and everything in between"

No, people are saying many thousands of £ exceeds the real value of an M9 - and the fact that some people won't worry about this is utterly irrelevant.

If it's any consolation, the 3.0 CSi, while beautiful to look at, was actually a very frustrating car to own and a rather flawed design.

While the basic drivetrain was for the most part bulletproof, the pillarless windows whistled annoyingly at speed and the car's chassis was full of nooks and crannies that (IMO) existed solely for the purpose of turning steel and water into ferric oxide. Worse still, the rocker panels as well as the fenders -- both front and rear -- were all welded on, not bolted on, so DIY rust repair wasn't easily accomplished even if you were so inclined.

As you may have surmised, my knowledge of the above is firsthand, as I bought and briefly owned a high-mileage '73 3.0 CSi way back in 1985. IIRC, I paid a whopping $5,200 for it -- a lot of money for me at the time! -- and sucker that I am, I'd very likely buy another one today if they could still be had for that amount.

Mike, there is something I don't understand. If pros use lesser equipment then isn't money spent on high end equipment pointless? If you record something on lesser equipment how can the high end equipment make that recording sound better? You can't squeeze more out of what's on the tape, right? No matter what high end equipment I use New Day Rising by Husker Du will never sound better because Spot didn't know what the hell he was doing and ruined the recording. (Yes, I can't find new music as good as older alternative that radio hasn't ruined in some way for me).

Mike, there is a point where I think this breaks down, and I'll use BMW as an example.

BMW produces a tier of products, all with cachet and snob appeal but, some are accessible to the non-rich, even those where price is a consideration, even to the Forbes-ian "factory worker." The example is the 3-series. The 3 did not cheapen the brand, but instead brought a group of people into the culture, into the club, where they are likely to stay. Veblen on the cheap(er), as it were. And, they've even gone cheaper with the 1 series because unlike the Mini, people wanted a BMW, but they were content in NOT having a 750iL, but they wanted a Bimmer.

But here's where BMW, and others succeed in this market while others fail. Branding is important, but the hallmarks of the brand must be felt in all levels of product, and this is what keeps people buying into it.

GM failed with its "Cadillac" Cimarron because it tried fooling us with the Chevy Cavalier with fancy packaging. Leica did the same with rebranded Panasonic gear.

But the buyer of a BMW 3 series knows well they aren't getting all the amenities of a 7 series or M model, but they do know that SOME of the qualities: build quality, luxury and performance that are at least noticeably above the equivalent vehicle type of lower cost will come with the expenditure. It's simply a question of value.

The problem is the Leica M9 could be a good camera, but all the "Leica experience" (combined with its limitations) doesn't make this camera a value to most of the public, including some who are intimate with the Leica experience through film or who are accomplished photographers.

A BMW 7 series is a much better car than a 328 but unlike the Leica, is not literally an order of magnitude greater in price. Yes, there is no other digital rangefinder of consideration, but there are plenty of photographic devices that are doing just fine.

The Leica has to decide what it wants to be...a BMW or a Maybach.

Auto makers use the "Halo Vehicle" concept - where they make a vehicle that is just too over the top in features, luxury, technology, etc., and sell limited quantity if only to generate interest in the brand, knowing full well that the sales are in the lower tier of products

Leica produces a halo product in the M9. Their problem is they haven't produced the rest of the tier. With film they didn't need to for some time. But I think Leica's taking the right steps. I really believe the X1 is the start of adopting the successful strategy offered by other makers of upscale goods.

The Zeiss Ikon/Leica analogy fails, if for only it's a film camera in a digital world, but also because people didn't want a $1400 Zeiss. They don't want a $2500 Epson either. Yes, they want a $2000 Leica.

It doesn't have to be a M9.

If anyone is interested, I will soon be offering a special service to "burn in" CF and SD cards for maximum photography fidelity!

Excellent article. Struck me on two counts - as an ex-Leica user and as a one time marketing expert & lecturer in pricing.

Second, first: You never hear of de Beers offering cut-price diamonds! Why, because the price of something carries two messages:-
a) the economic cost to you as the purchaser, and
b) a indication of 'quality' of the product.

The 'quality' can be value of ownership (pride, self esteem, or economic use, etc.)
A company that manages to provide an excellent product and maintain high prices - without flooding the marketplace can maintain good profits and reinvest for quality. Leica are an excellent example of that. (But nearly missed it with the digital revolution!)

As a schoolboy back in the '50s, I wanted a camera, so my dad got a camera catalogue (Wallace Heaton, for the Brits here.) The most expensive camera was a Leica, even the standard lens cost what my dad earned in a month! I made up my mind to buy one. So by 1955, I was a 35mm owner, and reader of Leica fotografie, and in 1964 I had an old Leica IIIc, and by 1966 I'd bought an secondhand M3, and slowly built up a set of second hand lenses. I loved that gear and used it through to the late 1990's when I went digital with a 35mm scanner, but got sick of lugging lots of lenses around.

I sold the equipment for 3x the amount I'd paid for it (slightly better than inflation). Why? I'd got to the point where I suspected that carrying a Leica was too bound up in my own self image!!

So I got back to basics with a small Olympus fixed lens camera. After I went digital cameras in 2002, I found excellent Leica lenses on Panasonic stuff, and used a number of those (few regrets). Now I have a G1 and do regret selling my screw & M lenses.

Sure I'd love an M9 - but it wouldn't make me a better photographer - and at the end of the day - that is what it's all about, isn't it? Really?


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