Leica prices are a constant topic of discussion: Are Leica products, especially M lenses and cameras, too expensive? Is Leica perhaps pricing out its customers? It seems that this thought has finally reached the Wetzlar crew. A survey among users shows it – surprisingly, Leica prices are at the centre of the questionnaire.
If you listen to Leica dealers, you can get an idea of what they are telling the sales representatives from Wetzlar. “Don’t forget the normal customers, the working photographers, the younger enthusiasts. Don’t exclude them from access to Leica cameras and lenses. Don’t turn entirely into a luxury goods company.“ That’s a bit condensed for sure, but it’s what I am hearing at times. There is a certain concern about Leica prices.
Leica prices were never low, but now they are worrying
Long waiting lists for even the most expensive items can’t hide the fact that Leica is becoming increasingly inaccessible. And that worries some dealers. Leica prices have always been high, no question. But I can’t remember Leica ever asking me directly how far I would go. And that’s where an email with a link to a customer survey comes in. As if it were a reaction to our The M Files series, where Macfilos and Messsucherwelt have been reviewing more affordable cameras and lenses with M-mount for more than two years now.
But is this just a feeling? A quick research on former Leica prices and statistical historical wages gives a price of 720 DM for a Leica M3 back in 1960. Sixty-three years later, the top model M11 is listed at 8,750 euros. The average yearly wage (as calculated for social insurance purposes) in Germany was 6,101 DM at the time. So, the M3 cost 1.4 times the average monthly wage in 1960. Today, with the statistics average yearly wage quoted as just over €43,000, the M11 costs 2.4 monthly wages. On the other hand, the new M6 is no more expensive than the M3 once was. Its €5,450 price tag is equivalent to 1.5 average monthly salary.
Let’s talk Leica prices: A survey makes concrete suggestions
The survey first asks which Leica system you own and then shows you hypothetical lenses. Respondents are then asked to indicate whether they are interested or not. Among the suggestions are a 35/2.8 compact Elmarit lens (hypothetical price: €2,800) and a new 35/2.0 Summicron with a minimum focus distance of 40 cm (€3,800). Another choice is (or at least was shown to me) a pair of Noctilux lenses: f/1.2, 480g, €9,500 — or f/0.95, 710g, €12,500. And another fictitious pair are two Summilux SL lenses, both 50mm f/1.4 and identical in specification, but one made in Germany for €5,500 and the other made in Japan for €3,000.
I found that remarkable. And: Apart from these aspects directly related to Leica prices, there are other questions regarding the participants’ loyalty to the Leica brand. Leica wants to know if and under what circumstances you would be willing to buy a non-Leica lens. Of course, the success of Voigtländer in particular, and perhaps even TTArtisan, 7Artisans, Laowa and other Chinese brands, is a matter of concern for Leica. Not to mention the obvious plagiarism you can see in some of the products. And who knows, maybe even an initiative such as the new Pixii rangefinder camera makes the Leica staff think twice.
Sigma lenses with Leica branding do already exist
The company has already set a precedent for third-party lenses bearing the Leica branding. The lenses include the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-70 f/2.8 and the Vario-Elmar-SL 100-400 f/5-6.3, which are known to be based on similar Sigma offerings. And the two recent primes, the 35 and 50 mm Summicron ASPH, are very similar in specification to the equivalent Panasonic Lumix lenses.
In these cases, Leica has erected a smokescreen by fielding new casings and differing control features to justify what, in some cases, is a 100 per cent premium. There is even doubt about where these lenses are put together, with Portugal being cited in some quarters. But Leica enthusiasts will pay for the brand, especially if the “proper” higher-performance Leica equivalents cost twice as much again.
Strange names: How high are the thresholds for entering the Leica world?
Finally, moving away from Leica prices, the survey also assesses the value of Leica’s traditional lens nomenclature. I found several of the questions them confusing at first. Do I know what Summilux, Elmarit and all the like mean? Finally, if I feel comfortable being an insider with my knowledge. And Leica wants to know if a nomenclature based on use cases or quality levels (“Art” and “Contemporary” are explicitly mentioned) meets with my approval. I would not go so far as to say that there could be plans to invent a new lens naming scheme. But that must be somehow an issue for Wetzlar somehow.
We will never know what the outcome of the survey will be. And how much it will actually influence Leica’s decisions. But what we can be sure of is that the big issue of accessibility is on Leica’s mind. And that’s good news, at least in my mind. Not listening to customers has been the first step towards decline for many companies, as Leica has experienced itself. And that the thresholds of the rangefinder world are high is a fact. That’s seen not least in the enormous response we received for this Macfilos article about a manageable entry into the M system.
Leica has experimented more than once with low-cost lines
And who knows, maybe Leica prices are a topic, and we will see something like a base-level M lens line again? Or some more modified or re-branded SL lenses? Both are not new to Leica. Think of the sadly discontinued Summarits, think of the Minolta-made analogue Leica CL, think of Minolta cameras and lenses in the R system, think of these SL lenses with striking similarities to their Sigma and now also Panasonic counterparts…
What do you think? Have Leica prices made the brand inaccessible? Is the company’s pricing policy sustainable? What will happen when a generation of wealthy collectors leaves the scene? And what compromises are you willing to make for a significantly lower-priced Leica lens? Or is it just fine that the niche for Leica is getting smaller as long as it is profitable?
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