People often ask me, “Should I buy a Leica?” I sometimes respond, “Should you put your dog to sleep?”
This is not some zen koan. For me, however, it is the same question.
If you happen to be a veterinarian (which I am), you know you should never answer the question, “Is it time to put fluffy to sleep?” If you ever asked your veterinarian that question and they gave you an unfulfilling answer you are about to learn why AND you are going to learn whether or not you should buy a Leica rangefinder.
Take it from me – “The Horse Killer.”
In vet school I was advised never to answer the question, “Should I put my pet to sleep?” The reason is that my relationship with my pet might be very different than yours. My finances might be different than yours. My expectations for therapy might be different than yours. Some people want to spend $15,000 on radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and renal transplants to give their pet an additional 4 months of life while others are inclined to take their dog and a shotgun to the back 40 and skip the vet bill if their dog has diarrhea for more than 3 days and/or decides to place the loose feces on the kids bed which, as you can expect, has happened.
During my internship, I stupidly ignored this advice and decided to answer THE question for a horse client. This client asked me if she should euthanize her horse immediately AFTER she told me she was thinking about mortgaging her trailer to pay for abdominal surgery that her horse desperately needed.
Knowing that there was a pretty low success rate for that type of equine abdominal surgery, it seemed reasonable (to me at least) that if she lived in a trailer, finances might be tight, she was probably overwhelmed by the whole situation and not thinking rationally, so mortgaging the trailer might not be in her best interest. Truth be told, I was expecting her to wind up with a big vet bill and a dead horse even if finances were not an issue. So, I stupidly told her that I didn’t think she should mortgage the trailer and it was probably time to put her horse down.
Long story short, she decided to do the surgery, mortgaged the trailer, the horse did fine, and lived happily ever after. For my efforts, I was branded “The Horse Killer.” From here vantage point, all I wanted to do was kill her horse. She hurled vitriol at me every time I saw her and I was banned from working on her horse ever again.
This is an example of why veterinarians never answer the question “Should I put my pet to sleep?”
It is also why I don’t answer the question, “Should I buy a Leica?” My situation is different than yours so my advice likely wont apply to your situation. My relationship with money is probably different than yours. My relationship with photography is probably different than yours. You might be thinking a Leica camera will endear you to a member of the opposite sex and I am absolutely certain that no member of the opposite sex will be endeared towards me no matter how many red dots I own.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t coached numerous people through a Leica camera purchase over the years. I have. Veterinarians don’t answer that godforsaken question but we still help pets and pet owners.
Step 1: Logic wont help you
Asking, “Should I buy a Leica?” is essentially the same question as “Should I buy a Ferrari?”, “Should I get drunk on $100 wine?”, “Should I buy felt covered Rag and Bone sneakers?” or “Will this Gucci bag get me laid?”
If you ask someone who doesn’t know anything about cameras, the answer to your Leica question will be “No, that is f-ing dumb, get out of my face, grow up and stop playing cameras and lenses. Who buys a manual focus camera anyway? I don’t care how heavy it feels…dumbass.”
Getting back to our analogy, however, if you ask a guy who stands around like a zombie at car shows on Saturday mornings staring at car engines he will tell you to that a Ferrari is a very reasonable purchase. If you talk with a dude who gets all activated by the thought of a woman with a Gucci bag if the bag is worth it, he will say yes – Gucci makes perfect sense. I am so activated now.”
Logic does not apply to a Leica purchase. With the exception of maybe a Leica monochrome, there is literally no way to justify a Leica purchase based on logic, reason, or the final photograph. There is also no logical reason to get drunk on $100 wine but lots of people do it.
There are tons of reasons not to buy a Leica rangefinder and more reasons not to buy a Leica SL but those are discussions for another time. Nobody ever asks me why they SHOULDN’T buy a Leica.
If you made it this far, I know you know all of that already. It is time to get to the stuff you haven’t heard before. You have an itch to scratch so keep reading.
Step 2: The Leica stupid tax
If you own a luxury car or a high end aero road bike, you already know about the stupid tax. The stupid tax is when you get charged $750 for a plastic part for your seatbelt or $2000 for a broken sensor when you bring your Mini Cooper to the BMW dealer. The stupid tax is when you are charged $400 for a plastic stem spacer on your $12,000 road bike that should cost $0.49
The stupid tax is the tax that luxury goods manufacturers and the aftermarket ecosystem put on you for being stupid enough to buy their products.
Examples of the Leica stupid tax include lens hoods and body caps that cost hundreds of dollars, camera grips that cost more than other cameras, proprietary flashes so expensive that that they make you want call yourself a natural light shooter, batteries that cost hundreds of dollars, and CLA’s and months long wait lists for repairs.
The stupid tax is part and parcel of owning a Leica camera. It may drive you mad sooner or later.
For the record, Hasselblad has a stupid tax too. Good luck with those focusing screens.
Step 3: You can always sell your Leica camera AT A LOSS.
One of the dumber things I hear often online is that Leica gear holds its value so you can sell Leica gear for as much or more than you paid for it. Spoiler alert: if you actually intend to use the camera – you can’t.
In the real world, camera gear gets beat up. This is why a camera is not an investment.
Leica buyers are maniacal about scuffs and scratches on gear. Any micro dust or blemish that will inevitably happen while you are using your camera will result in a painful negotiation wanting 10-20% less than the price you paid because all of the other sellers have perfect specimens which is expected since they just put their camera on the shelf and stared at it.
Woe is the seller who lost the original lens hood, original front or rear cap, and/or the cardboard box your camera came with got damaged in storage. It is all over for you. Your camera or lens is now worth way less than you paid for it.
Leica buyers have no gripes about sending back your gear at your cost if they feel anything is out of line. Feel the pain of insuring a Leica camera when you send it and then insuring it for the return trip.
I can honestly say I no longer try to sell any of my rangefinder gear because dealing with Leica buyers online is akin to dealing with an errant hemorrhoid.
If you live in a big city where you can find a local buyer you have a fighting chance but if you have to sell online, it is almost impossible to sell your camera for what you bought it for. If you are able to avoid a scammer, eBay takes 12.9% on camera sales. If you are selling expensive Leica items, that adds up quickly. Stated another way, you will have to make 12.9% on your Leica gear just to break even selling on eBay. Chances are you won’t be able to do that if you actually use your gear unless it is a black paint Leica which gets more valuable as you use it which is another vagary of the Leica world you should be aware of.
Step 4: Skip the cheap rangefinder from 1970 recommendation – A Canonet won’t help your decision.
A seemingly reasonable but misguided recommendation that is repeated ad nauseam online is the recommendation that if you are on the fence about buying a Leica rangefinder you should first get yourself a cheap rangefinder camera like an Olympus 35, Minolta Hi-Matic, Petri, or Canonet to see if you like shooting a rangefinder. I disagree.
Any “cheap” rangefinder you find these days will likely be broken, have a dusty viewfinder, and/or have a rangefinder patch you can barely see. These cameras also feel small and cheap and don’t have interchangeable lenses.
Old rangefinders are fun if you are into vintage cameras and, by all means, you should explore them if you are into that (I love my Petri Racer) but that advice about getting one to see if you will like a Leica is about as dumb as saying “Go test drive a Kia Sol. If you like that, go get a Ferrari. If you don’t like the Kia Sol, you won’t like the Ferrari.” So dumb. Nobody would say that.
My recommendation is to skip the stupid old rangefinder advice and go straight to the Leica. Go to a Leica store. Find a friend with a Leica. Go to a Beers and Cameras meetup. Rent one online. Do what you gotta do your feeling about an Olympus XA won’t have any bearing on how much you like or dislike a Leica.
Those old rangefinders also don’t really have any bearing on whether or not you will enjoy a Leica because until you walk around town with a non-weather sealed $4000-$10,000 camera and lens combo that can fall off a table, have beer spilled on it at an event, or even get stolen you won’t understand what it is like to own a Leica. There is background stress of walking around town with $4000 around your neck even if you have it attached to a Rock and Roll strap. If you cant take the background stress of owning a Leica, you are not ready for a Leica.
My recommendation that will answer your “Should I buy a Leica” question without answering your question
My answer to the question “Should you buy a Leica?” Is…..
“If you can’t afford 2 Leica’s – don’t buy one. If you can afford 2 Leica’s, scratch the itch, and stop asking people for advice. You won’t stop until you do. Get 2 and get on with your life.”
If you can afford 2, by all means, go. Now!!! Retail therapy baby. Stop looking at specs. Stop trying to use logic and reason. Stop trying to justify your purchase or talk yourself out of it. Scratch the itch and get it out of your system. If you hate it you can sell it for a slight loss but you will make that money back in the time you save jacking around looking at these things online deciding if you should buy one.
That is my recommendation and it works because I don’t have to know anything about your situation to make it. It is valid for everyone – in every situation. Here is why:
- It accounts for the Leica stupid tax. If you can afford 2 Leica cameras, you can afford the stupid tax without losing your mind.
- It accounts for the fact that after you own a Leica you are either going to sell it in 5 minutes or you are going to want another one. I want an M5 and I have no idea why. I want an SL and that makes even less sense than a rangefinder. I still want one.
- It accounts for the fact that you will be able to handle the background stress of carrying around $400–$10,000+ of camera gear and incurring a $2000 scuff or grain of sand.
- It accounts for the fact that you can afford to have 2 cameras so you will have something to shoot when one of them is out getting a CLA or rangefinder calibration for 2 months.
- For many people, the limitations of a rangefinder mean that you will need or at least want something else in addition to a Leica. If you want to do closeup photography a rangefinder isn’t the best tool. If you want a zoom lens or telephoto, a rangefinder will leave you wanting. In my opinion, superfast lenses are not a good fit on a rangefinder if your goal is to crush the bokeh. Sometimes you don’t want to bring a super expensive camera where you are going (e.g. the beach, a crummy neighborhood, leave it in the car to cook in the sun, etc.) The list goes on and on. The point is that you will likely want to own something else and you shouldn’t use up all of your gear money on a single camera if that camera is a Leica.
PSA: If you get a Leica camera, please please please get it from a reputable dealer.
Whatever you do, please get your camera from a reputable dealer like Tamarkin, Camera West, any Leica store (they all sell used) or others in the underground. You have been advised and summarily warned. A Leica camera is too big of a purchase to try to save a few bucks. There are no “deals” when buying a Leica camera. Stop looking for them.
NOTE: this is not a sponsored post. Vendors don’t pay me anything and I don’t do sponsored reviews.