The Leica as An Investment

A Two Page 1973 Leica Advertisement

I ran across this 1973 ad for the Leica M5 and the Leicaflex SL and started thinking about the relative value of Leicas over time and how that value manifests itself today. Many of us consider our Leicas as ‘investments’ in the sense that it’s a pretty safe place to park some cash with the understanding that you’ll be able to get most, or all, or even more, out of it when you sell it. It’s a way I justify buying Leicas to my wife: we could either park an extra 3 grand in our bank account, serving no practical purpose except collecting chicken scratch for interest, or we could ‘invest’ it in the purchase of a Leica, a thing I’ll use and handle and admire and get some practical satisfaction from. I’ll take photos with it and it will inspire me to write about it on the blog. I’ll either like it or I won’t, but I’ll have the experience of having owned it, used it, better understood and appreciated it. And then, if we need the money again, I’ll sell it to a Leicaphilia reader and usually break even. Voila! Money put to good use. And a reader gets a decent deal on a decent camera that they know they can trust. What’s not to like? Of course, Leica could help me circumvent this process by sending me a camera or two to test, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Who knows? Surprise me, Leica. I promise you an honest review.

The first thing that struck me was how expensive, in real terms, the M5 was in relation to the Leica models that had come before. If you run the purchase price numbers given by Leica through an inflation calculator, you’ll come up with the equivalent amount of circa 2021 dollars that purchase price represents. So, for example, buying a Leica Model II d in 1939 for $100 was the equivalent of paying $1900 for it in today’s dollar; a IIIg in 1958 for $163 would be the equivalent of paying $1467 for it today ( interestingly enough, the Professional Nikon, the Nikon SP, with a 50mm Nikkor f/1.4, sold in 1958 for today’s equivalent of $3,000); today an M3 would cost new $2373, the M4 $2320. Expensive, but not prohibitively so. The M5 body, were it sold today, would cost $3663. That’s a big increase in price over the iconic M3 and M4. With a decent Leitz 50mm Summilux (the lens it’s wearing in the Leica advert), it’d cost you >$6000 in today’s money. So, Leicas were pricey even back then. And the M5, now the unloved ugly duckling selling at a discount to the M2-M7, commanded a premium price over the iconic M2, M3 and M4.

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Nikon Price Guide From 1976: Click on it to enlarge it and open it up in a new tab

It also gives us some sense of why the M5 might have ‘failed’ in the market [arguable, but that’s a discussion for another time], as opposed to its failure as an evolution of the M system [which it most certainly was not]. In addition to being technically deficient as a pro ‘system’ camera (based on the inherent drawbacks of a rangefinder) in relation to the Nikon F2 and Canon Ftn, it cost a fortune. To compare, a Nikon F2 Photomic with 50mm Nikkor 1.4, then the state-of-the-art, retailed for $600, although in actuality it sold out-the-door for maybe $500. The M5, you paid full price. Throw in $350 for a Summilux. In today’s money, that means buying a new Nikon F2 with 50mm 1.4 Nikkor in 1973 would set you back $3100, while an M5 with a 50mm 1.4 Summilux in 1973 would cost the equivalent of $6070 today. The M5 with lens was essentially double the price of the top shelf Pro Nikon with lens, which was then the professional’s system of choice.

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What do they go for today? You can sell the M5 and Summilux you bought in 1973 today, almost 50 years later, for +/- $3500. It’s probably going to need a going-over by one of the few techs who still work on the M5 – Sherri Krauter, DAG, one or two others, but that’s the buyer’s problem, not yours. Not a bad return for a camera you’ve used for 48 years. An M4 body, purchased in 1969 for $2300 will fetch you $1500-$1800; a single stroke M3 $1300-$1500; a Leica II d you paid $1900 for in 1939, today, you’ll you get +/- $300. Not exactly a prudent “investment” if you’re looking for a return on your money, but certainly excellent resale value of something you’ve used for half to three/quarters of a century. Like most things Leica, what appears crazy can in reality be quite prudent. Taking it all into consideration, buying a Leica is, moneywise, pretty much a smart idea.

12 thoughts on “The Leica as An Investment

  1. Keith Laban

    Thanks, interesting article.

    I’d add that of course this doesn’t apply to digital bodies. In pure monetary terms – not including monies earned in use – digital Leica camera bodies are not showing and are unlikely to show any return on investment. However some M lenses bought new tend to hold their price and can even be sold at a profit a few years after purchase.

    1. Stephen J

      Keith I have a used Leica M-D 262 and the current used price of that is rising, not that I am getting rid of.

      I would imagine the Baron von Overgaard special edition (and its ilk) with non-apertured Noctilux (f.95 only) will go for a fortune. Perfect for the DOF freak.

        1. Stephen J

          Keith, do you mean including inflation?

          If that is the case, an M3 on Ebay might be just about the same price as new. A 1964 M3 was around £120… that sum expressed in today’s terms would be £2500… You would get a pretty good M3 for that amount. Mine was £900 and I bought it to play with around a year ago, I sold it on for £980. It had a couple of bright marks on the metal, but was otherwise very good. Generally a £1000-2000 will get an excellent camera, the higher prices on that are often shop windows for well known Ebay suspects.

          My M-D was £4650 new in 2016, I paid £3000 in 2019, they now seem to be selling at £3500, some are advertised in £4000’s. So not that far to go.

          A well made product, as Rob says, doesn’t continually need “upgrading” and therefore maintains its value in the market. Whether it is a good investment for the bullish, is another matter entirely and in my view not important.

          I wanted a Leica M that didn’t need film and with very simple traditional controls. I have commented endlessly about my “desire” for such a camera, and my annoyance when Leica, introduced it and removed much of the hardware and charged a grand more. So I waited for a good used example.

          Leica have discontinued all versions of the M-D now, even the rather complicated M10-D, which in my view is nowhere near the purity of the 262, so I expect these prices to maintain pace with inflation/QE.

          I will now only use film when I want to play with pinholio or larger formats, I have a Rollei T that was given to me, so I will use a bit of 120.

    2. Rob Campbell

      As with nearly all things these days, other than some buildings in the right catchment areas.

      Digital products are like white goods and normal cars: you lose a packet as you walk out of the shop or drive your new baby/penis extension away from the car showroom.

      In fact I think it’s worse today than when I was still working: I could trade in things and not feel any great pain. And also, the need to trade in was more driven by the fact that things do wear out if you use them enough. The basic cameras remained much the same, with perhaps a step or so higher flash synch. or a more comfortable body shape to hold, as with the change fom Nikon F to F2 with its gently rounded vertical edges. I used them both on trips, trying to interchange them at the same time as I loaded new film.

      (Odd tale: in Cyprus for Teacher’s whisky, we did some shots at a beach called Petra Ti Romiu or similar – I have spelling problems enough with English! – and following that interchange rule, I still managed to get at least two totally black rolls of Kodachrome; never happened before nor again. I think the location appears in the first gallery on the website where Ann is positioning product as I uncomfortably attempt to frame it. There are a couple of white rocks in the shot, marking the location. She wasn’t a superstitious girl, but she refused to sit in the car as we drove off the road to the beach: she opted to walk down instead. Legend has it all sewn up with Aphrodite – I think it’s one of her claimed birth places, or where one of her lovers died.

      Ann had a bad time even as we entered Cyprus: we’d been there before, and for some unknown reason, her name came up at passport control and she was pulled away to an office for questioning. Fortunately, we had been met by a guy from the Cyprus Tourism Board and I was able to go with him to the office and find out what was going on. Apparently, her name registered with that of some woman involved in terrorism suspicions! It was one of those gigs when the client was along: I think he thought he’d blundered into an international plot that was going to prove very epensive for his company. But at least he hung around until we got out and through passport control. Probably because I held all the tickets.)

      I don’t pretend to be privy to more information than anyone else on this, but it seems that folks these days go through a lot more units of everything because they seem to end up holding substandard products that pass through what might be non-existent QC departments. Thinking back to years on another photo website, it was common to read of people on their third example of some given lens that repeatedly failed expectations right out of the box. I can’t imagine that happening back in the analogue days. It certainly never happened to me, nor to anyone else I knew. As both of us are aware, the need for a new 500 Series body was probably not driven by newer models, but by pragmatic decisions such as having back-ups on trips; that my first 500 was a C and the second body a C/M wasn’t about trading up: it just happened to be what was on the market when I could afford to double up. The only difference that I can remember is that the C/M allowed one to change the screen.

      Rob

      1. Rob Campbell

        Nope, sorry: not in the first gallery, but deeper within the labyrinth:

        http://www.roma57.com/uploads/4/2/8/7/4287956/852547_orig.jpg

        On an earlier shoot, for Twomax Knitwear, the model had a hard time getting out of the water in the same location (but just beyond the far side of the larger rock): she was only about two metres out, but the shale gives way beneath your feet and, unlike sand, doesn’t compact and allow you puchase.

        Aphrodite and Neptune can gang up on you, you know!

    3. Leicaphila Post author

      Keith: I’ve owned both an M8 and now an M240. I bought the M8 used and sold it a few years later for basically what I paid for it. In effect, I got to use it free for three or four years. I suspect the same with the M 240 – bought used for $2500ish, I’m sure I can sell it for at least that much when and if I sell, although I’ve become quite fond of the camera and will probably be keeping it around. It’s a bargain at that price; why they’re selling at essentially M9 prices in beyond me as its lightyears ahead of the M9 in every way, really the first digital M that deserved the name.

      1. Keith Laban

        Tim, that’s pretty much my experience as well.

        My comments were a reaction to your first image and captions, contrasting prices for new cameras compared to resale value.

      2. Keith Laban

        Regarding the comparison between the M9 and M240, I’ve owned both, in fact I ended up with two M240 bodies.

        Despite severe limitations, including higher iso performance, I loved the M9-P for it’s utter simplicity – it’s why people love them – but ultimately those limitations told. The M240 bodies that served me well for years were more sophisticated but never quite delivered the ‘joy’ of that simplistic M9: a digital camera that felt like using a film camera and delivered those wonderful Kodachrome like colours.

        Alas, a serious eye condition that meant I could no longer reliably focus a rangefinder resulted in them all being sold. Happily the replacements have proved to be an eye-opener in every sense of the word!

  2. Keith Laban

    It’s unlikely that Leica or any other camera manufacturer will offer long term guarantee on sensors and processors. I know when they replaced my M9-P sensor they were talking in terms of perhaps 10 years maximum due to ongoing supply difficulties.

    Time will tell, but I doubt our grandchildren will be using ancient digital cameras.

  3. Renato De'Pannone

    I have just taken delivery of what looks like a very nice Leica M3 with leica lens .
    It looks near mint was told it was in in the cupboard for 40 or more years .
    The veiw finder is clear no haze or fungus as is the lens did pay very good money for it .
    Question I would like to ask , take it to a reputable person for a servis before i use it ?

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