6,500 Dollar Cameras
Last week, both Leica and Fujifilm introduced $6500 cameras. Actually, the Leica is $6595, but to keep things simple, I’m going to round down. Two very different cameras for different people with different uses. It’s fun to compare them, at least superficially, and you will find, like most things in life, things are relative. Can $6500 be cheap? Why yes.
On Wednesday, Leica took their wraps off of their latest M camera. The original, the M3, a film camera of course, was released in 1954. They’ve had a number of digital Ms and the M10 is the latest. Most noteworthy, its been slimmed down to match the dimensions of the film bodies. The full frame 24MP sensor has been updated, boasting up to 50,000 ISO. It now has WiFi and the controls have been further simplified. Minor changes for most people and for most companies, a major update for the world of Leica.
With the same lenses fitting the similarly styled bodies for 63 years, Leica stands for tradition and conservative changes. It’s a boutique, luxury design company that makes cameras. More than any other camera company, it relies on heritage, build and design quality as part its marketing story. Leica touts their pedigree of street and war photographers, who used their cameras long ago, to rich people who want to be connected to that legacy. For most people, Leica cameras are unattainable luxury items that are, at best, baffling, and at worst, ridiculed. They don’t understand that $6,500 is a small price to pay for the storied connection to the past and to join a well-heeled photographic tribe.
On Thursday, Fujifilm officially introduced their medium format digital camera, the GFX 50S, which they’ve previewed late last year. The “modest” $6,500 was surprisingly aggressive for such a, theoretically, capable machine. At 51.4MP and a sensor 1.7 times larger than full frame, it promises to be a beast of a picture making machine. There was big news when Pentax broke under the $10,000 barrier for medium format digital. Fuji just demolished that barrier.
Fuji is aggressively going after Canon and Nikon, from both the below and from above. Not coincidentally, the flagship Nikon D5, for example, runs at $6500. Though the Canon flagship 1D X Mark II, is available for a mere $6000. Fuji now has a camera with a larger sensor and with higher resolution for around the same price as the DSLR leaders.
While priced similarly, the astute photographer realizes these cameras serve very different purposes. The Leica M10, beyond being a boutique camera, will make outstanding images on the street, everyday life and on travel. The Fuji medium format should excel for landscapes and portraiture. The flagship Canon and Nikon DSLRs are for sports and fast action. They are all specialized tools for a world that is becoming increasing specialized.
I must confess, these cameras do have an emotional pull. Not the big Canon and Nikons, they hold zero interest — I’m not a sports or fast action shooter. Philosophically, the Leica fits me the closest both in purpose, design and subject. I appreciate the finely crafted, meticulously designed Leicas and my favorite subjects are usually found on the street or in my travels. They make a small-ish camera that I can take anywhere. The Fuji, though, entices me the most. And only because I have these grandiose dreams of shooting breathtaking landscapes and gorgeous portraits. Stuff where my fantasies clearly outpace my skills.
But reality intrudes and I welcome it. While a M10 or GFX 50S, entices, I don’t need them to be a good photographer. Much needs to be learned with my fine collection of more modest cameras. If I can’t make good photos with what I have now, I certainly won’t make them after spending $6,5000 and more, for lenses.
No, I dream about these tools, like a car collector thinks of Ferraris. But the good news is, unlike Ferraris, these cameras are affordable, in a future realm — maybe after I pay for college for my two boys. By then, these cameras would have depreciated, and significantly. The Fuji should drop in price quicker. History has shown the Leicas retain their value longer. Perhaps, I’ll revisit this topic in 10 years, assuming I still have funds left, after paying for many years of higher education.
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