Leicas as investments - smart or dumb move?
Some people look at the prices of rare Leica editions fetch imagine that they too can get rich if they buy and hang on to odd-ball cameras. Well, here are a couple of remarks to make you think again:
1. A US Leica dealer with extensive experience in buying and selling rare Leicas:
[…] this stuff only holds value for those in the "club" — this little microcosm that we have. That is, those who give a hoot about any of it!
Which is why you always hear stories of cat burglurs breaking into a place, stealing a P&S wunder-cam, but leaving behind the gold plated M6J or what-have-you. They are only "worth" it because there is a microcosm of folks that will pay for it and I suppose that this is how much of economics work as well…
2. Larry R Zeitlin, clearly someone with some investment experience:
I published this […] several years ago and it is as appropriate today. Leicas are fine cameras but marginal investment vehicles. […]
There has been a lot of loose talk […] about the investment value of Leica cameras. At today's prices there are only two reasons for buying a new Leica camera primarily as an investment, both of them irrational. Those photographers who buy Leicas to actually take photographs need read no further.
First, if you are a camera collector and/or a camera speculator you will buy the camera and keep it unused in its original box, expecting that its price will increase at some future date. This is a distinct possibility. An unsold 1954 M3 and Summicron lens with its original carton and shipping documents which cost about $250 new would probably sell at a collector's auction for the price of a small car, an unused "urLeica" would go for the price of a new house.
The price appreciation of most Leicas, however, is no better than the equivalent amount of money deposited in bank CDs and considerably less than funds invested in the stock market. That $250 cost of the Leica in 1954, compounded at 6% per year would have grown to about $3250, about the price of a new Leica kit. Invested in the stock market at the average annual rate of return for those 44 years, it would have grown to $36,604, enough to buy a new camera and a BMW to drive it around in. Buying Leicas only for value appreciation is simply a variation of the "Greater Fool" theory beloved of stock speculators. You may be a fool for paying so much but you hope there is always a greater fool who will buy it from you for more.
Second, if you are one of those who have a "best quality" addiction, you will buy the camera to fondle and possess, secure in the feeling that no one has or appreciates quality equipment better than you. For a definition of "quality" see Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Don't bother to take pictures with the camera. It is too expensive and valuable to risk. Besides you may be annoyed by the fact that the resulting pictures are almost indistinguishable from those taken with lesser cameras.
So unless you are a camera speculator or a quality addict don't buy a Leica for appreciation. Buy a mid-range Canon or Nikon SLR or even a (horrors!) Contax G1 or G2. You will get state of the art engineering and manufacturing, fine lenses, autofocus and autoexposure at a third to half the cost of an equivalent Leica system. Invest the money you save to provide a real legacy for your children. Remember that if the Indians who sold Niew Amsterdam to the Dutch had invested the difference in price between a lesser system and a Leica, they could not only buy back Manhattan but every bit of developed property from Boston to Washington, DC.
Any takers for the Sydney Harbour Bridge? :?)