The photography industry has taken a welcome turn towards retro in the last five years. From ancient camera designs reappearing to purpose-built film cameras popping onto shelves again, a world once dominated by silver digital boxes has gained a remarkable sense of design and class.
We only wish it would gain a degree of retro pricing, too. Leica, one of the most acclaimed and celebrated camera manufacturers around, has released their new M9 compact digital camera. The 4/3rds camera body boasts features previously unheard of in compact cameras, including a full-frame image sensor and a crisp LCD review screen.
It also boasts a retail price few photography enthusiasts have seen attached to such a small piece of kit: £4,800. With Leica’s history and reputation behind it, it’s no surprise that the M9 is an expensive piece of machinery, but we can’t help wondering whether or not it’s worth the price tag.
Epson and Olympus have both moved into the high-end compact camera world recently, releasing the RD and EP series respectively. The two manufacturers both offer incredibly high quality camera bodies with a focus on simple design and durability, and neither are priced similar to the Leica. Epson’s R-D1 (now the R-D1x) is priced below £1,500 and Olympus’ new compact cameras below £1,000.
Were the three models housed in identical bodies, we suspect the average user would have real difficulty telling them apart. All offer incredible quality – some offering unbelievable quality at their price point – and all are fitted with a variety of modern features in a retro chassis. With the labels sanded off and the lenses identical, we have trouble believing we’d be able to tell one from another.
But Leica’s audience clearly aren’t shopping for an affordable camera. The entire point of owning a Leica – much like a Porsche, Ferrari, or high-end BMW – is the name that comes attached and the experience offered by the product. In this case, it’s very difficult to fault the M9. Besides offering incredible photographic quality and a host of features, the camera is beautiful in every sense of the word.
It’s also alarmingly small, even when compared with the camera bodies offered by competitors. If it weren’t for the Herculean price tag attached to the M9, this could very well be the compact camera that draws point-and-shoot users in. Billed as a ‘lifelong companion’ by Leica’s marketing division, the M9 is just that – a camera that’s so small, powerful, and beautiful you’ll want it to follow you everywhere.
When compared to its competition, the M9 is a very hard purchase to justify. It’s considered expensive in an industry where four-figure equipment costs are regarded as trivial, and attracts stares of wonderment from photographers everywhere. If you’re salivating over quality, simplicity, and sheer photographic versatility, look elsewhere. But if the thought of owning a Leica than you can use anywhere is too much to resist, this is the one to get.