There is no doubt that both Leica lenses, like Leica cameras are expensive.But the real question is, are they worth it? Because it is not always about the price tag but if something is actually WORTH the price. There’s no problem if something is expensive, just as long as you get your money’s worth. So are Leica lenses all fluff and just a luxury brand? Let’s jump right in.
Are Leica lenses worth it for that kind of money?
Leica lenses are 100% worth it.They are built like tanks and have no electronic components making them have an extremely long shelf life. This is above and beyond the lens quality and craftsmanship.
Let’s go a bit deeper into this…
We are only talking about the M lenses
When people are talking about a Leica lens, and if they are worth it, they are mostly talking about the Leica M lenses. They are not talking about the Leica TL, SL and S lenses. S lenses are medium format and the prices are part of the medium format world, and the SL and TL lenses do not have the same staying power that these lenses have.
The leica lens names share the same naming convention, so sometimes when you look / talk to photographers who you believe have a certain M lens only to realize they have the -TL or -R version. This meme explains it best:
You pay for -some- of the brand name
Let’s get something out of the way first. Yes you pay a premium for the Leica brand name. Sometimes Leicas are ridiculous in their prices and that makes it somewhat of a luxury brand. I am looking at you, Leica accessories. But unlike most luxury brands, Leicas are actually shot by photographers around the world that swear my them, so it’s not all marketing fluff.
But the premium price you pay isn’t mostly due to the brand name I would say. A large part of what drives cost is simply the fact that they are made differently than other camera manufacturer lenses.
Leica lenses are hand made
Unlike most other camera lenses that are made in factories on a conveyor belt, Leica lenses are purely hand made.This by default ramps up the price because things that are hand made take more effort to create.
When you stroll a flea market and you spot a hand made leather bag, you do not expect to pay a small fee for it because it was handmade and not churned out by the thousands everyday. You appreciate the fact that this took a long time to do and are happy to pay a premium for it.
Not only this, all Leica lenses are made in the same place, by hand for decades: In Germany. The only exception to this is, some lenses destined for the American market are made in Portugal. Why? Because of a heavy 25% tax burden imposed by president Donald Trump on Germany.
In order to make their lenses affordable they moved some production to Portugal and the lenses are made there. They are identical to their German counterpart besides the “Made in…” text.
Are Leicas worth it because they are hand made rather than machine made? Well, just because someone rather than a machine put something together doesn’t make it any good.
They are some of the best lenses
Leica lenses are sharp as a knife and are highly sought after by photographers around the world. Coupled with a Leica camera, sometimes the images have a 3D look to them (aka the Leica glow) and the subjects pop because of the sharpness.
But that’s not all, these lenses also give a specific Bokeh (the out of focus area) rendering at high apertures.This combination makes Leica images pretty unique in the looks department. They are also quite small in size compared to the large DSLR full frame lenses. Are Leica lenses worth it because of this? Yes. Many just can’t stand large lenses as this makes the camera large and intrusive. While Leica lenses are known for their sharpness, are they really the best? Time for an uncomfortable admission…
Are Leica lenses the best in the world?
There is no doubt that Leica lenses are sharp. But are they any better than other manufacturers lenses? While none are smaller than Leica lenses many offerings from Sony, Fuji and others (Including non Leica M lenses) are just as good as Leica’s own lenses. If you post a Leica image near a Fuji image, many times you would be hard pressed to spot the Leica.
Maybe if you are eagle eyed and used to the Bokeh but for most people they are indistinguishable.
So if you could get cheaper lenses that are just as good, are Leica lenses worth it? If you want comparable image quality, you can find those elsewhere but there’s two things that Leica lenses do that you can’t find anywhere besides M lenses (that includes non Leica M lenses too)…
The unique manual focus feel
Leica M lenses are manual focus lenses. And while you can get manual focus lenses on other cameras, Leicas are pretty special because they are such a joy to use.
They are small and your closed index finger goes into a small nudge that helps focus the lens. At some point the whole experience becomes second nature and you know how far you need to twist the lens in order to focus.
I have shot many cameras from pretty much all the brands out there, and even when I had high end automatic focus cameras, I have always yearned for the joy of small Leica M lenses.But even if you are not into the whole manual focus experience, there is one last reason that makes Leica lenses worth it without a shred of a doubt…
Leica lenses last a lifetime
Imagine you have to choose between two shoes. A cheap one and an expensive one. You go for the cheap one, bring it home and it is dead within 3 months before you have to get another one. If you had purchased the expensive one it would have lasted years and ended up being cheap in the end.
This is the same thing with Leica lenses.They literally last a lifetime.The Leicas kept the same M mount for decades (The first M mount camera was in 1954) and the lenses are built to last.
They are made of metal (most modern lenses are plastic) and are purely mechanical. Something that non Leica shooters laugh at is the fact that the M lenses are manual focus, but rather than being a weakness it is a strength: The lack of motors and electrical components ensure that it can outlive you.
So there’s really nothing to break easily or that will need upgrading. I know photographers with their Summicrons that had them for 30 years so far. So imagine if you buy yourself a Leica lens and kept if for 50 years.You purchase it for $3000, by the end of 50 years you would have only paid $60 per year.
On a personal note I have spent thousands of dollars in lenses, I would have saved money if I went for the Leica M lenses and kept them. Are Leica lenses worth it then? Absolutely if you plan to keep them.
A better investment than Leica cameras
If you are given the choice between getting a Leica digital camera or a Leica lens, go for the lens.The bodies will comes and go (even if Leicas have a long shelf life, digital is digital and has breakable parts unlike the mechanical Leica M6 that many consider their “Forever camera”) but the lenses will stay.
Some photographers had generations of M bodies with the same lenses. Heck, some people even shun the Leica bodies in favor for some competitors and put Leica lenses on them. So are Leica lenses worth it? Yes, even by themselves.
Some manufacturers even have official Leica M mount adapters on top of their own mounts,and that speaks volumes on the staying power of these lenses. Check out the best Non Leica M cameras.
What lens should you get?
There’s many Leica lenses available and it can be hard to choose the right one. So if you want to purchase the best one for you, make sure to check out the Leica lens buyers guide. You’ll find the best lenses for beginners, portrait, street photography and more. Including how to decode those funky (yet logical!) lens names.
Are Leica lenses worth it? Conclusion
There you have it, are Leica lenses worth it? An absolute, resounding YES. They are hand made,are of high quality and above all they will probably outlive you because they have no moving parts.Things are expensive if you have a short term view, but if you look at these lenses as a lifetime investment like most photographers do…Leica lenses are pretty cheap!
On a more personal level they are simply a joy to use and even when I use automatic focus cameras for assignments, I always yearn for my smaller M lenses. There’s just something special about using them.