The Leica Premium: Why pay more for a Leica-branded compact
Last updated April 2016
The Leica Passport system (exclusive to the UK) was withdrawn on 1 April 2016. On the same day the free download facility for Adobe Lightroom was withdrawn. Instead, new camera owners will get a three-month licence for Adobe Creative Cloud which can then be renewed at cost.
These changes remove some of the benefits you expect to get with the so-called Leica premium
This article will be updated to reflect any changes in the Leica warranty arrangements
Last updated 13 October 2014
Leica produces a range of digital compacts which are very similar to Panasonic cameras. Current examples are the D-Lux which is based on the Panasonic LX100, the V-Lux (FZ1000) and the Leica C (LF-1). There are certainly cosmetic changes, including the Leica branding and, often, an the involvement of an outside design house such as Audi Design in the case of the C.
In all cases there are changes to the menu system, meinly to add the Leica branding, and I believe the firmware is tweaked to provide a different, Leica-preferred jpeg output. There is also something else to bear in mind, as respected reviewer Sean Reid of Reidreviews.com says in his test of the Leica D-Lux:
There's a common misconception that Panasonic designs a camera and then Leica slaps some badges on it, ups the price and sells it as their own. That's not how it works for the D-Lux Cameras. There is a Leica camera designer who spends much of his time in Japan working with Panasonic (and other Japanese Leica partners). When a new D-Lux is being designed there is input from both Leica and Panasonic; employees of both companies go back and forth on how the camera will evolve. What we tend to end up with are cameras that have Panasonic's techno-wizardy (which is not to be underestimated) along with some of Leica's priorities for controls, ergonomics, lens designs, etc.
Whenever I review a Leica compact I hear from critics who maintain that the equivalent Panasonic is just as good and is invariably cheaper. They have a point. If ultimate saving on the initial purchase price is the objective and every penny counts, then it is difficult to make a strong case for buying the Leica. On the other hand, if the whole package including cost of ownership is taken into account there is a much stronger case for choosing the Leica.
What is the real story? Why pay more for a camera that is essentially the same but with the addition of a Leica red dot?
For starters, the Leica premium, based on recommended prices, is not as large as it once was. For instance, the Panasonic LX100 costs £699 while the equivalent D-Lux is £825. The FZ1000 is £749 and the similar Leica V-Lux is £925. This takes no account of discounts and it is a fact that Panasonic cameras will be discounted sooner than Leica's products. Again, however, this is reflected in resale values just as it is with cars: Those with the highest initial discounts lose their values more rapidly.
There are seven good reasons why a buyer will consider paying the Leica premium for a compact camera:
- A better warranty: Leica currently offers a three-year warranty on some models while others are on two years compared with many other manufacturers' one year. Leica is also a more approachable small company that has a mission to look after its customers and does so with some aplomb.
- Better after-sales support: Leica has a well-deserved reputation for supporting older cameras that have fallen off the radar of the bigger manufacturers. If you have any problems you can just walk into the London headquarters in Bruton Place, W1, have a free cup of coffee and speak to an expert.
- Accidental damage insurance: Leica compacts sold in the United Kingdom by an authorised dealer come with a free one-year accidental damage warranty called Leica Passport. If you damage your camera to the point where it is unworkable, Leica will repair it. This does not in general cover cosmetic damage, however.
- Free Lightroom: You are able to download a free copy of Adobe Lightroom which brings an added value of about £75.
- Introductary course: Leica offers a free one-hour familiarisation course at its London headquarters for all compact camera buyers. This session with a professional photographer is a great start to life with a new camera.
- Kudos: You get the satisfaction of owning a camera with Leica branding. It tends to stand out from the crowd and definitely has a certain cachet. Only camera buffs can tell you that this is a similar model to the equivalent Panasonic.
- Better resale value: You will sell a Leica compact for more than an equivalent Panasonic, thus reducing the cost of ownership. Some models such as the 2003 Digilux 2 have achieved classic status and find a ready market at substantial prices. In most cases, after a couple or three years, this will more than cover the initial "Leica premium".
If you take the long-term view, there is clear justification for paying the extra and owning a Leica-branded compact, even if you believe that there is no technical or optical advantage. If you go down the Leica route you can find yourself part of a vibrant community of forums, societies and clubs dedicated to the brand. There is no need to feel excluded if you have only a compact and not one of the flagship M cameras. Most M owners also use compacts, whether Leica or another brand, and you will feel welcome.
There is only one snag in buying a Leica compact. If you are not careful it will sow in your mind the seeds of lust: The prospect of one day owning a "real" Leica: An X, a T or an M. So beware.
Buying a Leica compact in preference to a similar Panasonic is not as daft as some people make out. It isn't just a matter of branding,it is the whole package which actually makes a lot of sense when you analyse the individual advantages.