With a slew of new cameras coming out in recent times, the market has shifted. While there are now some great value options, it means there are also some poorly priced ones too. Which is the worst value camera right now?
There is a trend in the camera industry that I have been distantly tracking for some time: price. When I first got into photography, there were far fewer options when it came to buying a camera body. Similarly, if you wanted a "proper" DSLR, it was going to cost you. The first Canon 5D came out in 2005, and its initial RRP was $3,299. It was a camera for serious photographers and professionals, it was certainly high-end on the spec sheet, and it was priced as such. 15 years later, using an inflation calculator, which estimates the purchasing power of the dollar over time, we can tell that today, that camera would be for sale at roughly $4,450.
The new, coveted Canon R5 is an interesting example of current pricing. It is aimed at more or less the same demographic in 2020 as the original 5D was aimed at in 2005. In fact, you could argue that given the tremendous spec (purported overheating notwithstanding) that it could command a high price or at the very least around the inflation-adjusted 5D price of $4,450. Nevertheless, it is priced at $3,899. Though that's, of course, a lot of money, comparatively — and considering that pace-setting spec — this top-of-the-range mirrorless body is well priced.
This sort of progression in tech is common. The gains of new products over previous iterations suffer from diminishing returns, the price of production and parts slowly fall, and thus, so does the retail price, usually. So, entry-level or mid-level cameras become more powerful and the price entry point becomes more accessible. But it's the diminishing returns that have created somewhat of an interesting problem that I noticed again this week. New versions of cameras, with often underwhelmingly similar specs, usually don't move much on the retail price of their predecessors. But then comes the dilemma of what to do with the previous model.
Take Fujifilm's X-T4 and their X-T3: an incredibly popular range of cameras and for good reason — they're superb. The differences between them are minimal, however. If you look at various online stores or promotional material, you could be fooled into thinking the X-T4 was the first in Fujifilm's X-Series to be able to shoot UHD 4K at 60 fps; it isn't. The X-T4 has 240 fps slow motion in HD shooting where the X-T3 only had 120 fps, but they could both shoot 4K at 60 fps. There are other differences (5-axis IBIS, articulating LCD screen, autofocus alterations, etc.), but the gap between the two bodies isn't much at all, and this is reflected in the price. The X-T4 goes for $1,699, whereas the X-T3 goes for $1,499. Those extra 200 dollars are undoubtedly strategic rather than on merit. If the X-T3 is priced too low after the new version is released, then spotting how close they are in terms of performance, buyers might just go for the older model. However, priced too close, and they may as well not bother making the X-T3 anymore, and sellers with large stocks might struggle.
There is one side effect of upgrading bodies, however. Sometimes, the upgrades are significant enough that they not only eclipse the previous model technically, but they devalue it too. Many brands seem to shrug this off as par for the course, but some find themselves in a pricing quandary. This week, I believe Leica has landed on that issue, and it has created what I believe to be the worst value camera on the market.
I want to start this by being very clear: I really like Leica. They cop a lot of flak for their prices and their user base and demographic. Yes, they are expensive, but they are also fantastic cameras, singular, built to withstand time and adversity, and designed like works of art. If you have never used one, I urge you to see if you can try a model for a while to really understand why they have the cult following they do. I can't justify being in their ecosystem for the work I do, and they have priced me out of shooting with them for fun, but if I had more disposable income to throw around, I'd likely buy one. This isn't an article taking blind shots at Leica, I assure you. But, the release of their new M10-R has had a bit of an odd consequence.
The M10-R is for all intents and purposes, identical to the earlier entry in the M-Series, the M10-P, save for one important upgrade: the sensor is now 40.9 megapixels. All previous M10 body variants were 24 megapixels, so the gains here are massive. Furthermore, from early hands-on reviews and reports, the color performance and image quality are equal to or better than the old sensor. Now, as you might expect, it isn't cheap. The M10-R retails for $8,795, which if you are a Leica fan, is probably about what you'd expect, though maybe a touch higher. With the huge jump in resolution with what seems like no downsides, however, choosing the M10-R over the M10-P or original M10 (I'll exclude the M10 Monochrom as that is a singular body for a specific purpose) is an absolute no-brainer. That is, of course, unless the original M10 is now much cheaper.
Well, it isn't. Leica sees themselves as an aspirational, luxury camera brand (and I don't disagree with them), and so, this is where the quandary arises. The original M10 is objectively worse than the M10-R by quite some margin given the latter has a 70% increase in resolution. However, lowering the price of previous M10 models now that the M10-R has been released would damage the brand and the projected value of their products. They must retain the mystique and reputation they have built, and as a result, we are left with what I believe to be the camera which is the worst value for money of any camera currently on the market. The original M10 is $8,000 for a 24-megapixel sensor. This, I'm sure, is tactical to funnel photographers looking into the M-Series into forking out just an extra $300 to upgrade the sensor by 70%, but in isolation, the M10 price point is borderline comical. $8,000 for a 24-megapixel body with a single memory card slot, no GPS, and no IBIS. Yes, Leica isn't pitching its cameras against the rest of the mirrorless market, but either way, the M10 just became the worst deal there is.
Before I am rushed down by Leica fans, please re-read the first paragraph of this section. I have met with Leica at their offices in London several times, used multiple of their cameras, and spoken to everyone from their ambassadors through to their PR team, and I am truly a fan. There's no one else in the industry quite like them, and shooting with their cameras is an experience. The M10-R, I have no doubts, is right up there with some of the best cameras they've produced. But an unfortunate byproduct is that for as long as they're selling earlier M10 models brand new, they are the worst cameras in terms of value for money.
Which Camera Do You Think Is the Worst Value for Money?
What do you think? Am I wrong about the M10-R's predecessors? Is it wrong to even include them in this discussion? Is there a camera that's an even worse bang for your buck? Share your thoughts in the comments below.