Which Camera Is the Worst Value for Money?

Which Camera Is the Worst Value for Money?

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.

In case you're skim reading, I'm not saying the R5 is poor value for money; quite the opposite.

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.

Leica M10

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 new M10-R. Say what you want about the price, it's absolutely beautiful.

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.

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Previous comments
Deleted Account's picture

Looking for a new or used E-M5 Mark III or E-M1 Mark II. Unfortunately there is still no price drop.

Michael Clark's picture

Phase One anything.....

Kent LaPorte's picture

Buy a eos r. $1400 and you can buy the 70-200 I or iii for $1700. You will be much happier with your photos and workflow than these releases. Of course if you are a pro all bets are off because you justify it with write-offs to your business which then goes bankrupt. Be smart folks. Remember a year ago pros were promoting either the 5d I’ve or eos r. It wasn’t that long ago.

Gregory Mink's picture

Just like those chicken sandwiches that people were waiting on long lines last year, your favorite photographers and YouTubers influencers are trying to convince photographers that these new cameras are the be all, end all when photographers already have their 2019 cameras in their hands, and they don’t have to go in debt. Right now, photographers are dealing with GAS syndrome and there’s no vaccine. Next year, Canon will be bringing out their latest Wonderful camera, I promise and we will be having this conversation again.

Alex Ragen's picture

A camera is not “built withstand time” if it is replaced every two years by another even more expensive “latest and greatest”.

Euan Gray's picture

If you want a camera built to withstand time, the Kodak Box Brownie is your friend.

Les Sucettes's picture

I just wonder why no one creates a Leica for 1/3 of the price given that there isn’t much tech in them. I mean in 35 mm. I am aware of the aps c and mft options

Pete Whittaker's picture

I wish Cosina/Seiko had carried on with the Epson R-D1.


Steve Novosel's picture

Just adapt an m-mount lens on a full frame body and there you go.

Or get a vintage film Leica, a couple of lenses, and a few hundred rolls of film for the M10-R price.

Owain Shaw's picture

If you load a film M with Tri-X then you get a Monochrom too.

Sam Sims's picture

Leica cameras are supposed to get as close to the experience of shooting with a Leica film camera but with the convenience of modern digital. They’re not meant to have tones of features. They are a premium product (superb build quality) sold in small quantities for people who can afford and want that experience.

Euan Gray's picture

For very much less money than a Leica, you can buy a Panasonic compact camera which lets you do everything manual and has a 17MP 4/3 sensor, which is good enough for most purposes.

But you don't get the red dot.

Sam Sims's picture

Except a compact m4/3 camera isn’t even close to the same experience as a Leica. Also the small Leica lenses are some of the best quality manual lenses available. I don’t own (or want) a Leica but can see why some people love using them

Euan Gray's picture

The difference is not always that obvious, or even existent, though.

I know from personal experience and from asking people to identify what a photograph was taken with (film or digital, SLR or compact or bridge) that the end result is not as distinctive as many, possibly most, think. You do, I think, get a noticeable difference when you move up to medium format, but even then it's largely an on-screen difference - the limitations of the printing process, whether wet printing in the darkroom or using the trusty inkjet, render much of the alleged superiority of one format over another distinctly moot.

This doesn't mean the "Leica experience" ought to be devalued. Like you, I do not own a Leica and have never wanted one but I do recognise that some cannot see past them. Horses for courses, I suppose. The thing is that if you stripped the guts out of a Leica and replaced them with, say, Panasonic components, most users would never notice the difference.

In photography, the maxim "you get what you pay for" simply doesn't apply. A lot of the appeal for some brands and some models - and here I admit I'm a sucker for the Canon EOS 1V - is down to either snobbery or perceived superiority. The actual difference in end result is very much less than many think, even if the subjective "experience" is different.

Charles Mercier's picture

Rent one for one day and see for yourself. It's their great lenses that makes all the difference. At least that's what I clearly saw with my old Nikkor lenses vs. an older Summicron.

Euan Gray's picture

As I said I have never wanted a Leica. I quite accept the rangefinder experience would be interesting, but it has its limitations - I like to do a fair bit of closeup photography of flowers and insects, not something a rangefinder is great at. A rangefinder just would not suit my interests.

The only Leica that has any real appeal to me is the Monochrom, which is a way to get medium format film resolution from a 35mm sensor. That's NOT because it's Leica, but because a monochrome sensor inherently has far greater resolution than a colour one simply because you don't need multiple cells for one pixel.

Mike Myers's picture

Ethan, yes, but none of the other cameras are rangefinder cameras. There are people for whom this is very important. I also have lots of other cameras, and my Fuji X100 series camera is very much like the Leica M, but it lacks that one feature which is why many people want a Leica. Someone who has never used a rangefinder camera won't understand what I'm trying to say here.

adam carter's picture

For as long as I’ve been into photography I’ve wanted a Leica, and last year I saved up an bought an MP240 with 35 f2 summicron. I was so excited- I went to the Leica store in London and collected the camera, the combo was + £3500. I took some photos to compare to my Nikon D750, with Zeiss 35 f2 Distagon. What a disappointment. The MP had lovely brassing and looked great, the rangefinder was misaligned and every shot was out of focus, the camera locked up 1 out of 10 shots, and the sensor had spotty hot pixels all over - a sign of corrosion. I took it back and bought a Z6 which has been a significantly better camera on all fronts.

I suppose you could compare Leica to classic cars, like a Rolls Royce, or vintage Mercedes, except that they have been left in the rain and not serviced and deteriorated into piles of junk.

So I would concur, but suggest that any older than 2 year Leica has a high risk of being extremely poor value.

Steve Novosel's picture

It's one reason I generally stick with vintage film cameras. An M3 may not be all that cheap and they are decades old but they will keep their value at a minimum and with proper service will last decades more. Can't bring myself to replace a high-end digital body like the M10 every few years.

Venson Stein's picture

Old Leica film cameras are built like tanks. Their digital cameras have had their share of electronic and other issues. This is true of all manufacturers, but at Leica prices, they need to do better.

Euan Gray's picture

If you want it, can afford the price and are happy to pay the price then it isn't poor value for money. This applies to anything humans buy and sell.

If you need to go into debt to buy it and only want to buy it because you feel you need to do so in order to impress your associates, then it's poor value for money and moreover you're a sucker for fashion.

jay holovacs's picture

One factor you don't get into here is resale value. The difference between your original purchase and what it will command on the market (assuming you can get a buyer) is a factor to consider. A used Leica is still a Leica, a used Porsche is still a Porsche. If it has intrinsic demand, that alters the picture. It may seem that the used market cannibalizes the new, but not necessarily. A product with a good reputation for resale can legitimately command a higher new price.

Euan Gray's picture

I buy a camera to use it. I'm not greatly bothered about how much I'd get for selling it.

Consider the venerable Cosina C1. It's a mass market, simple film SLR of the 1990s, I think the last all-mechanical film camera made. It is far, far superior to the Canon AE-1 yet sells for a tenth of the price. In this case, the Porsche is more like an Edsel.

With digital, today's wonder product is tomorrow's can't-give-them-away resident on charity shop shelves. And tomorrow is very, very close in the digital world.

Charles Mercier's picture

At least I know from personal experience with their older lenses, they're amazing. The quality was much better than the Nikkor lenses that I owned.

Cool Cat's picture

I think the camera you carry with you because you love using it so much will be the best value no matter how little or how much you pay for it.

Mike Dochterman's picture

any digital camera, really.. anyone gonna want a 20 yr old digital?? even if it's a leica digital??? otoh...1959 M3 are still worth a good amount and can still be used..

Michael Harris's picture

Owned quite a bit of Leica gear. Sold it all. Let's be honest here, it's really over-rated. I now use full frame Nikon for journalism and micro 4/3 for travel. Olympus, Panasonic both are good. I even carry a small Sony RX100 VI. I want to say Leica would be the worst value but I'll add another thing to consider. Any brand that abandons a lens mount should be shunned. I'm looking at you Canon. Tons of great lenses obsoleted so a company can sell more lenses for those who bought into a new system. I've shot with tons of vintage Nikon lenses, all with great characteristics. I even have a lens some New York times photographer carried into battle in Vietnam. try that with Canon on a modern body. They make great lenses as long as you buy new bodies and in that statement is where you find the sad part about all of this. This isn't a Nikon vs Canon, this is who supports their customers and their vintage purchases. in the end, Canon is the worst value for not supporting their vintage glass.

Keith Mullin's picture

I'm a bit confused by your statement about not supporting vintage glass. It is true that when Canon went to the EF mount you couldn't use the older FD lenses on them, but that would have been true no matter if the flange distance had been identical. Older lens designs, including Nikon, rely on a mechanical lever to adjust the aperture of the lens. This means that the body of the camera has to have the necessary mechanical lever controller. Canon ditched this for entirely electronic control inside the lens. Yes it meant that all of their older lenses were now obsolete, but it meant that they could make simpler bodies, and now that they have the RF mount, the adapters are much simpler than the adapters for the Nikon Z mount to Nikon F. It's also why people have been much more likely to adapt Canon lenses to other systems for video work. I have yet to see an adapter for Nikon F to anything that gives you electronic and accurate control over the aperture.

Tarron Bell's picture

Honestly, I can't wait to pick up a - what feels like an - "inadequate" Sony a7iii. IMO that camera is like 5+ years worth of value as a professional camera. In saying that - I do find it interesting how each update like this can easily make current gear feel lagging even when we all know 1080-4k will be probably industry standard for a much longer time.

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