The Leica M9 held its relative value better than any DSLR of its time By Karim Ghantous

The Leica M9 held its relative value better than any DSLR of its time

By Karim Ghantous


It’s noteworthy that the Leica M9 has held its value so well since its launch in 2009. It does produce beautiful photos and after owning an M8 (but not an M9) I have to say that the digital M system is great. There are one or two features which I would call stupid – such as the average LCD and noisy shutter – but overall the M9 is a damned fine camera, despite its quirks.

I’m comparing it to four high end DSLRs from about the same period, which were available as the M9 launched: the Canon 1D MkIV, the Canon 1Ds MkIII, the Nikon D3X and the Nikon D3S. I’m also including the D300S out of interest. It was launched at almost the same time as the M9. It is at the other end of the price range, but it is a professional grade camera.

NB: The fact that competing cameras are not usually launched at the same time does not allow for straightforward comparisons.

The 1Ds MkIII was launched about two years before the 1D MkIV, but was not replaced until 2011 with the 1DX. I was almost not going to include this camera – it is unfair to compare a camera significantly older than the M9. However, it was one of Canon’s top end cameras at the time the M9 launched. So depreciation will be compared with the cheapest known discounted price of $5,999.

The 1D MkIV has a crop factor of 1.3x, which some would consider an advantage, depending on their preferences. (There could very well be a strong market today for a RF camera with the same sized sensor as the 1D and the M8).

The D3X was only one year old when the M9 launched so I thought it was fair to include it without a handicap.
Here is the summary of the DPReview articles on the cameras in this comparison. Dates are announcement dates, not review dates:

Leica M9: $6,995, 18Mpx, September 2009.

Nikon D3S: $5,199, 12Mpx, October 2009.

Nikon D3X: $8,000, 24Mpx, December 2008

Canon 1D MkIV: $4,999, 16Mpx, October 2009.

Canon 1Ds MkIII: $7,999, 21Mpx, August 2007.

Nikon D300S: $1,699, 12Mpx, July 2009.
Here are observed used prices from eBay USA. All auctions took place in December, 2014, and were for bodies which were either in VG or EXC condition:

Leica M9: $3,200 (body), $2,950 (body)

Nikon D3S: $2,025 (body), $2,025 (body)

Nikon D3X: $2,425 (body), $2,060 (body)

Canon 1D MkIV: $1,875 (body), $1,950 (body)

Canon 1Ds MkIII: $1,650 (with two zooms and light meter); $1,450 (body)

Nikon D300S: $512 (body), $450 (body)
There are two ways to calculate depreciation: percentage and dollars. All values used in the calculations are averages for each camera model.
First, the depreciation in dollars from the official list price. A lower score is better:

M9: $6,995 – $3,075 = $3,920

D3S $5,199 – $2,025 = $3,174

D3X: $8,000 – $2,243 = $5,757

1D MkIV: $4,999 – $1,913 = $3,096

Canon 1Ds MkIII: $5,999 – $1,550 = $4,449

D300S: $1,699 – $481 = $1,218

Second, the depreciation in percent from the official list price, the formula being 100-(100/LaunchPrice x UsedPrice). Again, a lower score is better:

M9: 56%

D3S: 61%

D3X: 72%

1D MkIV: 62%

1Ds MkIII: 74%

D300S 72%

It’s important to have both the dollar amount and the relative amount. The Leica depreciated less, relatively, than the other cameras. But you lost less money on the D3S, D300S and 1D MkIV.

One M9, brand new in the box with not a single shutter actuation, sold for $4,000. So on that particular camera, depreciation was only 43%: 13 percentage points better than average. I did not include it because it did not represent at typical example.

The M9 does best by a small but clear margin in terms of relative depreciation; and it comes third in terms of outright depreciation, excluding the D300S. It is slightly surprising to see the D3X perform so poorly, given its very good image quality.

In one way, the D3X is a bargain if you’re after a second-hand camera. I would argue that if you’re taking photos of motionless cars or some such thing, and if you couple it with the best Zeiss lenses you can afford, you’d be doing very well.

Here is the summary of the DxOMark scores for DR and ISO:

Leica M9: 11.7, 884.

Nikon D3S: 12.2, 2290.

Nikon D3X: 13.7, 1992.

Canon 1D MkIV: 12, 1320

Canon 1Ds MkIII: 12, 1663.

Nikon D300S: 12.2, 787.

With the exception of the D3X, these cameras have similar DR. The D3S and D300S have an edge – half a stop over the Leica. The D3X has two stops more than the Leica and performs significantly better than any camera here. Canon users must be questioning why even their newest models are still limited at 12 stops. Nikon and Leica (and Sony) users must be happy at the progress made over the past few years. The M type 240 is one stop better than the M9; the D4S is one stop better than the D3S but does not match the D3X.

In terms of the ISO figure, the three big DSLRs have between 1 and 1.5 stops over the M9, at most. It’s worth noting that the M9’s highest useable (i.e. real world) ISO is underestimated, but I don’t know if that’s also true for the other four cameras. The Canons aren’t that hot compared to the D3S, but have higher pixel counts.

Thanks to modern cameras like the D4S and especially the A7S, and the occasional whining about the M9’s limits, it’s tempting to look back with misty eyes and overestimate the ISO capabilities of older DSLRs. The reality is a bit different.

So, does this matter?

Cameras are not investments – they are disposable. It’s the images which are supposed to last. Taking reasonable care of your equipment makes sense, of course, because if you don’t then you’ll get crap photos, unless you don’t care about misaligned lens mounts, inaccurate focus, light leaks and sensor dust. But the camera serves the photograph.

Also, the big DSLRs are more of a niche product (read, “sports”) than the M9. The D3X isn’t a sports camera as much as it is a studio or landscape camera. I suggest that the M9 is more suitable than any of the DSLRs for reportage, landscape and portraiture (and travel, if that is a real category). Finally, overall depreciation depends on which lenses you bought, and there are plenty to choose from for each system, both OEM and third party.

I compiled this data mostly on a whim, and partly to show that Leicas are not as expensive as people think (even if you count lenses, but that is beyond this article).

Sometimes, a person might say that they can take the same pictures with a $500 Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Sony DSLR as they can with a $6,500 Leica. Of course they can. But Nikon and Canon do make $6,500 cameras – today. And to repeat, the M9 is arguably better suited to most applications (but distinctly unsuited to macro and many sports).

Finally, the M9’s market value is possibly lower than it should be. The noisy shutter and sensor issues no doubt are affecting used prices. The availability of the M-E might also contribute.

So, to answer the question of which is the ‘smarter buy’, I’ll leave that to you.

URLs for all citations:
DPReview (for price):






DxOMark scores:


D3S, D3X, D300S

1D MkIV, 1Ds MkIII
eBay items used for this post:

M9 (body, $2,950) (body, $3,200) (body, $4,000, brand new in box, not used in this comparison)

D3S (body, $2,025) (body, $2,025)

D3X (body, $2,425) (body, $2,060)

1D MkIV (body, $1,875, reserve not met) ($1,950)

1Ds MkIII (body, $1,450) (body and two zooms, $1,650)

D300S (body, $512) (body, $450)
Amazon listings (yes, it’s weird that most these cameras are still listed with new prices, so please don’t shoot the messenger):




1D MkIV (no listing with a new price, so these are only used prices)



Finally, and not necessarily relevant, my favourite camera review so far:



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  1. I guess someone has to do this sort stuff. I skipped through your text which I believe substantiates the headline.

    Great work! 🙂

  2. The Nikon D3X lost so much because the D800 replaced it. And like others have said, the Nikon and Canon models are pro cameras, meaning they were built to earn money. The M9 was intended for rich hobbyists.

  3. Typical “Financial Statement”.
    The important fact is that the least spent, the less, is lost!

    I never buy to re-sell. It twill be mine till it can no longer be used..or repaired.
    When I went “Digital” for my clients, who needed for Internet, I added a Pentax Optio S40.
    It was already in 2005 obsolete.. A dinky, tiny camera with phenomenal color and skin tones.
    Caucasian skin tones mostly for my clients.It was $200 with 64MB card, battery charger and 4 AA cells.
    The power consumption of the Pentax is only matched by a small northern town, in Ontario, Canada’s Winter night. The New AA cells make it easy to go on a shoot with only a spare set.. Batteries have become better.
    The Pentax is 10 years old. It works great.

  4. One thing that’s been overlooked is that the Leica is pretty much the only one of its kind, i.e. a digital RF. OK, there’s the RD1, but to the best of my knowledge Epson has now stopped their support for it, so if you get one and it doesn’t work, you either fix it yourself or you are SOL.

    So the relative ability of the Leica to maintain its value is probably more due to what it is, rather than how good it is. As has been pointed out many times (if you go by the measurebating nonsense at DXOmark), it actually has the worst performance of any full frame sensor out there, it corrupts certain memory cards, its high ISO performance is worse than cameras costing ten times less…but it’s a niche product, and for that reason it holds value. That’s actually quite smart marketing on Leica’s part.

    And the fact that, knowing all that I still want one is further testament to the power of legend!

  5. When you buy a Leica camera, not the Panasonic rebadge, and you hold it and handle it, you realize that the money spent is for a camera built to last. My Leica M4 and a 50mm Summicron purchased in 1974 is still working flawlessly.

  6. I think that using a very small sample of eBay sales is of limited (if any) usefulness in this case. There are too many variables which can affect every eBay sale.

    A more objective relative comparison can be made by using the used prices posted by a large national camera store, such as B&H Photo. This has the advantage of 1) consistent condition ratings 2) a single large volume seller with a well known reputation.

    I had a look at the prices B&H is currently asking for the Leica M9, Canon 1D Mark IV, Nikon D3s and Nikon D3x for three condition ratings: 9, 8+ and 8. All four cameras were available for sale (body only) in those 3 conditions.

    Prices are as follows for the M9, 1D4, D3s and D3x in this order.
    Condition 9: $3750, $3200, $3100 and $3300
    Condition 8+: $3500, $3000, $2900 and $3100
    Condition 8: $3300, $2800, $2600 and $2900

    You can verify these prices yourself on the B&H Photo website today.

    I have calculated the rates of depreciation or all three condition ratings (9, 8+ and 8), based on the original prices that the author quoted above. These are:
    M9: 46%, 50% and 53%
    1D4: 36%, 40% and 44%
    D3s: 40%, 44% and 50%
    D3x: 59%, 61% and 64%

    Contrary to the author’s claim in this article, there are at least two DSLRs with lower rates of depreciation than the Leica M9…the Canon 1D Mark IV and the Nikon D3s.

  7. Nikon D3X $8000….. 30 weddings a year at approx $2500 a gig = $75,000-00.
    This post was about economics? Yeah, i thought so. 🙂

  8. So now we’re pretending that people pay more for a used Leica just because it’s a “better” camera?

    The Panasonic LX3 was introduced at $500 and currently sells for approx. $50-$150 (depreciation of 70-90%) on eBay.

    The Leica D-Lux 4 was introduced at $800 and currently sells for approx. $200-400 (depreciation of 50-75%) on eBay.

    They have exactly the same specs, except one of them comes with a funny little red dot attached. Let’s not forget that Leica is a luxury brand and is priced accordingly.

  9. Mmmmm, the M9 is an average camera at best with more than an average amount of problems for such a premium price, the glass as ever makes up a lot for the bodies faults but as with any camera it’s the user that makes the difference and the user does not depreciate , they get decrepit 🙂

    • Whether average or not, it lets M lenses shine, unlike the “technologically superior” milcs, including Sony`s As. That`s what matters eventually. And at low iso CCD (and Foveon) sensors still rule, by country miles.

  10. I don’t know who would consider a $6000+ camera “disposable”, regardless of who makes it. All of the cameras you mention would be considered as pro-level tools. You don’t think pros consider their cameras to be investments?

    Plus, you make the mistake of equating monetary/resale value with technological longevity. Every single camera you mention CRUSHES the M9 technologically.

    As somebody else said, the only non-professional photographers who can afford to buy these cameras are extremely rich gear heads who don’t care about resale values to begin with.

    And it shouldn’t matter, but just so you know, I own a Leica, and I use it a lot.

    • “Every single camera you mention CRUSHES the M9 technologically. ”

      Absolutely correct. Except in one parameter, which is surprisingly often overlooked. Some people don’t care about bells and whistles, don’t care that much about high ISO capability, are ONLY interested in ultimate image quality. Those of us who love the M9 love it because, when we manage to overcome its technological shortcomings using our own wits and whatever limited skill we may have, are rewarded with images that I have been unable to obtain with anything else. I have a D810 and every lens I could want for it, but I can’t produce nearly as many “keeper” images with it as I can with the M9. M240 lacks that quality, from what I have seen, no intention to “upgrade” presently.

  11. A superficial glance at this seems to indicate scholarly analysis and a point in favour of Leica worth making. I have to disagree.
    People buying these DSLRs are mostly likely to be professionals and will buy them primarily as tools. Although many Leicas are bought by professionals I am sure, Leica equipment falls much into the category of ‘aspirational’ product and so not surprisingly has better residuals. Comparing Honda with Harley Davidson motorbikes would reveal a similar analysis of price and depreciation and probably similar comments about ‘reliability’!
    In my opinion, fitness for purpose is the most important consideration when choosing photographic equipment. ‘Horses for courses’ or ‘your mileage may vary’…..

  12. I’d like to see MILCs in that same equation/comparison. Quite a few of the current fan-crowd will get extremely frustrated. This ‘premium’ stuff depreciates over 2-3 years in a really devastating manner – I see mint-state MILC cameras go away for nearly pocket-money…

  13. My M6 bought used 1999 years ago lost 20%, M2/3 0%, most M lenses bought used lost 0%. The latter even includes demo lenses from high street shops. 1960s 35mm Summilux and Summicron gained 800% against price paid 1999. R however is a different, sad story.

    Leica M bodies were technically outdated during the larger part of their product cycle. M6 earn a premium for the ttl meter, but additional features added did not matter that much (M6 TTL, M7), M4 (non -2/-P) earn a premium for rarity.

    M5 did not really take off, despite the TTL meter. Customers waited for the M6, i.e. TTL in a M4 (-P) body. I believe digital M will skyrocket, when squeezed into a purist M4 body. I wonder how far power consumption scales down, when users can’t tinker with menu and display.

  14. M9 also holds its value in fuzzy ways. I got my M9 body for like $4,000 3.5 years ago. At the time I knew (i) no fast moving subjects and (ii) high ISO is spotty at best (although I can get good shots pushing to 2500+ with LR5 noise reduction). So, I have no desire to upgrade the M9, where I’ve been upgrading my Canon equipment to keep up with the latest and greatest. I’ll use my M9 until it literally dies in my hands.

  15. AND the M6 & 35mm & 50mm Summicron lens that I purchased used 24 months ago has depreciated 0%, meaning I can get 100% beck after putting 125 rolls through it….. nice.

  16. You forgot to mention that M lenses, if bought smartly like e.g. used mint, appreciated in value since 2009 and make the M a cheap system after all. I bought a couple of new M lenses when the economy and the £ tanked in 2008 and on top of it cash backs were offered in the UK.

  17. Only relevant if you can afford m9 in the first place and ready to take risk that you may not get back as much as you have calculated.
    and if you can afford a Leica, none of these calculations matter.

  18. great job, Karim!!

    I got my M9 in December 2009 I had the sensor replaced the second time last year for free!
    But since I got the Sony A7R I did not use the M9 any more and will sell it soon.

    I can imagine, that the used prices will raise after the following statement from Leica

    Dear Forum Members,

    We have been closely following debates on the CCD sensor issue in forums and blogs and take the opinions and criticism we read very seriously. For us, it is important that we offer only technically faultless products. We are therefore particularly sorry if the imaging quality of your camera should be adversely affected by corrosion effects on the IR filter cover glass. We would also like to express our sincerest regrets to all customers who may have encountered this problem.

    We have now identified the problem and are currently concentrating our efforts on finding a permanent technical solution. Our response to this problem is a full goodwill arrangement offering free replacement of affected CCD sensors. This goodwill arrangement applies regardless of the age of the camera and also covers sensors that have already been replaced in the past. Customers who have already been charged for the replacement of a sensor affected by this problem will receive a refund.

    The effect does not affect the CMOS sensor of the Leica M (Typ 240). Should you, as an M customer, be considering an upgrade from your camera to a Leica M or M-P (Typ 240), Customer Care would be pleased to make you an attractive offer following a check of your camera and under consideration of the model and its age.

    We have posted the details of the problem and the terms and conditions of our goodwill arrangement in the News section of our corporate Web site at Important Information Concerning the CCD Sensors // Global // About Leica News // Leica News // World of Leica – Leica Camera AG an have provided a link to the currently available Leica M Monochrom and M-E models. We will also be notifying our distributors regarding the new terms and conditions.

    We are aware that Leica’s reputation for superior quality and endurance was the driving factor for your decision for Leica. We profoundly regret that we have been unable to completely fulfil our promise to you and our own standards from the outset. We are now making every effort to find a permanent and satisfactory technical solution for this problem and hope that our goodwill arrangement is able to rebuild and maintain your trust in the Leica brand!

    Best regards,

    Stefan Daniel
    Product Management Photo

  19. “The Leica depreciated less, relatively, than the other cameras. But you lost less money on the D3S, D300S and 1D MkIV”
    “But you lost less money on the D3S, D300S and 1D MkIV”
    “But you lost less money on the D3S, D300S and 1D MkIV”
    “But you lost less money on the D3S, D300S and 1D MkIV”

    Buying a camera usually involves 4 points

    1. Shooting style/ergonomics
    2. Quality of images
    3. Price/Money lost after resale.
    4. Durability

    Depreciation is irrelevant.

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