Why a used Leica M7 is more expensive than a new M9. By Mikael Tornwall

From Steve: Starting off this Monday morning with a cool little guest post by Mikael Tornwall. Coming this week…The M9 Contest Details, Pentax K5 review, some film stuff, and a look at the Panasonic LX-5. Enjoy!

Why a used M7 is more expensive than a new M9

The true cost of film by Mikael Tornwall

You have probably all heard the argument that you can buy an awful lot of film for the price difference between a new Leica M9 and a used M7. After all, the M9 is 7000 dollar, while you can get a used M7 in good condition for little more than two grand.

Besides, it’s fun to shoot film, so what is there to argue about? Well, it turns out that the M7 will probably cost you more to own than the digital M9.

Don’t get me wrong, I´m a big film enthusiast and I regularly shoot with both my antique M4-2 and M3 and my Hasselblad 201f. I love the results, but I can do without the waiting, and I can definitely do without the cost for processing and scanning.

Photography is my first and foremost my passion, even if I do take pictures from time to time for the newspaper that pays my salary. My profession is a business journalist, and as such it’s my job to calculate the true cost of things. So when I decided to get a new Leica, naturally I sat down with an Excel-sheet on my PC and figured out how much a M7 would really cost to own, including film, developing and scanning.

Top my surprise I found out that a 2500 dollar film M-camera quickly becomes more expensive than a used M8 or even a new M9.

If you are a casual photographer that maybe shoots one roll per week, the figures would suggest that you get an M7 over an M9. But even at that low rate, the M8 is less expensive to own.

I come back to all the details later in this post. For now you just have to accept these figures:

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 880

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

Basically the cost for the M8 and M9 is only how much it loses in value every year + interest for the money it costs to buy. (Never mind if you have the money in your wallet, capital is still a cost. If you did not buy the camera, you would have a few grand to invest at let’s say 5 percent capital gain. Not taking that into account feels better, but it’s still fooling yourself!)

For the M7 the capital cost is a total of 275 dollar, while film will cost you 605 per year. I have calculated a total cost of 12 dollar per film, including processing and scanning.

Now let’s see what happens if you are a bit more ambitious and process and scan your own film. You can probably get the film cost down to about 6 or 7 dollar. Bear in mind that you will have to buy a pretty good scanner to really get full use of your expensive Leica lenses. That’s going to cost you a dollar or two per roll.

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 577

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

Finally, the M7 is the least expensive alternative. But honestly, if you spend 2500 on a used camera and maybe as much money on lenses, you will probably shoot more than one roll per week.

So let’s try doubling that to two rolls per week, and then test one roll per day. The latter is probably more that most enthusiasts will shoot, but a low figure for a professional.

2 rolls per week (pay for scan and processing)

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 1485

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

One roll per day/20 rolls per month

Camera Yearly cost

Used M7 $ 3155

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

Wow, 3155 dollar per year to operate that M7, if you shoot one roll per weekday as a professional! That’s almost three times as expensive as owning the new m9.

Now, you might ask how come the M9 only costs 1350 per year, when the price tag is 7000. Here is how I have calculated.

For all three cameras I have assumed a price that you will eventually sell them for. Old film Leicas lasts forever, so I have assumed that you will keep it for 10 years and then sell it for 1000 dollar. (That is more or less what you pay for a M6 today.) The M8.2 and M9 you keep for three years. I assumed you get the M8.2 for 3000 and that you can sell it for 1500 in three years. That´s a loss of 500 per year. The M9 is new, so that’s going to lose more in value. I have assumed that it will lose as much as the M8.2 have so far, or about 3000 in three years. That’s a cost of 1000 per year. To that you have to add interest of 5 percent of whatever you buy it for.

You can argue that the film cost can be 10 instead of 12 dollar, even if you don’t process yourself. Or you can go for an even cheaper camera, lets say a M6 TTL for 1500. And yes, that will change the figures, but not dramatically. Even now the M8.2 comes out as the cheapest alternative, if you shoot 2 rolls per week.

Camera Yearly cost

Used M6 TTL $ 1133

Used M8.2 $ 650

New M9 $ 1350

Bottom line, the M7 or the M6 might be absolutely right for you. Film after all still has a unique look that I have not been able to fully emulate with my digital cameras. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will save any money by getting that M7.

Myself? I had an M8.2, which still might be the second best digital camera in the world. But this little exercise made me even more convinced that upgrading to the M9 was the right choice.

BTW, here is a quick comparison shot between an M7 and M9 by Steve from last year. Fun!


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  1. Film cameras command a better resale value compared to digital cameras. 60 years from now, the Leica M7 will still be functional, but no one will care about the M9.

  2. If I wanted to save money digitally it wouldn’t be buy buying a Digital Leica M, I may as well buy a gold an diamond encrusted Swatch.

  3. Very interesting discussion. I have been teed off at my DSLR’s lately and I put them away for December in their original boxes while I consider my purpose in life. I just shot three rolls of B&W T-Max 400, yet to process. Now, I have to look for my film reels, development tanks, timer, thermometer, wetting agent, canned air and see if I can buy T-Max developer anywhere, find fresh fixer and stop bath and try to remember what I was doing years ago with time and temperature. Not impossible, I know. I do like the full frame view of my Nikon F100 and I don’t want to go back to my DX factor Nikon D300 bodies right now although there is nothing wrong with them. I like the simplicity of a three lens kit. Classics for me are always 85mm, 50mm and some wide lens like a 35mm or 24mm. To sell my two DSLR bodies after three or four years of my use, I would take a $2,400 hit. That seems absurd to me and not practical. The F100 film bodies can be had for $300 mint. To get a current digital full frame new body, I have to update to Windows 8, Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 4 because I would want the current raw converter. A lot of this discussion concerns what do we shoot? People and events? You need flash, TTL, brackets, hot shoes, cords and PC sockets. Not so leisurely an approach. I don’t consider all available light an option for me at weddings or when shooting people. Seems like digital keeps cost down when shooting events but wastes time in post processing. Film, is more leisurely. Digital needs hard drives, discs, plastic holders and assumes that you have current programs and a decent computer. The complexity of all this is now astonishing to me, with no end in sight except spending more money. Maybe the leisurely wet darkroom approach, make a beautiful B&W print, would be worthwhile and therapeutic but not any real solution to event type of work.

  4. What this is missing is the costs of disk storage – buying (and backing up) terabyte+ sized disks can add up over the years, with film you can store it for decades in a shoebox for zero cost

    Sure you can save a few rolls on the hard drive that came with your PC, but sooner or later all those 18 MPixel digital shots are going to force you to buy a NAS

    • BUt when you get like I did and shoot hundreds of rolls a year a shoebox will not hold it all, not even close. I have BIG boxes in my garage just storing the negatives from one year of shooting film. I spent more money on film that year than I would have on an M9 when I count in the scanner, processing, cost of film and I am not even counting the hundreds of hours of my time scanning.

  5. Let’s say you purchase an M9. In two or three years it goes the way of the pointless M8. You can sell your M9 losing a third of your investment. Now you have to put that up for the purchase of your M10. So forth and so on. Do you understand the expenses. It’s a convenient point to miss in your article.

  6. I’ve read through most of the responses with great interest.

    I’m seriously considering buying an M7 and selling my Leica X1.

    I don’t shoot many frames at all now, one roll of film a week (36 images) would more than cover what I do – I’m just a keen amateur.

    I don’t have a printer hooked up to my computer, and I’m a little tired of taking quite a few images and then sitting infront of the computer to adjust them (using Aperture mainly).

    The appeal for me is quite simple.

    Buy a classic camera that will outlast me. Take photos, have someone develop them for me , and have photo’s in my hand to view. I know I could get the images printed from the X1 , but I don’t because they are on the monitor.
    Film would make me touch and feel the images, and stop me from buying a relatively expensive digital body / camera every three years or so.

    It would also stop me from sitting in front of the monitor “processing” my images.

    I’m very tempted to get a M7 and revet to an older technology.

    I’d be interested in anyone’s opinion.



  7. Hi Steve. Love your website and your whole outlook on photography, etc. I have the same scanner that you have, the Epson V700 ($550.00). I buy the film online for cheap (depends on which film of course). I get the film processed for $2.16 at CVS and scan the negatives myself. I’ve downloaded a couple of your M9 pics in their full glory to compare them to mine in Lightroom and I have to say that IMO film is still yielding noticeably better results. I’m such a “film head” that digital pics look like “video stills” fringy and artificial, even from the Leica. Film just seems more natural and alive. Maybe my imagination. One point that I would make also is that my workflow allows me to have lots of different cameras! I have a couple of fixed lens rangefinders, some Nikon SLRs, a Zeiss Ikon ZI rangefinder, a medium format folder and other neat cameras. Imagine if each of these were full format digitals! I could’ve bought a Ferrari instead.

  8. Very good analysis. However, you need to add the following to the digital equation: 1) the cost of upgrading your computer and storage every few years for reasons we know all too well; 2) the cost of software upgrades; 3) the endless hours in front of the computer doing post processing; and 4) the circulaprudente of the aforementioned costs. Miller’s Lab will process, scan and print 4×5 proofs for me at $8/roll which includes overnight delivery back from the lab. The scans are 20mb Tiffs so sufficient for small and medium sized prints and on-line proofing by clients. For the final prints, I send Miller’s the negatives and the proofs which I marked to let the lab know where to dodge, burn and crop. I only use a computer to upload the proofs to an on-line gallery for client review. From the time I toss the film in the mail and I get the proofs uploaded takes about 5 business days. When I need immediate feedback, I use a Leica M9 or put a digital back on my Mamiya RZ67

  9. My M6 is 25 years old, my Nikon FM2n is 26 years old, and my Olympus OM-1 is 39 years old. They each work flawlessly, do not require batteries, and deliver stunning images.

    My Nikon D90 (not an M9, I know!) is a year and a half old. It has trouble communicating with the lens sometimes and refuses to work in temperatures under freezing if I carry it for more than a few minutes when it’s exposed to the cold. When the D90 freezes up, I pull out my old, obsolete film camera and happily snap away for the rest of the afternoon.

    My D90 will be worthless in another year. In another 30 years, I expect my three film bodies will still be clicking away. I’ll have purchased 10 digital rigs in the meantime…

    I buy film in bulk and develop and scan myself. It’s soothing, almost like therapy. And the images I produce just seem more “real” to me. I haven’t done the math on film vs. digital, but I know which one gives me the most pleasure.

  10. Digital may well be “cheaper”… But i can’t afford to sit in front of the computer any longer- especially when i already spend 8-10 hours in front of three of them for work.

    For me, there is nothing better than shooting a roll of film and not having to worry about editing or correcting things to my wits end. I only scan the frames i want, and i do indeed take less photos because i have learned to use the film as a finite resource – not an “infinite” one as with digital. This forces me to think harder before i press the button. I worked for Canon in product development for 3 years and i can safely say that 3 years of talking digital cameras for 40 hours a week sent me mostly mad.

    There will be endless film vs digital conversations but neither is better. It is the image that counts.

    If i was personally concerned about the issues of film, i would not have walked around in Nepal for 5 weeks shooting (and carrying in my backpack) 100+ rolls of film and then waiting nearly a month for them to get processed and returned to me (Kodachrome)

      • TDK:

        I’m just going through the slides now and will get them scanned this week.

        I actually spoke to Steve about posting them as an article here before i went overseas, so i will do that 🙂


  11. Develop in your kitchen sink for peanuts.

    Purchase a CoolScan 5000.

    Not everyone lives in places in the world where menial labour (processing film and scanning) us charged at absurd rates.

  12. Or appreciation in the case of the film M’s… Some years ago, I bought a brand new MP for $1999 USD. I’ve put somewhere between 600 and 800 rolls though it but one can only see a few minor signs of use with close inspection. In the current used market, I can easily get more than what I paid for the camera initially.

  13. Obviously, Mikael needs to re-take his accouting 101 course. He should take yearly depreciation into account in both items. And if he does, he would understand why M7 would still cost much less few years down the road. I guess this is a “self-conforming” article to persuade one to make the purchase !

    • Actually, accounting rules do not always show the true cost of owning a camera. I presume you could write off a third of the M7 per year, and write off the M9 in one year as an electronic device, making it free to own after year one 🙂
      However, the true cost of capital and value loss is in the story.

  14. Photographers don’t really like to concern themselves with arguments like this… they’re too busy taking photographs with the equipment that works best for their own purposes.

  15. Wow, Mikael really lit the blue touch paper on this article! There have been some enjoyable arguments & counter-arguments. I shoot film & digital, but not Leica. A couple of things strike me about this debate:

    1. Leica owners arguing about the cost of photography is oxymoronic: if you really were cost-conscious I doubt many of you would spend 000’s on your equipment. The original article reads more like he was trying to justify the cost of an M9 to someone.

    2. If you are worried about depreciation then maybe you should never sell your equipment or buy second-hand. Unless, of course, there is a hidden message about the reliability & longevity of a digital Leica? I never quite understood the argument about digital equipment becoming obsolete. As long as it still works as intended, why not keep using it? This principle works fairly well for houses, cars, TVs, etc.

    3. Unless you are all expert photographers, I find photography is a lot about learning & honing my skills. Digital is fantastic for doing that in a relatively short timeframe. So I can shoot to my heart’s content & not worry about stock & processing costs.

    4. If you love photography, forget about the costs & buy whatever you can afford & have fun. Life really is too short!

    Best wishes to you all & keep shooting.


  16. Another thought…

    A client was in yesterday picking up a 30×40 archival digital print pulled on Arches Infinity paper (no longer available as Arches but a close match as Canson) made from a digital capture from her D300. She owns a gallery here and just came back from a show in Florida. She sold this print at the show for $1,500. However, she claims that she could have gotten twice as much if it was a silver print from a negative. More still if it was a platinum or palladium. It seems collectors value traditional prints more than digital. And she’s thinking platinum.

    We discussed processes, possibilities and costs with the end result being that I’m going to scan some of her old negatives then print enlarged digital negatives on my 9800. She’ll take the printed negatives and make contact prints. We’ll start small – 8×10 – and go up in size until the quality starts to suffer. In my experience, that’s somewhere around 16×20. She wants 30×40. We’ll see.

    There will be two factors that determine success. The first is cost. The negatives will be expensive to make and both platinum and palladium have gone through the roof. An 8×10 may have $30-$50 in materials. A 30×40 might have $250-$300 in materials cost. Plus waste. The other factor is time. Her gallery is open from 10 am to 7 pm seven days a week. And she is there most of the time. Can she find enough free time to make enough prints in order to develop the skill needed to make a gallery quality print?

    This is an example exactly the same things we’ve been discussing. Is it worth the time and expense to pull a traditional print from an analog camera? In my customer’s case it is a digital shot that only cost her an afternoon off with her digital camera and a $199 print vs a few hundred hours building her skills and a $300 print. The money is not that different but the time invested sure is. The bottom line is that, given the same or similar quality print, some collectors are willing to pay a premium for an artist’s analog skills. If time is not a factor, traditional photo art may be the way to go.

  17. Appreciate your efforts,this argument has been thrown at me many times but never in quite such a coherent way.I still wonder though if you add up all the costs,camera, computer , software etc,wether it’s quite so cut a dried,at least for a predominately black and white photographer.Also a slight consideration for the quality of the image might just tip the balance back to film.
    However a good point , well made.

  18. Lots of interesting points and perspectives in this post.

    I went to Japan with the M9 and shot an average of 350 images every day for about 21 days. If you round it up, that’s about ten rolls of colour negative film every day. In Australia, I pay about AUD$20 to have one roll developed, scanned and printed at my local Fuji Frontier, so to shoot that in film would have cost me AUD4200 + film costs.

    I would shoot a mixture of XTRA 400, Pro400H and Reala for that kind of work, so that would average about $AUD$6 per roll, perhaps more. $1260 for film, $4200 for dev/scan/print.

    If I used the M7 body I bought for AUD$3100 recently, the whole cost of shooting Leica in that Japan trip would have been $8560. I paid about AUD$9300 for my M9, which has given me the ability to shoot hundreds of images every day for the life of the the camera (about five years), not just the 21 days of the trip.

    But that is an extreme example. Say I shot two rolls per day. Film ($12) + dev/scan/print ($40) x 21 days = $1092.

    To date I have shot at least 20,000 images with the M9. Of course, a lot of these were machinegunned, many were test images, but still 20k images. 20,000 images = 555 rolls of film = $66,600. Ouch.

    Or if I had shot 2 rolls per day for every day I have had my M9, eight months: 30(days) x 2(rolls) x 6(buy film) x 20(dev) x 8(months) = $57,600. Still ouch.

    Sure, if I handloaded bulk black and white film and developed it myself using chems bought in bulk, the costs of film and processing would come down a lot. But that would eat up a lot of time that I don’t otherwise have, and I can’t shoot black and white exclusively. I need colour.

    Ironically, I am currently shooting my M7 with Ilford films while I wait for my M9 to be repaired. Priceless.

    • I just made a mistake in calculation. Two rolls of film per day for eight months is actually 12,480, not 57,600. Never was that careful with maths…

      • Film doesn’t have to die out just because we’ve got digital.
        We still ride bicycles don’t we.? Zillions of them!
        This is just a mindset. If people still want film, there will be a market. From what I see a lot of people DO still want film for various reasons.It’s like saying natural, fresh food will not be available in ten years time because now we have frozen and instant foods ( much more convenient right? )
        and pencils will die out in just a few years because we’ll all be using iPad version 2 and we won’t actually need pencils anymore. same with paper books, And if you want to continue the theme… 35mm, medium format cameras, four thirds cameras, DSLR’S and Leicas
        ( shock! horror! ) will all be gone
        because we’ll simply use our phones to take pictures.

        Doesn’t HAVE to turn out like that though.

  19. I’ve just invested EUR 25,– in a Contax 137MA body. And, I hasten to add, EUR 800 in a 1.4/35 Distagon C/Y mount. Allright, I was given (as in “gifted”) an RTS III body with 2.8/25, 1.4/85 and Olympia Sonnar glass. So I thought, fill the gap by including a never to be missed 35, and get a cheap back-up body. And get a few rolls of Tri-X and whatever, and prepare for the processing and scanning costs. Rock on!

    It’ll always be an enthousiast’s indulgence and I l ;-)ove Mikael’s beancounter approach! Makes you think… 😉

  20. Just my thoughts on what’s been said:

    Technology changes the game over time (think about the last 100-2000 years). There are huge investments (billions of dollars, euros, francs) in the digital sector of imaging – almost none in the analog (film) sector . . . I’m sorry, but analog technology will have no future as it seems.

    Near future: At this moment, digital storage for example is far from perfect, but the upcoming of solid state storage instead of magnetic or optical discs will change a lot for the better.

    Computer costs: You probably have a already sufficient powerful computer at home, even when you exclusively shoot film. It’s just as the modern world is.

    Film is dying out of business: Here in Switzerland for sure and the rest of the world will eventually follow.

    Digital has some very great advantages: Redundancy, error detection and error correction (mathematics), ease of use.

    Archiving: For ease of use and some if necessary post processing choose digital, then sort out what you really want to keep for a longer term (maybe 10 out of 5000 images) print some books or make prints and in addition, if you must, store those images back to color laser micro film. Especially developed for long term archiving, this is a much better solution than normal transparency film and will not cost you a lot for a couple of your photos. You will have the best of both worlds.

    Be patient, digital imaging technology is still in its infancy compared to the history of film. It will get more reliable and stable in time.

    And . . . enjoy photography for yourself and work on your skills, by all means!


  21. The general rule of thumb to anyone who shoots film exclusively is to buy in bulk and develop at home – the cost works out to be about $3 – 4 per 38 shots which includes the film and chemical cost. It’s really not that bad.
    Though, I don’t think the people who shoot film do so because its cheaper. If you want to shoot film, then there is no alternative. And to many people including myself, the cost is absolutely worth it.
    A scanner is also a one time investment, however while they are useful for sticking your work online, if you’re shooting film only to end up scanning it I suggest you try printing your work – that’s where the real magic happens.

    • “A scanner is also a one time investment”

      Scanners I’ve owned over the years… Hell 300, Crosfield 546, Crosfield 635, Crosfield 646, Polaroid 4000, Nikon flatbed (I forgot the number as this one was a real turkey), Howtek 4000, Umax 1200, and finally a Epson 10000 (which is really good).

      Add in the film processors, contact frames, screens and 3M, Iris and Dupont proofers and I’ve spent seven figures on scanners but scanning was a big part of my business.
      Bottom line is that technology changes. Even the connections to the computers. Point in fact, I have $20k in scanners on the floor that have SCSI connections that function perfectly but are basically useless. The scanner you purchase today with a firewire or USB2 may not plug into your new computer 5 years from now.

      However, my Berkey DS enlarger that I used in the late 70s (same as a Omega D5xl) still works fine once I removed the point light source and replaced it with a coldlight head.

  22. I’ll invest the money for the M9 in my further education, then I’ll be able to get an M12 when it comes out 😉

  23. interesting debate.. I have owned many Leica Ms and R’s over the years and loved them all. But for me film is dead. It’s dead not because it really is dead. It’s dead because a) I don’t have the time to do it myself any more and b) It’s so expensive to get professionals to process for me. I have given up with cheap labs as time and again they have ruined my film.

    I recently went back to film and took my old Nikon FM2 to Egypt on holiday. I came back with only 5 rolls of film which cost me £25 to buy and then £30 to process and print cheaply. This didn’t even include scanning. After using digital for a number of years now I simply can’t go back. I need the results on the computer immediately. Scanning on top of processing is just too expensive and time consuming and troublesome.

    I bought an M9. My girlfriend went mad and my friends don’t get it but I don’t care. You can’t put a price on something that makes you really happy and gives you inspiration. It’s a fantastic camera and I’m glad i took the plunge. No more massive SLR’s.

    I disagree with people who think the M9 will be dead soon. It will still be a good camera in ten years time even if its replaced by a better model. And in that time can we be sure that film will still be alive? Or indeed not horribly expensive? The electronics will only get cheaper which means the M9 will probably be repairable for a long time. But in my experience good electronics properly designed last longer than mechanical things. They may not be as easy to repair but there are no moving parts.
    If the quality is there they will last as long as mechanical devices. And they can easily be replaced if they are modular.

    For example, I have an old Rollei c26 roll film camera which my grandad bought in the 70’s. It still works and so does the re-chargable flash battery! But I can no longer get film for it! So I see no reason why the M9 can’t last and I see no future for film. The new generation will not embrace film. It will be something to dabble in like large format or pin hole cameras..

    I would be really interested to see some kind of data relating to mechanical devices vs electronic and which is more reliable. I have two old computers which still work just fine but the plastic housing is falling apart and the operating systems are hardware is redundant. They still do the same job they were designed to do though but the modern software is too much for them.

  24. Not to add to the downer on film but the $2.15 processing only costs for a roll of 35mm C-41 film at Walgreens is a thing of the past. I had one developed at that price back in July. Then they changed their pricing. Now it’s $4.98. That’s an amazingly large percentage price increase. Obviously they want to discourage people getting a roll of film processed and then ‘taking it from there” themselves in terms of scans and prints.

    Anyone know of someplace, Costco maybe, where one can still get a roll processed for under $3?

      • I live in a small Canadian town and most of our local labs are gone. The ones that are left are unreliable and very expensive (approximately $15 per roll). If I lived in a big city like Toronto or Montreal, it would be completely different.

        I started developing my own C-41 negatives very recently. I use the K2 Unicolor chemicals as it is the only ones that Freestyle Photo can send to Canada. I estimate the cost to be about $2.50 per roll. Developing is very easy and I’m very happy with the results. The best part is that I now have complete control over the process.

        • I need to get into self developing at some stage, from what I read others say it sounds very satisfying and cost effective as well. Thanks.

  25. I live both sides. Professionally, I can not afford to shoot film. For example, I shot 3 paintings this morning. I’ll bill a grand total of $220. If I was using film, my cost would be $2 per exposure for the film plus $5 per exposure for the developing, times 3 for the bracket. That’s $63 in materials. Plus scans at $40 x 3=$120. Plus time to run film to lab at $60. That’s a loss of $23 on just one job. With digital capture, I can set the camera and lights, run a test exposure and start the scan in 5 minutes. 15-20 minutes later I have a 300 mb file with 12 stops of dynamic range (amazing since I cross polarize my shots). While the exposure is going, I feed a set of prints into my 9800 and have a free moment to type a response or answer a phone call or adjust a file. But this is work. Digital photography is essential for work.
    For play, there are two styles of photography that I love: 8×10 contact platinum/palladium prints and 9×13 leica M silver prints. There is something magical about the printing process. Brings me back 50 years to when I was a little boy watching my father print negatives from his Leica IIIf. You don’t get the same thrill sitting in front of a computer.
    The pity is that there is plenty of time for work and precious little for play these days. But retirement is not that far away, here’s hopping they still make 8×10 and 35 mm TriX a few years from now.

    • Interesting view, Tom. Digital when it’s work, film when it’s for pleasure. I started on that route last October and have been impressed with the higher quality results achieved from film. I have been surprised how the Asph capture details that I missed before.

      The 50mm Summilux Asph has proved to be a real winner with slow film. More so than digital in my opinion because of the colour capture. Exciting times.

  26. Mikael’s accounting may appeal to some people but I’m not keen on taking out big loans on ever evolving and obsolescing electronics. To me, the most economic way to buy into Leica photo quality is buy into the previous generation cameras like the M6 which go for very little cost and spend the rest on lens selection. Should budget allow I’ll consider a digital M but for now I’m enjoying the benefits of film and RF photography.

    Why film, especially Leica mechanical film cameras? One may talk megapixel ad infinitum but digital capture is inherently limited by bayer interpolation, which is perhaps the culprit for its look that I don’t find as consistently appealing as film. Then there’s not having to deal with batteries and chargers. Having to deal with the electrical leash every time you forget or can’t find power hampers the spontaneity of pick up & go. Regularly backing up digital files and ensuring future compatibility is also an expense that may be the digital Achilles Heel for everyone. In short, the quality and the no-fuss traits of a mechanical M and film are priceless. There is no equal.

    Why RF? I think we all know this already. Capturing the moment means minimizing the hesitation or delay of an SLR. Then there’s also the value of seeing what’s outside the box as well and feeling confident that it’s been captured. And this is what Leica excels at.

    The M9 is valued, however, not everybody can or choose to afford one nor is it the ultimate in IQ. If the mechanical film M or several, especially of the previous generation, is potentially a better fit for most people the used market and the competition will pick up on the demand – a consequence of what happens when the digital honeymoon is over. Perhaps this will also spawn further refinement of the mechanical film Ms.

    Leica mechanical film cameras are still around and very, very useful!

  27. Good article and number exercise, however, if I have to crunch number like that when buying a camera, I wouldn’t consider Leica at all, there are so many great film SLRs out there(Nikon FM3a, F100, F5??), that will cost you lot less when shooting film.

    The tricky part is when you want a range finder, the equation starts to change, and yet again, if I have to count down to dollar to figure out the cost, I will not buy Leica at all, for me, buying Leica is an emotional decision, not financial, hence comparing which one is cheaper is moot.

    For the price of a used M7 you can get a brand new D700, how does that compare if cost is the only denominator?

  28. The amount of film I use is directly proportional to the amount of money and time I have.

    December is one of the most expensive months, hence I only used 1.5 rolls.

  29. Digital has to be cheaper ! Why else would I have poured all my cash into cameras, software and computers over the last 5 years ?

    It only seems like film is very low cost and digital swallows cash, but in reality I’ve ‘chosen’ to upgrade my digital bodies on 4 occasions and the Mac twice to handle the bigger files ! Now I’m set for at least 12 years of zero expense on digital kit. TBH, I did need to invest to digitise my negatives.

    The cost of running a high volume digital system and a low volume, but high quality home-brew B&W film system is probably what is killing me.

    • Take a old Kodak Retina Camera you buy for 20 Bugs at garage sales
      and put in a Fuji Across 100 Film will blow your Head off.
      Superb Optics and easy Handling – just make pictures.

    • This might be true, but in 20-30 years time, what film will be available? Perhaps many types/brands, but I am not so sure. As more amateur consumers buy digital cameras and more pros do the same, at some point in the future we will surely see more and more film-producing companies discontinuing lines.

      I live in Budapest and was recently thinking of buying a film camera but I didn’t want to develop the film (b+w and color) at home. There are numerous places in Budapest that still develop film, but only a couple that do so with ‘quality’ in mind. Twenty or thirty years from now… I doubt there will any such places that can run as business – there won’t be any profit in it.

      • If there is demand for film development, there will be supply of respective services.
        It’s called market. Prices are the unknown, but I doubt demand will disappear.

        • Yes, but this is partially my point. Large demand and competition = lower prices. Small demand and no competition = increased prices (particularly to cater to the few).

          I’m not saying demand for film will ‘disappear’, just saying it could drop so low it might not be feasible to produce the stuff.

          We have already seen a decrease in available film and businesses that can develop it…. and 30 years in the future is a lot of years 🙂 Your film cameras might work just fine as a mechanical device, I am just saying they might not work so well without film 🙂

          I don’t think film will die out completely in the short term, but it will surely become more expensive to buy and process. In the long term, well, film-producing companies might just think the outlook is too bleak.

          That said, I find The Impossible Project really interesting. This is a film option that can work well, as the cameras/polaroid-like films develop instantly giving you the immediacy you find with digital, but in that also giving an instant product (the printed picture).

          • The point about film eventually becoming more and more expensive is very valid. I dont think it would effect the 3 year comparison. but we definitely do not know what things will look like 10 years from now. So dont get an MP or M7 and expect it to be a 20-30 year investment.

    • In fact your M3 – M4 – M5 – M6 – M7 – MP will always be up-to-date.
      You dont have to update your firmware or buy a new Camera to get a better resolution.
      I dont think that anyone will still photograph with a M8 or M9 in 30 years.
      I dont think that someone will support your (anyone) Digital Camera for a Lifetime.
      So you have to spend more money for hardware wich you think you save spending
      buying films and for developing (Hardcopies from Digital Pictures also costs money).

  30. At least for me shooting film is an artistic decision rather than one of cost, not to say that I think film is more artistic than digital because I don’t believe it is by any means

  31. Too many variables, too many unknowns, too many assumptions needed to make a meaningful comparison. The good news is that film is still affordable and cost differences insignificant. If we can purchase Leica RF cameras and lenses, we can afford to use them.
    Used M7 for USD 2000 will still be sold at the same nominal dollar amount in 3, 5, 10, 20 years. Courtesy to inflation, USD devaluation and Leica going to continue to increase prices for new products. So whereas digital M owners will feel the urge to “upgrade” every 3-4 years, the M7 shooter will not spend additional cash on camera body replacements. As far as operating costs are concerned, buying, developing, scanning, storing film, M7 batteries versus buying sdhc cards, M8/9 camera batteries, software and software upgrades, digital storage have to be considered. Too many variables.
    Only one thing I know with certainty, my MP, which I bought unused from a collector for USD 2300 two years ago will not depreciate in value, whereas my M9 will. And if the past M8 price development provides any guidance for the M9, its depreciation will be about 60% in three years.

  32. When I want to take pictures, I don’t think..hey, wait a minute! Maybe I could be using a camera which costs me less money! If I’m using my film M6, I’m using it because I want to use film. Do you buy a car primarily because it’s cheaper rather than the model you really want?
    I use my cameras for photography not book-keeping! What is this all about?

    I’m happy using film OR digital. But…I will say this, if you have an M3, or M7 you can still use it now and probably in the future.Dropping off your film at the lab and picking up a CD is no hardship . plus you then have digital and film negatives which in the future can be scanned using whatever electronic wizardry will be available at that time ( the reason most movies are still shot on film by the way ) and personally I don’t care too much for looking at MENU’s when I’m taking pictures.
    They get in the way.And if your thinking from your wallets perspective and you want digital, I think you can use a D / V lux or X1 and still get good enough results. Can’t use your M lenses though!

    Chris…you also only have one head. It’s probably the most important thing you own,Do you spend all day worrying about where your back-up head is? You might say that digital cameras and film cameras are very different things. For user satisfaction ( handling and picture taking experience with analog controls ) and longevity of images. I’d choose film.
    For convenience and low processing costs I’d choose digital.
    Film is a pure image light straight through the lens and on to the film, no weird halo effects around the sun in landscape shots or purple lines where there shouldn’t be.
    Digital cameras are not as good as they think they are..yet! but the M9 is a huge step in the right direction.

  33. Interesting article. I have an M8 and really like it. But I also shoot a lot of film, and process and scan it (35mm, anyway), and really like that, too. Matter of fact, I’m having a whale of a time buying super film cameras for pennies on the dollar and playing with them (latest film toy: Contax RX).

  34. There are way to many variables to make any sort of statement like “X is more expensive than Y”
    For instance we don’t know how the M9’s resale value will hold up. Some people shoot much less than your equations assumed. Buying bulk film and rolling your own makes a big difference.

    I appreciate the effort though.

  35. This has turned into an interesting read and running discussion, with a lot of points on all sides. Though I think the originally stated methodology is a bit flawed, so I came up with my own excel Net Present Value comparisons over a three year time frame. Since differing time frames is not valid in my mind.

    First, there is no point in comparing the cost over time between a used M7 and an M8, since these are available at roughly the same price; at least they are at my local dealer. But, comparing a used M7 to a used M8.2 or a new M9 is a different story. Assuming a $2,000 price for the M7, $3,200 for an M8.2, 50% resale value after 3 years, and $12/roll film costs, I can purchase an M7 and shoot about 21 rolls of film per year for about the same total cost as the M8.2. Switching to a new M9 at $7,000, I can get the the M7 and shoot 79 rolls of film per year for about the same total cost.

    Personally, when looking at things this way the M8.2 may be more viable than the M7 since I do shoot about 20 rolls of film per year. But with my digital cameras (S90 & NEX-5) I tend to shoot a lot more; I shot almost 600 images in one day last August with the S90.

  36. I don’t think it’s a question of cost for many of us who shoot film.

    It’s like driving a beat up VW beetle as compared to a brand new one. Both may look the same in shape, but the romantic in us tells us the 30 yr old car is “special” while the new one, with all the modern luxuries, is just another car…..

        • Yes, I am familiar with it. The costs for the drive and discs are ridiculous and the DVD standard is impractical. Their discs are single-layered even. That’s not good enough for archival needs today, let alone the archival needs for the future. I have a number of scans from 4×5 and 5×7 film and a DVD would only hold 2 such scans – perhaps 3 if I’m lucky. Their claims that the DVD will always be readable is lunacy. Would Western Digital create hardware that could read their 8-inch floppy discs for the TSR-80? Can they? Their argument that future optical discs will be backward compatible with DVD is completely misleading. Thirty or even twenty years from now, who would make backward compatible hardware for the multitude of DVD formats (and the various file systems, file formats, encryption, etc. contained on the DVDs)???

          • You have a valid point, or course, when it comes to cost. Regarding compatibility I would not be too worried. You can still find ways to read your old disks.

            Most people do not shoot film, and the argument that film lasts longer will not convince them to switch back. This is a way to preserve, maybe not all, but the most valuable images for the future.

  37. I agree with Gary. The M9 is not likely to last as long as the M7 or film M. I can’t see an M9 still being used in 2020. An M7 though probably will though and even if it doesn’t, it won’t cost as much as an M9 to get it working again. In 2020, the digital cameras will have improved beyond what an M9 is today and using an M9 then, if it works, will still be settling for second best. The next generation of film (if there is such a thing) will probably still work on an M7.

    Nice analysis but I use different tools for different jobs. I use digitals for the convenience factor and when I shoot indoors under tungsten light. I also use digitals for high volume shots like for sporting events where I will have a large number of failures until I get a useable photo. I sometimes use digital to confirm exposure and composition settings

    I use film for outdoors and landsapes because transparency film will still beat even a Leica S2 for colours outdoors. Especially the colour of the sea and sky. I shoot film to back up the digital shots when I really want the shot to count.

    Basically they are complimentary tools and I think you need both.

  38. What do you do after 3 years when you sell the m8.2 or m9? Upgrade? That’ll be another capital cost in 3 years — and also the computer, software, harddrive etc .
    After 3 years you’ll still have the m7.

  39. Rudolph hit the nail on the head. I’m studied and now teach computer science. One of the first things we learn is that digital data is wonderful for copying and transmission but not good for reliable storage. The calculations didn’t take into consideration the costs of storing and preserving digital files over the long-term. If that’s not a concern to a professional photographer that depends on quick turn around time and not concerned with selling their images 20 years down the road, than that’s fine. However, those that are concerned with long-term life of their images, there will be added costs for the storage and maintenance of digital files. Costs will be substantial.

    The following article may be of interest:

    • The notion that film is cheaper to store is a bit of a red herring, imo. Yes, in theory a negative can be very stable, but theres also only one of them; any meaningful redundant duplicarion (high quality scan, print) either puts you back in the digital storage world, or applies equally well to digital captures, ie, the print is a redundant backup, and many of us are more likely to print digital files, i think. (good prints i mean, 4x6s dont count, unless everything on flicker also counts.)

      Most of us are likely to have the digital media in perpetuity storage thing going anyway, regqrdless of whether we originate on film or digital, so the cost is there either way. And so far, ive lost far more pictures on film thai have on digital…

      • There is only one negative, sure. Chances of destruction (even considering the possibility of fire, flooding, etc.) is extremely low if properly stored. A hard drive crash, on the other hand, is a certainty! Data deterioration on optical or magnetic media, is a certainty! A physical scratch on media Redundant duplication and more redundant duplication is necessary as well as the constant maintenance of hardware. With film, duplication (or at least constant duplication) is not necessary.

        And “meaningful redundant duplication” doesn’t mean that I’m back in the digital storage world. One can duplicate negatives or make prints using analogue processes.

        • I just realized that I didn’t finish my point about the affects of physical harm on media. Digital data is very sensitive to physical deterioration of the media on which it is stored . As an example, a scratch on media storing analogue data rarely makes the data unreadable. A scratch on media storing digital can affect the data in a number of different ways – it may have no effect, it may wipe out one file, a number of files or everything on the media.

          Here’s another example. A few years ago, a two friends that used the same wedding photographer, found the CD’s containing their wedding photos were unreadable. Did the wedding photographer have the original files or back-ups? Nope! One of my friends sent her CD to a data recovery service in Toronto and they told her that the loss of data was likely due to the adhesive on the CD labels reacting with the media. No images on the CD were recoverable.

          • i absolutely agree that digital media itself can be treacherous. i agree that hard drives will fail. cd/dvd isn’t all that stable. lots of bad practices are out there. i’ve heard the digital wedding horror stories too. (though not all film wedding guys bother to keep old film, either.)

            but, like i said, i’ve lost far more film photos to various causes–including lab errors, theft, mildew, physical trauma, and just plain losing them–than i have (so far, knock on wood) digital photos–that’s over 10 years of digital, and a lot more frames. it isn’t that i’ve been lucky–i’ve had laptops stolen and die, and many, many hds die, and many optical disks die. it’s just that even if i did no photography at all, i need to ensure that i can keep my computer data; that’s a given for my life. sometimes that means printing or publishing, sometimes just many redundant digital storage media–usually both.

            i have some 25-odd hd and hd arrays around my house, office, and relative’s houses. everything that means anything is in at least 4 drives. yes, i do re-copy everything to fresh drives from time to time, and yes, it is all a mess. i also have my most precious files on multiple online servers, and on flash memory storage, which is looking to be a very robust medium–as it gets cheaper, i hope it will solve many of the worst digital pitfalls. in the meantime, in this coming year, i plan to consolidate all my photos on two massive raid 6 arrays (one for backup), keeping a subset of the smaller disks of course to hold redundant chunks of the archive. and to make even more prints, including revisiting some of the old stuff and making higher quality versions–the combination of technological advances (my raw files from the 20d look like a much better camera took them now that they benefit from the latest interpretations from aperture and lightroom) and evolving aesthetic preferences means they sometimes look like completely different photos.

            so, i don’t think that printing counts as a point in favor of film survivability; its a wash–you can print either one. as for duping special film photos, that is a seriously degraded copy, most of the time. some images it wont much matter for, but some it definitely does. and besides, almost no one actually does it, and it would be very expensive on a large collection–say, 500 of your lifetime favorite images. i can stash 500 of my favorite images from a year on a single sd card.

            film has been wonderful in that it took care of collections of photos that were subsequently discovered again. but it also has caused heartbreak, when improper processing caused it to fade or deteriorate. and the caveat that goes with film’s longevity–“so long as it’s stored properly”–sidesteps the basic issue. digital is good to, so long as it is stored properly. and with the proliferation of online storage sites, combined with internet data archiving, it isn’t so hard to imagine people 50 years from now unearthing extraordinary, unknown works from the wayback machine or something analogous.

            but, all that said and done, your basic point is well taken–digital files can disappear in an instant. and if all goes well, film can be incredibly resilient. also, there’s no real reason that one can’t make high quality scans of film, and then you enjoy the benefits of both mediums. now if i can only figure out a way to afford an imacon….

          • oh yes, and thanks for the nyt article, it makes a good point. and i do agree with you that the costs for digital archiving are considerable–i just am resigned to the fact that i will be bearing them regardless of whether i mainly shoot film or digital cameras.

    • The other week, my hard drive decided to not read, I nearly had a hard attack, nearly 300GB of my photographs and videos nearly disappeared, I would have been really depressed for a long time.
      Luckily it decided to come back to live a few days later.
      I bought a back up hard disk and backed it up straight away.
      What a scare.

  40. From my point of view is not about the money at all. I shoot film exclusively because of the look and workflow.

    Just last year, I could have bought three or four M9s based on my film and lab costs alone but the time that I don’t spend post-processing images to make them look like film with all those cool filters out there is worth more to my business. Instead of spending time behind the computer processing images, my business is better served if I use that time for marketing/networking or just spending time with my family. I like digital and the M9 a lot but the one thing that most folks fail to remember is that time is money (specially if you are running a business)… How much is your time worth? 🙂

    Of course, if I didn’t use what I and many consider the best pro lab in the US and maybe the world, this would be a completely different story but as long as I have a partner that knows exactly what I need and takes great care of me through amazing customer service and a quality product, my MPs/Rolleis/Crown Graphics are all I need for both my professional and personal work.



  41. Nice calculation exercise, but you forgot a (little) detail. In two, three years, when the new M10,or M9.2 arrives, people will consider the M9 obsolete, it’s price and it’s resale money will drop significantly, and after all, you’ll end up spending another 5000 euros on a new digital camera!

    The film cameras never become obsolete, and you’ll never need to replace them… and that isn’t calculated there

  42. When I shot film professionally, I spent $3,500-$5,000 on 35 mm and $10,000-$15,000 on 4×5 for film and processing every year. And I did my own scanning. My $15,000 scan back was a no-brainer investment. My DSLRs and Leica M8, well they need to go 1.5-2 years before they paid for themselves…
    But wait, what about all of the hours scanning and retouching dust spots and scratches? How about the cost of Polaroids? And all of the backing material, packaging and chemicals in the trash? The reshoots because of a missed reflection or the edge of a light stand or whatever in the shot. How about the half hour spent shaking a chrome tank or the hour dipping racks in an E6 line. Or keeping the water bath at the correct temperature. Or hands that always smell of fixer. The quality of my working life is worth a lot to me.
    These days I run about 6 rolls of TriX or HP5 through my M4 whenever I want to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

  43. A great read! Thanks for the article, Mikael! After reading this I really want to buy the M7 just to shoot some films during certain events! =D then M9 everything else I see. Man I’m off topic…When I buy any Leica product it’s like when I was little saving up each day to buy my favorite video game: all my money is gone but heck this product is soooo amazing! I love it!

    Thanks, Steve~


  44. The comparison is a good read but at the end of the day, the choice should have absolutely nothing to do with money. It would only make a meaningful difference for a full time pro who may shoot 25-50 rolls per week and, even then, if he/she is successful at passing the cost to a client, that is a moot point as well. Considerations about value of time, personal preferences in terms of quality/look of the end product, archival properties, printing requirements (something no one ever talks about) are more worthy debates, since anyone who can invest in a Leica system, by default, will likely not be concerned with the actual cost of carry, whether film or digital.

    • Agreed, I shoot film because I like too, but as a broke ass student the cost is still always a concern, but film in the quantities I shoot (a roll ish per week up to 5 rolls per week) its my lowest expense, behind going to the movies and buying drinks.

  45. $12 is pretty accurate but if you home develop the cost structure changes dramatically, and you also get much more satisfaction out of the analog process.

    My film costs are nothing remotely close to $12 per roll . I buy Fuji Neopan and Kodak TriX between 2.69 and 3.00 a roll. One bottle of HC110 at $12 retail price will develop 50 or more rolls. Fixer cost is the highest, about .50c per roll (my fixer last about 20 and cost about 10 , I dont reuse fixer, this could be half the price if you do)
    Comes out too less then $4 for chemicals and film, from there you need to figure the one time investment of a scanner (large price range but 600 is a good figure for good web resolution and 8×10 prints) Also the one time investment of basic darkroom supplies. I paid about $150 for basic containers and the like although many do it way cheaper then that, I just bought the name brand stuff from retail.

    So your $2000 M7 plus scanner and basic developing hardware we will round up to $3,000 and $3 per roll (again this is with Fuji Neopan, a good cheap reliable option)

    At 1 roll per day your first years investment was $4,000 (rounded) and at 1 roll per day, everyday it would take you an additional 3 years to get to the $7000 figure, so you just enjoyed your M7 for 4 years, longer then most use a digital camera and you got 52,000 frames of film shot and it cost you the same as 1 M9 camera.

    For enthusiasts, students, hobbyists, film is still a very valid option for these quantities, home developing is easy and can be done 1 – 8 rolls at a time so you can set aside an hour once a week and do it, less often if you dont shoot every single day. The only place film died is with commercial photographers, there film budgets are astronomical and they cant possibly home develop it all on time.

    Sorry for the long reply 😛 just thought id ad my two cents.

  46. Mikael,

    Thanks for the article, it was a more concise version of the debate I had in my head for months. While I was on the waiting list for an M9, I must have worked out the numbers a few times a week.

    After owning an M9 and keeping my M6 as a back up, the single thing I forgot to calculate was how much post production time would be saved. Going digital was like quitting a part time job that I never admitted having.

    And photography may be expensive, but its way cheaper than ferrari’s, houses, or sailboats.

  47. Interesting concept granted but at the end of the day surely a keen photographer just get’s what they fancy and can afford at the time anyways don’t they? I know I always have. 🙂

    • I guess its all down to the initial outlay, an M9 plus a half decent Leica lens is quite a large initial outlay and for many too much of a hit in one go, the film or even m4/3 / DSLR is much easier to stomach.

      Which ever way you look at it shooting digital is the cheaper opion

      • True, I guess once you’ve invested in a good set of glass that’s half the battle really financially speaking (especially with Leica glass prices right now!) either side of the film/digital fence one stands on …. Me, I’m sat on the fence and enjoying both I guess like so many of us here.

  48. You had to do all that calculating just to convince your wife that buying an M9 was the cheaper opion 🙂

    I’ve been using an M6 and a G2 system along side my M8.2 for the past 6 or 7 months and even though I dev and scan my own film it still isn’t cheap and the wait and risk is a pain, The results are worth it though but there’s no way I’d shoot more than a film a week on average and I only use film for some subjects.

    good read though and very interesting

    • Similar to you really Will and similar cameras too, I traded in my M8 to go back to purely using film which I prefer but I really can’t be bothered with all the scanning – I HATE it! So keeping my M2/M6 combo & lenses and flogging everything off (yet again! sigh) to re-buy a nice M8.2 and lessen the scanning burden.

  49. the cost, plus the instant proofing for art directors and clients, is the main reason digital took over the pro photo ecosystem. i have long pointed out to people that i literally cannot afford to shoot film, even the 20 year old film cameras i already/still own. my calculation is much more crude than yours; i assume that i will use the digital camera for three years and then throw it against a brick wall (well, not really, but i assume that it won’t be worth anything, because by then it will have ceased to work). no matter; i make up the entire cost of a new m9 in less than 6 months of shooting film, even if the film camera is free. (i don’t have time to develop and scan everything myself; special scans for standout shots are a further cost in time and money, since the mass-processed ones i get from the best film lab in seattle aren’t good enough for printing.) and i am not even a professional photographer.

    however, one area where an m6ttl /will/ save you money is as a backup body for your m9… not only do you have a plan b for much less than 7000, you get to shoot a roll or two of film every once in a while for fun, or special occasions.

    oh, and the ford-ferrari analogy is the wrong car consideration: the parallel would be something like the way rolls royce used to operate, where if you bought one of their cars, they gave you service for life. much cheaper over 30 years than owning 4 or 5 fords. i don’t think they do that anymore…

  50. Now that digital is mainstream, it makes more sense to me to dump money into mostly lenses, rather than camera bodies, because technology quickly renders digital bodies obsolete in a rather short time. Right now, m4/3 and NEX is filling this gap, and, once someone makes a sub $2k mirrorless body that is fullframe and accepts M lenses, I think M digital body sales will suffer quite a bit.

  51. These calculations only deal with image acquisition. How about preservation? How many storage and backup devices (HD, SSD etc) do you need in the next one hundred years?
    I use both film and digital and keep my film scans on a harddisk just for convenience because my negs go into their sleeves for a few cents a piece and can always be rescanned. Digital only requires a much more neurotic approach with double backups at least to be maintained for exactly how long? That’s what I was contemplating recently when scanning negs and glass plates, some more than a hundred years old from my family, found when clearing my father’s (and grand-father’s) house. I can’t even read my floppies of ten years ago, if anything is still there …

    • That´s what I´m talking about for years Dude…………
      No one counts the money you need for saving the digital images over time.
      You have to save the data and convert the data format because the programms
      will change.
      A film image will ready for archive after developing the film roll and you can
      work out in darkroom or scan it for the next centuries……
      I still can use a old 6×9 Negativ from my gandfather shot in 1936 – but can´t read a CD i burned just 10 Years ago.

      Generell I use both – Digital and Analog – but for things who are worth saving
      I always take a shot on film too.


  52. I would have to say that if you chose to shoot predominately b&w developed it yourself and got something like a minolta damage 5400 scanner you could do it for les than you are talking about.

    Before I moved over to digital that’s what I did one of my favourite developers was and still is Rodinal my cost to dev the film worked out at approx 25 pence I don’t know what that would translate to in us of a but it’s cheap. Admittedly I was using Canon fd kit the F1n and the stunning fd glass which to my mind suited b&w wonderfully.

    I would also have to think about the long term, will the M9 still be as good in twenty years, methinks not, the m7 would be. Proof if needed is there to see with the classic M2,3,4 et al still going strong and delivering fine images.

  53. I think there are a few adjustments you could make to your calculations:

    1. Scanning film is indeed expensive. However, there’s no need for a digital workflow when you can look at your negatives/slides on a light table, and burn, dodge and crop in the darkroom. Even if you do want digital, it’s pretty easy (and cheap) just to pick the keepers and have scans made of those frames.

    2. If you’re shooting digital, you want a bunch of other expensive gadgets. A computer with a fast processor, a large, color-calibrated screen, Photoshop with a host of expensive plug-ins, one or two (or three?) external harddrives to back everything up, an inkjet printer, and so on. With film, you can get by with a cheap Dell to meet your computing needs, and keep photography in the darkroom. Do you have any idea how cheap a 35mm Beseler enlarger goes for these days? Even the Leitz enlargers are practically free.

    3. As mentioned above, the M7 is certainly not the cheapest option for a Leica rangefinder. In fact, apart from the MP and some crazy collector’s items, it’s the most expensive 35mm Leica around.

    4. In five or 10 years, the resale value of a used digital camera will be a fraction of its new purchase price. However, when you adjust for inflation, an M3 in good condition still sells for close to its original retail price. And that used M6 we mentioned? In ten years, I’d be willing to wager that you can sell it at a profit, assuming of course that you haven’t mangled it.

    Not sure how this affects your result, just wanted to throw it out there.

    • Interesting point, Brian,
      Unfortunately #2 does not really change the figures. I assume that you will make a lot more hardcopies if you go all analogue, so if you make more than 30 or so prints per month the M7 will still be more expensive. However, working in the darkroom is fun, so it might be worth the money.
      I agree with #4 that the M9 will be worthless in 10 years. Thats why I assume that you sell it after three.


      • Sure #2 does change the figures. Even when I work with an all-digital flow, I still want prints of the good shots. And the marginal cost of those prints is far from 0€.

        In fact, it’s funny, how you price things probably depends on your predilection for analog or digital work flows. My film costs are about 3.5€ per roll of 36 exp, using TMY, Xtol, and Adofix. When I scan negative, I do them myself. I haven’t worked out my wet-printing costs, but it’s not an easy calculation since the darkroom club I’m a member of is also a social organization. But my wet printing costs are pretty low. B&W slides cost about another 3€ per 36 slides printed. Projection is essentially free.

        When printing digital files from my dSLR, on the other hand, I pay a lot more money. I don’t want to screw around with expensive ink and ink jets and the paper for them, and so on … I prep my files and send them to a professional lab, which produces very nice prints.

        In other words, your film costs are greatly inflated by your lack of interest in doing the analog workflow yourself. And my digital costs are greatly inflated by my lack of interest in doing that workflow all myself.

  54. An interesting view on the matter, finally some real figures to match the thoughts we already had. Seriously, anone who paid the least bit attention in their maths classes will be able to figure out that in the long term, shooting film is more expensive. And I believe this is stated over and over again in the forums. But that’s not really why people decide on film or digital in the end, is it?

    Still, I appreciate the effort you took at putting this into figures, so we finally have “solid” proof that digital is better 😉

  55. This is simply an exercise in fixed vs. marginal cost. The m9 has a higher fixed cost, the m7 a higher marginal cost. Which is cheaper? That depends on how much you shoot. When I shoot film, I am usually more careful about what I shoot, but I find I have a much better keeper ratio. Also, how many people really shoot 240 rolls/ year?

    Also for many of us, time is very valuable. I find I have to do much less post processing with film.

    Personally, I save my R3a for special occasions, I probably put 20 rolls on it last year. For me, I spend about $20 / roll depending on what I shoot. However, if I have the time, I can develop my own black and white film for less than a dollar / roll. So, I can estimate I spent about $400 last year on film (including professional scanning). I think that would take about 15 years to catch up to the cost of an m9.

    Bottom line – if you shoot a lot of film, film will be a higher percentage of your total cost of ownership, than if you shoot less.

  56. I think the price doesn´t matter for guy´s like you Dude. *lol*
    I have never own a new Leica Camera or Lens and I will never buy one even I have the money.
    But let´s come back to Topic. The difference between a Analog Camera an a Digital Camera.
    Why will people still pay 500€ for a dammit old 50 Year´s old Leica M3 Body ?
    Because this piece of metall still works and if not you will still find someone who will make it work.
    Let´s have a look if you Leica M9 (or M8) will still make some pictures after this long period of time. I think not.
    The cost of Film´s ? No way. What are the cost of archivate digital Pictures over 50 Year´s ?
    I dont finde anything about it here ? How long will CD´s or DVD´s be usable ?
    Still thinging about the evolution of my favourite Black-White Films over the last 20 Year´s.
    Ever testet a Fuji Across 100 ? Blow´s your Head off. Even with high-resolution Optic´s like
    you work with. Now take a look at our Digital Chip´s they put in our new Cameras.
    Yesterday we celebretad 10 MB – Today we just all need 18,5 MB and Tomorrow………….?
    No one will ever touch these old less resolution Digi-Cams again.


    • I agree in that you have to add the cost of the computer, because without it, you can’t view or work on the digital images. You can still print the negatives and see them in your hand. The other point I agree on is that digital cameras are computers that will eventually fail whereas the mechanical camera will last longer. Plus, you can fix or CLA the mechanical camera at a reasonable cost whereas to fix anything on a computer is sometimes not cost effective and you’re better off just replacing the unit. I didn’t even get to the media storage costs and replacements when they fail. Still, I thought the article interesting.

      I wonder if everyone went back to shooting film, if the prices would lower for processing. Is it digital that’s driving up the prices? Also, what if you don’t scan your negatives? That saves on cost. Some people like to just do low rez scans to show on web, but the real deal comes in printing the photos at a lab, which also costs money.

  57. So my X1 is better value than the Nikon FM2n I sold to help fund it? Wait until my wife hears about this!!!! 🙂

  58. Wonderful little Excel exercise, Mikael, thanks for sharing your results.
    Owning a M8 as well as a M6 and a M3 I believe this is always like comparing apples and pairs.

    While comparing money is somewhat easy, I think everything else in this equation is not.

    I do enjoy using my film cameras, but the results I get from them (i.e. the scans !) are by no means as good as a simple digital capture from my M8 (or a M9).

    Film really does have a better resolution than the 18mpixels from a M9, but only if you invest serious money to have slide film or negatives scanned by a professional lab (or a pro scanner), you might be able to get this transferred into a digital file. Show me a scanner that can deliver a true resolution of 24mpixels or even more. Then you realize that calculating $ 12 per roll is too modest.

    Cost aside…. I will continue to shoot both film and digital (and maybe some day upgrade to an M9)… just because it is fun and I enjoy handling these wonderful little machines.

    One more thing, though….. I am afraid that my M8 or even an M9 will be pretty much worthless in 10 years. Technological progress as well as wear and tear will degrade them to digital waste which can not be repaired or upgraded. Well, my M3 is 45 years old and still works flawlessly, as does my M6 which is more than 20 years old. I do not care how much my cameras are worth…. but I do care if they work or not.

  59. While this is likely true, it’s sort of like saying that a Ferrari is cheaper than 10 Fords, and because we can afford 10 Fords in our lifetimes, a Ferrari is cheaper, and therefore better value.

    It also assumes the the M9, as an electronic device will be as reliable as a mechanical device. And of course, the M7 is one of the most expensive ways to get a film range finder, the M9 is the *only* way to get a full frame digital range finder.

    So whilst the article is technically true, I think that spreading the costs suits most people better, and a film range finder can be had *dramatically* cheaper than an M7.

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