DP1 Siphoning Leica M8 Sales?

6 01 2008

Mason Resnick makes an extraordinary statement in his list of photo industry predictions for 2008. In his prediction that “The Leica M8 will have company,” he says:

Sigma will likely introduce its long-awaited DP1, with a 14MP Foveon full-frame sensor (…), zoom lens that starts at 28mm, and likely lower price, and this model will siphon off potential M8 buyers.


Leica M8

Leica M8: top end professional rangefinder.

Let’s put aside the error about the zoom lens (in fact, the DP1 will have a fixed focal length “prime” 28mm lens) and ignore the “likely lower price” bit (it will “likely” cost about one-sixth the price of an M8) and take a closer look at that zinger about it siphoning off M8 buyers.

As you may know, the M8 is Leica’s flagship camera, a very expensive, true rangefinder camera based on Leica’s long line of M-series mechanical cameras that date back to the 1950s. It appeals to photographers who pine for classical mechanical cameras with German engineering, but who want the convenience and workflow of digital. It is a major investment for any photographer, and would be considered by none to be a “backup” or “second” camera.


DP1: point & shoot that looks a bit like a rangefinder.

Contrast that with the DP1, an autofocus pocket camera with few, if any mechanical parts. The DP1, while certainly targeting advanced users, would never be the cornerstone of a professional’s repertoire of gear. It is not a rangefinder camera, and has neither a zoom lens, nor the ability to interchange lenses. Its “manual” exposure settings will be applied via push-buttons, not classic mechanical dials.

The image quality of the DP1 is expected to be very high, perhaps rivaling the M8. But that doesn’t make it a contender for anyone seeking a serious, professional rangefinder camera. The DP1 will appeal to professional street and news photographers who want a backup unit that is small, reliable, and offers outstanding image quality. It will also appeal to advanced amateurs who want to transcend the gimmickery of the majority of point & shoot cameras on the market; people who already understand photography and will gladly sacrifice gizmos like “face recognition” in favor of a camera that provides high image quality and a good hands-on user experience.

But the DP1 will never siphon even a single person away from choosing a Leica M8. Those who want, and can afford, a Leica will buy a Leica. Those who want a rangefinder will buy a rangefinder (and as I said in an earlier post, the DP1 is not a rangefinder).

The Hyundai Sonata (L) borrows design elements from the Jaguar X-Type (R), but nobody who can afford a Jaguar will be “siphoned away” by the Hyundai.

The example above, regarding cars, is parallel to the DP1 vs. M8 question only on the matter of quality and cost. But when you take a closer look at the DP1 and the M8 you realize you’re comparing very different kinds of cameras, and very different kinds of potential buyers. If you’re still not convinced, here is a brief recap:

Leica M8

  • Absurdly expensive (more than $5000 for the body, and another $1000+ for a lens).
  • Leica; the highest pedigree, with a long and distinguished history and a cult-like following.
  • True rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses, manual (rangefinder) focus, old-fashioned dials for setting shutter speed and aperture, and a classical, mechanical look and feel.
  • Appeals to Leica fetishists, professional photographers, and wealthy amateurs.

Sigma DP1

  • Relatively inexpensive (compared with M8), but still expensive by “point & shoot” standards. (Expected retail price will be in the range of $1000.)
  • No pedigree. Sigma is known primarily as a lens maker. The fact that the camera is a Sigma means very little to most people; if Nikon or Canon or Olympus had come up with the same design, the appeal would be no different. People like this camera for what it is, not for how it’s branded.
  • Compact and automatic. Make no mistake, this is a point & shoot camera. It will have an optional optical viewfinder (but that does not make it a rangefinder), and it will presumably have well-designed functions for manual overrides of the automatic functions. But it will still always be a push-button electronic camera.
  • Appeals to professional photographers looking for a compact backup camera, advanced amateurs who are tired of the whiz-bang gimmickery so prevalent in contemporary point & shoot camera design, and “pixel peepers” who will go to almost any length to get better image quality (as defined by noise, resolution, and other technical aspects).

Make no mistake, I’m a huge fan of the DP1 even though it isn’t even on the market yet. But there’s no way it is in the same category as the Leica M8.




9 responses

11 02 2008
Mason Resnick

I’m glad you read my article so carefully and took the time to comment on it in such depth! Keep in mind that when I wrote it–in late December–specs and details about the DP1 had not been confirmed, so I was working from partial info.

That said, you’re right that I should have said the camera had an APS-sized sensor, just like Sigma’s DSLR. Calling it full-frame was my mistake; it was confusing, and I’ve corrected it.

Also, I never said the DP1 was going to be a rangefinder. I said it would siphon sales from the Leica M8, which is a rangefinder. If you misread that as inferring that I thought the DP1 was a rangefinder, I apologize for not writing clearly enough for you. Perhaps a better way to say it is that I felt the DP1 would attract the same audience that is interested in, or aspires to, the M8 but the M8 is out of their financial reach.

I hope that clarifies what I was trying to say. As for the predictions, let’s check in early next year and see what happens!

11 02 2008

Let’s not forget the error about the zoom lens (which I see you have also corrected). ;-)

I disagree with your defense that you did not say the DP1 would be a rangefinder. I quote:

“When it comes to digital rangefinder cameras, Leica has the entire field to itself with the Leica M8. But that will change.”

That certainly implies that the DP1 (the subject of the paragraph) will be a rangefinder.

Please don’t take any of this personally. But when I read that prediction it made my eyes pop, and since I just happen to have a blog dedicated to the DP1 it is only natural that I would speak up. I would have done so in the article in question, but it doesn’t allow comments.

Incidentally, I recently read your 1998 article about your two week workshop with Gary Winogrand, and I really enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of Winogrand, so it was interesting to read your perspective on him and his methods. Unfortunately, the people at Black & White World, where I read it, seem to have wrecked the formatting, as the article is presented as one huge paragraph with no breaks. (You might want to draw their attention to that — it makes it quite difficult to read.)

And yes, I’m looking forward to seeing how the DP1 does, and to see if it siphons any M8 sales. I still say “no,” given that you can buy a fully tricked-out DP1 with all accessories and plus a meal for two in a four star restaurant just for the amount of dough that Leica is charging for the M8’s shutter upgrade!

13 02 2008
Mason Resnick

“When it comes to digital rangefinder cameras, Leica has the entire field to itself with the Leica M8. But that will change.”

OK, you got me there. Mea culpa! But I think we agree that the DP1 is a very intriguing camera that Leica people will be interested in.

BTW…I think you got your calculations wrong…a full tricked-out DP1 will cost around a grand, while the Leica upgrade will be around 1,200 Euros, which comes out to around $2,400 US at current rates.

As for the Winogrand article, thanks for the complement and I’ll look into the formatting issue.

13 02 2008

Hey, it looks like they fixed the formatting already. In fact, it’s a whole new URL (if you follow the link I made, it just goes to a page with a new link to the correctly formatted one).

True, my math skills are lame. Current prices on Amazon for the DP1, lens hood, optical viewfinder, and flash, come to $1047.98. 1200 Euros is currently about $1750.00 US, so that makes a difference of about $700.

Remember, I said price of the upgrade is about the same as a tricked-out DP1 and a meal for two at a four star restaurant. Surely there’s a four star restaurant somewhere in the world that will set you back $700 for a meal for two. ;-)

And yes, I’m sure Leica will be interested. Perhaps moreso with their Panasonic Lumix partnership. I suspect the DP1 sales will not go through the roof — it will be somewhat successful, but always a niche camera. However, if it does sell well, then Leica/Panasonic will definitely have their eye on it in terms of the next generation of it’s DMC-LX cameras. I currently use the DMC-LX2, which is a beautiful camera to use. It’s only shortcomings are a small and noisy sensor (that’s a biggie) and its lack of an optical viewfinder. Otherwise, it’s design is very much that of a “photographer’s camera” and not just a commercial point & shoot for mom & pop.

You might be familiar with the debate about the perfect “DMD” (decisive moment digital) that went on a while ago at The Online Photographer and Luminous Landscape. That LX2 of mine would be exactly that, for me, if only it had an optical viewfinder (and corresponding way to turn off the LCD), and better low light image quality.

13 02 2008

BTW, you’re not the only one I pick on; over at DP Now there’s a piece about the DP1 in which the writer claims (in the caption on the photo of the prototype) to have seen a prototype in 1996. 1996! Surely he means 2006! I sent an email to DP Now pointing out the mistake, but they haven’t fixed it yet.

10 03 2008

Well, I am at least one buyer who is ordering a dp1 instead of continuing to consider an m8. I may not have bought an m8, but i will at least see how well i get on with the dp1 before i consider the m8 any further. this may not be ‘syphoning’ but however you look at it it not what leica wants.

11 03 2008

Digital cameras are hardly instruments of which one wants to own an everlasting, classic piece!?
Ever wonder why no computer manufacture is building classic, 15,000$ laptops for high end users with more money?! it’s called obsolescense in the digital age!

I had an M6, and when that got stolen from my apartment, I wounded up with a downgrade to Ricoh GR, which is very cool camera, but didn’t do the trick with the tiny sensor.
I was begining to consider the M8 when DP1 finally came through…THANK YOU SIGMA….!
I’m counting days untill amazon delivers mine on the 27th!!
Happy DP1 quests to everyone….

1 06 2008

I hope this sends a message to the other camera manufacturers. People want serious small cameras. It blows my mind how large and unwieldy they have become. A 5d or D200 is way too big for me to lug around on the bus and downtown, even with a 24mm prime on it which is way smaller than most lenses. I want something like my old Nikon FM which would literally drop into my jacket pocket. I don’t care if it’s a rangefinder or SLR, I’m comfortable with both. I don’t even care if it’s full-frame or 4/3rds. Just give me a camera the size of a DP1, with removable lenses, a decent viewfinder, good noise reduction up to 800 iso, and made by a company with a reputation for quality. Not Sigma.

5 06 2008

Not a chance. I have a DP1 and have shot with a friend’s M8. The two are WAY different cameras and DP1 will in no way dip into the sale of the M8.

M8 is fast and has interchangeable lenses and RAW files will work with all editors.

DP1 is low and fixed 28mm (equiv) lens and it’s proprietary X3F format is not widely supported.

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