Value is a funny concept. We as consumers are generally able to make rational decisions purchasing things based on price, the perceived value we expect to gain from the item, and the cost of the next best alternatives, but there are a few exceptions which slip through the cracks of our logical minds.
The Leica M8.2 was one of them for me.
For the layperson, the Leica M8.2 is a 10.3 megapixel digital "rangefinder" camera which relies on manual focus through the viewfinder. This is achieved by aligning two images which shift based on the position of the lens' current focus distance and an image projected through a rangefinder mechanism, hence the name of this type of camera.
Physically, the Leica is a work of art. Despite its digital sensor, it is essentially a film camera in operation. My best description of it is a sandwich of brass and leatherette made in Germany, so structurally sound it makes the highest-end DSLRs feel cheap.
Operationally however, this camera is worse to use even than cameras of its age. The M8.2 is an updated version of the Leica M8, first released in 2006. Although released in 2008, the M8.2 contained only minor upgrades over the M8, such as a sapphire crystal screen, all electronics were virtually unchanged over its predecessor.
I purchased this camera in the summer of 2014, shortly after selling my Sony A7. In digital camera age, eight years is essentially three human generations, and that is nearly a scientific fact. Unlike film cameras, some of which were made for over 20 years (Like the Nikon F3), digital cameras typically have a product cycle that lasts between one and two years. Technology has aged so quickly that today's pocket cameras can outcompete yesterday's high end professional cameras in many aspects.
Today, a used Leica M8.2 body sells for just over $2000 CAD on eBay. The same price can buy you the year-old 36 megapixel Sony A7r with $500 to spare. While I didn't pay quite that much for mine (hence the well-used condition), the amount I paid is still a ludicrous amount when you consider things as a logical consumer.
I'm not going to lie, it took me a while getting used to using a manual focus camera without digital focus aids. Despite this, I was absolutely in love with how the M8.2 rendered images. The lenses I had for it, the Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.4 and the Voigtlander Color-Skopar 21mm f/4, were both lenses I used heavily on my Sony A7. The Leica gave these lenses entirely new lives.
It's hard for me to explain what I thought was so special about the photos it took. Zooming in, the camera manages to capture a stunning amount of detail, even with "budget" rangefinder lenses. The colours and tones seem much like they do when shooting film, perhaps the intention of processing engine and sensor. Perhaps it was also due to the sensor's tendency to capture infrared rays in images.
Oh yeah, a factory "feature" of the camera is that unlike most digital cameras, the Leica's sensor had a very weak IR filter. Translated to English, this means that anything that reflects IR waves like black synthetic fabric will appear slightly reddish. Both of the images above show what this looks like on the images. The maroon-looking fabrics on the sweater/bag in the first photo and backpack in the second are supposed to be black.
The only fix for this issue is purchasing individual filters for each lens to block infrared waves, but this issue can also be used creatively; one can block all except infrared waves with the right filter. People pay hundreds of dollars to shoot this way on conventional cameras by having them converted, so Leica's saved everybody the effort and cash if you look on the bright side.
Unfortunately, there are two very good reasons my logical side come through and decided to sell the M8.2 for tuition and other costs, both of which relate to the age of the technology inside the camera.
The first reason is that the buffer (the temporary memory the camera stores images prior to writing them to the memory card) of the camera is both extremely small and slow in modern times. Even when using a 90mb/s SanDisk card, it generally took 4-5 seconds for the camera to save the image. To make matters worse, although you could take photos while the camera was writing, the menu was unresponsive during this time. The cherry on top: take more than 5 images in succession and the camera completely locks up, sometimes losing the images in the process.
The second reason is the low light performance of the sensor. While the images look beautiful in daylight, the usable ISO is capped at 640. While it's possible to go up to ISO 2500, anything above 640 is a digital mess. Even at ISO 640, the colours lose their charm and things become quite mushy.
While it is certainly able to get usable shots with fast lenses and a steady hand, ISO 640 is laughable in today's world. The camera I had prior to the Leica, the Sony A7, could go up to ISO 12800 and still be usable, a 5.5 times difference in terms of light captured.
Despite these flaws, my time with the Leica M8.2 was a very special experience. Perhaps it's Leica's marketing playing a role on me as I repeat the often repeated line, but I feel it holds true nonetheless: buying a Leica is something you do with your heart, not your brain. Shooting with a Leica simply feels special; the full manual controls, the addictiveness of rangefinder focusing, the unique images it produces, the sheer beauty of its construction, all reasons contributing to its high resale value. Against all odds, this technically obsolete camera is still valued higher than many state-of-the-art cameras capable of much more.
There really isn't anything else on the market like the digital Leica M series, and the M8 is the cheapest way to see what all the hype is about. Unlike other cameras, owning a Leica isn't like owning a tool, it is owning an experience. While there is a single alternative to those seeking a digital rangefinder on a "budget", the Epson RD-1, it is even more obsolete technology-wise and doesn't even compare to Leica cameras in terms of build quality.
Whether Leica cameras are worth their heavy prices is up to you, some people lust over one day owning one while others brush them off as overpriced art pieces. Value is a subjective thing, and I won't judge for which camp you think you belong to. If you belong to the former however, and one day find an opportunity to afford one, let it be the purchase that slips past your brain and into your heart.