Not sure if it's just a rumor, but I have always heard that the M series Leica rangefinder cameras (M4, M5 etc..) are the only cameras allowed in courtrooms because the shutter release is so quiet.
Regarding why Leica's are so expensive---generally its the Leica lenses that are the most expensive part of the camera. If memory serves, a 3 cam f2.0 lens for the R series cameras runs several hundred dollars. I bought a 2 cam (older) lens for a Leicaflex SL and in good condition it cost me over $200, and its a F2.0 no less!
How about this: I've got my grandfather's M3 and everything still works, the lenses still compare favorably with new ones (provided you use a lens shade), and if you drop the camera on your foot, you go to the doctor, not a repair shop.
When i was in the army, stationed in Germany, I bought a Leica projector. At that point, many of us were just shooting slide film when we shot color, and of course, in B&W we all used the special services darkroom on post. I was the only one with a Leica projector, which used the standard European tray, which fit many different brands of projectors. Soon I noticed a trend. My buddy across the hall, who had a Kodak projector, started bring his new slides to my apartment to view on my projector. Eventually, at least 10 different guys were bringing their slides to view on my projector, on the wall. And several of these guys had screens at home. Finally, I asked my buddy why everyone is using MY projector all the time. He grabbed a tray of slides we'd just viewed on my projector and walked to his apartment and viewed them on his Kodak projector. The difference in sharpness was amazing. At that point, the difference in price between the optics in the Leica projector and the Kodak projector became crystal clear. Another thing was might have been handy was that Leica has lenses in various focal length from 50mm to 300mm, including several zoom lenses. Was the Leica projector worth the extra price? Well, it sure provide a lot brigter and sharper images than the Kodak did.
There are 2 other ways to smell of Leica without going the M8 5K plus glass route.
1. Leica VLux-1 is a nice fixed lens 10.2 mpx digital with raw capability and Leica glass.
2. Leica Digilux 3 I think it is, and parallel Panasonic L1 with Leica 14-50 zoom lens.
It is also worth noting that item 2 follows the four/thirds mount system, used by a couple of other manufacturers, so it is possible to add glass from other manufacturers to the system OR use the Leica 14-50 zoom on other DSLRs.
I own both one and the L1 version of two, and I can tell you the imagery can be quite stunning, the clarity and sharpness, comparing to my best Nikon lenses.
The L1 has the fun rangefinder feel to it, for a fraction of the price. Currently being reduced, possibly for new model, but with this lens, definitely worth a grand!
I have not thus far used mine a tremendous amount, so my shot selection will grow with time. but I shoot Nikon too, so that's one reason so slow...
M8 fans say it's not the same, old rangefinder fans will snub their nose too. I don't care. I like the L1 and occasionally the V-Lux1, but there are some limitations on the V-Lux1 that I don't like regarding the viewfinder.
Keep in mind, for DSLR, Nikon service will beat the Leica service from what I hear. It's one good reason to choose Nikon. Melville is closer than going back to Germany. I don't think I would ever trust all my digital needs to Leica, but the glass is pure, it's a nice add on to a system in my view, and that is how it will stay for me.
Doug D3s, D3x, D700, fine glassware (Nikkor and Zeiss), Think Tank bag freak. Singh-Ray, Heliopan, B&W are filters of choice. SB-900 X 2, SU-800 commander. Studio lighting PCB einstein X 3, AB400, beauty dish, octabox, Apollo, Sekonic L358.
1.small market 2.superbly build 3.made in germany 4.an innovation in the history of photography 5.associated with some of the best known photographers 6.collectibles 7.leica name carries a heavy price tag.
irrespective of the above for certain types of image capture a leica or zeiss or bessa is unrivalled. light weight, small dimensions, quiet operation and above all, for me
8. leica lenses..arguably the best fixed fl lenses made by any manufacturer. as a nikon user i find prime for prime there is no comparison between leica and nikon lenses. while top nikon glass is superb, leica is a few notches better. they are made to be used wide open. 1.4 means 1.4 without compromise in image quality. leica 1.4 is better than most 2.8. that costs money to build. the precision in the small body is unbeliveable.
macro,sports,tele,zooms..forget leica. you are in nikon territory. but wide angle and wide open you can barely fault the leica lenses.