According to the latest information from Leica Camera AG, the current production capacity for the Leica M9 is 80 cameras per day which translates to less than 21 thousand cameras per year. Availability of lenses has been improved by increasing production from 1,000 to 3,000 lenses per month or 36 thousand per year.
These are impressive figures, but how does this compare to other camera manufacturers? Unfortunately such figures are hard to come by, but I have been able to obtain some information about Canon and Nikon.
Nikon recently announced that they have reached the mark of 70 million SLR lenses made since they were first introduced. That announcement came only six months after they published the manufacture of 65 million lenses. That means Nikon produced 5 million lenses in just 6 months or 10 million per year. No such data was available for their cameras.
For Canon no such data is available. However, they did publish the total number of SLR cameras and lenses made since 1987. These average out to 2.1 million cameras and 2.9 million lenses per year. Current production of cameras and lenses is substantially higher than these average figures. As a matter of fact, currently Canon makes more cameras and lenses than Nikon.
Taking the 10 million Nikon figure for total annual lens production, in comparison to Leica, they make almost 300 times the number of lenses per year. That actually means that Nikon makes approximately the number of lenses in one day that Leica makes in a whole year.
That is what mass production allows a manufacturer to do. However, mass production inevitably has to incorporate certain shortcuts. There is no way that Nikon or Canon or any other company that mass produces their lenses (and cameras) can even come close to the tolerance levels applied to Leica cameras and lenses. Ultimately it is this that sets Leica apart from their competition, and this is also part of the reason why it is so difficult for Leica to increase their production numbers.
Leica is all too often criticized for their prices. However, contrary to claims of being greedy or overcharging, these prices are the direct result of their production methods. Their bench made production is totally devoid of any assembly line work. All manufacturing and assembly steps are carried out by individuals in individual steps with multiple checks and rechecks. Only that way can the tight tolerances be assured, and it is these tight tolerances that assure the increased performance that we expect from Leica equipment. Unfortunately this is expensive.
It is ironic that people so often ask for Leica equipment at “competitive” prices. If Leica were to compromise their production methods to allow their equipment to be sold at such lower prices, we would get equipment of performance levels as offered by other manufacturers. I for one am glad that this isn’t the case.
As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. Leica is a very good example of that.
For more information on the production of Leica cameras and lenses got to:
In Memory of the LEITZ GLASS LABORATORY
LEICA PRICES – JUSTIFIED?
MANUFACTURE AND PERFORMANCE OF PHOTOGRAPHIC LENSES