The World's Most Expensive Point & Shoots?

Alpa Mar 29, 2008

Last year, I made the decision to get a Leica digital rangefinder. Most folks that know me, wonder what could have possessed me to invest that kind of money in what many consider to be a niche camera.

Well, I am not here to defend my decision. However, to put things in perspective, I present to you two cameras that make the price of the Leica M8 look like chump change.

These two cameras are examples of scale focused rangefinders. That is, cameras whose lenses must be focused by guessing at the distance from the camera to the subject. The viewfinders are for framing purposes only and play no part in the focusing process.

First up, we have the Alpa 12 TC from Switzerland. This camera is basically a frame that holds a lens in front of a medium format digital back. Top that off with a built-in spirit (bubble) level and an interchangeable viewfinder and you have yourself one really expensive piece of photo gear. The body is priced at roughly $1,800 USD (which is less than a Nikon D300). However, the lenses start at about $3,200 USD. The lenses are made by Alpa, Schneider, and Linhof/Rodestock – all German, all hand-made. Add to that the cost of a Viewfinder ($1,300 USD) and the cheapest compatible digital┬áback you can find (Phase One P20+ costs $16,990) and you have just assembled a 16Mpix camera with no internal focusing mechanism and weighing in at $23,290.00 USD.

Next up, we have a similar offering: the Cambo WDC-MAfd from The Netherlands. Using a slightly more retro design than the Alpa, it has the advantage of moving the shutter release to a (at least in my opinion) more ergonomic spot. Prices for this body start at $4,099 with a Schneider Digitar 47mm XL lens.

Tack on a Viewfinder + mask for $910 and the PhaseOne P20+ at $16,990 and you have yourself another one of these monster point and shoots for $21,999.

Mind you, I am only configuring these with a 16Mpix digital back. You could go completly nuts and use a PhaseOne P45+ 39Mpix back instead. Doing this would increase the prices to $39,290 and $37,999, respectively.

So here you have a pair of cameras that cost as much as a loaded Mini Cooper S. And that is only with one lens. So who would be lunatic enough to buy one of these anyway?

Architectual and landscape photographers.

These systems have the ability to shift the lens in four directions (up, down, left and right) with respect to the digital back. This allows for distortion correction when shooting very wide angle photos. Ever see those amazing photos on the covers of the really fancy architectural magazines? They were most likely taken with one of these combinations. Granted, these are considered the travel models and are tiny by comparison to their wide and super-wide counterparts.

For more information (or to scare yourself silly at the prices) head over to the Alpa and Cambo websites. To see images taken by these cameras, head over to the Alpa Flickr Pool and shots from Luminous Landscape’s Review. Many thanks to fine folks at LL for their review that inspired this article.