Fast Company

The Enduring Power of Brand: Leica vs. Panasonic

I have long been fascinated by the impact that a strong brand can make on consumer perception of product design. I know it can make promises and establish values that can be expressed through a product's design. I have seen it make a product seem faster, stronger and somehow better than it really is. I have seen it contribute the forgiveness for failures and shortcomings. But recently I discovered a case in which a strong brand has created folklore. I speak of the little Leica D-Lux 4 point-and-shoot camera.

leica and lumix

The Leica D-Lux 4 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 are effectively identical products differentiated solely by design. They have the same sensor, lens, LCD, housing material, embedded software, battery, and battery charger. Both take identical pictures. They differ in small ways: the aesthetics of color (although Panasonic also makes a version in black, and Leica has a limited-edition version in anodized titanium), shape, surface, and that magical red Leica logo. Yet the Leica costs 50% to 150% more than the Panasonic, depending on the version. Leica itself seems very vague on the differences behind this spread.

leica-caseThere is one other key difference worth mentioning. The Leica has a loyal following that meets in various places online. To call them users is to undervalue them. These Leica advocates will even add attributes about the product that really do not exist. For instance, the Leica is often described as taking warmer, smoother, somehow better pictures, which would be amazing given the technology is identical. Moreover, I have seen the same feature described as an advantage on the Leica and a shortcoming on the Panasonic! At the camera store I have even had a seasoned salesclerk rave about an array of attributes and features in the Leica in direct comparison to the Panasonic, all impressive points, some true, many not unique to the Leica and some completely wrong and seemingly born out of this Leica folklore. It is a powerful brand that drives this level of advocacy.

lumix caseThat said---and even though I know better---I will admit that the power of that brand has an effect on me. I feel a connection to the Leica legacy when I handle that camera and a desire to take the time to take better pictures. I happen to have access to both. When I use the Panasonic, I am taking snapshots, but when I use the Leica, I am making images.

It is hard to deny the power of brand.

Read more of Ken Musgrave's Think.Design blog
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Ken Musgrave has been building and leading Dell's Experience Design Competencies, including industrial design, visual identity, and usability, at Dell Inc. for the past eight years. The team now extends globally with creative professionals in Austin, Texas, Singapore, and Taiwan. For the first twenty years of Dell's history it enjoyed growth through operational efficiencies and superior cost structure. Three years ago, Dell recognized that the principles and process that got it to that point would not be the same ones that would carry it into the future. Design has been at the forefront of that cultural shift. Ken has lead the development of a design competency and design culture through that transformation--including seeing Dell move from being a U.S.-centric manufacturer of computers to being a global source for great product experiences.

At Dell Ken has lead design-centered strategies ranging from consumer personalization to enterprise experiences. Before Dell, Ken led several design leadership and corporate identity roles at Becton Dickinson, a medical technology company. While there he led a global program to redefine the company's visual, product and global corporate identities. Ken holds an MBA from the University of Utah, an MS in design from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a BS in industrial design from Auburn University.

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18 Comments

  • Rick Swartz

    Dear Ken.
    Although they are almost identical appearance-wise, as commenters below noted, the firmware is different. And if you would look up comparison shots, you'd be able to see that the final result is noticeably different. To be frank, this is incredibly irresponsible journalism, and sensationalism. Please do the research before publishing an article. dpreview and imaging-resource are going to be your bibles for camera knowledge.
    Sincerely,
    A Concerned Photojournalist

  • Ramiro Orta

    Leica is an incredible camera, but to call the Panasonic DMC-LX3 a "snapshot" camera is incorrect. ANY camera, in the hands of someone without any photographic knowledge is a snapshot camera. I was a professional photographer for over 28 years. I worked with film (primarily with Hasselblad) and then with digital (Canon & Nikon). I had a little Yashica T-4 that I used to use as my everyday "at-hand" camera and loved the Zeiss lens on it. If any photographer can be inspired by a forum or the brand name on a camera, then AMEN! Enjoy, create, and share! But, any true photographer that has earned his/her weight in the field can create beautiful images with ANY camera. When I used to teach photography, I challenged my students by using a 110 Kodak camera to create works of art. The bottom line: A hammer does not make a carpenter.

  • jay wilson

    The Leica's design is different but arguably not any better. In addition the Leica has the advantage of: 1)a high-end brand name which appeals to some people who don't know the cameras are otherwise the same; 2) Two year warranty vs. one year for Panasonic; 3) Capture One software which is $100 if purchased separately.

  • Kevin Stanchfield

    There are actually some technical differences between these two great cameras but they are more similar then not. I went for the Panason but if I had to do it over again I would have taken the Leica because of how it computes exposure and for the higher quality lens coating.

  • Steve Skinner

    I think this article is wrong concerning the Leica and the Panasonic having the same firmware. The Leica processes their photos differently. Also, to get their Capture One 4 software for Raw file processing, you must buy the Leica.
    Steve Skinner

  • Nebo Rimednac

    The premium that D-Lux4 buyers are paying is actually a Leica wannabe tax. It helps ay for the research and development of the cameras at Leicas top end.

    It's also a fools tax if you'll never reap the benefits of that contribution; ie you'll never have enough money for an M digital rangefinder.

  • Ivan Lietaert

    "I happen to have access to both. When I use the Panasonic, I am taking snapshots, but when I use the Leica, I am making images. It is hard to deny the power of brand."
    Carefully reflecting on your phrasing, you'r NOT saying 'I bought both models from my personal savings'. Boy, you are so 'corporate'. I bet you don't own them for real, and I'd go even further: I bet you don't even own the car you drive. It is your company that owns it. In a way, you're no different than the fraudulent bankers who caused the financial crisis. In the past year, we've seen many of those 'powerful brands' go down, taking down with them many ordinary, hard working people. Haven't you learned anything from this? Shame on you!

  • Ivan Lietaert

    Yes, the Dlux4 is the entry level Leica, while the LX3 is the Lumix' top model. These are facts, and while both cameras are the same, the price is not.
    When I read some of these comments, terms like snobbery come to mind.
    Also, I'm thinking of one photographer who would disgrace his Leica by using a black felt pen to make the red dot invisible. He was a really good photographer.
    All I can say is that DLux4 owners should have bought the lx3 instead, and given the price difference to some charity...

  • Mark Dziersk

    It's really hard to argue with the idea that the better you feel about something you are doing, the better the end result. If it's taking a picture or winning the 100 meter dash, a positive and encouraged stae of mind will certainly enhance the experience and most likey the result as well. Brands play an important role in this idea today with the caveat that the experience enabled by the product must be authentic as a prequisite. A Strong Brand umbrella won't fool a user today into thinking a diminished product experience is as good as a higher quality one. There are simply too many ways to rat out that kind of overpromise.
    Mark Dziersk FIDSA

  • Mark Dziersk

    It's really hard to argue with the idea that the better you feel about something you are doing, the better the end result. If it's taking a picture or winning the 100 meter dash, a positive and encouraged stae of mind will certainly enhance the experience and most likey the result as well. Brands play an important role in this idea today with the caveat that the experience enabled by the product must be authentic as a prequisite. A Strong Brand umbrella won't fool a user today into thinking a diminished product experience is as good as a higher quality one. There are simply too many ways to rat out that kind of overpromise.
    Mark Dziersk FIDSA

  • Mark Dziersk

    It's really hard to argue with the idea that the better you feel about something you are doing, the better the end result. If it's taking a picture or winning the 100 meter dash, a positive and encouraged stae of mind will certainly enhance the experience and most likey the result as well. Brands play an important role in this idea today with the caveat that the experience enabled by the product must be authentic as a prequisite. A Strong Brand umbrella won't fool a user today into thinking a diminished product experience is as good as a higher quality one. There are simply too many ways to rat out that kind of overpromise.
    Mark Dziersk FIDSA

  • P Helix

    Ok, how about this analogy.
    Take 2 cars.. one model is 10% more expensive…
    Same underlyings, different cosmetics.

    How do you account for the difference in performance.. it’s the engine control unit (ECU) – ie the mapping.
    This firmware is what makes the real performance difference.

  • Mikael Siirilä

    I totally agree with Richard. There is something very gratifying about owning a Leica, even when its a low end model like the D-Lux 4. The community around Leica products has a welcoming enthusiasm to it and the service and support around Leica products is driven by pure passion for photography. Is that not worth the extra cost?

    And then there is the design of the device itself and the history is carries with it. Poetically speaking, a Panasonic Lumix is something for the tourist, but Leica is something for the explorer.

    Leica is one of those brands that has earned its status.

  • Manjit Syven Birk

    Why put all our thinking eggs in the perennial commerce basket of brand? Sometimes it simply has do with freedom - the freedom to buy a product with ones discretionary capital or the freedom to say "no" or "yes" or "maybe" as well as the freedom to challenge the notion and meaning of freedom for a greater good, the kind that once inspired a group of gentleman called the Founding Fathers. If someone wants to spend x-percentage more on identifying via their camera, or their coffee or the cultural taste, I don't want to be vainglorious to deny them the freedom to think that way or live that way or believe that way. My own personal freedom is about learning how to focus on what I do rather than get knotted up about how others choose to live their life. It is also the freedom to learn from my mistakes, to mature with my misconceptions and to broaden my minds to accommodate the kind of diversity of life that freedom should always inspire. I don't personally find any identification with having a better camera, I don't have a warm fuzzy feeling when I feel like I am personally overpaying for my coffee and I prefer to be simply left alone rather than be classified or attributed to a particular tribe or identify with particular kins, groupings or heritages. That isn't my brand, it is not my tribe, it is not my cultural intelligence, it is simply my personal freedom. Where my own freedom lives best is when I discover those who best express freedom for truth, those who best protect freedom for privacy, those who live freedom for authentic being and action, those who enjoy freedom to learn and grow with their life's experiences and challenges and those who have mastered the freedom to mind their own business and just simply get on with their own life. Those are the kind of freedom's I identify with, and personal brand does not dictate this freedom but simply to each their own . . . M.

  • Michael Kim

    The hardware and the end result may be the same, but some people are willing to pay for a different experience. The worth of a premium brand is determined by the consumer who actually spend their own money, because money speaks. However, personally, I will go for the Panasonic over Leica unless I win lottery.

  • Charles Johnstone

    Are you kidding me? If it is the same technology,(lens, software, memory and LCD etc.)then it will take exactly the same pictures. The brand sticker is what you are paying the 150% more for. Seems to me if you are interested in learning from the Leica fans, just follow along and pretend you paid more for your Panasonic. If you spend more time and care taking a picture(making and image), when you hold the same technology with different logos, you have something wrong with you. Generally when that happens, it is the thought that you are actually holding a better device. But since you know they are EXACTLY the same, you need to have your head examined.

  • Gary Stafford

    As an avid prosumer photographer in my personal time, I own a similar Panasonic model, which I really enjoy. I purchased mine because of the positive online reviews, podcast reviews, etc. and the PRICE.
    Ultimately, the success of either camera is based on total sales (the true measure of customer perception) and the manufacturer's profitability. Do we know which camera - the Leica D-Lux 4 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is truly more successful in a business sense? The one with the better brand, or the one with the better price and similar features?
    I would not in closing the LX3 is gaining a large following, similar to the Leica, because of it's RAW imaging capabilities (see twiplog.com - http://www.twiplog.com/display...

  • Richard Lipscombe

    Are these two cameras really the same? No they not. Why? Because the online community that uses the Leica adds to its DESIGN. They add the human experience - that is they tell their tribe that the Leica is blah blah blah. When their tribal peers use the Leica they experience what they were told and then some. What the tribe is talking about is what they "experience" not what the camera is capable of in purely technical terms. In essence, the tribal members add a metaphysical aspect to the experience of using the Leica.

    Persig wrote about this in his famous book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' as he explored the notion of "quality". Quality is a human experience more than a practical fact when it comes to motorcycles and cameras.

    For example, if DELL wants to DESIGN a better quality computer all it has to do is to work very closely with my Facebook friend Lionel Menchaca Jr.to ensure the DELL tribe online add the experiential elements of good design when they use their computer.

    And so it goes. Tupperware Parties added the experiential design to their home-based distribution of plastic products in the 1950s. These were home-based tribal gatherings were women had a good time and bought a lot of Tupperware products. At these parties they also commented on what they wanted or needed to see from the company in the future. All this can be done online today.

    We are seeing the demise of the brand as we return to a referral system of product differentiation.