Professional and amateur photographers the world over have a fascination with the most expensive cameras.
In this light-hearted guide, we begin with a question that seems ever-popular on photography forums: “What is the most expensive camera brand?”
We’ll also take a look at other expensive cameras brands and at some of the most expensive classic cameras ever sold at auction.
This guide really is just for a bit fun – it’s definitely not a shopping list! So, let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What Makes a Camera Expensive?
First a few thoughts on what makes a camera expensive. It’s a mix of:
- Brand name
- Quality and craftsmanship of the build
- Features and performance
- Quality of the lens
- Ergonomics (the feel and ease of use)
For classic/historical cameras, it’s:
- Who made it
- Rarity, condition (collectors like full working condition and all the original parts)
- Historical associations – who owned it
- The photographic output – when, where and how it was used
Top 15 Most Expensive Cameras… EVER!
Below you’ll find a list of the most expensive cameras in the world – including some historical vintage cameras, but also some rather pricey but readily available current models.
1. 1923 Leica 0-Series no. 122 – $2.97 million
There is an undisputed winner of the most expensive camera ever, which combined brand name, rarity and classic qualities: a 1923 Leica 0-Series no. 122 which sold at auction in for US$2.97 million.
While there are quite a few Leica 0-Series cameras out there, only a few are in pristine shape with all the original parts like rangefinder and lens cap, which is what demanded the ultra-high price. The 0-Series were made – about 25 of them – to test the market before the Leica A series was launched commercially in 1925.
Leica is not just a well-known brand but has gained iconic status for introducing the modern era of photojournalism in the 1920s and ’30s – their mobility and fast shutter speeds enabling them to be used in just about any conditions – indoors or out, war or peace.
Leica was the brand of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa.
2. A Hasselblad on the Moon – $910,400
Hasselblad provided the cameras for the USA moon missions including the Apollo 11 mission which successfully landed the Eagle on the Moon on 20 July 1969.
One camera body inside the Eagle took the general shots, and a special data camera strapped to astronaut Neil Armstrong’s chest took the pictures of the moon’s surface for scientific analysis.
While the precious film returned to earth, the two cameras and their lenses were left on the moon to reduce weight for the return journey! Perhaps they’ll be recovered at some distant date – and then, what on earth would they be worth?
A Hasselblad reputedly used on the later Apollo 15 mission in 1971 was recently sold at auction for US$910,400 [£698,000] in 2020.
3. Louis Daguerre’s Suisse Frères pinhole camera – $740,00
The oldest commercially built photo camera, a pinhole Daguerreotype camera, was designed by Louis Daguerre and made by the French firm of Suisse Frères.
The only remaining model – number 3 – was sold at a camera auction for $740,000 in 2007, which is a lot of money for a box with a hole in it!
Louis Daguerre first advertised this camera for sale on September 5, 1839, making it the earliest commercially available camera.
Louis’s camera had been lost to view for 170 years before being found in a dusty attic in Munich, Germany, and being brought to the sale room.
4. Niépce camera – simply priceless
Of course, some cameras are simply priceless. The camera that took the first-ever photograph, for instance.
In 1827 the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce used a camera obscura with a small lens and a metal sheet covered with chemicals to produce “the earliest known surviving photograph produced in the camera obscura,” now in the Harry Ransom Centre in the USA.
The exposure time of the scene outside his window took several days! What would the original equipment be worth today?
Still, as the camera itself was a wooden box with a lens in a simple brass fitting – with a bit of care you can make your own.
5. Phase One XF IQ5 – approx. $65,000
Phase One is a Danish firm that manufactures high-end medium format digital cameras. They claim “the world’s first 151-megapixel camera” and “the ultimate camera for landscape photography”.
It weighs in at around £50,000 (that’s about $65,000 in USD).
6. Hasselblad H6D-400c – $48,000
The Swedish company Hassleblad were the first to use a modular design and came into prominence in the 1960s with the use of their medium format cameras by The USA Space program.
Famous photographers who have used Hassleblad are Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Bert Stern, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and many more.
The Hasselblad H6D-400c MS 100 MP retails for an impressive US$48,000.
7. Gold Plated Nikon Df – $42,000
If you’re after a bit of bling, how about a gold-plated Nikon?
A deluxe version of the Nikon Df full-frame digital camera with Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 lens pre-wrapped in 24k gold, this one can be yours for a mere £32,000 (approx. US$42,000) from ‘Brikk’.
8. Mamiya Leaf Credo 80MP Digital Back Kit – $28,500
Like Hasselblad, Mamiya, a Japanese company, have been giants in medium and large format photography for over half a century. It’s now owned by Phase One, who combined Mamiya with Leaf Imaging, an Israeli digital manufacturer, to create the new ‘Mamiya Leaf Credo’ system.
Their cameras are loved by many photographers – like Annie Leibovitz, who used a Mamiya RZ67 medium format camera in the 1980 to the ’90s for portrait work.
The Mamiya Leaf Credo 80MP Digital Back kit is on the shelf at £22,100 (around US$28,500).
9. Leica S3 – $19,000
This year, 2020, Leica launched a new medium format camera with all the digital features of video, GPS and WiFi.
It has a 3:2 aspect ratio and 64 megapixels and extremely high ISO settings available for work in low light. Price: US$19,000.
10. Fujifilm GFX 100 – $9,999
Launched in 2019 this is the world’s first mirrorless camera to break the 100-megapixel resolution barrier.
At $9,999, at least it keeps you under five figures – but it’s still quite the investment! Fuji digital medium format cameras have won some fantastic reviews too, over recent years, and their G Mount lens lineup continues to expand.
11. Leica M10 Monochrom – $8,295
A camera that doesn’t do colour? Indeed, this one’s for black and white photo-image fanatics.
But can’t you just filter it on your camera or Photoshop? Well, you can, but this camera is made for black and white and all the greys in between.
In an ordinary colour camera, the light entering through the sensor is filtered for each pixel to capture light for the red, green, or blue colour channel – which is good for the color, but reduces the dynamic range for the black and white.
Take all that filtering away and you get crystal luminescence and tone progression of sublime quality. So, if you’re into black and white photography this might be the one for you at US$8,295 (or £7,250 in the UK).
There are several other Leica M models available and all at a similar price, but we picked out the Monochrom as it offers something very different to any other professional camera that’s out there today.
12. Canon EOS-1D X Mark III – $6,499
If you’re wondering which is the most expensive full frame DSLR, this is it! Canon’s stellar flagship model will set you back $6,499. Flagship DSLRs are rugged and high-performance beasts.
Flagship DSLRs are not about dynamic range or flashy extras – photojournalists choose them as they will hit focus time and time again and never let them down, whatever the conditions.
Yes, the best Canon cameras are certainly pricey! This is the most expensive Canon camera and definitely worth the investment if you need a reliable DSLR with stellar image quality.
13. Nikon D6 – $6,490
Nikon, another iconic name in photography, produced the world’s first single-lens reflex cameras and became the reportage and documentary camera brand of the ’60s – Don McCullin, Larry Burroughs and countless others used Nikon.
Just like the Canon equivalent, the D6 isn’t about high resolution: it’s all about superior and consistent performance, at the highest frames per second imaginable.
The D6 and EOS-1D X Mark III compete as the two flagship DSLRs from the two biggest names in DSLR cameras.
14. Sony a9 II mirrorless camera – $4,980
The most expensive mirrorless camera in the world right now is the Sony a9 II, hailed as the go-to camera for pro-sports reporting with incredible burst speed and state of the art connectivity. At $4,980, it’s even getting in range of at least some pockets!
Though the Canon and Nikon models above may still be the go-to models for photojournalists, Sony cameras are improving every year and are definitely pushing hard to catching them up.
15. The new LSST camera… price unknown!
The biggest digital camera in the world will soon be installed in the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile where it will scan the sky for the next 10 years as part of the LSST (Legacy Survey of Space and Time).
It’s quite frankly massive, measuring about 13 feet from the front lens to the back and 5 feet in diameter (3.96 x 1.65 meters). Weighing almost 6,200 lbs (2,800 kg) it’s the size of a small car!
The focal plane is made up of 189 individual sensors and measures over 2 feet (60 cm) wide. It will produce 3,200-megapixel – or if you like 3.2 gigapixel – images.
The test photos of a head of Romanesco broccoli are the largest single-shot pictures ever taken. It’s reported that each raft (group) of sensors cost $2,000,000 dollars so the whole camera must have cost…. well, quite a lot!
We’re guessing it’s the world’s most expensive to build – but it won’t be on sale anytime soon.
FAQs About The World’s Most Expensive Camera Brands
What are the top 3 camera brands?
The top three camera brands are Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Each of these brands creates a range of DSLR and mirrorless cameras that suit every genre and skill level of photography.
Whether a beginner or a seasoned professional with decades of experience, Canon, Nikon, and Sony have the best camera range.
What is the best quality camera brand?
This is a contentious issue as every photographer has a preferred brand for several reasons.
Price, features, performance, and customer support contribute to a camera brand claiming the best title. Canon and Nikon share the top spot for the best quality camera brand through camera development and customer satisfaction.
What is the most expensive camera in the world?
Looking at current generation cameras, the most expensive is the Phase One XF IQ4 150MP Camera System.
Aside from the whopping 150-megapixel image resolution, it also retails for a whopping $49,000.
What is the most expensive brand of camera?
Aside from the rare classic cameras sold at auction for crazy prices, the most expensive brands typically feature medium-form cameras.
Mamiya, Hasselblad, and Phase One develop medium format cameras that sell for tens of thousands due to their specialist use and unmatched image quality.
What is the most expensive camera ever sold?
The most expensive camera sale award goes to the 1923 Leica 0-Series no. 122, which sold at auction for US$2.97 million.
It is a pristine example of the Leica 0-Series where only around 25 were made.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this guide to the most expensive cameras in the world as much as we enjoyed compiling it.
We don’t expect you to go out and buy them – but our list really does have it all. From the uber-expensive vintage cameras listed to the more affordable Canon, Nikon and Sony models.
It would be great to know which one of our top 10 most expensive cameras you’d buy if you could – or, if you already have one, please feel free to comment and let us know all about owning one of the most expensive cameras in the world.