We know the old adage: the best camera in the world is the one you have with you.
While that may be true from a purely artistic point of view, most photographers are nonetheless very invested in their gear. So much so that some lucky few spend relative fortunes on their picture-taking boxes, in fact.
Today, let’s dedicate a few minutes to daydream a little and stare in awe at the most expensive cameras in the world.
Top 17 Most Expensive Cameras in the World
From cutting-edge experimental tech straight out of science fiction to priceless treasures from photography history, there’s a lot to admire here!
1. Canon EOS R3
Fast forward to the present day. If you look at the cream of the crop of Canon’s current digital lineup, you’ll find the mirrorless EOS R3.
An absolutely loaded full-frame camera with eye-controlled autofocus and a stacked sensor featuring class-leading dynamic range and image quality, the Canon EOS R3 sells for $5,999.
That price tag, almost exactly equal to that of the first digital EOS flagship, makes it the most expensive Canon camera you can buy brand-new today.
2. Nikon Z 9
If you’re partial to Team Nikon, you’ll also have to swallow some steep pricing for their top-of-the-line gear. The most expensive camera in the brand’s current lineup, directly competing with the Canon EOS R3, is the Z 9.
Nikon Z 9 comes in at $5,499. It’s by no means a budget-friendly machine. But with its bulky pro body, full-frame, 50MP sensor, and near-limitless burst shooting capacity, it’s hardly meant to be.
3. Nikon Df
Released in 2013, the Nikon Df polarized contemporary critics. A retro-styled take on DSLR cameras with a design inspired by the classic Nikon FM series, it uses the same full-frame, 16-megapixel CMOS sensor as the then-flagship D4.
Lacking video recording and many other features reserved for its professional counterpart, the Df instead features a surprisingly large number of old-school knobs and dials to configure exposure and other camera settings.
The Nikon Df also came with its own variant of the long-running F lens mount that accepts every Nikon lens made between 1959 and approximately 2019. It’s the only camera in the world that offers this vast of lens compatibility.
At launch, the Df retailed for $2,750, which equates to $3,500 today.
4. Nikon E2
In the mid-90s, Nikon introduced their first mass-produced digital camera marketed towards professional photographers, the E-series. Compatible with all existing Nikon lenses, these awkwardly-proportioned beasts used a funky “Reduction Optics System” to cancel out the crop factor caused by their small sensors.
Speaking of which, the resolution of all E-series models topped out at a staggering 1.3 megapixels!
The retail price, you ask? Why, a cool $10,000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be just about $19,500 in today’s terms.
5. Leica SL
This Leica camera burst onto the scene at an MSRP of $5,995 in 2013, becoming the German brand’s second major digital system targeting professional photographers after the Leica S.
Using a lens mount shared with the Leica CL and a 24MP CMOS sensor, the Leica SL was competitive with similar crop-sensor professional cameras of the time. The high price did of course limit its appeal – but the Leica brand is no stranger to that, as many of the following items on this list will show.
6. Kodak DCS 100
Compared to what digital photography was like only a few years prior, the Nikon E2 must have seemed like a revelation circa 1996. That’s because the only true digital option that journalists and others had before then was the almost unreal Kodak DCS 100.
Built using spare Nikon F3 camera bodies, the Kodak-made digital imaging system was truly gargantuan. One part of the system was an electronic grip with an integrated back and winder, which effectively doubled the height and weight of the original F3.
But that’s not all. In order to take any photos, you also had to lug around a DSU, a Digital Storage Unit that was wired directly to the camera. About the size of a small printer and weighing a few kilos by itself, the DSU came with straps and a fitted backpack so you could wear it either on your back, across your shoulder, or on your hip.
Either way, using a DCS 100 for a whole day must have been quite a workout!
As for the price, Kodak asked for no less than $20,000 in 1991. Not too bad considering the very few who bought a DCS were investing in one-of-a-kind groundbreaking technology back then!
7. Leica R8 & R9 With DMR
Initially released in 1996, the Leica R8 and the very similar R9 from 2002 were the last members of Leica’s long-running but often neglected R-series of SLR cameras.
The most cutting-edge models yet, the two siblings incorporated a lot of electronic gadgetry that was all the rage in the late 90s. That includes a record-setting electronic shutter that went up to 1/8000th of a second!
Leica cameras of every vintage bring with them an aura of luxury and exclusivity, and this is no exception. The initial list price of the R8 and R9 hovered around €3,000. That is $6,400 in 2023 money!
That’s without a lens, mind you. You would also have to shell out an additional $5,500 (worth $8,400 today) for the so-called Digital Module Back, or DMR, which became available in 2004.
This add-on digital back transforms any R8 or R9 Leica camera into a fully-fledged digital shooter. Complete with a 10MP Kodak-built sensor with a crop factor of 1.37, and it was among the most high-performing digital backs money could buy around the turn of the century.
8. Fujifilm GFX 100
Today, investing in a digital medium format camera is the most sensible way to burn a large pile of cash while getting a world-class camera in return. Due to the constraints behind making large sensors with high dynamic range, these beasts command the highest prices among all mass-produced cameras in the world today.
A peak example is the Fujifilm GFX 100. The range-topping model of the GFX system, its weather-sealed, stabilized body, and 100MP CMOS sensor (!) will set you back $10,000.
9. Hasselblad H6D 400c MS
It might sound strange, but the awe-inspiring GFX 100 isn’t even the most expensive medium format camera you can buy today. In fact, it’s not even close!
The Hasselblad camera brand has often been called “the Leica of the medium format world”, and for a good reason. Their timeless designs generally combine the haute couture of aesthetic design principles with jaw-dropping price tags and high exclusivity.
That definitely also applies to Hasselblad H6D, which retails for – wait for it – $48,000. That’s forty-eight thousand dollars, just in case you struggled to process that number.
In return for that generous sum, you get one of the world’s most refined and ergonomic medium format cameras today, bundled with a 400-megapixel sensor (yes, that’s real).
10. Hasselblad 500C
Speaking of a different expensive camera by Hasselblad, the 500C came out in 1957. Today, this is a coveted model among street photographers thanks to its small profile, waist-level viewfinder, and excellent Carl Zeiss lenses.
The list price for this medium format camera marvel stood at around $600 upon release.
That doesn’t sound like so much at first blush, but when you convert that into current-day values, the Hassie is worth a solid $5,600!
However, the regular 500Cs aren’t even the most expensive of the bunch. One lucky Hasselblad of this series was modified by NASA for use by the crew of the Mercury space program.
Since its return to Earth in 1962, it has become one of the most expensive cameras ever sold.
Most recently, the Hasselblad 500C went to an anonymous British collector who paid an estimated $275,000 for it.
11. Hasselblad LM2
The partnership between Hasselblad and NASA was not a one-off affair. The Swedish brand designed the LM2 specifically with the space program in mind, equipping it with a unique battery-powered trigger grip and unique body shell.
This camera went on to take some of the most famous pictures of the moon’s surface over the course of the Apollo 11 mission.
As a result, it became one of the photography world’s most desirable collectibles, most recently fetching an eye-watering $910,400 at an auction.
12. Leica Luxus II – Gold Plated
Another Leica camera makes the list of the most coveted, most expensive cameras in the world – and it won’t be the last!
This one is a special model of the Leica II, the original rangefinder first offered by the company in 1933. The so-called “Luxus” came with a unique lizard skin grip and a gold-plated body and lens. To boot, the camera came with a super-exclusive matching “Luxus” camera case made out of crocodile leather!
Publicly available production records show that four Luxus versions of the Leica II left the factory during the 1930s. However, all of them except this particular example remain lost, their whereabouts unclear.
The auction house Bonham’s expected this rare camera to sell for more than a million dollars, and news outlets predicted it would become the most expensive camera ever sold up to that point. However, the final sale landed at “only” £386,981.
That is just short of $700,000 adjusted for inflation. Quite a steal for a one-of-a-kind relic of a camera from 90 years ago that’s literally made out of gold if you ask me!
13. Phase One XF IQ4
Much to Hasselblad’s dismay, Danish camera brand Phase One eventually managed to just barely outflank them in the competition for the most expensive camera with a digital medium format sensor.
The Phasee One XF IQ4, which boasts a 150MP CMOS sensor that measures 5.3 by 4 centimeters, changes hands for $55,000 brand-new.
That’s a couple thousand ahead of the Hasselblad H6D 400c MS – not that the prospective buyer demographic for either of these camera brands is likely to mind such a trivial difference.
14. Canon Digital Super Diamond IXUS
At some point circa 2005, some higher-ups at Canon caught wind of the story of the gold-plated Leica camera and decided to produce their own spin on the idea. At least, that’s the most straightforward way to explain the existence of the Canon IXUS 65 Diamond Edition.
This rare and expensive camera was based on an ordinary point-and-shoot, also called the IXUS 65. That includes its plastic body, middle-of-the-road image quality, and simple, automatic-only controls.
Well, in the IXUS 65 Diamond Edition’s defense, it wasn’t all plastic. True to its name, the perimeter around the lens features a ring of real diamonds for a special dose of mid-2000s bling.
At a private auction hosted by the Japanese company, ten such cameras left Canon showrooms and went into the hands of their (presumably) wealthy owners at about $5,000 apiece.
The last model, commemorating the 10th year of the IXUS brand as of 2006, underwent even further modifications.
Instead of a few dozen, this Super Diamond IXUS received a whopping 380 diamonds from the legendary Eddie Elzas’ collection of “rainbow gems”, upping its sales value to over $40,000. Now that’s what I call bling!
15. Suisse Frères Daguerreotype Camera
While it does count among the most expensive cameras ever sold, the Suisse Frères Daguerrotype box camera holds another distinction entirely as well.
Following the personal specifications of Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the development process of the same name, Suisse Frères was one of the first camera brands to ever produce a picture-taking machine in the sense that we understand the word today!
This specific example dates to 1839, the very first year of manufacture. That doesn’t just make it the oldest camera ever sold, but in fact, the oldest known camera still in existence!
When you take that into account, Suisse Frères’ last sales price of $740,000 seems quite reasonable, doesn’t it?
16. Leica M3D-2
Another item on the list of the most expensive cameras in the world, and another Leica to boot! This specimen belongs to the coveted M3 model series, one of Leica’s most acclaimed professional camera designs.
But this isn’t any old Leica M3 straight off the assembly line we’re talking about. This M3D-2 was a special edition, tailor-made for the needs of photojournalists.
That is to say, one particularly praised and famous photojournalist, David Douglas Duncan.
Enamored with Leica rangefinders, Duncan asked the German company to customize a limited run of just four M3s.
These are readily recognizable by their all-black body and lens covering featuring anodized aluminum all over. A long focusing lever, an ergonomic aid Duncan was fond of, prominently stood out from the lens.
Furthermore, all four M3Ds received the optional Leicavit upgrade module, which gave the camera an additional rapid-wind lever on the bottom plate.
As special as they are, Duncan didn’t just leave his M3Ds sitting on a shelf. In fact, this particular specimen, the M3D-2, followed him to Vietnam, where the Life magazine photographer used it for one of his most famous photo series.
Perhaps that’s why M3D-2 ended up selling for a staggering $2.18 million dollars at the 2018 WestLicht auction, briefly becoming the most expensive camera in the world.
17. Leica 0-series Number 105 “Oskar Barnack”
As for the definite number one most expensive camera as of the time of this writing, that honor goes to the Leica 0 series number 105.
The 0-series Leica cameras were the final batches of prototypes handmade by Oskar Barnack in the mid-20s, a few years before serial production would officially begin.
Expectations were for sure very high when this specimen, number 105, appeared at the Leitz Photographica auction last year. That’s not just because previous 0-series cameras had sold on the market for over a million dollars.
It is especially because this specimen, number 105, was the personal camera of Oskar Barnack himself. That makes this 0-series sort of a holy grail among Leica enthusiasts.
In the end, number 105 vastly outstripped even the loftiest sales estimates. It left the market and entered the hands of an anonymous private collector at a mind-boggling 14.4 million euros, or 15.04 million US dollars.
That makes it far and away, the most expensive camera in world history.