PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

21Dec/1044

Leica M9 Review

The Leica M9 is a controversial object in photography partly because it is a Leica, which implies some generic controversy, and partly because it is itself a messy blend of luxurious quality and lack of polish. It would be easy to dismiss the digital M camera as a collectible toy for the rich and eccentric if only it wasn’t so enjoyable for photographers to actually shoot with it. This is the reality of the M9: it is a second-rate digital camera that also supports a deeper connection with the act of making a photograph. If you actually enjoy making photographs then this should really appeal to you.

By far the most important feature of the M9 is its full-frame sensor, which is simultaneously the only material improvement over the M8.2. Whatever Leica was thinking when they built a cropped-frame digital M camera completely baffles me; by the looks of their financial results this year, it probably baffles them as well. Like the innovative M5 camera before them the M8 and M8.2 cameras are now headed for historical oblivion, while temporarily serving as “entry-level” Leica cameras at bargain prices.

Like many amateur photographers with my photographic inclinations and goals, the Leica M system represented a kind of utopic future for me. In the M system I saw an array of wonderful optics wherein more are masterpieces of optical engineering than not, a well-conceived path to break free from the heavy and bulky Japanese systems, and also at times flying unicorns. The premise of my longing turned out to be partially flawed and my switch to the M system may have happened partially for the wrong reasons, but sometime after making the switch I discovered that I also enjoyed it for the right reasons.

Operation

The M9 is well-made, small and light. Its minimalist design is far more enthralling for me than its physical implementation however, and I imagine I would enjoy a more cost-efficient implementation just as well. In terms of size the M9 is near the minimum limit for a viable serious camera (for rigidity, grip, stability). Small size is so much at the core of the M9 experience that it is the camera’s most essential feature, clearly even before image quality.

Manual controls aren’t an afterthought on the M9, they are a key operational fact inherited directly from the traditional M design. Focus is always manual on this camera, and exposure automation is so limited that it typically requires manual interpretation. These are parameters which we agree a photographer should consider while making photographs; therefore the photographer must fully control them while making a photograph with the M9. The result is greater intimacy between photographers and photographs, and the camera gradually disappears from the equation over time.

The other key operational fact about the M9 is that it is a rangefinder camera. This directly implies a long list of other facts: numerous restrictions compared to reflex cameras and a few engineering simplifications which occasionally translate to benefits for users. As befits the M9’s key feature, this design choice is largely about delivering small size for the overall system, and most importantly its lenses. Virtually every other detail of the camera is a result of this design choice.

The M9’s lens-parallel viewfinder shows a fixed field view, between that of a 24mm lens and 28mm lens. This viewfinder might be a great visualization tool for some, but it isn't for me when combined with eyeglasses. In my own experience, visualization with a rangefinder camera is something you do with your naked eyes, building on your own experience as a photographer. When I look through the viewfinder, the photograph is already complete in my mind and needs only to be framed and focused in order to be executed. The viewfinder’s frame-lines work well for framing grossly, but are generously inaccurate at most focus distances.

Manual focus with the rangefinder system is pleasant, even fun, but its effectiveness depends greatly on the lens that is used. Wide-angle lenses are easy to focus to high precision, at high speed and in low light, easily beyond what reflex cameras are capable of. On the other hand telephoto lenses can be extremely difficult to focus at wide-open aperture under all but the best conditions, which makes it hard to justify adopting even the best among them. Lenses in the normal range achieve a happier compromise with useful precision, speed and tolerance to error, leaning variably on the photographer’s experience.

Note: you will want to read this expanded article on focus issues more specific to longer lenses on the M camera.

The biggest issue (in my opinion) with focus on the M9 is the limited range of focus, to a distance no closer than 0.7 meter.  This limitation is irrespective of the lens mounted, as it is a camera issue, but is often implemented as a hard stop in lenses as well. Many criticize the impact this has on the camera’s ability to capture details, but that is not my main complaint. Most of my grief comes from using wide-angle lenses in portraiture, in which case I am constantly pushing against this near limit. This occasionally forces me to make a choice between my style and my camera, and for this one issue I really begrudge the camera.

In other aspects the M9 has many rough implementation edges that don’t matter as much. The fake-leather covering fails to function as a grip because it is actually very slippery. The power switch has uneven detents that often cause frustrating arguments with the camera. The SD card interface only works with SanDisk cards (but is actually fast now). LCD image review quality is unreasonably, nay bafflingly poor. Battery life is OK. The bottom plate is an eccentric twist.

Drawing

The M9’s Kodak KAF-18500 sensor records high-frequency detail with very high micro-contrast and a tonal response suited to fashion photography. Together with high-contrast lenses, this sensor records images with outstanding clarity and also aliasing artifacts. Despite this and other issues, this is a decent sensor if judged by the final output after processing by Lightroom.

At its base ISO the KAF-18500 records a good (but not great) amount of dynamic range with low noise in the shadows. This is the “low noise” that Leica is alluding to when they mention it in the M9 brochure. As sensitivity/gain of the sensor is increased, its dynamic range is reduced by what seems to be close to a 1:1 ratio, implying that the only true sensitivity of the KAF-18500 is its base sensitivity. This is not all that uncommon but many cameras do better than this for the first few stops of sensitivity – for example, see the DXO data for the D700.

At higher sensitivities, reduced dynamic range interacts with amplified noise to produce worse image quality than the noise alone ought to explain. Already by ISO 800 enough dynamic range has been lost that the image files are often on the verge of falling apart with only basic processing. Dispensing with color, by converting images to black & white, is a popular way to correct color inaccuracy due to lack of dynamic range – popular, but not for me.

The expected aliasing artifacts like moiré are omnipresent in the raw KAF-18500 output. They can be seen in almost all images: in fine hair, or anything with a thin edge or line. Interestingly, Lightroom goes a long way to reduce the prominence of the artifacts but this feature isn’t advertised anywhere (nor are there any controls for it). This is enough by itself to make moiré a non-issue for portraiture, specifically. However, even accounting for this processing, the KAF-18500 is not the best sensor for architecture work at apertures above the diffraction limit (f/11 - f/16).

Another issue with the M9’s resultant image quality is the rather poor quality of the color calibration that is implemented in RAW processing software that supports it, including Lightroom. The most objectionable aspect of the current calibration is that colors near red/magenta are being rendered unnaturally saturated and bright, and a bit too cool. Skin tones are excellent however, with white skin coming out just about perfect.

Finally, the KAF-18500 has other well-known issues that have never really affected me: it still suffers from cyan drift on wide-angle lenses, still retains some IR sensitivity, blooms vertically near extremely overexposed pixels, and has a healing seam going down the center.

Conclusion

The M9 packs a serviceable full-frame sensor and proven manual controls in a small body that is easy to carry all day, anywhere and everywhere. This is a wonderful achievement and there are many reasons to go out and enjoy the M9 thoroughly for it. Regardless of this, it’s hard to ignore dozens of irritants that result from insufficient engineering effort in some places, careless choices in others, and unusual devotion to the occasional trivial fare.

Would I recommend this camera to other photographers? Probably not.

Samples

 

 

 


Comments (44) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Great open opinion in this article. I’m hoping for the M10 with something like a D700 sensor plus live view before I try the M system again…
    Despite it’s issues the M9 is still a tempting tool, but for now having tried the M8.2, I’d rather leave the frustrations behind.
    Cheers!

    • One issue to keep in mind when hoping for a D700 sensor in an M9, is that a sensor with such large photosites really needs an AA filter. With only 12MP on a 24×36 sensor, moiré would light up your photographs like a Christmas tree.

      In a sense the M9 achieves a good balance w.r.t. moiré and AA filtration because it has smaller pixels, but at the same time that costs it both in DR and SNR.

  2. It is really unfortunate to read this. It is even more unfortunate the M8(.2) and M9 are currently the only ways to buy into digital RF.

    A pity as I planned to go buy the M8 that now goes at insane low prices (for a Leica that is, it is still more expensive than a D700 who’s prices are dropping fast lately).

    Still I think this is a wonderful camera when used within its natural boundaries. And this implies it is not an all-mans friend. But an M-camera has never been one…

    • Yes, it makes me sad too. Makes me like my D700 more, that’s what prompted me to write the D700 re-review (http://photoog.com/2010/10/nikon-d700-re-review/).

      The M8 offers a decent value proposition at $2K – $2.2K.

      The analogy to older M cameras doesn’t work so well when you say M cameras never had mass appeal. Older M cameras weren’t limited to loading crappier film – to put it bluntly. They also had far fewer high-tech features that could get messed up in the implementation.

      On the bottom line I think I like my M9 more (a bit) than maybe readers will realize. The problem is that the reasons for liking the M9 are extremely succint to explain — it’s small, and it’s light — but are more significant that some of the flaws that take long sentences to describe.

  3. I must say the M8 is the best camera I have ever used. I can only see a full frame version as even more wonderful. Simple operation, lush pictures and a bit of wabisabi thrown into the mix. The more you use an M camera, the more you fall deeply in love with it….

  4. Interesting read, I’m an amateur, and have a X1 and a D5mkII, some nice equipment and been thinking long about the M9… But; It’s interesting to see so many reviews about the M9, some very technical (sometimes I can’t understand half of it), and others are pure emotion. What bothers me with the big SLR’s are the volume and weight, the zoom lenses (even when L series) of average quality (and hefty price), and my sore back&shoulder as a result. I’ve read so many reviews now that I’m totally insecure, I planned to sell all my DSLR stuff, and the X1, to go for a M9+20ish/35/80ish/135ish. Not so sure anymore, as I’ll miss some DSLR features, will be annoyed by some M9 issues (and lack of features). I was very happy when I got the X1, while VERY disappointed about the LCD screen, and slowly loving the camera less, yes, less. Stupid lens cap, fragile battery lid, short battery lifetime, unfriendly on/off switch, SLOW AF…. I knew that before I bought it, but still thought that some Leica magic would make up for all this. Not. I bought a G12 for a friend, toyed around with it a few times, really liked it, and wondering what to do now. Actually a tad insecure now, too many opinions, too much information, too much technical mambo-jambo, too much choice, too much experts around…. If you catch my drift. Anyway, thanks for your review, a good read, only drawback, more insecure now :-)
    Keep on shooting!

    • My advice is to pay close attention to the mirrorless market that is exploding right now.

      A serious mirrorless camera is guaranteed to appear soon, my guess is from Olympus first.

      If you must have an M9 then there is nothing I can say to dissuade you, but not knowing you my default advice would be against it.

      • I bought a M9 a month ago and a Sony NEX5 a few months ago. I also use a Nikon D-300 for wildlife photography. In my view the NEX5 and all mirrorless cameras are constrained by lack of a viewfinder that makes taking pictures difficult as you have to hold the camera away from you which definitely introduces camera shake. I love my M9 for casual and street photography – takes me back to my early film days when I used to take pictures with a Yashica rangefinder. In my view the M9 is no match for a high end DSLR like a Nikon D3X or D3S; however for candid street photography the M9 offers a discreet camera that a huge DSLR can never match.

  5. For Hugo,
    For me the M9 is an extraordinary tool. What I love about rangefinders is that they force you to be present and be at the right place at the right time. I used film Leicas and have used the Canon and Nikon top of the line digitals. They all have their strengths. But I must say these past 14 months shooting with the M9 have made me feel like a photographer again – able to concentrate on the subject, the moment, and forget about options, menus, zoom, auto this and that. Shoot with what makes you feel good and makes you love taking photographs.

    • Hi Marq, this comment sounds appropriate for all, not just Hugo.

      (You should know that I am no fan of zooms nor am I attached to auto-focus. I configure my D700 to act like an FE-2 and I only use ZF.1 lenses on it. You might enjoy the seven reviews of Zeiss ZF’s where I rail against AF zooms for being fat ugly ducklings, see: http://photoog.com/reviews/.)

    • Leica doesnt force you to be present and at the right place at the right time. You can do that with any camera in the world.

      Saying Leica is simple is nonsense. Simple is a nice way to say “it still uses technology from 30 years ago”. 1Ds Mark III or D3x are even simpler, you can use them as a point and shoot, auto mode, autofocus, and you get better results than an M9. And they can do sooooo much more, things you wouldnt even dream possible if all you ever used is Leica cameras.

      It all comes down to is Leica M9 worth all that money? After using it for a short time, all I can say is “No”. Dispense with the emotional and irrational way of thinking, and Leica M9 has zero appeal. Maybe if it was 500 dollars, that’s how much I’d pay for a poor Kodak full frame sensor in a 1970s camera …

      P.S. Good review, Olivier. I would only encourage you to try and post full image samples in the future reviews, as in images straight of the camera without downsizing them.

      • I’m glad you liked the review. I am somewhat partial to this viewpoint as well, but I have some differences with your argument.

        I agree that simplicity is many kinds of things. The M9 is simple for photographers, obscure for non-photographers.

        I agree the D3X does much more, and some of that is nice and useful. The D3X has one vicious flaw as well though : it’s a giant blimp full of lead. So are many (but not all) lenses that are promoted to go with it. On this one point the M9 creams the D3X, and you have to agree it’s true.

        I would pay $3K for an M9. But of course I paid way more than that.

    • Thanks Marc, this turns out be a very interesting discussion. Cheers, H

  6. Lot´s of technical arguments here. I would go with these, but….. Look at the creamy colors and the smooth outline you achieve with a Leica M9 and compare it with the poor anaemic colors of a Olympus or the cold syntetic color esthetics of a Canon. That´s a comparison of Stradivari violin with a Japanese electric violin.

    • I don’t find much merit in this argument. Granted, skin tones are excellent out of the M9 but there is nothing magical to its colors. Except at lowest ISOs it’s obvious the D700 paints with a wider gamut of colors, better dynamic range and enjoys better calibration in Lightroom. At the lowest ISO it’s probably also true but it’s just not obvious.

      I will grant you the basic calibration of Canon cameras tends to revolve around “tones of dirt”. Olympus cameras are rather well-known for exuberant colors however, so I don’t know where you got this negative opinion.

  7. For M9 doubters:

    Maybe a good idea to first buy a used film M (or Konica Hexar RFor even a Voigtlander new) and shoot film with it. If you love that you will also love the M9. If you hate it, you will hate the M9.

    I did so. Bought a Konica Hexar RF and a Voigtlander R4m and I am very happy with it shooting film.

    My experience is that it is not a camera for all things. In some area’s of shooting I need my D300 with big heavy zooms, sometimes I need my D300 with ZF lenses but on more occasions then I thought upfront I now use the RF camera’s. That is why I am now looking for an M8.

    • Again I will say that your film M or Hexar or Ikon can load the same film any Japanese film SLR could. With the M9 you’re stuck with the KAF-18500.

      There are a few ways I think the M9 could have avoided all this heartbreak over its sensor, my favorite would have been to use the monochrome version of the KAF-18500. That’s a trivial change that would suddenly fix almost all the issues with the imaging pipeline : +1.5 stops of sensitivity, no more moiré, no more poor color calibration in Lightroom, obvious advantage to final image micro-contrast and perceived resolving power. That would also have given the M9 something unique as an imaging device compared to the millions of SLR’s that compromise fine detail to achieve color imaging (the M9 fixes part of this, granted, with artifacts).

      But as it is now, everyone here ought to be thinking “I wish the D3S/D3X/A900/1Ds-III sensor had been used” then it would really deliver.

  8. [EDIT by Olivier : the original article erroneously called the sensor KAF-18000.]

    By the way, I think the sensor employed in the M9 is the KAF-18500.

    See: http://www.kodak.com/global/en/business/ISS/News/pressReleases/archive/2009/pr3.jhtml

  9. Very interesting review Oliver. A very unique perspective on M9 :D

  10. Ya’ know, intellectually all your arguments against the M9 make sense. I used to agree. Now i shoot the Leica along with several other cameras including what might be the most obvious all-position player, the Canon 5D Mark II. I’d usually bring my SLRs when I absolutely needed to “get the shot,” figuring they were more reliable and easier to manage.

    Then I started to notice my “keeper” rate for the SLRs was no better, and maybe worse, than for the Leica. The auto functions on the SLRs inject poor “decisions,” exposure and focusing snafus, that are especially common if you don’t go full-brainless auto (which works in a pinch but results in pictures that are sharp, uniformly exposed, and ugly).

    The Leica is small and innocuous—easy to take along and whip out, especially if you travel. I’ll never fly with a big SLR again, not unless I have to. Also, M9 shots are generally prettier than those from the SLRs. The micro-contrast you mentioned is crucial; it models in a way that’s more striking and real looking, especially in unlit situations where the SLRs are prone to cranking out mud, in spite of their high ISO supremacy.

    If you can only have one camera and one system it might be too expensive and limiting to go all Leica, but for conveniently making nice photographs in typical situations and shooting in all the places where SLRs are clumsy, the M9 more than holds its own.

    • Thank you for your excellent comment, Geno.

      I have a complementary story. Recently I was making prints on a high-end pigment printer. After doing my planned prints, those destined for other people, I noticed I had only a few sheets of Ilford paper left. So I made a few prints of my recent favorites for myself to finish my batch of paper. Turns out I only printed M9 images.

      I still wouldn’t use the M9 under pressure to deliver, though.

      A second story to go with that… I occasionally help a professional photographer shoot corporate events. He uses a 5D-II and 1Ds-III, with a varied arsenal of L zooms. For the last couple of conferences we have been seeing a trend that he comes away with lots of mud and I get sharp, saturated images with good skin tones. I’m shooting Zeiss primes on a D700. Conclusion is mud isn’t something I find I struggle with much.

      Cheers.

  11. May I see a trend in the discussion here:

    That person who is shooting with his eyes and brains instead of having the camera computer do the job gets better pictures in return.

    This goes for the RF cameras as much as for DSLR’s used with MF primes.

    Furthermore: this is my experience too. That is why I notice that I always take my Zeiss primes or RF camera when possible and skip the AF lenses I also have. Not as a conscious decision but subconscious.

    Furthermore I can second Geno’s comments about travel with a light RF and its small lenses. When I travel I have my film RF not my DSLR with me.

  12. Thank you for your review. It was well thought out.
    I have an M8.2 and a Nikon D700. Most of the time when I go out I grab the Leica. I enjoy the size and the weight and the attitude I can assume of “street Photographer” as well as the sense of involvement with each shot. Plus many of the shots are worthy and some of them are quite good.
    But for a pro shoot I take the Nikon because my sense of involvement is more with the model, the subject or the agency. i count on the Nikon 100% for focus, color and dependability. Once it’s set up I don’t fuss with it.
    However there have been shoots where there was enough time for me to snap a few with the M and some of those pictures have turned out to be the ‘money shots’. So go figure.
    Still, for me, using each for it’s strength works the best.
    I do keep an eye on used M9′s and when the price seems right I will buy one from some disillusioned seller because I enjoy the M experience too much not to do that. And we all know photography is not just about pixels. Hey I don’t even mind when the stranger comes up to me to ask, ‘hey, is that a Leica?’

  13. I have a Fuji S5 Pro (Nikon D200 body) and range of lenses as well as a M9. Find myself using the M9 for most of my photography these days and the S5 for macro work. I use the Summicron 50/2, a fantastic lens! To any sceptics (of M9) I can just say that you will never regret buying one if you take the plunge…

  14. Very interesting review and responses – I enjoyed them all!

    I’m primarily a medium-format guy using Phase One gear, but it just not practical for overseas travel. So I’ve tried a number of alternatives, and gave the M9 a try 6 months ago. Now I’m hooked.

    For my style/preferences, the M9 is outstanding, despite some of its obvious shortcomings. It is the only small camera I’ve used that provides files which challenge medium format (60 mgpx) up to 24 by 36 inch prints.

    Just as an aide, the M9 with 28 Cron, 50 Lux and 75 Cron weigh only 75% of my Sony a900 with Zeiss 24-70 – and take up much less space. (I can add the 35 Lux and still weigh less!)

    Bill

  15. Excellent shots! Out of curiosity, who makes the camera bag? You rarely see a “Made in USA” label on that type of product these days.

  16. I can’t work out if this article is a Nikon lovefest or a Leica hatefest !!!
    Anyway I had the D700. Its too heavy for what it is, 12mp is too low, the pictures are not as sharp as the Canon 5dii and the colours are not as nice as the Canon 5Dii. I jumped to Nikon from the 5D, really tried to make it work, but came back home to the 5Dii. Just a silky presentation that the Nikon never achieved for me. Nice autofocus system but lost on me as I only use central point.

    I currently shoot a Sony NEX5 with 18-200mm as a travel zoom and a Leica M8 with two Leica lenses as my main walk around. I sold the Canon kit as I found I never took it out much due to the weight after I got the M8.
    ISO performance during the day is a non-issue as I mostly use ISO 160, sometimes straying into 320 and 640. 1250 and occasionally 2500 can be cleaned up but better in B&W, which is another Leica strength. Can never get that B&W quality from any other camera I have used (D300s, 7D, D700, 5Dii, etc.).
    Whatever DXOMARK says I have found there is much more PP latitude at ISO 160 then any other camera I have used. The detail level is astonishing.

    People who rail against the APS-H sensor of the Leica M8 have perhaps never shot with one but see fit to throw a bit of inverse snobbery around, particularly with Leica. They should probably have a word with Canon 1DIV shooters :)

    The M8 is built like a jewel and it brings a smile to my face when I use it. Manual focus is interesting at first, but after a bit you appreciate it, especially the fact that you can throw it into infinity for most landscapes and forget about focus.
    Having to choose the aperture for every picture together with the focus ultimately always ends up for me with better pictures and a much higher percentage of keepers.

    The Leica is not for everyone. It has no real long zoom option and takes skill to use for moving subjects (which excludes most photographers ….). It also can’t do what my Canon 5Dii and 50mm f1.2 could do in low light – something razor sharp, warm, creamy and special. But it can do this on a tripod or in good light.

    The CCD sensor has better detail and colour characterists then I have seen on CMOS, perhaps why phase one and hasselblad also use them, and why the Leica S2 is so awesome.

    Leica have been quite careful to maintain the minimalist nature of the product to keep the photographer focused on the composition. The menu is easy to use and only has one page.
    The M9 adds an extra stop of light sensitivity, allows your lenses to go a bit wider and a useful ISO button. For me the price is too high but I will be upgrading to one in a few years afer the M9.2 comes out.

    I can understand why the Leica M series is not for some people, but, contrary to your article, the M8 sold extremely well and they are struggling to keep up demand for the M9, selling their entire projected production run for it in just the first 9 months.

    Have fun with your Nikons, great cameras, but the combination of workmanship, size, lens quality (nothing in the Nikon or Canon line can touch) and pureness as a photographic tool will mean that I, like many others, will not be going back.

    • Hi Harold,

      I thank you for your comment but I want to dispute your assertion that this is either a Nikon love-fest or Leica hate-fest. It is neither.

      My M9 wasn’t loaned to me for a week to write a review, as is the case with most reviewers. I bought it, I made sacrifices to pay for it, and I shoot with it constantly. I am an M shooter in the same standing as you are.

      The same is true for the D700. I shoot exclusively Zeiss ZF lenses on the D700, so zooms and/or autofocus aren’t features for me to miss on the M9. You may want to read my review of the D700, if that piques your interest.

      I do not need to draw a line in the sand and equate pointing out the qualities of SLR sytems as “going back”. I an both an M shooter and an F shooter, and can readily point out what I think is better in both because I use both every day.

      Sincerely,

      Olivier

      • What a refreshing answer. Openly admitting its many faults but at the same time realising it has a place. Kind of ‘it annoys the crap out of me but I still love it for what it can do’

  17. I am an ameture and own three Leica film model; M6, M7 and MP. I bought an M9 three months ago after waiting for almost half a year. After getting the M9, I started reading M9 reviews on the web. Most of them are pros and seldom are cons. Well, to me, M9 functions more or less the same as Lecia’s previous film model but with digital pictures. I must admit M9 has shortcomings but there is no perfection in the world. Which camera model can you quote that is able to satisfy all users? I can say none!

    To decide buying an M9 or not, I think the best way is to list out what features you want for a digital camera and see whether M9 suits you well, including its price. Go to a Leica showroom to actually feel it. Then make up your mind to buy it or not!

  18. Oliver,

    You know; now a days whenever I feel the urge for dumping my savings to get a Leica M9, I come to this page.

    Terrific review.

  19. Having lugged around Venice a fill frame Sony A900 with beautiful Zeiss glass, I was encouraged to go lite. I tried and fell for an M8, to which I added a s/hand summilux f1.4 50mm and a new Voigtlander 15mm, which is beautiful (go read the reviews!). I have been thinking of upgrading to a full frame M9, but three things have stopped me…

    1. You can’t use the beautiful 15mm Voigtlander on the M9 because of the inbuilt IR filter design, so add in another wide angle lens to the costs and have to loose this beauty.

    2. The M8 needs IR filters on the lens (which actually protects your lens), but beautifully also means by removing them, you have a rare and beautiful digital IR camera.

    3.

  20. 3…. The solution, I bought a wonderful s/hand ‘full frame’ film Leica MP to go with my M8! I still have change to pay for a 35mm Leica Summicron lens.

    The cost of a s/hand M8, plus an M7 or MP (M3 or M6!) still comes in way less than an M9…. and you can use the 15mm Voigtlander on them all. http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lenses/15mm-voigt.shtml.

    I have maxed out on flexibility and shear fun, with an MP for life into the bargain.

  21. Oliver, experimenting certainly, conformist, certainly not.

    Please excuse the badly written endorphin laden comment, I merely wanted to express that there could be another alternative to the M9, as I have been grappling with exactly the same question, ‘should I or should I not upgrade to the M9′. Hence the MP.

    I agree its a maverick collection, but it has been driven by a concentration on the quality of glass (origins being KM) and the resulting images I want and can get.

    The ‘odd kit’ is purely the consequence in between those choices. If you get the images you really want, only then to some extent the kit feels ‘beautiful’ too, as a creative part of the process.

    I will let you know if this experiment continues to work for me… or whether I finally succumb to the M9!

    David

  22. It’s funny how some people get so uppity and defensive about reviews, fortunately this one hasn’t drawn too many emotional arguments on either side, which is a credit to the author.

    I have only just bought some Leica gear. I am backpacking on a year long trip mostly through 3rd world countries. I had a dummy spit with all my gear (Nikon D700 plus 4 lenses) it was just too much so sent it all home and voila, am now using Leica. OK I am still new with it, but have to admit I am struggling. It doesn’t come naturally but I guess his all a learning curve, even though I come from manual focus/film background!! The camera is a pain in the butt and has so much room for improvement.

    That said every camera system is a compromise, if Leica didn’t have a place then it just wouldn’t be here. I really hope the perfect camera never arrives, firstly 90% of pro photographers would probably be out of job but also the fun and art of photography would die.

    I love shooting with my D700 and D3s and couldn’t imagine using anything else for work, I am just too slow with the Leica and it just doesn’t have the flexibility I need.

    That said, the Leica has a real place and am VERY happy I made the purchase. It is so much easier to use for travel, it is discreet and it is unobtrusive. My shots that I have taken, even as a complete beginner on the system have surpassed my D700 pictures. I always ask permission before taking peoples photos, and with the Leica pictures there is a much more natural look to them. This I believe is a combination of not having a massive intimidating camera shoved in their face but also something very unique about the look of the Leica photo. It really to me just has something about it….maybe it is just a look as every camera does and could get bored of it. Maybe it is just cos it looks different from the standard SLR pics, I still have to work that one out.

    As to when I finish my travels, I am not sure if I will keep it. I think if I do sell the camera I will keep hold of the lenses and maybe get an M6 or wait for an improved Leica to hit the streets……or hoping that one of the big brands will produce some kind of rangefinder body without so many flaws.

  23. I would love to buy a Steinway D, but when I bought my own grand piano I had to settle for a Yamaha baby grand at 1/10th of the price. Strange to say, I have played rcordings of mynperformances on both a Steinway D, and my little Yamaha to friends … and they cannot tell the difference. But there is no doubt which is nicer to play, and which inspires me to practice more and mroe seriously.

    I have used every kind of camera under the sun, for gettign on for half a century. Most of my pictures are rubbish, but having been at it for so long I have a fair collection of stunning shots as well. Here is the interesting thing, although no-one I know can see any technical superiority of shots with Leica equipment over those with Nikon SLRs, Canon SLRs, Mamiya 7, etc. … the simple fact is that, for whatever reason, the great majority of my good shots were taken with a Leica M6 and a 35mm f/2 Summicron.

    There is no economic case for buying Leica. And if you shoot sport or wildlife or macro there is no practical case either. The competition (i.e. SLR) wins hands down on grounds of both versatility and economy. When you buy a Leica you buy with your heart, not your head, because you feel more in tune with that type of camera, and – for all its deficiencies and quirks, you get better results with it … and it helps if you are well-off enough that price does not matter.

    • That is an excellent perspective on the subject. I believe my experience is similar, even if my time scale for it is radically shorter than a half-century. One could say that photography is also something you do with your heart, and you do it best when your heart is in it fully.

      Olivier

  24. Firstly, how refreshing to read a review which neither fawns nor condemns but also points out the absurdity of the price:quality ratio.

    For me, lens quality is paramount. Leica and Zeiss are self evidently the leaders here. Next, comes portability. This is where rangefinder cameras have traditionally led the way for those whose lens coverage requirements are in the wide to normal range. Not for ultra-wide or long telephoto though. Here, SLR has ruled.

    But now, we have mirrorless and, with the Sony NEX series, crop frame with the ability to use legacy lenses including Leica and Zeiss. Up to now, though, lack of VF has been a huge issue. But that changes with the NEX-7.

    I have used Leica Ms for years. I loved the film cameras, particularly the M6, M7 and MP. Also, the M8. But while the film variants have held or increased value the digital have depreciated quite badly. As will the M9 once the M10 arrives.

    But those lenses! I feel – as do many others – that the NEX-7 and imitators yet to come will be game changers. The framing and focusing issues with RF cameras are elegantly stated in this review. Both are inaccurate at close range. This rather defeats the object of having fast lenses, whose talents are more appropriate to differential focusing than to low light photography in this age of high ISO potential (for some cameras but not perhaps the M9). But focusing these lenses on the NEX, with its MF assist, is a breeze, even on the LCD (which is still a pain for my ageing eyes). With the EVF it will be a breeze. and no focus shift issues to worry about either. Yes, colour shift remains an issue but so us it on the M9 but easily correctable.

    Another issue is the need for manual focusing. Personally, it is a pleasure to return to this and with the right focusing screen or, in the case of the NEX the MF Assist, it is easy and more accurate than AF and certainly easier and more accurate than RF, which is truly anachronistic now I feel.

    Right now Leica is uber-fashionable again, particularly in Asia. But are the cameras really tools for photographers who are not swayed by fashion or prestige? For me the answer is No. My M cameras have all gone now but my M-fit lens collection continues to grow – via the Zeiss route. And their IQ performance with the NEX-5 has been revelatory. I can’t wait to get hold of the NEX-7.

    • Hi Martin, I share your view in many ways. I am concerned about the image quality with less-retrofocus lenses on the NEX line at the moment. The NEX-5 has garnered more praise for that than the NEX-7 and thus #7 seems ill-designed for our use.

      Olivier

  25. I should add that my comment on focusing screen was slightly off-topic and referred to my Canon 5D II where I now increasingly focus manually – a necessity with my converted Leica R lenses


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