Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Musing on M9 newbies, potentials and pondering M8 upgraders

I thought that I would pen some thoughts as a recent upgradee

Firstly I am speaking as one who primarily likes to take pictures, rather then a gear collector
Although I have to admit getting pleasure out of beautifully made things. The Leica M9 definitely has that quality/jewelry like feeling.

I was happy for many years with a Canon 5D, one zoom and many prime lenses. This was a landmark camera by any standards and even today still takes astonishingly sharp and colourful pictures.

Canon 5D @ ISO 1600:

I then made the "grass is greener" mistake and went through a bevy of DSLRs, 4/3s and Sony-NEX. It was a learning experience and one good thing is that I have learnt to use practically all raw editors on the market. My favourite overall is Adobe Lightroom, but for Canon I still prefer the simplicity and raw speed of DPP.

2 years BL (Before Leica) my favourite camera was the 5Dii and Canon 50mm f1.2. Pretty much a combination used most of the time. I like immensly the Nikon D700 and 24-105mm f4 or 50mm f1.4 lenses, an incredibly sharp camera with just about any lens you throw at it, but ultimately the Canon colours and creamy nature of the 50mm f1.2 always did it for me.

Then I thought I would try Leica. Mainly as it was lightweight, well rated with famous lenses. I must say the grumbling on the M8 forums almost put me off, but in perspective less than on dpreview or xda-developers.

Leica M8 with 50mm f2.5 Summarit:

The first thing to understand about Leica M cameras is that at base ISO they are sharper, at the pixel level, then anything you have seen before. This is probably a combination of a number of things including: (i) Kodak sensor designed for studio work; (ii) No AA filter, (iii) Weak IR filter (M9) and (iv) sheer quality of Leica lenses

Leica M8 with 50mm f2.5 Summarit:

The M8(.2) is an excellent camera and the M9 takes it a stage further. For me, the main advantages of the M9 over the M8 are:
1. 18mp vs 10mp
2. Soft shutter mode
3. Thinner DOF at the same focal length
4. Wider angle (FF)
5. Slightly improved handling, e.g. ISO button
6. 1-2 stops of extra ISO performance

The key thing to remember with Leica is that its a completely different experience to a modern DSLR. You have to work much harder. You need to understand shutter, aperture and focus and think about them for every shot.

The camera has an aperture priority mode but you need to focus manually for every shot. This is actually useful for landscapes. Later on, as your experience grows, you can focus with a reasonably small aperture, just using the graduation settings on the lens. In fact, I can now sometimes judge framing and, using the focus scale, keep the camera at waist level whilst shooting.

Leica M8 and 50mm f2.5 Summarit:

The metering is tough to understand. Its almost spot on the M9 (slightly wider on the M8), however its not a spot circle. On the M8 it is like an ellipsoid spot, and on the M9 it is close to a diffuse circle.
I also find, that, for example, you get different metering if you hold the camera horizontally to vertically. This is the kind of learning curve you have to go through.

Leica M9 with 50mm f2.5 Summarit:

Advantages of the Leica way of doing things ? is that basically you get better pictures. Not only on composition but also, for example, I have never had an out of focus picture with the M8 or M9. I have had plenty with DSLRs.

So back to my advice/experience.
If you are someone who is looking for the ultimate pictures in a small package. If you are willing to go back to photography basics. If you are willing to live without:
1. Zoom lenses
2. Long telephoto (90mm is a practical limit for easy focusing)
3. Fast reaction time - Leica Ms are difficult to shoot for fast moving children and sports photography

Then the Leica might be for you!

Leica M9 with 50mm f2.5 Summarit:

My advice is to firstly either lease or borrow a M8 or M9 (you will need at least a few weeks to get your head around the camera) or to first buy a second-hand M8 with a cheaper lens. Remember that Leica makes no dude lenses. I recommend a Summarit (35 or 50mm) new or second hand or a 35 or 50mm summicron second hand as good starters.
If you like this package you need to think about how much you want to spend and ultimately will you be happy with second best ?
I now have a M9 with 50mm summilux lens, close to the pinnacle of Leica engineering.
I use it for absolutely everything. One day I might buy a 90mm summarit for a bit more zoom.
The way I see it, I could have a cheaper 28mm and 50mm instead, but I prefer spending more on one ultimate lens then multiples of merely excellent lenses.

Leica M9 with 50mm f1.4 ASPH summilux:

When moving onto the M9, my advice is to get a M9 second hand or ex-demo. Unfortunately the chance of finding a 50mm ASPH summilux second hand is close to zero. So join a waiting list, or get a second hand 50mm summicron (version 4 or 5) or or a new or used 50mm f2.5 summarit. The summicron is wickedly sharp, but has less contrast then the newer designs. Its all personal preference. I have read many people stating they have the lux, cron and summarit, and use them for different purposes. but this is too much for me.

If you like taking pictures, you will love Leica M!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I have a Leica M8u and every time I review my low ISO pics, my jaw drops...

  2. Nice read, I caught your last photo Leica M9 with 50mm f1.4 ASPH summilux on Flickr the other day while looking for samples taken with the 50 Lux ASPH, great shot

  3. Very nice article for M9 newbie like me!

  4. // If you are willing to live without:
    // 3. Fast reaction time - Leica Ms are difficult to shoot for fast moving children and sports photography

    What if I also/mainly want to take photographs of my three kids aged 4y, 2y and 9m? Will I still enjoy using an M8/M9?
    I am currently using a Nikon D90 plus 35/f1.8 and am seriously considering getting a M8 + 35 cron.


  5. the combination of low light, kids movement and manual focus can be a difficult learning curve.
    I shoot my kids a lot, sometimes I tell them to freeze :), but with higher shutter speeds it's no problem.
    it's a good idea to get an M8 first. You can see what you think and get used to it before a big outlay. if you keep the M8 in a good condition then you will be able to sell it for close to what you paid, depending on Market conditions.