Postaday2011 – Leica M9

Now I have to be honest the Leica M9 is not the camera for me but I did appreciate the opportunity to try it for a couple of weeks courtesy of Leica, Mayfair and there are many things I really liked about it.

The first impression that you get when extracting it from the hard dark grey foam it is housed in is the weight, it’s a heavy little beast at 585g, much more solid than you might imagine.

All the important controls are where you would expect them to be – shutter release, speed dial with a neat ring around it to select off, single, multi or timed release. All very clean and what you would hope for in a precision instrument. I have no quarrel with the build quality. I think the top is a little industrial in it’s appearance though, it’s quite angular. Mustn’t forget the accessory shoe with flash contacts.

Moving to the rear of the camera you’ll find the now familiar LCD display with a column of buttons to the left and a wheel complete with navigation buttons on the right. Frankly there is a great opportunity here for someone to do this differently, the wheel is like most of its ilk a bit of a pain to use as are the navigation buttons. I struggle to understand why when lesser compact cameras are wholly menu driven  why some manufacturers persist in taking up useful space with this nonsense. There has to be a cleaner way to do this.

The LCD is pretty pathetic at 230,000 pixels and really 2.5″ isn’t, in my opinion, good enough on a camera body costing just a whisker short of five grand. The one thing you cannot argue with though is the quality of the image produced and this is where a full size sensor scores. Using the menu it’s possible to set the shutter to release but not wind on until you let go of the button, this is so you don’t frighten the horses. It’s also one of the nicest sounding shutters you’ll hear, rather refreshing after the clunk of the 5D MKII.

On the bottom plate is a recessed half circle flip up key to open the base where the battery and SD card live. Opening it was like stepping back twenty years to the first time I put a roll of film in my M4. Nostalgia ruled for a moment.

What this camera doesn’t have are the nice things that the Fuji X100 has as standard, an electronic viewfinder option and the ability to shoot video. I’ve been lucky enough to try both cameras and I would buy the Fuji every time in preference to the M9. I fully acknowledge that the Fuji has a smaller sensor, less pixels etc and a fixed lens but have you seen the images it produces?

My biggest disappointment with the M9 is almost certainly not something I can pin on the equipment. I had a terrible time focussing, the split image rangefinder didn’t do it for me. I know it’s me because this wasn’t a problem when I had an M4-P many years ago. I don’t have this problem with my Canon. As an aside, the viewfinder on the Leica S2 is brilliant.

I loved the M series lenses (I had a 90 and 35mm to try), how refreshing to see a depth of field scale on a lens again. The action of focussing is really smooth and they are perfectly proportioned for the camera. But all this comes to nothing if you can’t see easily and quickly to focus. The prescription in my lenses is not severe, +1.5 with astigmatism but the culprit is vari-focal lenses. Mine are quite shallow and the difference between distance, middle range and near is quite shallow, consequently I found it a real pain to achieve pin sharp results – I got there but it took way too long. Even the most patient of subject will have gone for tea in the time it took me to get what I thought was a sharp image.  The results are good though there is no disputing the quality of the optics. When editing the images in Lightroom ticking profile made no difference to the image so I guess you can conclude that Leica have got these spot on – no distortion. There are some very well respected photographers who swear by the red dot brand and probably as many who would never touch one. This camera is not the ultimate street photography tool but it’s probably pretty close until Fuji shoe-horn a full frame sensor into the little X100 and offer it with a choice of lenses.

The damage: M9 body – £4950, Summicron 35mm f2 £2109, Apo-Summicron-M 90mm f/2 £2620, a total of £9679. Prices include vat @20%

As an instrument of the highest mechanical quality 8/10, Build quality 8/10, Lenses: 9/10, ease of focus by me: 4/10

90mm, 1/2000, f2.4, ISO200
90mm f4, 1/250, ISO200

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