Leica M9 – First Impressions
I finally went and got myself a Leica M9.
And ironically enough, I took delivery of it on 9-9-10, (at just after 09:00 in the morning!) one year to the day after it was announced.
No, it was not on back-order that long! :) I just noticed about a week before that B&H had an M9 in stock, so I made the order.
Over the past few months, I’ve been reading through all the M9 reviews I could find, and after an exhaustive amount of pondering I finally decided that it was time for me to give it a try.
Having previously owned an M8 on two separate occasions, it was with a bit of trepidation that I ordered the M9. On both previous experiences with the M8, I was always put off by its inadequate image quality at higher ISOs, as well as the IR sensitivity issue. The crop factor never really gave me problems since the Epson R-D1 has an even higher crop facor, and the fact that I had shot with cropped sensor DSLRs for years prior to moving up to full frame. But after 6-10 months of shooting with the M8, on both occasions I found myself going back and shooting the R-D1 more frequently than the M8, so both times the M8 had to go.
Don’t get me wrong. The M8 is a good camera, and a joy to use. But I was just bothered by the fact that I had to use IR cut filters, and limit my available-light photography to cases where I could keep the ISO down below 640. Compared to the R-D1 this was as serious step backward in functionality since the R-D1 is not plagued by any IR sensitivity issues (at least as far as I could tell), and the fact that the R-D1 absolutely sings at higher ISO with the most film-like grain (noise) I have ever seen a digital camera produce.
Having the M9 for less than a week now, I guess this post will be my first impressions of the camera.
First off is the color. Not the color quality of the photos, but rather the color of the camera body.
I got the steel grey version. I also like the black, but I don’t really like the vulcanite covering being offered on the black paint version, so my choice was steel grey. (Grey was also the one that B&H had in stock at the time) What I really wanted was a silver chrome version of the M9 with the same finish as the M8. But for whatever reason, Leica decided not to offer the M9 in silver chrome. Some think of this as a poor decision on Leica’s part to not offer their flagship rangefinder in the classic silver chrome finish. But me, I think this is all part of their master marketing strategy. I would not be at all surprised if a silver chrome version of the M9 were to be made available in the future. They may also make the much coveted sapphire crystal lcd screen an available option, at the right price of course. Right now, a full year after the M9 was launched, they are still having trouble producing them fast enough to satisfy the demand. This is saying a lot in the world of digital camera where a camera is a good third of its way towards becoming obsolete in that span of time. It is saying even more when you realize they are charging $7,000 for it!
I’m not sure how the steel grey will look as it wears. The black seems to brass pretty quickly, from the photos I have seen floating around the web. The steel grey seems to have a silver coating between the grey paint and brass core, so it may brass a bit less cleanly than the black paint version. Time will tell.
Second is the body. Rock solid, just like the M8.
Third is the shutter. I am liking the more quiet shutter on the M9. I guess I can live with the tradeoff of not having the 1/8000 sec shutter speed of the M8. If I really need to shoot wide open in bright light then some ND filters will fit the bill.
Luckily, I didn’t have to buy any lenses, since I already had a bunch of L and M mount lenses that I have been using on the R-D1, and M8 when I had one. Although I did say that working with the M8′s cropped sensor did not bother me, it sure is nice to have my 50mm lens act like a 50mm lens again. I’ve been shooting full frame DSLRs for years now, but this is my first (actually THE first) full frame rangefinder, and it is nice to have 35mm be a decent wide angle again.
So far I’ve been shooting mainly with a trio of older Canon screw mount lenses: 28mm f2.8, 35mm f1.5, and 50mm f1.2. They are not the sharpest lenses out there, particularly wide open but then again, what lens is tack sharp wide open?) but I like the way they draw, and they are very compact for their given apertures and focal lengths. The 50/1.2 in particular is a bokeh-making machine, and is my go-to lens once the sun goes down.
My first impression of the image quality of the M9 is good. Very good. Other than medium format, I have not seen a digital camera with as much dynamic range as the M9. The only other camera that comes close was the R-D1 (oddly enough, another rangefinder). This may be in part due to the lenses I have been using as the older Canon glass is known to be lower in contrast. But even the few shots I have taken with more modern lenses such as the Konica Hexanon UC 35/2 still show the Leica M9 having very impressive dynamic range, even in challenging conditions.
It appears that Leica hass addressed at least some of the issues I had with the M8. So far, I am very happy.