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DPChallenge Forums >> Hardware and Software >> I'm in heaven! (Leica M9 - mini review)
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10/31/2010 05:03:57 PM · #1
I just bought a Leica M9 and a Leica 35mm Summicron-M f2 ASPH 2 days ago. I was worried about getting a pure digital camera (not DSLR) in this price class but couldn't be happier. I still have my Canon 5D MKII of course, but think it just might collect some dust in the near future.

Some people claim that the DSLR era soon is over. Having a camera that is MUCH smaller and substantially lighter than my 5D MKII that perform at least as good (minus automatic features), I'm not hard to convince. It does not film in HD. Nor does it have in-camera processing for sepia etc but I really do not feel I need those things in a camera in the upper class anyway and certainly never use it. I have yet to find out how I film with my 5dM2. Having said this, I love my 5D!
The lenses are miniature (the lens in the review weighs in at 8.95 ounces), but what I like most of all is the ability to take street shots with a very discret camera that nobody pays attention to - even when it points in their direction.

This is the camera and lens (pic taken with the 5D MKII):

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The most intriguing part for me with this camera is that there is much less between you as the photographer and the scene, and I instantly felt much more in touch with what I wanted to capture. It's almost comparable to the 1:1 steering on a gocart. A few things that coms to mind are a) manual only focus; and, b) only manual aperture setting - directly on the lens. It is possible to set automatic shutter speed but I quickly lost interest and use only the manual setting. And did I mention that the viewfinder is NOT through the lens but rather an old fashion range-finder? You focus by lining up an image in the image. It is super-accurate and never fail once you get used to it.

I was surprised however to find out that it indeed does have built in exposure bracketing that can be preset with up to 7 images from 0.5ev to 2 ev per step. Great features for HDR freaks amongst others.

We went to a Halloween kids party earlier today and I finally had a chance to take it for a run. The following shots are right out of the camera with exception of the girl which is only slightly cropped. I wish I could show them full size, but the "portfolio saver" size of 800 px will have to suffice.

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100% crop of the above:
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Another 100% crop at the extreme edge. Not loosing ANY detail:
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Shot at f2 to isolate the girl from both fore and background:
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At only f5.6 it gives you a good depth (hyperfocal distance calculation used - thanks to a handy dandy iPhone app :) )
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Would I recommend it? Although I'm still VERY green with this type of photography: Would I ever! :)
10/31/2010 06:10:28 PM · #2
i'm envious
10/31/2010 06:14:29 PM · #3
Appreciate the show and tell.
10/31/2010 06:24:07 PM · #4
Yes, thanks for the share and tell - very nice review!
10/31/2010 06:35:38 PM · #5
Originally posted by TrollMan:



We went to a Halloween kids party earlier today and I finally had a chance to take it for a run. The following shots are right out of the camera with exception of the girl which is only slightly cropped. I wish I could show them full size, but the "portfolio saver" size of 800 px will have to suffice.



Looks like a pretty wild party! :-)

Seriously though, these are pretty expensive pieces of equipment right? Maybe I am being dumb, but what advantages does this have over a normal P&S that justifies the HUGELY massive price difference... seriously I am not trolling for a row, I just am completely naive to the benefits of this camera system - educate me!
10/31/2010 06:39:54 PM · #6
LOL DSLR era soon over. What are you smoking?

How about you take the same exact capture with both your cameras and post them here for caparison. Would love to see the difference, if any, at this size.

Message edited by author 2010-10-31 18:42:23.
10/31/2010 06:52:02 PM · #7
Congrats, Are, beautiful. I'm gonna have to steal one.
10/31/2010 06:56:24 PM · #8
Originally posted by Jac:

...How about you take the same exact capture with both your cameras and post them here for caparison. Would love to see the difference, if any, at this size.


The difference, Jac, will be less visible in the pixels than in the shot itself, as a whole.
I'd say, Are's shooting style is going to change. He's going to interact differently with his subjects.
He will do a little less fumbling and a little more shooting.

Message edited by author 2010-10-31 18:56:39.
10/31/2010 07:01:26 PM · #9
' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/31.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/31.gif', '/') + 1) . ' Jac: I am not claiming or suggesting that the DSLR era is soon over.

I did not do the review to compare M9 vs. any other camera. But if you're interested you can find one here (5dMk2, Nikon D3 and M9) : comparison . But keep in mind that the Leica lens reviewed is a low-end lens compared to pro "L" canon glass and high-end Nikon glass.

' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21.gif', '/') + 1) . ' Simms: No advantages really other than image quality. In fact; I do have a el-cheapo P&S camera that has many more features than the M9. The bottle neck (at least in my case), is the photographer and not the camera.
10/31/2010 07:03:04 PM · #10
congrats on the new camera! I've been thinking about a M9 + lux combo myself but haven't taken the plunge just yet.
11/01/2010 03:58:08 AM · #11
Thanks all for the nice comments and feedback.
11/01/2010 09:32:14 AM · #12
Other than the obvious, that it's smaller and more compact, what makes a Leica a compelling choice vs. a pro level DSLR? Are their sensors superior? I would assume that they are smaller than full frame sized. Is their prime glass optically superior to the equivalent SLR pro primes?

I've never owned one but it's hard to see the allure. In the days of film, I'm aware of Leica's reputation for fine mechanics, sort of like swiss watches. But, in the age of digital photography there are very few moving parts. Is it just a legacy reputation or is there something still better in them?
11/01/2010 10:39:03 AM · #13
' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/31.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/31.gif', '/') + 1) . ' photodude: The sensor is full frame (made by Kodak) and 18mp. As far as the glass is concerned; I've seen tests where it's claimed that they are at least as good as Canon and Nikon pro glass and often better in the corners when using full format sensors. But the differences are so small that it has no practical meaning when you look at the actual images and not pixel by pixel.
I do however prefer the distance scales (which I don't have on my Canon L lenses) so that it's easier for an amateur like me to find the hyper focal distance and the effective focus distances for isolating subjects. I also prefer the bokeh on the Summicron lens - but this is all personal preference.

The reason these tiny lenses can perform as well as their HUGE Canon/Nikon equivalents is their much closer proximity to the sensor.

On the negative side:
The M9 has a dynamic range that is just as good as the 1DS and 5Dm2. BUT the dynamic range falls off quicker on the Leica than the others as the ISO increases. It is also not as good as the 5dm2 in terms of coping with high ISO in terms of noise (the 5dm2 rules here!).

If I was to do indoor wedding photography in a church, I'd spring for the 5dm2 and a 85mm 1.2.

According to tests, the M9 image quality is measured up against 5dm2(known to currently be Canons best at the moment). My so far limited experience tells me the same. I also had the 1D Mk III recently.
But to have a very capable camera in your pocket when you suddenly notice that perfect light and scene as opposed to not having one, makes a difference to me. And this is only a personal preference; but I just love using the M9. It is VERY easy to get hooked - believe me! :) Too bad the price tag is so freakin' insane! ...
11/02/2010 05:42:46 PM · #14
Here is a comparison of my Canon 5dm2 and Leica M9. Both cameras were mounted on the same tripods, same place. The lighting for both consisted of one Canon 580EX on the right and a silver reflector on the left. The flash was fired with pocket wizard from both cameras. All settings were the same except shutter speed (1/180 on the Leica and 1/160 on the Canon - I had no choice here). There is a slight size difference on the pics due to the Canon having 21mp vs Leica's 18mp.

I used the 16-35 f2.8L II for Canon set to 35mm and the Leica Summicron 35mm fixed lens for the Leica (Leica don't make zooms period). Unfortunately I don't have a Canon 35mm prime.

The Canon was on autofocus while (since this is a self portrait) I set the focus ring on the Leica to 80cm and measured with a tape measure from the lens glass to my eyes. I also measured 80 cm from the Canon lens to my eye balls, but it does for some reason appear that I am standing further back. Maybe due to the physical length of the lens??

None of the shots have been edited at all. Both are completely straight out of the cameras.

ETA: the data for each image can be seen in my Leica test portfolio here

Pic 1) M9 full size
Pic 2) M9 100% crop of the above pic
Pic 3) 5dm2 100% crop of the below pic
Pic 4) 5dm2 full size

I'm not going to dissect the shots for sharpness, color rendition, WB etc. It's better that each individual make up their own mind since I think the result depends purely on preference. They are both good.

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Message edited by author 2010-11-02 17:56:51.
11/02/2010 05:53:20 PM · #15
Keep it coming. I'm savouring "the bottleneck is the photographer." Well, I'm trying it on.
11/02/2010 06:07:46 PM · #16
OK, the samples are pretty impressive, but still seems an awful lot of $$$ for what is essentially a very expensive point and shoot.

Still, if you have the cash, then why the hell not!!
11/03/2010 08:15:29 PM · #17
The bottom line here is, some people 'get' this, others don't see the point.

I'm ALL for putting big sensors in tiny bodies, if you can do that, the whole concept of needing a huge body jusr flies out the window. Why carry a camera that weighs a ton when a camera 1/10th the size can achieve 99% of the image quality. If you absolutely strive for that last 1% then you're going to be sticking with your FF Canikons whatever the weather.

Small cameras with good sensors are the way forward, PENs are taking Japan's dSLR market by the balls, and for good reason.

As for the cost, put it this way. Any one can shove a FF sensor in a massive body and make it work with good results, only Leica can stick a FF sensor in a compact body and make it work exceptionally..in that respect it's worth every penny.
11/04/2010 04:06:31 PM · #18
What's the less expensive alternative to this type of camera? The Micro 4/3 are the right form factor, but the sensors are small, they aren't rangefinders either.

11/04/2010 04:47:01 PM · #19
Originally posted by velocityvisual:

What's the less expensive alternative to this type of camera? The Micro 4/3 are the right form factor, but the sensors are small, they aren't rangefinders either.


Actually they are considered rangefinders, in the loose sense of the term. It's more of a distinction in form factor and handling as opposed to DSLR. "Mirrorless" is probably a better term.


Message edited by author 2010-11-04 16:51:26.
11/04/2010 04:55:19 PM · #20
this is awesome!

36 x 24 mm CCD
18 million effective pixels

ETA: oh yea,i'm loving my new camera also ... although i ditched my dslr.

Message edited by author 2010-11-04 16:57:51.
11/05/2010 03:21:18 PM · #21
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Took this today. Caught the glassy water while out for lunch. This was one of the times I was happy to have a camera with me in the car. I never bring the DSLR unless I'm out shooting.

Absolutely no edit again except crop and resize. Click on it for a larger image (1700 px).

A few cons with this camera though:

Terrible to hold without the optional battery grip which I haven't bought ($600 here in Norway). Afraid it will slip and fall.
Terrible ergonomics all over.
No zooms although that is ok by me since I prefer primes regardless.
No macro. Closest focus is 2.3 ft.
Price...
Longest lens 135mm.
Need to use external viewfinder for some lenses.
11/05/2010 03:58:26 PM · #22
Originally posted by velocityvisual:

What's the less expensive alternative to this type of camera? The Micro 4/3 are the right form factor, but the sensors are small, they aren't rangefinders either.


Very few digital rangefinders out there. The Fujifilm x100 rangefinder is one. About $1000 and available in March I think. The Epson RD-1x is another, if you can find one.

Of course, if you want to shoot film....
11/05/2010 04:02:49 PM · #23
Originally posted by TrollMan:


A few cons with this camera though:
Terrible ergonomics all over.


Really? I love the form, and have held other Leica's with a similar shape. I really like the rounded sides. Maybe I just think they feel good in the hand, and it is camera lust clouding my view.
11/05/2010 04:11:50 PM · #24
Originally posted by tph1:

Originally posted by TrollMan:


A few cons with this camera though:
Terrible ergonomics all over.


Really? I love the form, and have held other Leica's with a similar shape. I really like the rounded sides. Maybe I just think they feel good in the hand, and it is camera lust clouding my view.


I love the looks and also using it. But it is awkward at times. Particularly when shooting in portrait orientation. It is difficult to focus the lens without blocking the viewfinder. But I'm slowly getting used to it. :) Being used to a 1D and 5D with battery grip (fantastic ergonomics) didn't make it any easier.
11/05/2010 04:34:03 PM · #25
Originally posted by TrollMan:

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Took this today. Caught the glassy water while out for lunch. This was one of the times I was happy to have a camera with me in the car. I never bring the DSLR unless I'm out shooting.

Absolutely no edit again except crop and resize. Click on it for a larger image (1700 px).

A few cons with this camera though:

Terrible to hold without the optional battery grip which I haven't bought ($600 here in Norway). Afraid it will slip and fall.
Terrible ergonomics all over.
No zooms although that is ok by me since I prefer primes regardless.
No macro. Closest focus is 2.3 ft.
Price...
Longest lens 135mm.
Need to use external viewfinder for some lenses.


I know where that is!

Shooting with a Leica, no matter the era, is a different ball game than shooting with a SLR. They used to make longer focal length lenses for the rangefinder Leicas, but it also required a reflex housing to use the lens, so what's the point?

//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leica_Camera

Scrool down and look at the images on the right in the wiki article and you'll see the reflex housing.
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