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LEICA M9
Full-Frame 18 MP

Made-in-USA Image Sensor  (in deutscher Sprache)
© 2014 KenRockwell.com. This page best with Corporate S regular and bold activated.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

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Leica M9

LEICA M9 (20.9oz/593g with battery and card, but no lens, cap or strap, about $4,800 used if you know How to Win at eBay) with a LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4 from 1964. enlarge. The M9 comes in steel-gray lacquer as shown (10 705) and black lacquer (10 704). I'd get it at Amazon in black or steel-gray, or at eBay.

This free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you take a chance and buy elsewhere. I get no government hand-outs and run no pledge drives to support my research, so please always use any of these links to approved sources for the best prices, service and selection whenever you get anything. Thanks for helping me help you! Ken.

March 2014     More LEICA Reviews   LEICA Lenses   Recommended Lenses

NEW: LEICA M240, LEICA M9, Fuji X100S and Nikon D600 Image Quality Comparison11 March 2014

NEW: LEICA M typ 240 Quieter and far better JPG images than the M9, but poorer DNG highlight rendition.

NEW: LEICA M-E September 2012. Same as the M9, for just $5,500.

LEICA M9 User's Guide

2012 DSLR Comparison 18 April 2012

Firmware 1.174 für LEICA M9 und M9-P 14 November 2011.

LEICA claims to have fixed most of the problems related to the LEICA M9 and LEICA M9-P not bothering to record images.

LEICA suggests using only SanDisk cards, but not to use any of either the San Disk Extreme Pro UHS-1 or San Disk Extreme HD Video SDHC 1 if you actually want to use your image files.

 

LEICA M9-P 21 June 2011

Firmware version 1.162 awaits your attention. June 2011.

 

Sample Images:

Yosemite, November 2011

Full-resolution JPG (13MB) from DNG.

San Diego June 2011

Yosemite in Springtime May 2011

Yosemite in Winter February 2011

Route 66 February 2011

LEICA M9: Three Sample DNG Files 07 December 2009

Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra 30 October 2009

LEICA M9 High ISO Examples 29 October 2009

Initial first-try LEICA M9 Example Images September 2009

 

LEICA M9 Titanium 21 September 2010

LEICA M9 Color Rendition 20 August 2010

LEICA M9 1.138 Firmware Update Report 16 August 2010

LEICA M9 1.116 Firmware Update Report 17 March 2010

LEICA M9 Rezension in deutscher Sprache. (this page in German.)

SD Card Speed Tests in the LEICA M9

LEICA M9 versus LEICA M3

Canon 5D Mk II, LEICA M9 and Nikon D3 image comparisons

LEICA, Nikon and Canon Lens Sharpness Comparison

LEICA M9 Lens Compatibility  

How to Afford Anything   

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

Crowned    Compatibility   Colours   Missing

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

The LEICA M9 is the smallest, lightest, highest-quality digital camera ever created by the hand of Man.

The all-metal LEICA M9 is less expensive than the old Nikon D3X, and weighs over four ounces (120g) less than the plastic Nikon D90! The M9 weighs only 2.4 oz (69g) more than the dinkiest Nikon D40!

The LEICA M9 is the most important digital camera introduced since the Nikon D1, the world's first practical DSLR, in 1999.

The LEICA M9 is a rangefinder camera, not an SLR.

The LEICA M9 is the world's best digital camera for travel, nature, landscape, interior and outdoor photography.

The reason the LEICA M9 is so superior is that it offers, all in the same camera:

 

Superior Image Quality         top

The LEICA M9's excellent sensor, coupled with LEICA's superior optics, leads to better overall technical image quality than obtainable from Canon or Nikon.

Yes, with some certain exceptional lenses one could get the same quality from Nikon or Canon, but especially with wide lenses, neither Nikon nor Canon can offer the same always exceptional image quality that comes from every LEICA lens, including many LEICA lenses decades old. LEICA has made no dogs.

With Nikon or Canon, you have to pick just the right lens, which is why I have to write tons of reviews sorting out good from bad. Even with the best SLR lenses, you still need to choose the optimum aperture and zoom setting for the best sharpness and least distortion.

With LEICA lenses, they are all excellent, even wide open, and have vanishingly low distortion.

 

Superior Portability         top

The LEICA M9 weighs half what an SLR does, or less, and its lenses are even smaller.

A single SLR zoom lens weighs more than many complete LEICA systems!

The M9 and a lens weighs so little that it can be thrown over a shoulder and taken everywhere, all day and all night. You never want to take it off and leave it back in the car or the hotel while you take a break.

At the end of the day, you're still shooting the LEICA, while the Nikon or Canon already got put away to take the weight off your shoulders. I make my best shots around dinner time when the light changes and everyone else is too tired to keep shooting.

With the LEICA, it is always with you to make the shots that you'd otherwise miss.

With DSLRs, they've become so big that I no longer carry them on photo outings. I prefer smaller cameras that are more fun to carry and shoot. If it's not fun, why lug it around?

With the LEICA, you can take it to dinner and not look like a dork.

 

Superior Shootability         top

The LEICA just goes. You set it, forget it, and just shoot.

Everything you need has one direct, dedicated control, and everything you don't need isn't there to get in the way.

LEICAs are designed for the small minority of experienced photographers. LEICAs are not crammed with junk features added for no reason other than to attract first-time buyers.

For instance,

 

Menus         top

With the LEICA, there is only one menu. It takes only a moment to set, and you're good to go. Done. End of story. Shoot.

With a Nikon DSLR there are at least six menus: Playback, Shooting, Custom Settings, Setup, Retouch and another menu to manage more menus!

On a Canon 5D Mark II, there are nine menus, so many that they don't even have names!

In the LEICA M9, each menu item is a menu item. Done.

In Nikon and Canon, menu items break off into more menus. For instance, the Canon 5D Mark II's custom settings menu breaks off into four more banks of menus, and the Nikon's Custom Settings menu sets you off into six more groups of menu settings.

UNCLE! I give up! BASTA! ENOUGH!

I write user guides for Nikon and Canon cameras, and even I can't possibly remember where to find everything. Any time I pick up a Canon or Nikon, it takes too long to set it up, and once I have, takes too long to find what I just set five minutes ago. I know I'm not the only one who has to wander through six menus looking for what I just set a moment ago on my DSLRs.

Cue the LEICA. Even after owning an M9 for no more than a day, I can find everything I need, because it's all in one place. The LEICA doesn't have all the crap; it has exactly what we need, and nothing more to get in the way.

With the LEICA, you spend your time shooting, not lost in the menus.

With the M9, I never miss. With Nikon and Canon, I tend to keep one camera around set up for one thing, and another set up for something else so I can just grab one.

Sure, I could jack with more menus in Nikon or Canon to set up camera settings for fast recall, but on Nikon, it still takes about eight clicks in two different kinds of menu banks. Give me a break! DSLRs are a joke today; no one can figure them out anymore.

The M9 has programmable user profiles, and unlike Nikon's, the LEICA's are super easy to save, recall, lock, rename and edit. Nikon's setting banks are awful. LEICA's profiles store everything about the camera you set, while Nikons only store a fraction of what you actually wanted to save and recall.

 

Controls         top

The LEICA M9 has direct, dedicated control knobs for apertures and shutter speeds. You can set them with not more than the light touch of a single fingertip.

They are calibrated so that you can set them by feel in the dark.

The aperture rings stop at each end so you can count up or down to set what you need.

The shutter dial has deeper detents at the A position, and longer spaces between 8s, B, A and 4000, so you again can set it by feel. There is no need for a mode (PSAM) control: set A for A, or choose a shutter speed for M.

The shutter dial has clicks at every half stop for manual shutter speeds.

The focus tabs of LEICA lenses allow you to preset focus by feel as you draw the camera, ready to shoot without even holding it to your face. If you prefer, the large focus scales let you preset by distance, again without need to hold the camera to your face.

To set precise focus, simply turn the ring so the double images line up in the finder. There are no menus and no power needed to operate the LEICA M9's focus system. All you get is perfect focus with none of the the fuss of trying to set up, or give up setting, a DSLRs AF system.

 

Design         top

LEICA has been making cameras commercially since the 1920s. They have never stopped. What we have today is the result of almost 100 years of continuous product development for serious photographers.

Everything about the LEICA is strongly optimized for what you really do, and not diffused by trying to do a million things you won't ever do.

For instance, the LEICA M9 is the first camera I've used smart enough to turn off AUTO ISO as soon as I rotate the shutter dial away from A to manual settings. What takes twelve clicks in a couple of different places on a Nikon or Canon to turn off AUTO ISO and get into manual mode and then set shutter speed is but one flick of a fingertip on the M9. (Actually, Auto ISO stays on, but remains dormant in the LEICA. I use this trick shooting in backlight, where Auto ISO won't try to pull up exposure in the LEICA, while Nikon and Canon systems often try to overexpose in backlight and mandate that we turn off Auto ISO.)

Everything in the M9 oozes intelligence. For instance, the M9 is the first camera smart enough to allow you to have it set AUTO ISO based on the lens you've attached. Duh! I've been suggesting this for years to Nikon, and LEICA is the first one to listen.

For every meaningless consumer electronics feature excused from the LEICA M9, like no HDMI output, no audio, no video, no GPS, no electronic level, no slide show with music, etc., LEICA has instead imbued the M9 with something deeply useful to the experienced photographer.

For instance, on playback, Nikon and Canon all give you access to about six additional playback information screens for each image. Even with all these crap displays, no Canon can tell me the focal length I used.

The M9 has but one INFO screen on playback. It tells me exactly what I need to know, including lens focal length and smart histograms that read just the details of a zoomed-in segment to check highlights precisely, instead of the asinine blinking highlights of other cameras. With the M9 I no longer have to hit the INFO button seven times trying to get back to the playback display I wanted.

Did you just make a shot in Auto, and would you like to use that setting as a manual exposure for your next shots? On a Canon or Nikon you'll have to scroll through twelve pages of playback screens to find your exposure. Then you'll have to shift the mode to M, then you'll have to hunt, peck and spin dislocated electronic command dials to set the aperture and then the shutter speed, and then you'll have to go turn off Auto ISO after you try the first few shots and realize the exposure doesn't match.

On the M9, just look at the shutter speed at the top of the playback screen and set it on the shutter dial. Done.

It's easy to set a manual white balance, easier than with a Nikon and worlds easier than with Canon.

Even LEICA's included strap is the perfect length right out of the box, and much easier to attach, adjust and remove than anything else. The Germans think of everything; there are bumpers on the M9 body to prevent the strap from marring the fine finish.

Press the INFO button while shooting and you get an immediate report of what you need to know. You get big color barographs of battery and memory card capacity, as well as numeric indication of pictures left, shutter speed and lens. It's everything you need to know, and nothing you don't.

 

Access         top

When you walk in someplace with a big SLR, you are recognized as a pro. People ask you why you're there, why you are taking pictures, and get in your way.

I have personal friends who have been thrown out of countries because they got noticed at the airport, hauled in for interrogation, and not allowed to leave the airport except on a flight back to another country. It was their big pro DSLRs that branded them as journalists, and that particular sensitive country had had enough of journalists.

With the LEICA, no one sees it, and it looks more like you're just some tourist shooting an old film camera. People leave you alone. The M9 is quieter than almost all SLRs. The M9 is about as loud as the Nikon D300s in its Quiet Mode.

 

Thus Crowned the World's Best Digital Camera

The LEICA M9 has the best image quality, the best portability, and is the easiest and fastest camera to use today.

Any one of these three critical elements used to be enough to get me to buy a camera.

The LEICA M9 embodies all three at the same time. I'm still pulling myself off the floor in shock.

Because the LEICA M9 makes everything so much simpler, you can finally spend time thinking about your pictures instead of your camera while out shooting. It is this simplicity that leads to better pictures, not the extra pixels.

I bought the Nikon D3 and Canon 5D and 5D Mark II back when they gave the best image quality, but they were too big and heavy and slow to setup, and too big to carry to dinner with the wife. That's why I still carried a pocket camera for portability.

I bought Canon Powershots so they could always be with me. Now the LEICA M9 is always with me, and it's faster to shoot since it's always ON like an SLR and it's already around my neck instead of having to be brought out of a pocket. With the M9, I've now got an empty pocket!

When I wanted cameras that just shot and got out of my way, I used to bring a Nikon FA, Canon AE-1 Program, LEICA M7, CLE or Contax 645. Any of these just shoot, so I can pay attention to my pictures instead of being distracted by the camera. With the LEICA M9, it also just shoots, with all the controls I need right where I need them, and nothing to get in my way.

Honestly, the LEICA M9 is the first digital camera I've ever used that just shoots; all the others are film.

Holy cow. If the LEICA M9 did any one of these things alone I would have bought it. The fact that it wins on all three accounts at the same time makes it unquestionably the best digital camera ever made for travel, nature, landscape, interior and outdoor photography.

I mean unquestionably. Sure, I can always find nitpicks with any camera, but even my biggest whines about the LEICA M9 don't detract from any of these three areas of excellence. Even with whatever few sillinesses I can find with the M9, any one of the three incredible ways the M9 goes about its business so seamlessly more than compensates for any other complaint.

I actually bought my own M9. It is that good.

LEICA M9 top

Steel gray LEICA M9 and LEICA SUMMILUX 35mm f/1.4 ASPH. enlarge.

Top, LEICA M9.

Black LEICA M9 with LEICA 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. enlarge.

Bottom, naked Leica M9

Naked bottom, LEICA M9 with LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4. enlarge.

 

Lens Compatibility         top

The M9 works with all your LEICA M lenses, meaning everything back to 1954.

With simple adapters, screw-mount LEICA lens back to the 1920s are fully compatible, meaning full focus and automatic exposure compatibility, just like the newest lenses.

6-bit code is no longer necessary. The M9 reads it, but now you can enter your lens data manually, saving you the need to butcher any classic lenses with 6-bit code.

See LEICA M9 Lens Compatibility for details, and especially for exactly which lenses are in the manual coding menu.

 

RIP M8 and M8.2         top

The M9 has an integral IR filter like every other digital camera, so the foolish external UV/IR filters needed with the discontinued M8.2 are now a thing of the past.

The LEICA M7 and MP remain in the catalog as the crowning masterpieces of the M system. The M9 works like a digital M7, losing many of the mistakes made on the old M8.

 

Colours     top

The LEICA M9 comes in black lacquer or steel gray metallic lacquer.

We all know black; it's the best choice for discretion, but only if you use black lenses.

The new steel gray isn't silver; its a much darker metallic that others might call titanium, gunmetal or graphite.

The new steel gray is for the man who owns both black and silver lenses. They all look good on the steel gray M9, while silver lenses look silly on a black camera, and black lenses look silly on a chrome camera. There's a shot of a chrome lens on a steel gray M9 at the top.

The the steel gray has a smoother fake leather, while the black camera has a more deeply textured fake leather.

M9, Silver

The LEICA M9 in steel gray with LEICA 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. enlarge.

M9, Silver

The LEICA M9 in black with LEICA 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. enlarge.

 

M9 back, silver.

Rear, steel gray LEICA M9. enlarge.

Back, Leica M9

Back, black LEICA M9. enlarge.

Missing         top

These are minor.

I'll take these in exchange for the huge advantages of the M9 any day.

In fact, my wish lists for Nikon and Canon DSLRs are a lot longer than this one; the LEICA M9 addresses the much longer lists I've posted for those other cameras. My Canon 5D Mark II wish list has twenty-two items in it! Of those 22 complaints about things that are done wrong in the 5D Mark II, the LEICA M9 fixes 19 of them.

 

White Balance Trims

There are no green/magenta or warm-cool trims on any of the WB settings in the M9.

 

Fast Playback Zoom

Yes, you can zoom to 100% pixel-by-pixel, but it takes a few seconds to read the file data.

For those first few seconds, all you see are huge blocky pixels until the file is read and the details fill in.

With LEICA, you know your photos are sharp, so I don't let this bother me. It teaches you to look forward and shoot instead of looking back while still in the field.

It still zooms faster than I can find IMAGE REVIEW ON or IMAGE REVIEW OFF in a Nikon or Canon menu system.

 

SET Button

The SET button is on the bottom left. You have to hit it with your left hand as you navigate the menu with the controls on the right side with your right hand.

There is no SET or OK button in the middle of the rear dial and directional buttons. There should be, because if there was, you could control everything with one hand instead of two.

 

Wish List

Every current and most older lenses back to about the 1960s are in the manual lens data entry menu. I'd love to see more lenses added, especially lenses that need correction on the M9, like the 21mm f/4 and 21mm f/3.4 made from 1958 through 1980. Without correction, these ancient non-retrofocus lenses give nasty color shifts on each side of the M9's images, as expected. All modern 21mm LEICA lenses made since 1980 are covered and work great. (It would also be nice to have a setting for the superb 15mm Voigtländer, which also causes the same color shift on the sides for the same reason.)

The M9 and M7 are the world's best cameras for long exposures, since they clock long exposures for you in their finders.

Even better would be the option to show this count-up on the rear LCD in big enough numbers so we can see it from far away.

Likewise, while waiting for a dark-frame after a long exposure the M9 counts down the time left on the rear LCD, and it would be even nicer if it was big enough to read from the comfort of wherever else I am.

I'd also like to see the JPG file size displayed on the Info screen as Canon (but not Nikon) does, because it gives me a direct, objective reading on image sharpness.

 

Specifications        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

The LEICA M9 is a full-frame, 18MP rangefinder (manual focus) camera.

I have moved all its specifications to its own LEICA M9 Specifications page.

 

Performance         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

Finder   AF   Metering   Shooting   Image Quality   Playback   Data   Power

Overall

LEICA M9 Example Images

You've already read 99% of this review in the introduction: The LEICA M9 gives at least the same technical image quality as Nikon or Canon, weighs only a fraction as much, and handles far better, easier and faster.

Nothing comes close, if your subjects hold still enough for you to focus on them.

The LEICA is a tool used by the world's greatest photographers. It is not a video game that shoots movies, records sound or makes phone calls.

The Germans call it einmaligkeit, meaning that there is only one best instance in life when any particular photo can be made. In English we call it the decisive moment. In any language it means that your camera needs to fall away from your consciousness so that you can concentrate on your subject and capture that one moment in all eternity, for an eternity, and not be off dicking around looking for some lost menu item somewhere. If you miss the moment, it's gone forever. The LEICA photographer never misses his moment because his camera doesn't weigh him down, doesn't try to confuse him, and never gets in his way.

Quick test: can you set your f/stop, shutter speed and focus with your eyes closed? You can on the LEICA. Each setting on every LEICA has its own full-time dedicated ring, each of which have only one fixed position for each setting. The LEICA photographer can focus simply by feeling the position of the focus lever for a given distance, and likewise can set f/stop and shutter speed by feel.

If you must change a lens, even the bayonet works so much better than Nikon or Canon. You'll love the fact that the silky-smooth and bank-vault solid LEICA bayonet needs only a tiny one-twelfth of a turn to remove or lock a lens, not the much longer turns required on lesser cameras.

The LEICA is all about shooting. Its simplicity allows the LEICA photographer to bag 10 award-winning photos in less time than others take to find a hidden menu item, or try to rescue their mistakes later on a computer because they were too distracted to set their camera properly in the first place.

With the LEICA, everything I need is where I need it, and the few features it does have are brilliant. Some LEICA features are so new and brilliant that the Japanese haven't copied them yet, like the option to set slow sync speed and/or the Auto ISO lowest speed to track your lens focal length.

On your LEICA, you always can find the settings you need to get your photo, usually with your eyes closed. With the LEICA, you always get your shot.

Of course you can find this same simplicity in other cameras like the Nikon FE and Canon AE-1 Program, but they are no longer available new. The LEICA man doesn't use hand-me-downs.

 

Finder         top

The finder is sharp and clear, with no color shift and always visible light gray frame lines.

The rangefinder spot is excellent, just like the M3. There is no flare as there was on earlier versions of the M7.

Just like all LEICAs since 1980, even without glasses it is nearly impossible to see all of the 28mm finder frame. The 35mm frame isn't much easier.

With glasses, you'll only be able to see the 50mm frame and longer. That's why LEICA makes a wide range of diopters.

Like everything except the Contax G System, the finder doesn't zoom and doesn't correct for different angles of view versus distance. This is why the wide-angle frames are so big, and the telephoto frame lines so small.

It does correct for parallax.

The LEDs are visible in every light from bright desert sun to moonlight.

 

Autofocus         top

Simply turn the lens' focus ring until two superimposed finder images are merged as one, and your lens is now perfectly focused.

Done.

There are no menus or settings for the AF system as there are on Nikons, which take me a lifetime to figure out. With any LEICA, it just goes.

The Automatic Focusing System of the LEICA M9, as all LEICAs since the Model II (aka model D) of 1931, automatically calculates the distance as the lens is focused, with no need to set a distance on the lens manually. They've done this since the 1930s, while other camera makers took until the 1960s to couple the rangefinder to the lens' distance scale. On other cameras, you had to measure the distance with a tape measure, guess, or use an external rangefinder and set that distance on the lens' focus scale, which was sloppy at best, and slow and sloppy at worst.

Unlike AF SLRs, the LEICA can be focused in any light in which you can see. There is no hunting and no need for an AF assist light: so long as you can see details or an edge through the finder, just line up the images for perfect focus.

Yes, you have to use a finger to slide the silky-smooth focus lever (there are no noisy motors as on AF SLRs), but after that, it's all automatic.

The focus system of the M9 (and every LEICA) uses no battery power. Focus as much as you like, even with the power off, and you use no power.

What is automatic is that the focus metering rangefinder is calibrated to each lens, so as soon as you merge the images in the finder, the lens is already set for perfect focus. You do of course have to move a finger to focus, just as you have to press a shutter button on an AF DSLR.

What makes me laugh is how people who put up with SLRs might mistakenly call the LEICA a manual focus camera.

With AF SLRs, after you turn them on, you have to spend many photo-missing minutes selecting AF sensors, selecting among the ways to select these AF sensors (wrap-around, direct, etc.), programming AF modes (AI servo, AI focus, AF-S, AF-C, tracking, tracking hold interval, lock-on duration etc.), choosing among AF sensor group allocation modes (single, group, network, 3D, tracking, etc.) and selecting how and when what AF assist light comes on to annoy your subjects, or not come on and not focus. Maybe if you got it all right after 10 minutes of fiddling, maybe the camera will focus as you intended. Here are instructions for most Nikon cameras.

With the LEICA, you slide one silky-smooth lever, and you're in perfect focus in any light — even with the power off. End of story.

DSLRs focus on each new subject faster than I can focus each frame on a LEICA, making DSLRs better for moving subjects (other photographers can focus a LEICA more quickly than I), but only after you spend several minutes in the DSLR's menus hoping to set it up correctly.

The LEICA's advantage is that you can just focus on your first subject immediately, and never miss that critical first shot as situations change rapidly.

With the LEICA, you also can preset focus by feel, using the position of the focus tab as your guide, or use the big, legible and precise focus scale. Either of these techniques gives great focus without having to hold the camera to your face to position an AF sensor.

 

Metering and Exposure         top

Range

Far better than advertised, the system works perfectly in any light and any aperture from 1/4,000 to 32 full seconds at any ISO setting.

Crazier than crazy, the meter and Auto ISO system works at ISO 1,600 down to 15 - 32 seconds! With an f/1 to 1.4 lens, this means the M9 reads and exposes correctly and automatically down to LV minus eight (LV -8), or less than full moonlight!

That's the lowest I've ever measured, and not only does it give correct exposure, it indicates it in the finder and counts it down for you.

 

Accuracy

Exposure and shutter are perfect, if you know how to shoot.

The M9 always gives the results I expect. Used properly, I don't need to look at the LCD to check exposure, because the M9's simple, center-weighted TTL meter always delivers what I knew it would.

It is not a matrix or evaluative meter, as on Nikons and Canons, and cannot think for you. The Japanese meters do a better job of guessing for amateur photographers over a broader range of conditions (like backlight), but when pressed, often give varying results in difficult situations that require resorting to looking back at an LCD.

By comparison, I shoot the M9 properly, which is to lock exposure on a middle tone, or force light or dark subjects to look as I want them using The Zone System, and I'm done.

I never have to dial-in or change compensation as conditions change as I do with Nikon and Canon.

If you know what you're doing, you'll love the M9. If you expect to point the camera at any crazy light condition and have the camera figure it out for you, shoot a Nikon or Canon.

The M9's closed-loop system eliminates exposure variations that SLRs can't, caused by sloppy automatic diaphragms.

Here's a test: make a series of shots in Aperture preferred, one shot at every aperture.

On Nikon and Canon DSLRs, you'll see slight variations between every shot; their open-loop systems can't compensate for mechanical diaphragm variations. Do this on the M9, and each frame matches exactly because the M9's meter reads through the closed-down diaphragm, eliminating any source of mechanical error. (All these cameras will be darker in the corners at the lens' widest apertures; look in the center.)

 

Pattern

The M9 has a broader, more softly defined center-weighted pattern than earlier LEICAs, which had more narrow and more sharply defined center patterns.

I prefer this new pattern, since you never really know where the sensitivity dot lies with a rangefinder camera.

The meter has a proper time constant, not the instant response of the M7 which gives whacky results on flickering subjects like CRT monitors.

 

Shooting         top

In-Hand Feel

There is nothing like a LEICA. A LEICA is a commercial-grade product, with materials and finish quality not seen in any other camera available to consumers today.

There is no plastic. Everything is metal, except for the anti-chafing bumpers next to the stainless-steel strap lugs, the USB cover, the rear dial and four buttons and the eyepiece guard. The top, bottom, body, shutter knob, power switch, shutter button, preview levers, bottom release key and everything else is all brass, aluminum, stainless steel, magnesium or glass.

The power switch slides with authoritative precision.

The shutter button feels ratchety. It has at least three different levels of detent. By comparison, the M4-P and M3 have just one smooth, silky continuous slide-in to fire the shutter.

The M9 shoots so fast and effortlessly, with no power needed to focus and set up your shot, that you might forget to tap the shutter as you draw the camera to your eye. If it's been a few minutes since your last shot, the M9 goes back to sleep and may take a second to wake up and take your shot, still less time than if you did the same thing with a DSLR that goes to sleep after just 16 seconds.

We don't forget with DSLRs because they are dead unless we wake them up from sleep first, while the fluidity of the LEICA can lead one to forget that the digital LEICAs also need be awake to take.

 

Frame Buffer         top

The frame buffer fills easily if you shoot too much. When you fill it, things slow down.

Expect 7 frames without delay, maybe 8, presuming your M9 was completely idle when you started. If you shoot a few frames, it takes the M9 a while to chew on them before the buffer is completely clear again.

Dashes along the bottom of the finder LED tell you the buffer is writing to the card. So?

The M9's frame buffer is an innovation which lets you shoot as fast as you like, while the M9 works in the background.

The LEICA M9 polishes, sculpts and hones each and every pixel to perfection. It takes the LEICA M9's high-speed onboard computers a mere three to four seconds to perfect each image. By comparison, it took, Michelangelo three years to create David.

The M9 is not is not to be confused with consumer cameras which just throw everything quickly on to the card pell-mell. The M9 concentrates on what it is doing.

This also means you'll have to wait about half a minute for the M9 to finish if you shoot like a hog and filled all seven or eight frame buffer slots.

Even if you made only a few shots, it still takes a while for the M9 to finish, meaning that as you shoot, the LEICA M9 often will be perfecting your vision and will not be entirely available for indiscriminate shooting.

It is not difficult to bonk the M9's frame buffer when shooting a lot. Occasionally, the M9 will drop images or corrupt files. Don't shoot so fast; it's not the M9's fault if you shoot too fast. It has problems with JPGs; therefore I shoot DNG ONLY and haven't had any problems since with lost files.

When shooting the LEICA, one shoots more carefully. The LEICA photographer can discern the peak of the action, nailing it with one shot.

LEICA shooters shoot with a purpose; they don't spray and pray, hoping that something might turn out later.

 

Menu Response         top

Once lit, the menus navigate and respond instantly to the buttons and dial.

To get them lit, the M9 must be awake. If it's fallen asleep after as many minutes as you programmed in MENU > AUTO POWER OFF, first tap the shutter and wait a second for the M9 to wake up.

Sometimes the M9 will fake me out, since it only responds to PLAY, INFO, SET and MENU according to what you have displayed at the moment.

You always can get it straight by tapping the shutter and then what you want.

 

Sound and Noise

The M9 is quieter than almost all SLRs.

The LEICA M9 is a commercial-grade tool. It sounds rougher than the smoother Contax G2. The LEICA's shutter-charging motor is lower-pitched and wavers more in pitch than the Contax.

The M9 is quieter than a D300, and quieter than a D300s in its Quiet Mode.

The M9 is much louder than an M7, M4-P or M3. The M9's shutter might be about as loud, but the M9 only can charge its shutter for the next shot with its cranky sounding motor. The other cameras allow silent thumb-advance.

The CLE has a louder shutter, but no motor follow-on afterwards.

I wish the M9 offered a thumb-lever shutter charge. It would extend battery life and make the M9 much quieter

The M9's shutter isn't loud; it's the annoying motorized advance which charges the shutter for the next shot that can drive you crazy. The M9's motor takes much longer to charge the shutter than the faster motors in Nikon DSLRs.

At about a half a second shutter speed, the M9 reminded me of the sound of a 1970s Polaroid SX-70 as it shot, and then its motor spat out the film.

The balky shutter button and inelegant shutter charging motor make the M9 sound and feel much less silky than a RealRaw LEICA, or a Contax.

If you select the M9's Diskret mode (English: Discrete shutter mode), it becomes twice as quiet as described above. Even better, when you have selected this mode, it works this way in the Single advance position, and still blazes away when set to Continuous advance, all with the flick of a fingertip.

 

Technical Image Quality         top

LEICA M9 Example Images

The M9, with its American-made 18MP Kodak sensor, coupled with LEICA lenses, is at least as good as the best from Canon or Nikon. I've already shown that.

 

Color Rendition         top

In art, there are no such things as "correct" correct colors; there are merely the colors you want or prefer. We all have different tastes.

I have an entire page about the LEICA M9's Color Rendition.

 

Auto White Balance         top

Auto WB works poorly. Preset manual with an Expodisc, or fixed settings like Cloudy, work best.

Auto WB performs oppositely from most DSLRs.

Most DSLR AWB systems work great in good light, and poorly under tungsten.

By comparison, the M9's AWB system can work poorly in good light, and works quite well under tungsten.

AWB works well outdoors, but I'd be careful, since it can get fooled.

AWB usually gives cooler results than I prefer, and there is no way to tweak that.

I have no idea from where AWB gathers its data with which to do its calculations. For all I know, it can't start working until after the shutter closes.

It can give different colors from shot-to-shot in iffy light.

No big deal, LEICA shooters shoot film, and we are used to setting WB with filters and sticking to it. It's easy to set precise Kelvin settings on the M9; much easier than playing with filters.

 

Fixed WB         top

Oddly, the Flash setting is very close to the Shade setting, not the Daylight setting.

Unlike any other camera I've ever used, the Fluorescent 1 setting really works under most fluorescent light! Amazing, but true.

Fluorescent 1 is Warm White Fluorescent, and Florescent 2 is Daylight Fluorescent

 

Manual Preset WB         top

Manual Preset WB is easier to set on the LEICA M9 than any Nikon or Canon DSLR.

I find an Expodisc is a huge help in getting perfect results.

 

Sharpness         top

Sharpness is superb.

DNGs are sharper than JPGs. Changing the Sharpening setting doesn't improve JPGs.

I see no difference between either JPG setting.

 

Vibration

Hand-held sharpness at slower speeds is worse than with other LEICAs Images shot with the LEICA M3 or LEICA IIIf are sharper than the LEICA M9 at slow speeds hand-held.

This is because of two things.

First, the LEICA M9 doesn't have a real LEICA shutter. Instead of the soft, quiet, slow horizontal cloth shutter of real LEICAs, the LEICA M9 has a noisy, multi-bladed vertical metal contrivance that looks like it came out of a Voigtländer. It potentially generates more sharpness-robbing vibration.

Most importantly, the LEICA M9 shares the same defective, notchy shutter-button design as the LEICA M7. Instead of having the silky-smooth continuous trigger-pull of better LEICAs, the LEICA M9 instead has notches, or jerks, inserted into what is supposed to be a smooth shutter release. The shutter button of the M9 requires overcoming a couple of progressively stronger detents, and this leads to blurrier images.

Specifically, I have to shoot at a shutter setting of twice the lens' focal length to get perfectly sharp shots, versus about half the lens' focal length with traditional LEICAs.

I need to shoot a 90mm lens at about 1/180 or faster on the LEICA M9, while I get the same results at 1/45 on a real LEICA M, like the LEICA M3 or LEICA M6 TTL. Even the LEICA M4-P gives sharper results, as it also has a proper shutter release trigger pull, without notches. I also get these same better results with a Contax G2.

I'm unsure if the very high resolution of the LEICA M9 makes it easy to see this, or if it's the M9's extra vibration and notchy shutter push-in. I look at my LEICA M3 and other images scanned to the same resolution on the same monitor as my LEICA M9 images, so I suspect it's the flaws in the LEICA M9.

 

Aliasing (Moiré)         top

There is no anti-alias filter, and combined with ultra-sharp LEICA lenses, if there is anything in the picture with a fine repeating pattern happening at the right intervals (about a pixel or so apart), you'll see strong moiré.

If you're a professional window-screen or fabric photographer, you might want to skip the M9, or stop the lens down so far that diffraction eliminates the finest details which cause moiré, and which are removed by the anti-alias filters of other cameras.

 

Shadows and Highlights         top

Tunnel View in Unfavorable Light (SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 from 1965). Roll mouse over to see after DNG interprestion in Apple Aperture.

 

Tunel View, 19 Nov 2011

Same file after being worked in Apple Aperture. bigger.

Shot in DNG, there is an extraordinary amount of extra highlight and shadow detail recorded by the Kodak satellite-grade focal-plane-array sensor. When interpreted in Apple Aperture, there are a couple of stops of extra highlight detail and many stops of extra shadow detail that can be pulled out. In fact; there's no need to make multiple-exposure HDR shots: the extreme dynamic range recorded in DNG allows the Aperture user to get the same results for each shot.

If shot as JPGs in-camera, there is no automatic optimization of highlights and shadow, unlike most modern cameras of lesser brands.

The LEICA photographer is always the master of his own light; he has no need for the automatic shadow-brightening (and noise-raising) tricks of lesser cameras.

 

High ISOs         top

ISO 400 and ISO 800 look fine.

ISO 1,600 has a little noise if you're looking for it, but normal people (like my wife) won't see it.

Caution: the M9's LCD shows small images using crude nearest-neighbor resampling, which greatly exaggerates the effects of noise. When looking a the full image on the LCD, it will look 100 times worse at ISO 1,600 than it actually is. Zoom in and wait to see it for real.

The best news is that I don't see any noise reduction covering over my textures. At high ISOs, I get sharp images.

High ISOs on a LEICA are a far more potent tool than the same ISOs on SLRs because LEICA lenses are faster, and sharper at large apertures.

The AF system of the LEICA sees in light as dark as you can. What good is ISO 6,400 if your D3 can't see to focus?

Worse, SLR shooters usually are limited by the slow f/2.8 speed of their big, fat zoom lenses, while the M9 has a full line of fast lenses that don't even exist for SLRs, like the 21mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/0.95, which allow shooting at slower ISOs in the same light for even more superior images. With LEICA, you're never choking trying to shoot through an f/3.5-5.6 zoom.

 

Image Stabilization         top

The LEICA man knows how to hold his camera. He is never flustered, no matter what may be going on around him.

The LEICA's image stabilization comes from the quiet, unflappable confidence inherent in every LEICA photographer.

There is no need for any other IS or VR system in either your M9 or your LEICA lenses. Adding them would only detract from the extraordinary image quality that is the LEICA. Why would you want your images degraded?

The IS and VR of the LEICA also comes from its lack of recoil. There are no flipping mirrors or other shenanigans going on inside the camera when you record your decisive moment. Your M9's focal plane shutter quietly slides past your image plane to capture the peak of the action just as it happens. World-changing photos slip through your shutter at just the right instant, unblurred by camera shake caused by the flipping mirrors which degrade image quality from SLRs.

 

Live View         top

LEICA invented the live view system with the much copied "Messsucher" combined viewfinder and rangefinder system in LEICA's landmark M3 of 1954.

The photographer focuses and sees his subject live through the same viewing system, especially at the instant at which it is recorded forever.

While SLR cameras allow live through-the-lens viewing on ground glass, they also black-out at the most important instant: the instant at which your image is recorded. With SLRs, you never see your image as it's shot, so what's the point?

Many lesser cameras from enigmatic foreign lands claim a feature called "Live View," which are lies. Images on their LCDs move in response to the subject, but these images are delayed by a fraction of a second; they are not live. If you use these corny "live view" systems, decisive moments have already passed forever by the time you see it on their LCDs. Just wiggle a finger in front of these cameras and you'll see their lies.

As a test, create some photos with flash. With the LEICA's live viewfinder, you see the subject flashed live the instant it is recorded. You know you got a perfect photo without needing to retire to look at an LCD playback.

Thank goodness, the M9 has no mode to put moving images up on the rear LCD as you shoot. This would be inconceivably stupid for the LEICA photographer, even if popular with lesser men. The LEICA photographer's attention never leaves his subject, and certainly would never be fixed on an LCD while out shooting.

 

LCD and Playback         top

The settings LCD is bright, sharp, clear and legible in any light.

Hold down the left or right buttons and the M9 screams through all your images. It's easy to move forward and back.

Spin the knob to zoom, and when you do, the for directional buttons scroll around the image, including diagonally. It will take a few seconds for the image to refresh at first when zoomed.

It makes excellent use of the LCD, better than Nikon or Canon. The full image shows the shutter, ISO and frame count along the top, since the 3:2 image leaves that bar along the top of the taller 4:3 LCD, and when zoomed, the entire LCD is filled with image and nothing else.

The single INFO screen on playback is refreshing: it shows everything I need in one place, and saves me from having to click thought five screens of junk like on my Nikons and Canons.

The M9 is smart enough to show you the full frame image every time you hit PLAY, even if you were zoomed or in the INFO screen when you last left the play mode.

The histogram shows what's on your screen, so if you hit INFO and zoom-in, you now can see the histogram for only the region of interest. This is wonderful for gauging highlights!

Even better again than Japan, if you zoom-in first, you can hit INFO second to see the histogram of just that section. It is too brilliantly simple for words.

Unless zoomed, the small images are shown from low-resolution, nearest-neighbor resampled versions of the large images. If you have a busy subject, you'll see plenty of resampling artifacts, and shooting at high ISOs, you'll see what looks like a lot of noise when not zoomed in, but in fact is just the camera exaggerating it until you zoom in. Zoom in and you'll see ISO 1,600 noise just about go away; looking at the full image it is exaggerated by about a hundred times.

The rear settings LCD is for setting up the camera. LEICA photographers know how to shoot, and don't bother looking at their pictures on a little screen while out in the field. In fact, once a new camera is set, many photographers simply cover the LCD with gaffers' tape to mark one camera as "ISO 160," their B camera as "ISO 800 B&W,"and so on.

If you do use the settings LCD to view images, the colors can look a bit nasty, which is fine, because this means the photos always look better anywhere else. The shadows on my LCD go a bit violet and my LCD seems to have more contrast, especially in the green channel, than actually in the images.

If you use the camera's LCD to gauge picture quality while fooling with it in a store, you probably will be disappointed. The LEICA M9 is meant to be shot by professionals, not twiddled with at a camera counter.

LEICA men see their images on album covers, magazines, billboards and the walls of the Whitney and MoMA; so why bother looking at them on a little LCD? Most LEICA photographers also shoot film; we know how to get it right without having to watch a little TV on the back.

It takes a long time to zoom in — like four seconds or more — but so what: you should be looking for your next great picture, not at what's already been done.

You can zoom in quickly, but all you see are big square pixels until it reads all the data from the card — slowly.

With a LEICA, you know it's sharp and you already saw your subject's expression as the shutter clicked with the True Live View System, so why do you need to zoom in, or even look at pictures on a little screen?

I tried different cards, especially LEICA's suggested 4 GB SanDisk Ultra II, and it doesn't seem to make anything faster. I tried an ancient blue SanDisk 256MB card from 2005, and it didn't zoom-in any slower, either.

It just takes too long if you expect to see anything when you crank the zoom-in control, so don't bother.

It zooms faster on playback if you've shot smaller JPG image sizes, and takes even longer if it's busy digesting a long string of sequential photos you just took.

If shooting at 18MP, DNGs zoom-in the fastest, only about two seconds each.

To zoom-in and swap between images, hold PLAY as you hit the left or right arrow. As you go back and forth it will take a while to read each image, and once it does, you'll be able to click back and forth quickly. Even better, release the PLAY button and use the arrows to scroll to different zoomed areas, and now you can zoom-compare between two different areas in each image. You can't do that on Nikon or Canon!

 

Data         top

 

NEW: SD Card Speed Test in the LEICA M9 12 October 2009

 

Frame Buffer

I've already covered the frame buffer and shooting speed at Shooting.

 

On-Board Computers

The internal data processing processing of the M9 isn't as swift as consumer products. It's slower, balkier and sometimes downright retarded.

This is OK because it never gets in the way of a great shot; the internal processing only gets screwy when you're wasting time in playback, shooting too fast, fooling with folders, or otherwise not using your LEICA as it is intended. The LEICA is a tool for careful shooters, not for spray-and-pray amateurs.

The M9 works much better shooting DNG only. It slows down and can corrupt files shot as JPG or DNG+JPG.

If you do not follow directions, you will be punished. For instance, if you accidentally start a long exposure, say by pressing the shutter with the lens cap on in Auto, attempting to stop the exposure by turning off the power stops the exposure — and also hangs up the camera. The M9 now requires you to pop out the battery and apologize for your unprofessional behavior. If you do, it will give you another chance when you replace the battery back.

If you shoot unprofessionally, say by shooting indiscriminately instead of carefully, the M9 sometimes hangs up, blinks its card access light for about five minutes, and loses the last file you just shot. It knows you aren't paying attention and won't miss the file, and it doesn't feel like wasting its valuable time processing all that data for someone who obviously doesn't know how to shoot properly. I've had this happen a couple of times when I've been shooting so hard that the buffer is close to full and the M9 doesn't get the feeling that I have any idea of what I'm doing.

The LEICA is for capturing the one expressive moment that says everything. It is not a movie camera for spray-and-pray amateurs to pick out one random frame later. If you can't shoot, shoot a Nikon or Canon.

Turning off the M9's power switch does not stop data transfer; it will keep working and blinking as long as it has to after you turn it off without a problem. Just don't do anything stupid like take out the card while the light is blinking.

If you want a computer instead of a camera, get a Casio, Sony, Canon or Nikon.

 

File Sizes         top

DNG are usually exactly 17.5MB (18,324,480 bytes) or 34.7MB (36,433,920 bytes).

JPG file sizes vary with image complexity and higher ISO noise, as they should.

With 18MP images, my BASIC JPGs vary between 1.4 and 9 MB, with a median size of 3.4MB and an average of 3.75MB.

FINE JPGs are about 50% bigger.

Smaller image-size JPGs are of course smaller, LEICA didn't specify them.

My 4.5MP (2,592 x 1,728) basic JPGs average 1.4MB with a median size of 1.3MB.

 

EXIF         top

As of Firmwarr 1.138, AUTO ISO reads the chosen ISO directly in iView 3.1.3.

In Firmware 1.002, the WB reads in iView 3.1.3:

As Shot
Reads in iView
Auto
Auto
Tungsten
Tungsten
Fluorescent 1
Fluorescent
Fluorescent 2
Daylight Fluorescent
Daylight
Daylight
Flash
Flash
Cloudy
Cloudy
Shade
Shade
Manual
(blank)
Kelvin
(blank)

Long exposure times can read funny.

A 124 second exposure reads 120s on playback in-camera, but 125s in the EXIF.

A 240s exposure reads 250s in the EXIF.

The time stamp for long exposures is when the exposure started.

 

Folders         top

Folder names start with 100LEICA and count up to 999LEICA. (Other literature erroneously flips this to read LEICA100; my M9 makes folders as 100xxxxx.)

Each folder holds up to 9,999 images.

You can create and name folders as you like. You have 5 characters A-Z (caps only) and 0-9. For instance, use CAN10 for your trip to next year's Cannes Film Festival or GPM10 for your trip to the 2010 Grand Prix de Monaco. (The LEICA man is always a participant, never a spectator. In Cannes, he uses his M9 to snap photos as he or his friends accept the distinction of the Palme d'Or, and at Monaco, the LEICA man is driving the course, and uses his camera for snaps at the parties afterwards.)

Unlike Canon Powershots, there is no automatic new folder creation by date.

 

File Numbering         top

I hit 10,000 shots in the middle of a 35mm SUMMICRON shootout, about which I was bummed because when file numbers wrap from 9999.jpg to 0000.jpg, it makes it difficult to keep all the shots in order.

Lo and behold, the LEICA M9 created a new folder as expected, 101LEICA up from 100LEICA, and here's the great part: the new file numbers simply went to 10000.jpg and kept on counting, instead of resetting to 0000.jpg!

When I imported them into the same folder for critical analysis, there is seamless transition from 9,998.jpg, 9,999.jpg, 10,000.jpg, 10,001.jpg, 10,002.jpg and so on.

Actually, since the file numbers are now at L1010037, I see no reason why it wouldn't increment all the way to L9999999.jpg in card folder 999LEICA, meaning that just one LEICA M9 ought to count to ten million perfect photographs before creating a duplicate file number. Maybe the M9 is immortal after all? Once any of my Nikons or Canons hit 9999, they reset and create duplicate file numbers. My Nikon D3 is already in its fifth rollover, with well over 50,000 shots on it.

 

Clock         top

Clock accuracy is poor. My M9 runs slow about a minute a month.

Even though American time display was claimed to have been corrected in Firmware 1.138 in August 2010, 2:37 PM still displays as 02:37 PM.

 

Batteries and Power         top

Shooting and battery life

I leave the M9 turned on all day and night.

After a few minutes (programmable time delay by pressing MENU > AUTO POWER OFF > (select) > SET), the M9 ignores the rear buttons, but wakes up immediately as soon as you tap the shutter, just like an SLR.

There is maybe one second of wake-up or boot-up time.

I get between 450 and 1,000 shots on a charge. I'm impressed, since LEICAs only rates it as 400 shots, and there is no flash. I got 450 shots on my first charge and all I did was play in the menus of my new camera. The second charge got me 1,000 shots, but those were all made in sequence without the LCD. Typically, I get 600 shots with a normal amount of looking at the LCD.

Oddly, considering these come from Germany, the home of cleanliness, there is no battery cover for keeping dirt — or your keys — out of spare battery contacts. I must have missed the optional leather spare battery holder someplace.

 

Charging         top

The green CHARGE light blinks while charging.

The amber 80% light somes on solid at 80%.

Both lights are steady at 100%.

Charging a dead battery, the 80% light is on after about 2 hours, and is at 100% by 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

The charger lights blink too slowly for my taste; I have to look at the charger a few seconds to read them. I prefer Canon's multi-blink LED which indicates several lever of charge state.

The LEICA charger's LEDs aren't that easy to see in daylight; they ought to be smaller and brighter.

 

Usage         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

 

See my developing LEICA M9 User's Guide.

 

Compared         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

NEW: LEICA M240, LEICA M9, Fuji X100S and Nikon D600 Image Quality Comparison11 March 2014

LEICA M9 versus LEICA M3

Canon 5D Mk II, LEICA M9 and Nikon D3 image comparisons

LEICA, Nikon and Canon Lens Sharpness Comparison

 
LEICA M9
Capture
CCD
Size, WHD
138 x 80 x 37mm
138 x 79.5 x 34mm
138 x 77 x 34mm
 
Size, WHD
5.5 x 3.15 x 1.5"
5.4 x 3.1 x 1.5"
5.4 x 3 x 1.5"
 
Weight, wet*
20.9 oz / 593g
22.2 oz / 630g
22.4 oz / 635g
21.4oz. / 610g
Finder
0.68x
0.72x (also 0.58x or 0.85x)
0.72x (also 0.58x or 0.85x)
0.91x
Shutter
Metal electronic
Cloth electronic
Cloth mechanical
Cloth mechanical
Shutter
1/4,000 - 32s
1/1,000 - 32s
1/1,000 - 1s
1/1,000 - 1s
Flash Sync
1/180
1/50
1/50
1/50
Power
Dedicated rechargeable
2 - DL1/3N
2 - A76

* Actual measured weight with batteries, film or card.

 

Compared to DSLRs, March 2012

I've left off rated ISO and other meaningless marketing baloney. The rated range of ISO settings has very little with the range over which the photos actually look OK.

Here's what really matters when I choose a camera for myself:

 
Anni
2009-
2012-
2008-2012
2005-2008
2012-
2008-2012
Card Slots
1- SD
CF & SD
1 - CF
1 - CF
CF & SD
1- CF
Resolution
18MP
22MP
21MP
12MP
36MP
12MP
FPS
2 FPS
6 FPS
3.9 FPS
3 FPS
4 FPS
5 FPS
AF
1 point
61 points
9 points
9 points
51 points
51 points
AF marks hide subject?
NO
YES
NO
NO
?
YES
One-touch ability to switch between commonly-used AF modes?
YES
NO
YES
YES
YES
YES
Ability of selected AF point to track moving target around frame.
n/a
Fair
n/a
n/a
very good
very good
Select various AF points by holding down selector instead of needing multiple presses?
not needed
NO
not needed
not needed
YES
YES
Power switch turns itself off accidentally?
NO
NO
YES
YES
NO
NO
DOF preview needs a second hand?
n/a
NO
YES
YES
NO
NO
Instant as-shot access to all play controls?
YES
NO
NO
NO
YES
YES
Fast total camera-state switching?
YES
YES
YES
YES
NO
NO
Color fringes?
NO
NO**
YES
YES
NO
NO
LCD

2.5"

230k

accurate

3.2"

1,040k

accurate

3"

920k

accurate

2.5"

230k

ugly

3.2"

921k

accurate

3"

921k

accurate

Weight*

20.9 oz.

593g

33.7 oz.

956 g

32 oz.

907g

31.9 oz.

904g

35.3 oz.

1,000g

38.3 oz.

1,085g

Price, 3/2012

$900 used

* actual measured, with battery and card.

** If you load a profile. If not, or if no profile is available, then YES.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

Lens Recommendations   Filters    Flash  Macro   Bargain Hunters   Japan   More

Worried about price? Get the LEICA M-E , which is the same thing for just $5,500.

The M9 is a superior camera, but very different from SLRs. If you are new to the LEICA, don't go mortgaging yourself to get one until you are familiar with the differences between Rangefinder and SLR cameras.

The camera never makes the picture. I could do just as well with a point-and-shoot. The M9 just makes it faster and easier, and thus expands my seeing a bit.

The M9 is smaller, lighter and better for what I like to shoot digitally than anything ever from Nikon, Canon, or anyone. Of course I prefer film, and the LEICA M7, CLE and Contax G2 are tops for shooting 35mm.

The M9 is the world's top camera for in-the-field capture of reasonably still subjects. As a manual-focus camera with the world's best optics, technical quality is unbeaten.

This level of quality in such a small, light and quiet camera means that for many people, the M9 replaces big old DSLRs.

Simply adapting a LEICA R lens to a 5D Mark II won't come close: the R lenses are inferior SLR lenses, not the open-class rangefinder lenses of the LEICA M9, and Japanese DSLRs use anti-alias filters to dull the resolution from their sensors.

I'm not a good enough photographer to capture moving things, like my kids, with a manual-focus camera like the M9. For photos of my kids and general reportage, I prefer any SLR, like the Nikon D40.

As a compromise, the Nikon D700, D3 or D3X offer more speed and flexibility than the LEICA M9 for reportage and photographing things that move. Any of these Nikons is a lot bigger and heavier, and should offer sloppier performance due to generally inferior optics for landscape use.

 

Filters         top

General

Use any clear or UV filter for protection.

Throw away any of the UV/IR filters you may have from the M8.

 

Polarizers

You can use any regular polarizer, circular or normal.

The M9's meter reads right through it.

Hold the filter to your eye to gauge the best angle, and put it over the lens at the same angle. For maximum effect, often all you need to do is align the dot with the sun.

The M9's finder is slightly polarized, so just hold the filter to your eye.

 

Grads

Likewise, the M9 reads the correct exposure through the filter.

Look at the filter from the front of the camera to align it properly.

 

Flash         top

LEICA photographers rarely use flash.

If you do, recommended flashes are the compact LEICA SF 24D (14 444), the huge LEICA SF 58 (14 488), and anything with an SCA3501 / 3502 adapter.

The LEICA SF 24D (14 444) is a smaller, non-bounce TTL flash that weighs nothing. It's wonderful, as if it's made of air.

The LEICA SF 58 (14 488) is a huge beast with two flash tubes and a swivel head. It's for the LEICA S2; its way too big for the M9.

Other flashes, like the diminutive LEICA CF Compact Flash, work very well, but don't have TTL metering. So what? The LEICA CF flash communicates fully with the M9: the M9 sets ISO 160 in AUTO ISO and sets the shutter to not less than 1/60 sec. With the CF, set f/3.5 in AUTO 1 or f/7 in AUTO 2, and go. Auto WB oddly sets itself to Tageslicht (daylight) when it detects the flash turned on, not Blitzlicht (flash). A feature copied from the CLE, if the light gets so bright that it needs faster than 1/180, it doesn't fire the flash, even if it's on.

 

Macro         top

Forget macro and close-up with the LEICA. Even though you can buy LEICA macro lenses, since you're not viewing through the lens, so bless you if you can get decent shots.

LEICA lenses don't focus any closer than two or three feet (0.6 - 1m) at best. I prefer to keep a Canon Powershot in my pocket in case I need a close-up.

 

Bargain Hunters         top

Every digital camera suffers from digital rot, meaning its dollar value drops as fast as technology advances.

If money matters to you, do not buy a new M9. Buy a used RealRaw LEICA instead, and put your money into the best lenses, which only go up in price.

LEICA's old M8 and M8.2, pitched by LEICA when new as having exceptionally long-lasting value, lasted less then three years. They were announced at the end of 2006, and by September 9th, 2009, totally eclipsed by the M9.

People paid $6,000 for the M8.2 throughout most of 2009 before the announcement of the M9, and are lucky to get $2,500 on eBay for them in 2010, still in their boxes.

Here's another idea: get a used M8. (The M8.2 is the same thing with a tougher LCD cover and quieter shutter.) You'll only be shooting half-frame and might need to screw with IR filters over every lens, but the M8 is otherwise mostly the same camera as the M9, for a third the price. Get some good used lenses, and you'll have a complete digital LEICA M system for around $4,000.

Digital cameras are a rich man's sport. If you don't have seven grand to throw away, stay away from digital LEICAs. That same money put into used lenses will pay you well for shooting film LEICAs today, and if you ever decide to get a digital LEICA in the future.

If you bought an M7 in 2002 for about $3,000 or whatever it was, it's still worth $2,000 used today.

If you bought an M8.2 in 2009 for $6,000, it's worth $2,500 today, used.

Die LEICA M9 is an expensive toy for people who don't worry about price. If price matters to you, stay clear of digital LEICAs.

 

Cue the Japanese?         top

Canon

Canon was founded to copy the LEICA camera. Canon's first product, the Hansa Kwanon, was nothing more than a deliberately cheaper copy of the LEICA of the day. When was this? 1933, when the LEICA was a very expensive hand-made precision instrument affordable only to the rich. Nothing has changed.

(Truth is stranger then fiction: the Hansa Kwanon used a Nikon lens, since Canon made no lenses, and Nikon wouldn't make any cameras until after Nikon's warmongering activities were disbanded after WWII.)

I would LOVE to see Canon pay respect to their heritage and make a full-frame digital M body. It would make a lot of money for Canon, and Canon could focus on the most profitable part of the business, the frequently replaced camera bodies, and leave the lens making to LEICA and Cosina.

If Canon did copy the LEICA again, I'll bet you it would be a lot smoother and quieter.

If Canon made this, they probably could kill LEICA, or at least the M9, this time.

 

Contax

Contax made a more advanced version of the LEICA back in the 1990s. It is called the Contax G System, whose cameras still work more smoothly than the M9.

In the 1990s, this Contax wasn't the original Contax of the early 1900s; it was the Contax brand name as licensed by Kyocera of Japan.

Kyocera stopped making cameras in 2003, throwing in the towel in the face of digital.

Kyocera still has the Contax name licensed from Zeiss.

Nothing would make me happier than to have Kyocera crawl out from under their ceramic rock with a Contax G3 full-frame digital, using of course the same G mount.

I prefer LEICA-style automatic focusing via a focus ring for shots of subjects that hold still, since the G system's AF system didn't always hit, and I prefer the Contax G's electronic AF for shooting people and action.

 

Epson and Cosina

I could care less if Cosina, Voigtländer or Epson (all the same product) come out with a full-frame rangefinder. (The Epson R-D1x is one of those nasty Bessas with a small sensor.)

The Voigtländers are much cruder, plastic bodied cameras with narrow (less accurate) rangefinders and can't even select frame lines automatically, as LEICA has done since 1954.

There is no joy in shooting one of these, so why do it?

 

Zeiss

Zeiss' Ikon is also made by Cosina in Japan, but it is made very well and is a strong Oriental contender in the LEICAsphere.

The current Ikon is simply a Japanese copy of the LEICA M7, with some improvements and some things left out.

I would be intrigued by a full-frame digital Zeiss Ikon, but I prefer the real thing. Simply grafting a full-frame sensor into the Ikon wouldn't do anything much better than the M9, and I prefer the M9's longer exposure abilities and super-smart menu system.

 

Today, the Contax G2 is my favorite mule to go digital. I have no idea what Canon would create, but I'm sure it would take the market by storm and probably be overloaded with junk features.

 

More information         top

LEICA's Downloads, including manuals and firmware.

LEICA M9 Instruction Manual (177 pages), also in Dutch, Español, and Russian. Note: page 138 of English manual has the two images reversed.

LEICA's M9 fluff page

LEICA's M-Product brochure

LEICA answers common questions about the M9, and how to dispose of your M8.2.

People are dumping their old Nikon D3X and Canon 1Ds Mark IIIs for the M9 as fast as they can!

 

Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

The biggest help is when you use any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

As this page is copyrighted and formally registered, it is unlawful to make copies, especially in the form of printouts for personal use. If you wish to make a printout for personal use, you are granted one-time permission only if you PayPal me $5.00 per printout or part thereof. Thank you!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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July 2013