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LEICA M9 High ISO Performance
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Rewood Motel

Redwood Motel, 2009 M9, 1970 50mm f/2, ISO 1,600, hand-held at 1/6 second at f/2, Nik Dfine 2.0, 6:40AM, 25ºF (-5ºC). Whew! bigger. It helps me keep adding to this site when you use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and eBay to get your goodies. Thanks! Ken.


October 2009       LEICA M9 Review      More Leica Reviews      


Introduction         top

Let's see how the LEICA M9 looks at various ISOs.

Just as important as the noise level is how much detail is left. Any camera can apply noise reduction which gets rid of noise, but also gets rid of details and textures.

I'm going to show enlarged crops from small sections of a very large image.


Crop area.

If this image is about 7.5" (18cm) wide on your monitor, the crops below are from 50" (125cm) wide prints.


Technik         top

I shot everything on a tripod with a LEICA ELMARIT-M ASPH 21mm f/2.8 lens at about f/8. Ambient temperature was 25ºF (-5ºC). I was bored waiting for the sun to rise at Mono Lake.

I opened each of the M9's DNG files in Adobe Photoshop CS2 on a Mac G5 in Adobe Camera Raw.

I underexposed in the dark (a common problem since I was looking at my LCD, which seems much brighter when viewed in the dark) and had to add +0.5 exposure as I opened the DNGs. This already puts the M9 at a half-stop disadvantage.

The light was flat, so I added Contrast +100, which also emphasizes the noise.

Sharpening was left at its default of 25.

I set Luma and Chroma smoothing both to 0, or no noise reduction, which is less than normal to emphasize any noise.



These are from the very center of each image.


ISO Pull 80         top

ISO 80


ISO 160         top

ISO 160


ISO 200         top

ISO 200


ISO 400         top

ISO 400


ISO 800         top

ISO 800


ISO 1,600         top

ISO 1,600


ISO 2,000         top

ISO 2,000


ISO 2,500         top

ISO 2,500

It's noisy at ISO 2,500, but so is every other camera exploited this way. As mentioned above, I underexposed and had to bring up contrast and exposure, which means this is really the equivalent of at least ISO 3,500.

Notice how it's noisy, but the details are unaltered. Bravo! This is as it should be. THe downfall of most other digital cameras is that they apply too much noise reduction to hide the noise, which also eliminates the details.

We can always apply noise reduction (NR) later in software.

ISO 2,500 NR

This is how it looks with CS2 ACR Luma Smoothing set to 50 and Chroma Smoothing set to 100.

We always can go overboard.

ISO 2,500 with too much NR

It is trivial to eliminate noise, if that's all you care about and don't bother to look at detail retention as well.

In this case, I applied no Luma Smoothing, I applied 100 Chroma Smoothing, and then set Nik Dfine 2.0 to its maximum. At large print sizes, most people wouldn't notice this, and this is what many lesser cameras do to test well in consumer publications.

Here is the complete image shot at ISO 2,500 opened in CS2 ACR's default noise settings, still with an additional half-stop of push and 100 contrast and my usual small-size for-the-web sharpening added:

ISO 2,500

Sure, ISO 2,500 is noisy, but I only use it in the pitch black, and then with f/1.4 lenses which, along with the half-stop push here, means I would have to set a DSLR to ISO 20,000 to give these same results when used with a professional f/2.8 zoom lens.

Adding noise reduction makes this noise go away at normal print sizes:

ISO 2,500 with NIK

Thank goodness the LEICA M9 gives us the option to use as little or as much NR as we please. Not bad for ISO 20,000 system equivalent!


In-Camera JPGs         top

In-camera JPGs are softer, and thus will show less noise.

I did my darndest to show as much noise as possible here.


Recommendations         top

I shoot at ISO 160, which is already super-fast with Leica's fast (f/2.0 - f/0.95) lenses.

ISO 800 looks great, while ISO 1,600 is getting a little noisy.

I save ISO 2,500 for things like trying to shoot star trails hand-held, which just about works with an f/1.4 lens.


Help me help you         top

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

If you find this 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.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!


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