LEICA M9 Lens Compatibility
October 2009 LEICA M9 review
The LEICA M9 works perfectly with all your Leica M lenses back to 1954.
With simple adapters, every screw-mount Leica lens back to the 1920s is fully compatible. These adapters come in a version to key-in the 50/75mm frames, a version for the the 35mm and 135mm framelines, and a version to key in the 28mm and 90mm frameline pairs.
Other than a few cautions below, there is a whole world of LEICA lenses made over the past 85 years for you to enjoy without reservation.
This page covers compatibility, not performance, which is indexed at Leica Lens Tests.
See Leica Lens Recommendations for specific recommendations of which lenses work best with the M9.
Freedom from 6-bit code top
Your M9 reads 6-bit lens coding, but doesn't need to. You can ignore it, use it, turn it off, or simply enter your lens data manually.
To enter the lens information manually, press:
MENU > LENS DETECTION (the top entry) > SET > MANUAL > (select your lens) > SET.
If you don't hit SET at the end, it ignores you.
6-bit coding is six white or black dots on the mounts of some newer Leica lenses which tell the M9 what lens you're using. 6-bit coding isn't important. If there is a 6-bit code on the lens or you enter it manually, all the M9 does with it is:
1.) Record the focal length in the EXIF data
2.) Compensate partially for some generic vignetting (the M9 has no idea at what actual aperture setting you're shooting, even with 6-bit coded lenses), and
3.) Set the zoom head of the SF 58 flash.
The M9 works marvelously with lenses of any vintage with no 6-bit coding. Bless Leica for this. Leica could have made the M9 not work with uncoded lenses to try to force us to use new lenses, but no, the LEICA M9 works with every old non-coded lens. This is laudable, considering that Leica's strongest competition comes from itself. Leica's own decades-old lenses are as good as, and sometimes better than, today's offerings.
Leica suggests you turn off the M9's automatic 6-bit code reader when using uncoded lenses to prevent the LEDs from reading spurious signals off the chrome.
When setting lens data manually, the LEICA M9 knows its bloodline: it presents both the common name for the lens, as well as its product number. This allows your M9 to differentiate between similar lenses like today's 90mm f/2 APO ASPH and the older version of 90mm f/2.
Supported lenses for manual data entry top
In firmware 1.138 (August 2010) these are the same as in the original v.1.002 (September 2009):
Old Ultrawides top
The sensor of the M9 works great with today's retrofocus ultrawides like the 21mm f/2.8 ASPH, which also allow metering.
The distortion-eliminating designs of the earlier ultrawide lenses from before 1980 put the rear nodal point so close to the sensor that the angle of incidence in the corners is much narrower than with modern lenses.
Notice how the rear of the lens pokes out so far from the lens mount.
LEICA 21mm f/2 SUPER-ANGULON (1958-1963).
Because of this, I get freaky color shifts at the sides. Specifically, I get some red/orange shift along the left side, and complementary blue-violet shift along the right.
LEICA 21mm f/2 SUPER-ANGULON (1958-1963) as shot on the M9.
The two oldest ultrawide lenses, the 21mm f/4 from 1958-1963 and the 21mm f/3.4 from 1963-1980, and the 28mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M lenses with serial numbers under 2 314 921 won't meter because their distortion-eliminating symmetrical designs also cover up the internal exposure sensor.
They focus perfectly, but you'll want to meter with a DigiSix, or just guess.
Until Leica offers preset manual lens correction settings for these lenses, you probably want to stick with RealRaw to enjoy the most that these lenses have to offer, or shoot them in black-and-white on the M9.
135mm Lenses top
It has always been very difficult to get perfect focus with 135mm lenses on rangefinder cameras.
The problem with getting perfect focus with 135mm lenses comes from two sources: mechanical compatibility errors in the camera or lens, and our own limited eyesight to see the rangefinder spot with enough precision to focus a lens with a 3x magnification that is not shown in the rangefinder.
It is far easier to see focus errors with digital than it ever has been with film. With film, it took a lot of work to make 5-foot (1.5 meter) prints. With digital, this is the same magnification as looking at M9 files at 100% on your laptop computer. On a computer at 100%, you are looking at M9 images at 35x magnification, the same as a microscope and beyond the power of any film loupe.
Our computer screen at 100% is showing an image 3 x 35 / 0.68x, or 150 times larger than we saw through the finder. It is astounding that the Leica rangefinder can provide such huge effective precision, but at 150x, it's not really up to 135mm lenses.
In practice, even with a perfectly calibrated lens and camera, I can only see so well that not all my shots are in perfect focus with 135mm lenses. It's the limitation of my eyesight through the 0.68x reducing viewfinder versus a 3x magnifying tele's image seen at 35x later on.
Leica customers deserve, expect, and get only perfection.
Because you now can see these perennial errors better than ever before, Leica suggests stopping down at least two stops with 135mm lenses to cover them up.
Not only is your eyesight limited, but even if you put a telescope on the rangefinder, the mechanical calibration of every sample of camera and every sample of lens varies. It's never a problem with wide lenses, but gets more difficult to get a match with longer lenses.
With 21mm lenses, 100% of cameras and lenses I've used focus perfectly.
With 50mm lenses, 75% of camera and lens combinations I've used focus great.
With 90mm lenses, only half of the combinations of camera and lens I've used are good. The other half are way off if you're shooting wide-open and looking at large magnifications. I hand-pick my samples; some lens samples work perfectly with some bodies, and vice-versa. I use different lenses with different bodies.
With 135mm lenses, you're asking for trouble.
If you're lucky, 135mm lenses work fine if you pick out a sample that works well with your sample of camera. If you expect to shoot wide-open and have every shot as dead-on as we get from SLRs, most of you will be disappointed at 135mm.
Most people will be perfectly happy, but if you're the sort of guy who shoots rulers and pencils stuck in the lawn and then looks at every pixel, you'll be unhappy.
The good news is that used Leica 135mm lenses are cheap since the old M8.2 couldn't handle 135mm lenses. Skip the 135mm f/4.5, but even the oldest (1960-1965) 135mm f/4 ELMAR is excellent, and any of the 135mm TELEs are extraordinary.
The man who chooses the LEICA M9 doesn't bother with used gear. He uses the 90mm f/2 APO SUMMICRON M ASPH, and if he wants a 135mm lens, he gets the current 135mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt-M for a trifling $3,200. It replaced both the 135mm f/4 TELE-ELMAR-M and the 135mm f/2.8 ELMARIT-M. The APO does about the same thing as a $125 original non-tele 135mm f/4, but for the Leica man, only the best shall do. No one shoots Leica to be second best.
What works for me
My 135mm f/4 TELE-ELMAR-M (1990-1998, 46mm filter, 11 861) works poorly. The images are focused too far in front of the subject to be of much use. This lens works perfectly on my LEICA M7, however. The M9 has a manual code entry for this lens. I could use this lens if I paid attention to offset the rangefinder images or the focus ring by a set amount for each shot, or stopped down.
My 135mm f/4 TELE-ELMARIT (1965-1990, 39mm filters, 11 851) works great. It is also super sharp! The M9 has a manual code entry for this lens. The camera is as good as I can see; there are small errors, but because I can't always see well enough to get the perfectly precise focus 135mm lenses demand at f/4.
The original non-tele 135mm f/4 or the nasty f/4.5 HEKTOR yet.
See also my 135mm lens reviews.
The spacing of the front finder and rangefinder windows (69.25mm) is unchanged since the first Leica M3 of 1954, meaning that all your Leica lenses with auxiliary finder optics (goggles) work perfectly.
Leica has even thought of this, calling them lenses with "viewfinder adapters," and mentions that the finder display will stay the same brightness since they cover the finder brightness sensor directly above the red Leica dot.
Be careful with your retractable lenses. Lenses like the collapsible 5cm f/2 SUMMICRON from the 1950s may break the insides of your new M9 if you try to retract them too far.
Of all the lenses Leica has made, only the following are listed as "cannot be used:"
50mm f/2 SUMMICRON with close-up setting (a.k.a. dual-range, 1956-1968, codes SOMNI and 11 918). Everything works great in both focus ranges, however an internal obstruction unique to the M9 prevents this dual-focus-range lens from focusing any farther away than 4 meters (12 feet). Use any other 50mm lens, or the 90mm f/4 MACRO ELMAR-M instead.
The problem is that the extended focus cam of the dual-range lens hits an obstruction near the rangefinder roller in the M9. Earlier cameras don't have this obstruction.
9cm f/4 ELMAR, collapsible (1954-1968). Leica says don't use this traditional lens, but I tried one and it works just fine. Be careful not to collapse it! Today, use any other 90mm lens, especially the current collapsible 90mm f/4 Macro.
35mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX-M (1961-1995): Some samples of the Canadian version may require updating by Leica, after which they'll also work fine.
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