The Leica M9 Review

Finding the Leica M9

This is a users Leica M9 review.   This camera completely changed the way I shoot and what I am about as a photographer.  I hope you enjoy this and find this camera as fascinating as I do.

Most Leica shooters I have met have an interesting story of how they became Leica shooters.   The lucky ones inherited a box of Leica lens and an old Leica camera from a father, grandfather or uncle.  Others were introduced through a friend and others of us by chance.  I had my first encounter with Leica at a photography workshop a few years ago.  I remember we were all meeting up outside one of the train stations before heading to the location together.  As I placed my rather heavy Think Tank camera bag holding my Canon 5DMKII with enough lenses, filters and accessories to allow me to capture whatever photographic challenge came before me I noticed one guy standing there who was clearly out of place.   He was holding a small black camera with a small lens and he had a little camera bag with a couple of extra and equally small lenses in it.  I honestly thought to myself what is he doing here?  This workshop is for people who are serious about photography!

I watched him shooting through the day.   He just seemed out of place to me.  I was always tweaking my different settings making sure I was going to be able to capture the perfect shot along with the rest the group. He seems to be just focused on taking pictures. God it annoyed me.  What is this guy and his silly camera doing amongst us?   I couldn’t help but be intrigued, and confused, by watching him.  I asked him a few questions about the camera as I was really attracted to the size.   I found all of the lines and numbers on the lens a little confusing but I always wanted a small little camera I could throw in briefcase and carry everywhere with me.  I was pretty sure I found what I was looking for.

I casually mentioned to my wife over dinner that I was thinking about picking up a smaller camera to my Canon as a second point and shoot.   She agreed and off to the web I went to scout out my new Leica.  Something was serious wrong with this site I though when it returned $7,000 for the body only!  Huh?  What?  A lens is an additional $4-6,000 US Dollars?   This can’t be right.   What could possibly make a camera worth that?  There is no way I am spending $12,000 on a that!   My Leica journey was over before it even started…or so I thought.

The Leica shooter took a few photos of me at the workshop and send me the photos along with a link to his portfolio.   I was mesmerized by looking at his photos.  I spent hours looking at his photos. They had a quality to them I haven’t seen before.  I had a Canon 5DMKII and 9 L Series Lenses.   Am I using them wrong?   Maybe it was because he was shooting in Black and White?   I converted my pictures to Black and White but still didn’t look the same.   They had a level of detail I haven’t seen before.   A contrast I found very attractive.  I couldn’t stop looking at Leica images.  I read a bunch of Leica M9 reviews.  After a surprisingly short and successful conversation with an extremely understanding wife, I purchased my Leica M9 with a Summilux 35mm f/1.4.   This day changed my photography forever…

My Leica M9-P Rangefinder

What you choose to shoot is a personal preference. There is no right or wrong but rather what you are comfortable with, can afford and what helps you to create the images you desire.  My weapon of choice now is the Leica M9-P Digital Rangefinder.  As someone who has spend a small fortune converting to Leica over the last two years I’ll admit I am very bias toward Leica.  I am simply blown away with their products. The Leica M9 is a living legend and in Leica’s words ‘The rangefinder system, above all others, enables photographers to capture authentic, natural images, taken from real life.’  I love that my time is focused on the process of capturing the photograph rather than with the controls of the camera.   I love the how razor sharp the images can be as Leica lenses are razor sharp and the fact that Leica cameras do not have anti-alias filters on the sensor like SLRs have. I was thinking about how to write this up and realized I am not that technical of a person. I’ll try to include a few of the facts for those of you that are but this will be focused on practical application and what it feels like to me to shoot the Leica M9.A

Leica M9-P

I find it fascinating to watch how Leica produces these cameras…

Technical Specifications

Resolution:  18 megapixels

Sensor: Full Frame 24x36mm CCD

File Formats:  RAW, JPEG

File Size:  DNG: 18 MB (compressed)/36 MB (uncompressed)

Lens System:  Prime Lenses from 16-135mm

Focus Type:  Manual

Sensitivity: ISO 80-2500

Shutter Speeds:  1/4000 – 8 sec, bulb

Exposure Modes:  Aperture Priority, Manual

Display  2.5″ Sapphire Crystal screen with 230,000-pixel resolution

Shooting with the Leica M9 Rangefinder

When I first grabbed a hold of a Leica M9 the first thing I noticed was how solid it felt. Virtually everything is made of commercial grade materials; glass, stainless steel, magnesium or brass with the exception of a few pieces of rubber. It simply feels like a well build camera.

I immediately noticed the lack of controls on the M9 which honestly confused me.  On the top plate there is a switch to turn on turn the camera on and choose single, continued or timed shooting.  There is a second dial to either set the Aperture Priority mode or choose a Shutter Speed if you are going to shoot manually.   The lens is where you can set your aperture and focus. ISO and White Balance are set on the back menus. Those are your controls for shooting. Wait a minute!    Where us the Auto Focus, Auto Focus Lock, Focus Area, Depth of Field preview?  Where is program mode, creative modes, auto?   The Leica M9 simply doesn’t have all of these bells and whistles. It is back to basic shooting.

Another interesting thing about shooting with the M9 is it is mean to be shot with your right eye. I never realized it until someone mentioned it to me but I shoot my Canon with my left eye.  What this means is the camera is covering your face and most of your peripheral vision.  When you shoot with a Leica M9 you can still see a lot of the scene around the lens and specifically what is coming into the lens’ view.  Overtime I have continued to shoot with my left eye as I never got use to the right eye. 

It took me a while to get use to the focusing method on the Leica. A rangefinder uses a dual imagine rangefinding device as you focus your lens the two images align and once they do you are in focus.  It isn’t anymore complicated than that but what you get is a photo that is focused exactly where you want it.  After getting use to this I now shoot all of my Canon lenses in manual now.

What isn’t so great about shooting with the Leica M9 Rangefinder?

Not a lot but let’s keep this a little balanced.  It is a shockingly expensive entry point as is every accessory for it.   That said I expect to keep these for year and years. It isn’t great for shooting sports.   I am still not fast at focusing.  I imagine you could do zone focusing or other tricks to make it more workable but I think if you need something that can shoot that fast a SLR is a better choice.    The same goes if you are trying to photograph moving wildlife.     Those are the things I will still reach for my SLR for.  I also tent to use my SLR for shooting my son or family events as I can fire off a bunch of shots and be sure to capture the best shots.

What do I use it for?

I use it to take pictures of people

I use it to capture the life of the city at night

I use it for Street Photography

I use it to capture Architecture

I use it to document the world around me

I could keep going on how I feel and what features and functions it does have but this is about photography and what is the most important is the images the camera can produce.  I have shot just over 15,000 pictures with my Leica M9 since I got it.   Here are a few of my favorites.

Taking Pictures of People

The M9 is meant to take pictures of people.   This was something I was always a bit shy about.    I also think lifting an SLR up to my eye with a big lens on it was really intimidating for some people.    I think for form factor of the Leica M9 puts people more as ease.   I have also learnt to become comfortable to stop people and ask them if I can take their picture and I think this also puts them at ease.

Rice Seller in Shibuya

Checking news on Mobile Phone in Shibuya

Kimono Girl

Texting at Shibuya Station

Second Harvest Japan

Tokyo Kaiten Sushi

Hip Chick in Shibuya

Dog are people too…

Black Lab in Nakameguro

Capturing the life of the city at night

I love capturing cities at night.  There is so much happening and the light if captured correctly is simply amazing.  I am always so surprised how many photographers put their cameras away when the sun goes down.  Perhaps due my schedule and lifestyle I get most of my opportunity to shoot very late at night.  I have learnt to make the best of my situation at times.  I have learnt to love night shooting.  I think there is something really special in how the Leica M9 captures light at night and how it renders black.

Night Construction in Nakameguro

Hot Dogs in Japan

Yamanote Line in Shibuya

Shibuya Station

This is one of my favorite shots.  This is hand held and I simply love the contrast in the picture.  This and the photo below it was taken in the few weeks after the earthquake in Tokyo so there was a lot of power conservation underway at the time causing a lot of the extreme dark areas and contrast in the photos.

Shibuya Station

Waiting in Darkness, Shibuya

Antiques in Nakameguro

Street Photography

When people think of Street Photography they think of Leica. A Leica M9 with a 21mm, 28mm or 35mm lens is the ideal Street Photography tool.  I was never into Street Photography and I would wander endless with my giant bag of camera gear hoping I could possible find something to stop and photograph.   I have come to appreciate street photography and learn that I can find endless subjects to shoot regardless of where I am.

Waiting Shibuya

Waiting in Shibuya

Train Conductor

Scream

Waiting at Shibuya

Yamanote Line Conductor

The Ginza Line at Shibuya Station

Yamanote Line Platform in Shinjuku

Chinese snacks

Photographing Architecture

I have always loved photographing architecture and my Leica M9 is simply fantastic at it.  I think the level of detail that the Leica M9 can bring into the photography is simply amazing.

Marina Bay Sands Singapore

Hong Kong Airport

Singapore Convention Center

Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore

Narita Airport

Capturing the world around me

As the saying goes the best camera is the one you always have with you. The great thing about the form factor of the Leica M9 is it is very easy to throw over your shoulder or into your brief case. I have met many people in Tokyo that do just that.  It was something I always wanted to do with my SLR but it just wasn’t practical.  It has allowed me to capture some things I never would have captured.

Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Train Crossing in Shinjuku

Second Harvest Japan

Lady Gaga in Tokyo

Audi S4

Yutenji, Tokyo, Japan

Thanks for stopping by today…

 

41 Comments

  1. Thanks for the post man, loved this, and answers my question about the appeal of the M9 perfectly. I use a micro four thirds right now, but have it in my head to eventually upgrade to a “big boy” Canon. Reading this makes me think there are worthy alternatives to consider.

    Cheers!

  2. Awesome post. i’d heard so much about the M9 and I didn’t know why it was so expensive and so on. Glad to get a nice review of the product and I love the pictures!

  3. Thanks Marcus… Glad you like the review. You should get one…they are wonderful…

  4. I don’t really get the point and cannot see in the pictures why this extremly expensive camera is that wonderful. I still think that night shots of the city with f1.4 are not my favorite pictures… would love to understand what this camera makes so awesome…

  5. Heike,

    I appreciate opinions, but the craftmanship, quality, precision, and aesthetic value of both the camera and the pictures it allows to be produced make this a value for me. I want something that I can get truly candid, real shots with. The bokeh produced by the depth of field and the sensor in the Leica M9 is something truly lustworthy for me. That pinpoint focus, especially at f/0.95 is nearly impossible to achieve with nearly any other camera system in the world. That’s why I’m saving up all my spare money to get myself one of these cameras.

    And Dave,

    Keep the posts coming. I’m never disappointed.

  6. Good!

  7. I can see why you love this camera. The super sharp focus, the beautiful bokeh, the beautiful natural colors and the way it renders blacks is outstanding. I never appreciated the big deal about the Leica. I thought it was some snob appeal, but now I realize why serious photographers love this camera.

  8. Cannot agree with you more. My 5dII has been sitting on my desk with dust on it since I got my M9. Shooting pictures become something much more fancinating with the M9.

  9. Hey thanks for the post. Love the photos they’re surreal. As a amateur hobbyist photographer with a Canon 60D, I had aspirations of getting a 5DMk11 however now have decided to wait and save up for the M9. I was wondering if you knew anyone whos used the lower end Leica’s like X1 or the specifically the D LUX 5, since thinking while a wait the year or so it will take me to amass 7000 + to get the M9 and lens it might satisfy my thirst? Thanks and can’t wait to see your next posts!

  10. Hi Andres – I used a DLUX but really didn’t like having to access ISO and Aperture through a menu. I think the X1 is much better in that sense.

  11. Nice write up and nice site. I haven’t touch my D700 ever since I got my M9-P. Just curious, what is your focus/recompose technique at wide aperture since the shallow DOF means your subject might get out-of-focus if there will to have any subtle change in plane of focus.

    Cheers

  12. Dennis – Lots of people ask me this. Usually I just keep it slightly out of focus so when I recompose it is back in focus. I have just gotten the hang of it over time. Seems to work for me.

  13. Very nice review of the Leica M9; wish I could afford. Love your pictures as well.

  14. Thanks Kayode…

  15. What a great read and fantastic shots.

    Presently I have an M8 but a M9 might be a good retirement present to myself :)

    Cheers from Canada

  16. Thanks Robert. I cannot recommend the M9 any more strongly. It is a magical camera. I shoot with the M8 for the past few weeks while my M9 was in the shop. It is a great camera but they are leagues apart. You will never regret your M9 purchase.

  17. Great writeup. and a cool set of shots.

  18. Hello, seeing the pictures and your review makes me dream of owning an M9! I got myself off the digital track, sold all my Canon system (1ds and 5dmkii and all my nice L lenses) but still could not afford it. So I got for now an M6 but hopefully soon this wonderful RF. Keep up your posts!

  19. Dave nice post, enjoy reading it. Judging from the comments, it seems there are tons of interest on the camera.
    Just have one question, what about the part on convincing the wife for M9-P :)

  20. Firstly, the images you’ve produced are awesome. Great job, Dave.

    Yes, the Leica M9 is awesome too. I only wish I’d ordered the M9-P. I know the M9 and M9-P are exactly the same; however, the sapphire glass is an interesting highlight.
    If anyone is wondering what makes this camera’s price tag $7,000.00, like love, you have to experience it. There is truly none to even come clue to the build and quality of the end product.
    Thanks again, Dave.

  21. Glen – I was of the same mind. The Sapphire Glass did it for me.

  22. Hi. This is the best site i have seen about the leica m9. Your photos are spot on. You have really brought me closer to knowing what camera to get. Thanks very much and i would love to see more of your photos, they are awesome.

  23. cannot agree with you anymore.

    I share exactly the same experience with you. In the past, i used to shoot with my Nikon DSLR gears. everytime when I was travelling and I used to shoot as much as I can but the whole set of gear were too heavy to carry with.

    until the trip from Singapore I decide to switch to a “smaller & lighter” system BUT with good quality. by that time, I found the Lecia X1……

    however after some studying and research, I found that the Leica M8 were a better choice for me. From that moment, I am in the Leica World…

    Now I am so happy to sell my M8.2 and change to M9-P…

    below is my photos with both camera (mainly M8.2) for sharing:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rodney_x_leica/

  24. Rodney – Congratulations on your M9-P! You will love it. Great photos by the ay.

  25. Hi, Just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your article and love your pictures especially the ones taken at night. I have always been a DSLR user and recently have been looking at hundreds of photos taken with the M9 and I can say that they do certainly have a different look. I can clearly see the difference in the photos that the M9 produces, beautiful deep black, great contrast, bokeh, very sharp and almost 3D. I find my Nikon D3S an excellent tool but far to big and heavy to carry around when not working so I have saved up and just ordered an M9-P for my pleasure. Keep up the good work!

  26. Congratulations. Enjoy your M9!

  27. Dave,

    Quite enjoyed your images… especially the picture of the Chef and some of the architectural images.

    Curious as to what kind of aperture settings you’re using for your portraits.

    I’ve been a long-time M6 user and will continue to do so… it’s also a fine, fine camera!

    Cheers
    Rick

  28. Rick – I tend to shoot really wide open, f/1.4 or 2.0 but often I am at f/0.95.

  29. When I photographed people with a DSLR in the street they would frown and look away. I think this is because DSLR’s have a stigma attached to them due to their use by the press. Also their aggressive styling and long lenses invading peoples lives.

    Since using a Leica I now get a smile and a nod from my subjects. There’s no stigma attached to this lovely camera. It looks quaint and friendly and opens up a whole new world to photograph.

  30. I’m wondering why no other manufacturer has something similar? Or is it the case there is something out there I have yet to find?

  31. It’s always a pleasure to (re)read your posts and look at your shots :)

  32. Dave — good to read about your experiences with the M9. Most interesting was your comment regarding your slow focusing.
    I have had my M9-P for about 8 months and had contemplated selling it due to my slow focusing efforts. I actually just bought a Fuji X100s as a new carry around for when I travel in part due to this as well. Perhaps, I need to settle on just a bit more and welcome this…just a little afraid I will miss a shot.
    Let me known if you have any additional advice…look forward to future posts as well.

    Best regards — Bishop

  33. Thanks Gennaro…

  34. Bishop – I think I got over the slow focusing after a couple of months. I really love shooting with my M6 and M9 now and focusing isn’t an issue for me. Keep at it and I’m sure you will be happy with your results.

  35. Dave,

    Came to this review by chance but had to agree one of the best photos I have been. ‘Natural’ come to my mind when I get a glance; rarely you see a good photographer with story telling abilities so I wish you best for your career in photography.

  36. Thanks Vijay. I’m glad you enjoyed the review.

  37. Hi your work with the M9P is stunning.I have just bought a M9 and a 50mm Summilux F1.4.I had nearly every camera under the sun Nikon D700,Nikon D800, Cannon 5DMk 111 all too heavy as I travel a bit then I bought the Fuji Xpro1 which I still have.I had a OMD EM5 Olympus a Fuji X100 a Leica X2 all which I sold.I was always drawn to the Leica Rangefinder but was put off by the price but recently I sold off what I was not using and took the plunge.Now I am trying to get to grips with the manual focus but am very happy with the Leica M9.Thanks for your review its one of the best I have come across.

  38. Thanks Finbarr for your kind comments. Glad to know you finally got yourself a M9. You’ll love it.

  39. Hello, i always love reading your photography post.
    This M9 review is a very hilarious article, i love reading it repeatedly and feel the same as you, since i came from the same league as you (5DII with few L-lenses)

    So i hope that i am not late to enter the world of RF after using M8.2 for a year until last 2 weeks which i finally pulled the trigger and plunged in to a 2nd hand full frame Leica M9 (spotless, extremely mint condition with ~1400 shutter actuation).

    The more i am using it, the more i feel “click” with this awesome photography tool. It taught me to focus on photography rather than all sorts of funky setting (high iso, creativity alternation, DoF preview, auto focus, multi segment metering, spot metering and etc)

    I can always adjust the very fundamental setting on the fly (iso, WB, set to Aperture mode/ shutter spd if taking within same scene),more than enough and there you go. Focus on different perspective angle and take the photos. No chimping, and enjoy the photos later.

  40. Guston – Exactly! I hope you love your new M9. It changed me as a photographer so I hope you have similar experience with yours.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Leica M9 Digital Rangefinder Review | Leica Forum Blog - [...] the full review: Leica M9 Digital Rangefinder Review This entry was posted in Leica M System, …
  2. A walk with my new Lecia M9 | ShootTokyo - [...] Blog Home Explore Gear Leica M9 Leica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 …
  3. Meeting Liusvia | ShootTokyo - [...] GearThe Leica M9-PLeica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4Leica Summilux 21mm f/1.4Neutral Density [...]
  4. Random Thoughts | ShootTokyo - [...] GearThe Leica M9-PLeica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4Leica Summilux 21mm f/1.4Neutral Density [...]
  5. Finding my groove with shooting Film | ShootTokyo - [...] about my gearThe Leica M9-PLeica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4Leica Summilux 21mm f/1.4Neutral Density [...]
  6. $10 Headshots: A charity project - [...] Leica M9 [...]
  7. Photography: Why shoot film - ShootTokyo - [...] Leica M9 [...]
  8. Around Jiyugaoka Station - ShootTokyo - [...] Tokyo World's forecast authority Daily shooting The Leica M9-P The Ultimate [...]
  9. Monochrom - ShootTokyo - [...] Tokyo World's foremost authority Daily shooting The Leica M9-P The Ultimate [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>