The Leica M9 Digital Rangefinder
Finding the Leica M9
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 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 an extra and also small lens 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, 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 B&H's website I went to scout out my new Leica. Something was serious wrong with B&H's website I though when it returned $7,000 for the body only! Huh? What? A lens is an additional $4-5,000 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!
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. 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 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 Digital Rangefinder. As someone who has spend a small fortune converting to Leica over the last year 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 processing of capturing the photograph rather than with the controls. 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.
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
Sensitivity: ISO 80-2500
Shutter Speeds: 1/4000 - 8 sec, bulb
Exposure Modes: Aperture Priority, Manual
Display2.5" LCD with 230,000-pixel resolution
Shooting with the Leica M9 Rangefinder
When I first grabbed a hold of the 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.
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 on 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 shockingly expensive 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.
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.
Dog are people too...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I will be building out a My Gear section and will keep adding to this over time as there is still much I have to say on the Leica M9. I will also write up my Canon 5DMKII and FujiFilm x100. I hope you found this useful.
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