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back to article Leica M9 rangefinder camera

For anyone in the business of photography Leica has always been synonymous with photographic excellence and Magnum-style photojournalism. With its M-series, the German manufacturer has, since 1954, produced one of the most iconic and better performing 35mm systems, mastering unparalleled image quality in such inconspicuous and …

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Not for me, but..

glad to see Leica getting it right for a digital body. I'd have a hard time giving up my hojillion autofocus points in my DSLR for the center-focus-recompose of a rangefinder, but for PJs and street-shooting (who wouldn't necessarily need to focus with shallow DOF) this would be absolutely magnificent. If I had the extra currency laying about I'd seriously want one for travel photography.

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Anonymous Coward

armed

"Currently, it is surely one of the greatest digital cameras ever produced and is certainly one I would give my right arm to own. "

Wouldn't that make it rather difficult to take photographs?

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I want a sycophant icon!

Catherine Monfils is my preferred camera reviewer. It's splendidly apparent that she is a disciplined photographer rather than a techie. She gets right down to functionality issues and chooses shots to probe them. I would like to justify the price for my hit and miss photography, but I don't think that trading in all my rangefinder film cameras would get the price down to what I could justify. However if she keeps up the cracking reviews and continue to take shots like that 'candid' of the woman and child, then I hope that she'll be able to justify the purchase.

What the techie in me wonders is how easy it will be to find and use SD(HC) cards in ten years time? At least my pair of 1950s Leicas are still usable for as long as decent film is still available. ('Though i'll never forgive Kodak for withdrawing K25.) How upgradeable are these new Leicas? Will I be able to have a 24 Megapixel sensor fitted in a few years time? Is the card interface part of a replaceable module? If Leica is still using brass in the body, then it sounds as if they expect them to be working at the end of the century.

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Lust!

Pornography for camera lovers is what I call that!

Also it seems it allows you to take photos in the City of London without being lifted by the forces of law and order.

Nice

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Stop saying it's got a tiny body

M-series cameras are not small. I've owned one and with a 50mm lens it was bigger than my Olympus OM4 SLR. Nice camera, but this myth that's grown up about them being small and pocketable needs to be quashed.

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Headmaster

well...

it depends on what you compare it with. Compared to my EOS 1Ds Mark II and a 50mm f1.4, it is very small indeed, for something that has the same sensor size, a lot more dynamic range, and incredible lenses. We're talking full-frame sensors here, and none of the competitors in that sensor size are that small or light.

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Function Following Form

Now that they're fully electronic and automated, and no longer beholden to design constraints of the film advance system, you'd think they could move the shutter button to a more ergonomic location wouldn't you?

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WTF?

Exactly...

how much more dynamic range, you reckon?

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Want but can't have...

Too pricey for me sadly, and what with the general public's ignorance of the superiority of rangefinders, I can't see there ever being a digital rangefinder that's enough of a mass-market item to fall into my price range.

However, there's always a 35mm Russian or Far Eastern rangefinder or two on eBay for 20 quid of so, and I've already got one or two of those. Is there any kit out there that lets me attach a full-frame 35mm CCD to an old body? I realise I'd have to take the film door off, but that's cool -- I am talking about something without much value after all....

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Boffin

It is part of a long history

I'm not sure it would be worth the effort to get a full-frame sensor, but I recall what a difference it made to use one of those old Russian rangefinders. Lens quality can be good, if you're lucky, and it seems to change how you think about the process.

The earliest Leica lenses had to be matched to a specific camera, but once that little feature was sorted out (1930), all you need is the adaptor for screw-mount lenses and any Leica-mount lens can be used with this body. And, with the full-frame sensor, that includes some incredible wide-angle lenses (the one aspect this review misses is the possible vignetting): I'm thinking of the lenses produced under the Voigtlander brand, and lenses such as the 12mm f5.6 Ultra-Wide Heliar. I would be considerably impressed if that doesn't vignette on the digital sensor.

Not on my budget, alas.

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Anonymous Coward

5 grand?

I'll have two.... One for Sundays....

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WTF?

How much?

When I saw the price at the start of the review, I though you must be pulling my leg...

...then I saw the sample shots.

OK, reasonable price for the quality!

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Unhappy

Not sharp

Is it just me, or are the night and daytime colour shots not very sharp?

Might this be a fault inherent in the rangefinder system?

The B/W images look pretty good though.

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@The Indomitable Gall

Got my desires in one - I've been lusting for a replacement digital back for my OM1 since digital cameras were invented. Had to settle for an e-400 which does the job but doesn't have the same satisfying feel about it.

I'd argue about the superiority of rangefinder cameras, too - I want to see what I'm photographing through the lens that's taking the picture, thank you - but I suppose that's horses for courses.

Mind you, what I *really* want is an affordable - i.e. under a grand - 5*4 back for my 1940s MPP plate camera. I'll settle for a couple of thousand pixels per inch...

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Ah but...

"I'd argue about the superiority of rangefinder cameras, too - I want to see what I'm photographing through the lens that's taking the picture, thank you - but I suppose that's horses for courses."

Well I want to see what I'm photographing too, and what I'm photographing should be what's in front of me when I press the button.

I don't even want a switchable lens -- my rangefinder has a fixed (moderately) wide-angle lens with a shutter in the iris. The short distance of travel for the shutter curtain gives me practically instant snaps. Much better for (eg) getting a picture of a dancer in which you can see his/her face mid-spin.

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LCD?

I'd at very minimum expect a Retina Display for 5 grand!

Joking aside, I want one very, very much. Maybe £3k I'd accidentally type in my debit card details, but I can get some very serious gear at that price.

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Super, quibble, quibble, price comparison

I would imagine that this has a nearly instant shutter response. So why ignore this. A specimen of someone jumping in the air would demonstrate the point.

Why are the high resolution specimens 2800 x 1600 px ? That is probably half scale of the images delivered. If Reg is concerned about an overfull server then fewer specimens could be given.

In 1950, when a postage stamp or a bus ride cost the equivalent of 1 p , a Leica smuggled in from Germany cost £ 125 in the shop with an f 3.5 Elmar. An f 2.0 would set you back £ 150 , or twelve weeks average wage. So this is about equivalent in price.

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Lenses

Leica have been making M rangefinders for 56 years. I think it's fair to say they also made a few lenses in that time.

Very, very expensive lenses.

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Go

Lenses, lenses everywhere

If you're interested, you should be able to find a huge range of lenses for all purposes by both Leica and Zeiss. Nobody promised you they'd be cheap, but esp. the Zeiss lenses are of superb quality. Plus, adaptations for many other makes of lenses are available to my best knowledge.

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I don't get it

I have always been slightly annoyed by the slight parallax that comes with rangefinder cameras (and TLRs for that matter). I like to work quite close up and this can be a problem. Why didn't Leica move to a system that puts an image from the sensor into the view finder? There are AMOLED screens available that would give a much better impression of what the camera will record (including DOF).

Still, given the price tag, this is a pretty academic issue:(

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It wouldn't be a Leica M then

Part of the appeal of a rangefinder is the big, bright and clear viewfinder.

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Unhappy

Because...

I'm afraid they don't know how.

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Basic sampling theory...

No anti-alias filter = FAIL.

While you might be able to get away with it with crummy lenses (effectively using the lens as the AA filter) or massive oversampling (as in the 50-60Mp medium-format backs), in this format and with high quality optics all you're doing is smearing aliasing noise over the entire image. The most obvious example is how badly the M9 suffers from moire with high-frequency patterns, but the fact is that all the image is contaminated. Leica gets away with it because lots of people interpret the correlated noise patterns as detail.

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M9 mk II?

> "The M9 is uncompromising. There is no mumbo jumbo about this camera. No funk, no superfluous marketing ingredients. Yet what is offered is all functionally essential."

I'm glad to hear that the newest M9's don't need the base plate to be unscrewed before changing the SD card or batteries. That was a superfluous non-essential mumbo-jumbo marketing ingredient if I ever saw one.

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Anonymous Coward

M2

I'll stick with my M2, 52 years old and so long as I can load up Tri X and a few slide films into it, it'll keep on truckin', I'd need to shoot a lot of film to get close to the M9's price! (About 1650 rolls exc. processing...) That said if you prefer rangefinders and need digital, you haven't got much choice (Epson RD1 or the M8/8.2)

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WTF?

mhhh

for 5k you can get a better camera so I do not understand the high rating for this review

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The point of a Leica rangefinder is...

...the vast range of superb glass that you can attach to this camera. You have about 70-years worth of Leica lenses to choose from, and that means you can use some of the nicest lenses ever made.

Of course, you can do this with am M8 as well, and these are available used from about £1450. Put the recent, tiny aspherical Elmar 28mm f2.8 on it, and you get the nearest digtal thing to a classic 35mm M-rangefinder with a 35mm lens with change from £3k.

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FAIL

If you want a VAST range of lenses

get a Nikon SLR. I mean, come on, where are the teles and zooms for Leica M? It's not the 1950s anymore.

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You're kidding, right?

I honestly don't understand the fascination some people have with rangefinder cameras, or Leicas in particular. yes, they're well made, and yes, you have a pretty good manual focus system. That's about it. The rest of it just seems to be daring to be different and holding onto old-tech in the belief it's somehow better.

The pics at ISO 2500 have some serious noise in them, much more than my Nikon D700 (which is also full frame), not to mention how the Nikon can do faster follow up shots.

Any of the pro Nikons with a metering tab can mount any F-Mount lens from 1977 on up, and with some machine work older lenses back to 1959, and a lot of them are darn good.

The last rangefinder I used was an Argus C-4, and then as with the Leica I couldn't see the appeal, especially since the mirror reflex system itself is now considered old school.

Finally, the nail in the coffin for me is the price. This should be a $700-$1000 camera competing with the likes of the Canon G11, for the cost I could honestly buy a car.

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A bit uninformed?

You might be right - were it not for the fact that a considerable proportion of M9 owners use multiple systems, usually 1DsIII, D3x or 5DII, and still prefer both the concept and the output of the M9.......

The reasons? They were well put in this review.

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£5k down the toilet.

In the mid 1980s I bought a nearly new Canon F1n for around £300 and a 1958 Leica IIIG for about the same money. The Canon is now worth £150 at best and the Leica perhaps £900.

The difference between these and a £5k digital Leica is that as long as film is available both the Canon and the IIIG will be usable (the Canon will work at some speeds work without a battery).

Already there are problems sourcing batteries for some 1970s and 80s cameras. I really don't think one can rely on being able to obtain SD cards (which wear out) in, say, 30 years time.

I do own several digital cameras -- mostly hand me downs from friends, including a Canon SD1000 which cost £175 less than 3 years ago.

Still, hopefully, the $5k Leica probably overcomes the greatest issue with rangefinders -- leaving the lens cap on while taking that shot of a lifetime.

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It is a superb camera.

Some of the detractors being right, but the build quality and the attention to detail with the available optics are, I dare say, unique.

Still I have a rather large bone of contention with the statement in the review that this sort of camera would be suitable for photojournalism (or in this day, associated with that field of photography). That may have been true in the 1950s, when SLRs were still rare and practically-usable autofocus was about 35 years in the future.

Actually earning part of my income from photographing national- and international-level ballroom dancing events (both latin and standard), I would be most ineffective with anything sporting a viewfinder. I have to concentrate on too many other things to have the time left over to consider which part of my field of view would end up in the frame and which would not. OK, that is a pretty specialised field of application, but it is nonetheless typical of much of Photojournalism. The photographer simply has to see in the viewfinder what is going to be in the shot the moment the shot is taken, because a hundredth of a second later, the shot cannot be taken any longer. That is why all press photographers that I know of (w/o exception) use high-end SLRs with high-end, wide-range zoom lenses.

If you're doing photography as an art and can afford to take the time to set up your shots, this camera may very well be worth the expense, though. It is extremely solidly built, and as noted before, the available optics are beauties.

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How much would you sell it for?

"Currently, it is surely one of the greatest digital cameras ever produced and is certainly one I would give my right arm to own. "

How much would you sell it for?

And please specify if the left arm is an added, for-a-fee option?

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camera shake

FFS! Just taken a look at some of the night time shots. If you're gonna demonstrate a £5K camera at least put the thing on a tripod, of if it mounted on a tripod get a decent one and use a shutter release to remove the shake!

One picture is suffering from blatent camera shake. Even an amateur photographer can get this right. There is no excuse for a professional or someone purporting to write a serious review not to get this right.

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Pictures without compression artifacts

I would have liked to have seen pictures without the JPEG compression. The sharpest lenses on the planet aren't worth anything when the resulting image is then compressed with a lossy algorithm. I know that the camera can deliver raw format images, so why not post using PING format?

Yeah, I'm kind of a stickler for good images. I still have my MF film equipment, and large format to 8x10.

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panasonic owned?

therefore is there a cheaper panny equivalent?

but it does look fantastic....

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