It’s half a year and 6,563 photographs since I bought my Leica M9-P.
Prior to owning the camera, I’d read a lot about the Leica M9 and talked to friends who are (or have been) Leica owners, so I was well aware that using one would be a different experience from shooting with the cameras I’d previously regularly used. I’ve been documenting my progress with the camera since I got it, but I thought now would be a good time to review what I have learned and experienced over the last six months.
The decision to spend the best part of £7k on a camera and lens is not one taken lightly, but I had my reasons – you can read them here in detail, but the main criteria were:
– image quality
… and over the last six months the M9 has met these criteria very well.
I’m constantly surprised by the level of detail in the images when I load them into Lightroom. In tricky light conditions the sensor delivers results where many other cameras would be severely compromised. Apparently the aesthetics of the sensor are based on Kodachrome (RIP), my favourite slide film and not surprising when the manufacturer of the sensor is Kodak. Inevitably, when a photo hasn’t worked, it’s usually down to operator error.
The full-frame M9-P plus the 28mm F2.8 is so small I can carry all I need on a trip in a small shoulder bag – the excellent Domke RUGGEDWEAR F803 (it is everything they say about it). Try doing that with a full-frame SLR. Although it’s solidly built, the M9 is not a heavy item and I’ve walked long-distances, all day, without feeling unduly burdened.
The M9’s viewfinder is sharp, bright and I can see what I’m taking. I’ve had one issue with the viewfinder, I can’t see all the framelines for the 28mm lens in one go, I have to sweep my eye around viewfinder. However, I’ve improved with practice and can get the shots, although I still may move to a 35mm lens or modify the viewfinder. However, I can see the scene clearly, I can focus precisely and I can see what’s going on in most light conditions.
The most important development, however, is how I now go about making pictures. It took some time getting used to remembering you have to set everything on the M9 before shooting, but now it’s pretty instinctive. This set-up process forces me to consider everything about the picture I’m about to take and that has been a very good thing for me. It’s a lot like the old days of film.
In my opinion, the features and functions of modern digital cameras often get between the photographer and the image. In many instances, the camera manufacturers are trying to second guess the photographer’s intention. That’s great for the “how to” book market. Every new camera model spawns a family of guides and manuals, which essentially tell you how a particular model sets speed, aperture and focus, but with the M9 I already know – I did it. I don’t need a guide to tell me what’s going on.
Aside from the viewfinder, there are a few niggles (well, nothing’s perfect), but they’re minor. I would like to see the manual shutter speed displayed in the viewfinder, instead of the little arrows and the dot. I would like an “OK” button in between the nav buttons (there’s a space for it), instead of the “SET” button at the other side of the screen. I’d like to be able to reposition the histogram to the other side of the screen so I can see what’s going on in the bottom right corner of the image in the preview.
I’m not bothered about the low-res screen, you can’t realistically asses images on a preview screen anyway, I know many others disagree, but that’s not how I work.
The detachable baseplate, another source of criticism, is not a problem either. I’ve had hinged doors break off on other cameras and with a Canon G9 a microswitch that tells the camera the battery door is open failed and rendered the camera useless. A redundant feature that cost me photos. So the baseplate is not a an issue for me, it’s solid and keeps everything inside the camera.
The Leica M9 has its detractors, quite a lot of them, actually. I’m not sure why that should be, it could be – is it disappointment that the M9 is so conservative in spec and appearance (a plus in my view, the money’s gone where it should)? Or could it just be envy? However, that’s their prerogative, it doesn’t concern me.
I didn’t buy the M9 for the Red Dot and Leica name (I got the M9-P). It’s not about status, it’s about pictures. And that’s what has changed since getting the Leica – I now enjoy taking pictures a whole lot more.
In the 1980s and 1990s I used to carry a 35mm SLR with me all the time (an Olympus OM-2N at first, then a Nikon F3, both brilliant cameras), but, perversely I stopped carrying cameras regularly with the advent of digital – it was no longer fun and when I did have a camera, I didn’t get as many good pictures and I didn’t take as many photos as I used to, even though digital photography is a lot cheaper and more flexible than film ever was. I suspect that a lot of that was to do with the compromises you had to make. With digital cameras, if you want portability, you compromise on quality and, if you can’t see the screen, on the back of a camera clearly, you need an SLR – and they’re way too big (compare a D3200 to an OM-1 and you’ll see what I mean). However, I now carry the Leica with me everywhere. In the M9 I have the quality I need, the portability that keeps it with me and the involvement I’ve found so lacking in other digital cameras.
I’m looking forward to the next six months, let’s see what I think after a year with the M9.
There’s an album of six of my favourite photos, one from each month I’ve had the camera, which you can view here.
posted on 8 May 2012
category: daily photo