The M9 has a sensitivity range between 160 and 2500 ISO, plus a Pull80, which works by manipulating a 160 ISO exposure to obtain the look of an 80 ISO shot. I was pleasantly impressed with the M9 noise performance. Despite not having ultra high-speed options my test showed very good results across its ISO range.
A full-frame sensor, multiple lenses but no DSLR bulk
Noise only starts appearing at 1600 ISO but it is still beautifully controlled and images have a smooth look and good level of detail. At 2500 ISO there is certainly some fuzziness in the shadows and overall noise becomes more visible. Still, the M9 manages to keep colours pretty much consistent throughout the entire ISO range.
Sports, fashion and wildlife photographers would find the M9’s 2fps continuous shooting speed unacceptable but they are not the target market for this camera. However, in normal shooting, there is almost no delay between shutter release and image capture, reinforcing the reportage nature of this camera.
Leica lenses are always state of the art, blissfully free from almost all optical aberrations, elegantly designed and incredibly sharp – current M-series range here. The Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH I tested the M9 with is all of the above. It is a fast, high contrast, middle-range wide angle, which is wonderfully small and compact for its focal length. With a focusing range of 0.7m to infinity, it is not suitable for close-up detail shots but in other respects proved to be a very versatile lens.
With its large price tag and basic photographic features this camera will not appeal to all photographers. But considering it is all hand-made and it can mount the world’s best available optics, the cost is not outrageous. Thanks to its rangefinder system and purist approach the Leica M9 delivers a truly unique photographic experience. Currently, it is surely one of the greatest digital cameras ever produced and is certainly one I would give my right arm to own. ®
Catherine Monfils is a professional photographer specialising in portraiture, lifestyle and fashion.
More Camera Reviews…
"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?
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.
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.
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.
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)