A date with the Leica M9
By Dan Carr | November 09, 2010
Last week I wrote about my experiences with the Leica X1. While I was down in Vancouver I also had the opportunity to have a more extended test period with the Leica M9.
First a bit of a history lesson. The M7 and MP were the last of the film rangefinders and the first digital Leica , the M8, was introduced in 2006 with a 10.3MP 1.3 crop sensor. An incremental improvement was made in 2008 with the M8.2 which still employed the same 10MP sensor but with some improvements in the shutter mechanism and glass screen coverings. Alongside the X1 Leica launched the M9 in September 2009 and this time the M9 featured a full frame 18MP sensor. It was and still is by far the smallest camera to feature a full frame sensor.
The unbelievably compact 28mm f2.8 Elmarit was another favorite of mine and you can see the hyperfocal scale on top
As with the whole M series, the M9 is a rangefinder camera and not an SLR. This means that the composition of your photo is not made by looking through a viewfinder that is seeing through the lens itself. Instead you look through a viewfinder adjacent to the lens and determine the lens' field of view by looking at a set of lines within the viewfinder that depict the view of your particular lens. If you have a 50mm lens on the camera you compose using the 50mm frame lines and if you have a 35mm lens you compose with the 35mm frame lines. The actual view through the finder does not change at all and is not magnified by putting a longer lens on the camera. The name rangefinder actually comes from the type of focusing mechanism that is employed in these cameras. Focus is achieved entirely manually with a good old-fashioned focus ring on the lens but a secondary image is projected optically onto the central part of the viewfinder. As you turn the focus ring on the lens, this secondary image moves horizontally and when they match up, the subject at which the central part of the finder is pointing at will be in focus. All Leica lenses have a manual aperture ring on them too which means that you can forget about using any kind of full program mode or shutter priority. The only type of semi-automatic shooting that can be used is aperture priority. Up until this point I had never shot with a rangefinder camera before, though I have read much about the benefits of such a system. I was intrigued to try one out and as someone who began his career in the digital age I have never shot film so naturally I was drawn to the newer M9.
The following then is a collection of thoughts on what it is like to use a rangefinder for the first time and also I suppose you could say a review of the M9, though as it has been out for more than a year you are probably aware that it has already been reviewed exhaustively and found to be an exemplary camera. Hopefully I can shed some light on why this is though. I have included a selection of photos from my time with the M9. Although these are not really intended for close scrutiny there are a couple of 100% crops to illustrate a point, but don't expect to find a huge range of ISO samples or such things in this particular article. This is much more about the Leica M9 experience overall.
M9+35mm Summilux and 50mm Summicron Vs 5DMKII and 24mm f1.4 L II
The M9 is physically a very solid feeling camera with it's titanium shell and brass top and bottom plates. It was much much heavier than I was expecting it to be but it is also very small. Compared to my Canon 5dMKII which I took along for comparative purposes, the full frame Canon dwarfs the full frame Leica. The M9 weighs in at 585g and the 5dMKII at 810g. A smaller weight difference that the size difference would have you believe. The major weight saving of the Leica system really comes from the lenses though. At this point I decided to make a quick video because it's far easier to gauge the size of these things from someone holding them in their hands so please take a couple of minutes to watch this video here.
Pretty small right ?! Amazing in fact that they can fit a 35mm sensor into this tiny package. A remarkable feat of engineering.
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