Leica M9 Review – First Impressions and Musings

Okay this thing of beauty has been unboxed and now sits in my hands ready for shooting. Well almost but not quite. First things first – the battery needs a good charge.

Okay, battery charged and rewind. After removing the bottom plate and inserting battery and memory card it is now time for lift off. And to switch the thing on.

The very first impression then? It was actually, is the M9 on? Testing, testing….. one two three….There were no whirrs of machinery, flashing of lights or other indications that it was powered up.

I have to admit that the first 5 minutes with the camera were frustrating to say the least. You see I rarely read manuals.  Most of the electronic equipment I have ever played with has been reasonably intuitive to muddle through and have fun discovering the various elements of operation. Reading the instruction manual is always a last resort to discover access to some hidden menu.

Not so this camera. What confused me is that there are two menus. One under “Menu” (obviously) and one under “Set” (not so obviously). It took me a while and then even then it wasn’t that clear in the manual about how to set compression etc. Maybe I was having an off day……

Up until the M9 acquisition I had a pretty impressive set up: a Canon 5DMkII and a handful of Zeiss glass – 21mm 2.8, 35mm 2.0 and 50mm 1.4. It is hard not to love the image quality, sharpness and colour rendition of the Canon and Zeiss combination. I will be honest and say that it was a set up that I could have continued with for years without feeling I was being short changed in any way.

Most of the performance was thanks to the amazing Zeiss lenses and the world class images they help produce with the aid of the 5D’s full frame sensor.

The main issue I had with it was that it was all so damn heavy and cumbersome to carry around in the Billingham bag I had for it all.

Side by side comparison of the 5D Mk2 and M9

Most of the photography that I love to do – landscape – is done whilst I am on vacation with my young family. I have, over the past five years, struggled to lug the 5D, tripod and lenses along with vacation luggage for a family of five across the “pond” to the USA where we spend most of our holiday time.

So, I came to the conclusion that I needed to downsize.  After researching for a few months I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t want to compromise on the quality I was getting from my current set up the Leica M9 would be the best and most flexible way to go. Coincidently it would be the most expensive way go too. Doesn’t that always seem to be the way?

Back to back it is easy to see just how much more bulk there is in the 5D and Zeiss lens

On paper the Leica is comprehensively trounced by the Canon. More mega pixels, bigger LCD, higher resolution LCD, more FPS, more flexibility, better low light capability, live view, cheaper.…………the list goes on.

But after a while using the Leica you came to appreciate it’s simplicity and realise that actually some of the pro’s of the Canon can start to be slowly pulled apart:

More Megapixels? Well surely the 18 of the Leica are enough? There is a school of thought that says 6 is enough. There are also apparently imaging issues with the way light hit’s the sensor above 18MP –  a coincidence?

Bigger LCD? 2.5” seems enough for me. Better than I had on my M6.

Higher resolution LCD? At first glance the LCD on the M9 is appalling. Then in use you realise that it is good enough. In any case shouldn’t you be just getting on with the job of taking pictures and not constantly referring back to the LCD? Also I have found with high resolution LCD’s they can lull you into a false sense of security. They can make an image look too good. I have downloaded images confident in the fact that they were perfectly in focus only to find that although they looked like they were reality was something totally different.

More FPS? I don’t shoot sports or anything particularly fast moving.

More flexibility? Yes. But only if you want to start digging through menus or setting up custom profiles (none of which I can remember once set). I want to take pictures not play with a computer with a lens strapped to the front.

Live view? Only really useful if you have the time to fiddle with it and a tripod. I have a tripod but time is precious. I have also found that the stability of holding the camera to your eye far exceeds that of live view performance unless, as stated previously, you are using a tripod.

Cheaper? Err. Yes, the 5D is cheaper.

The Leica 35mm Summarit 2.5 and Zeiss 35mm 2.0 – good things come in small packages

Another lens size comparison this time without the Leica’s lens hood on

But when it all comes down to it the bottom line is could this camera achieve the brief that I had set it in that I wanted a light, unobtrusive camera that was easy to carry around with a couple of lenses and have a world class imaging?

If there were such thing as a M9 wish list I would put on it automatic sensor cleaning and some weather sealing. That’s it. Keep everything else simple. I wouldn’t want anything else that would detract from the straightforward userbility of the M9.

The short answer is a resounding yes but check out my next blog where I will go into some more detail on using the M9 and upload some images for you to check out and see what you think….

All images taken with the Fuji Finepix X100


7 responses to “Leica M9 Review – First Impressions and Musings

  1. Hello,

    I also used a Canon 5D for months and then I bought a Leica M9 I use for almost 2 years.
    Taking still photos with the 5D but only indoors in low light (theater) and motion pictures.
    I always have with me the M9: high quality, low weight and total control.

  2. I am on the same journey – can’t lug my Nikon D700 + pounds of lenses everywhere anymore. I am loving the simplicity of the Leica M9. It certainly makes it easier to be in the moment and focus on the photograph in front of you and not worrying about navigating all those menus to capture it correctly.

    • Penny,

      Thanks for the comment. I am rapidly arriving at the same conclusion. The simplicity, stunning images and compact size of the M9 has made me re-think about how I take photographs. For a start no longer do I have to weigh up whether it is worth dragging the camera bag out with me. I can grab the M9 in it’s case and be away and with ease.


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