One Camera, One Lens – The Evolution

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Canon 5D and 24-105L

Around three years ago I lugged with me the following whenever I went on a day trip or vacation with the family:

– Canon 5D Mk2
– Canon 24-105L
– Zeiss 35mm
– Zeiss 50mm
– Zeiss 21mm
– Canon 430EX
– Filters
– Ipad

I had on hand – other than for wildlife photography – a lens for most occasions: landscape, portrait (the 24-105 was pretty good for this), walk around, architectural. All were catered for with some of the best glass that money can buy along with a fantastic body incorporating the a full frame sensor in the shape of the 5D Mk2.

What was not to like? Well, as I have mentioned in previous a blog, the biggest downside was the weight and bulk.

We would regularly take two trips to Canada and the States each year and from where we live this would invariably involve two or three flights. This big bag of camera gear had to be lugged on and off various aircraft with three tired children to manage and cajole with their assorted paraphernalia.

And then it got to the point where I didn’t want to carry this bag with me at all and so the decision was made was to downsize but get the best “small” camera I could that would rival the 5D’s full frame sensor and the quality of the Zeiss optics.

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The M9 followed the 5D Mk2

The way to go? Leica (of course!). So I assembled a system around the Leica M9 with a 50mm Summicron, 35mm Summarit and 24mm Elmar. This little lot in small Billingham bag came to around half of the weight of the Canon/Zeiss kit in a much smaller bag. Oh and probably cost around twice as much! initial review of this camera is here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-as

I used the M9 for around 6 months. From an image quality perspective I will still say that in the right conditions it gave me the best “look” I have ever had from my photographs. Sharpness, contrast and colour were all superb. The Leica glass really lived up to it’s legendary reputation.

The M9 with it’s quirks – average sensor, poor screen, poor high ISO to name a few – was fun to use and really reconnected me with photography. It slowed me down and made me think a little more about shots.

But then the frustrations started. Whilst the size of the camera and the associated lenses meant I could take it anywhere I realised that I was missing more shots than I was getting. As I said above the majority of my photography takes place whilst vacationing with the family. It is one thing taking your time for a landscape shot but quite another taking pictures of the children playing, running or even moving.

Also, If the light wasn’t right getting focus was a pain using the rangefinder.

Also, when changing lenses the M9 seemed to attract more dust and dirt on the sensor than any other camera I had owned (it doesn’t have any form of dust reduction system) and post processing to remove the spots and splotches was becoming a chore.

So, despite the superb image quality and lightweight yet another system’s flaws start to outweigh the benefits……

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Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 Lens

And so the M9 went and the 5D Mk3 was ushered in with history quickly repeating itself over size and weight. Eventually it was replaced by the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55 lens a review of which can be read here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-eY

The system fit the bill in terms of size and weight and now, owning one camera with one lens (albeit a zoom lens which offers a degree of flexibility) I am liberated.

Everything is simplified. No longer is there a requirement to consider which lens for which shot. With the Fuji 18-55 ( 27-82mm 35mm equivalent) lens, I have found is good enough for 99% of the situations I find myself in and the images I want to capture. From landscapes to portraits to cityscapes I have never felt short changed.

Admittedly it is not appropriate for sports or wildlife but for most other situations it is fantastic.

No more worry about dust or dirt on the sensor. Not happy with the field of view? Be more creative and find an interesting new one.

The other issue I had with all the lenses I used to own is that I was always looking for the next one to buy. One that could fit into a small segment of photography be it macro, portrait, wildlife, super wide angle etc. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a very expensive condition that always makes you feel as though you need that next fix, err lens.

Now I am happy with the one lens – if it doesn’t do exactly what I want I consider a way round it. I have enjoyed photography more than ever and for me, the sheer enjoy,eat of capturing an image you are later proud of, is what it is all about.

Leica M9 Review – The Conclusion

The Stunning M9 and 50mm Summicron

Before I got the Leica I had a one question that I was hoping the M9 would be able to answer: was it possible to get a camera system that was portable, flexible and would provide the kind of image quality that I had enjoyed with the Canon 5D and Zeiss combination?

The bottom line is that, with the M9, the answer is an emphatic yes. It has it’s flaws and in terms of flexibility and features it cannot match up to most point and shoot cameras never mind high-end DSLR’s. But also by giving you less it gives so much more.

More than any camera since I owned an M6 many years ago, the M9 has reconnected me with photography again. It makes you stop and think about framing, composition, light, exposure, focus, depth of field. Yes with any camera you have to think about these things but with the M9 it is no point and shoot. Something that a lot of DSLR’s seemed to have turned into with their different modes and automatic settings. I often see lot’s of people wandering around with an expensive Nikons or Canons weighed around their necks and wonder if they have ever been out of auto mode before and really used their camera properly.

The M9 has also made me stop examining the LCD so much and reviewing what I have just taken. I now get the shot and invariably move on looking for the next thing to photograph. All the things I used to do before cameras turned into computers. The simplicity of it all is empowering.

Simple to use freeing you to take photographs

Don’t get me wrong in the right situations the 5D has it’s place. It’s low light capabilities are superb for example and you can capture truly stunning images especially with the Zeiss Lenses. If you shoot a lot in low, low light and live view or video is your thing then the M9 is clearly not for you.

But I think that the 5D as with most modern DSLR’s make the process of taking photographs just that: a process. As I have said before it is highly sophisticated computer that is easy to get lost in when taking photographs. There are so many variables that it is easy to get confused with which is the right one for you and the image you want to create.

On the other hand I pick up the M9 switch it on, check the battery and away I go.I don’t have to wade through page after page of settings to ensure that I haven’t left it on a setting I didn’t want to. There are no custom functions to review which always left me confused.

To me the M9 hands back the photographic control back to the photographer and produces images of stunning detail, colour and balance.

As I stated previously I usually do most of my photography when I travel which is invariably with the wife and three children. Lugging the 5D around was becoming a burden to the point where I contemplated on many occasions not actually taking the 5D it and the assorted lenses away with me.

Now I have a 2 lens system (M9 with 35mm Summarit and 50mm Summicron) that fits very easily into a small Domke F-803 bag. There is so much room left over that that I can also get my X1 or X100 in there plus chargers, cards cables AND my iPad and it is all still significantly smaller and lighter than the Billingham filled with Canon gear.
I know that I am not compromising in quality and whilst the Zeiss lenses are hard to beat I just love the way the Leica lenses render an image with such depth and colour.

 

 

A Picture Taken Recently when at Windermere

A screenshot from my Mac showing 100% of part of the Windermere photograph – click for full size

I have read about a lot of people moving from Nikon and Canon DSLR’s to the M9 and at first thought that they must be deranged. Deranged or not I can happily say that I am joining them in that journey and loving every minute of it.

Leica M9 Review – Sample Images

Here are a few photographs taken with the M9 and Summarit 35mm 2.5. I had only had it for a week or two and not used it extensively outdoors because of the bad weather. This was the first sunny day that I was able to get outside and start shooting.

I love the balance of this image and those Leica colours

The M9 captures colours so well that I have not had to do any post processing to get what I want

The M9 captures the detail in the trees incredibly well

There is an arty feel to this image that I don’t think I could capture with my 5D

One last one. Again colour, sharpness and detail are all there

Okay not the greatest gallery in the world but for some of the first images taken with the M9 I was pretty satisfied with the results. Would the quality of these images convince me that the M9 would fulfil my requirements in a flexible compact camera system?

Full and final part of the review to follow…….

Leica M9 Review – An Introduction

The Stunning M9 and 50mm Summicron

There have been many, many reviews written about this camera and a cursory search of the web will bring up dozens of opinions, photos and occasional criticism.

So here is another thrown into the mix. Following the recent trend for real world reviews I will not be delving deep into technical aspects, 100% crops, pixel peeping.

It will be a straightforward honest and practical review of the latest digital rangefinder from Leica.

The first thing that struck me about the Leica M9 was the packaging. You have to get through that before you can actually get your hands on the camera inside. It is beautifully manufactured and put together with each element of the contents under different layers that you slowly lift away until you reveal the box the camera body sits in.

There is a true pride of ownership in just this part of the process. A foregone conclusion you would think when spending nearly £5,000 on a camera body but I have purchased a few high value items over time from pens (Mont Blanc) to watches (Rolex and Omega) to hifi (Linn) and nothing is as well presented as a Leica product.

As an aside the Leica X1 is an even better experience in some ways with the outer box gently falling open to reveal a camera “cabinet” box in which the X1 and all the accessories sit.

Unless you have handled a camera from Leica’s M range, nothing prepares you for the sheer pleasure in touching and handling and M camera and the M9 is no disappointment. The feel, the weight, the solid metal body all go into making it a pleasurable experience simply to hold a camera such as this. It makes the 5D MkII I have feel like a toy in my hands by comparison.

The Rear of the Camera – obviously!!

It may seem like a sad state of affairs but the first time I took the camera out of the box and it’s plastic packing I just sat there staring at it in my hands as though I were cradling a new baby. I then gave myself a mental slap in the face. It is a camera. It takes pictures. Don’t be so ridiculous.

And then went back to caressing the metal and, like a new father, eyes welling up, imagining the possibilities, the days we would spend together watching my baby M9 grow into the camera I had always wanted….okay maybe I made that bit up but the camera is, honestly, a sight and tactile experience to behold.

Anyway, first things first is to charge the battery fully before use (Leica’s advice and good advice for any Lithium battery) and then wait patiently whilst it has a good charge and then it is on with the 50mm Summicron and away we go picture taking.

Simple uncluttered top

Over the next week or so I will be giving you my first impressions with this supposed king of picture takers in the 35mm category. There are a number of people trading in their DSLR’s and lenses for this camera. I have a 5D MkII with lenses from Canon and Zeiss. Will I feel then same? Time will tell.

Stay tuned.

PS All images of the Leica M9 taken with the Fuji X100.