Leica M6 vs. M9 VSCO film emulation comparison by Ben Miller

M6 vs M9 VSCO

Leica M6 vs. M9 VSCO film emulation comparison

by Ben Miller

(from Steve: I did my own M6 vs M9 comparison a long while back and you can see my results HERE. Thanks to Ben we have another fun comparison to look at. At the end of the day we can always see a difference between film and digital)

Steve,

Like many who frequent your site, I have Leica lust. I started out shooting a 110 camera as a kid and progressed to 35mm point and shoots, pocket digital cameras, and my iPhone. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered real photography for the first time. After exhausting research I ended up purchasing a Panasonic GF1 and have not looked back since. I was intrigued by Leica but had never seen one. That is until I attended your street photography workshop in Chicago. Leicas were everywhere and all I could think was “I Leica”. Months later I sold the DSLR and purchased an M6 with a 50mm Summicron. I kept the GF1 though as I felt a special connection with that camera. (I couldn’t sell it….. I gave it to my brother and now he is addicted.)

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With the release of the new M type 240 I’ve been watching the used prices of M9. The time was right. I pulled the trigger….. I promised my love that I would sell the M6 to help fund the purchase of the M9. I put it off. She has asked me several times since. I ended up putting it on the “Bay”. Two days before the auction closed I realized that I had a roll left in the body. Twenty frames were left of a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400. I loved this film. The price is right and I can buy it in four packs locally.

I mainly process photos in black and white. I always had trouble being happy with the color I could produce post-processing in Light Room until I found VSCO film emulation software.

I was visiting my folks when I decided to do a “Crazy Comparison”. I wonder where I got that idea. (Thank you Steve!)

I’m sending you some photos for comparison. The film was developed and scanned at a local pharmacy. (Yeah…. It’s one of the big ones with commercials.) I did not try to emulate the look from the scans exactly. You can see that there are some color differences between the M9 files and the M6 scans. I’m hoping that you will share them with your readers to see if they can tell the difference. I have struggled with the film vs. digital moral dilemma for some time.

Cheers,

Ben

So which is the M9 and which is the M6 Scan?

Set #1

51450005

M9 VSCO-5

Set #2

51450006

M9 VSCO-4

Set #3

51450008

M9 VSCO-3

Set #4

M9 VSCO-2

51450013

Set #5

51450018

M9 VSCO-1

 

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68 Comments

  1. This is an interesting post no matter what. But I think it’s a bit misleading when you processed your m9 files with some color grading.

    It will make more sense if we just compare jpgs from OOC raw to film scans. After shooting m9 for 2 years, by looking at set 1, I can tell m9 would not put so much green in its raw with AWB under such normal sunlights. It must be the post process.

  2. The film ones look the best to me, but they have a warmer colour balance (slightly pink) compared to the M9’s slightly green balance. So it is hard to really compare the cameras.

    I have a comparison here if anyone is interested:

    http://www.ipernity.com/doc/in2classics/16272563/in/album/343197
    http://www.ipernity.com/doc/in2classics/16277883/in/album/343477
    http://www.ipernity.com/doc/in2classics/16275791/in/album/343441
    http://www.ipernity.com/doc/in2classics/16276097/in/album/343429

    (2 digital and 2 film) – I accept that the image isn’t exactly the same, but you can still make comparisons.

  3. I think the shooting experience, the fact that you only have 36 shots and develope them matters more Than digital vs analog

  4. It’s a toss up. I like the M6 because of the realistic colors but I also like the M9’s dramatic tones.

  5. The green cast is certainly from the VSCO plug in. I bought that one and was quite disappointed by it. Don’t think I ever used it more than a couple times.

  6. Hi Ben – thank you for this article.
    What hardware/software are you using to scan the negatives? They look fantastic!

  7. Yup, proof again that ya just still can’t beat film if your are interested in IQ just so long as you are using a good camera/lens and decent film stock. The only digital cameras that come close imho are the Sigma Merrill range (yes they have other issues but are simply the best for IQ in the digital world, certainly sub £10k!). If you want the film look, use film 🙂

  8. I also use the VSCO software on my OMD-files and I also noticed a strong emphasis of green tones with the Fuji emulation. So this is the software’s fault.

  9. Got 4 right on 5, the M9 files were given away by the wrong WB. Another reason to keep shooting a leica film camera…

  10. I actually love using my D700 and Alien Skin Exposure, and the only reason I keep my D700 is for difficult lighting conditions and high shot count stuff. My prime camera is my F6 loaded with good film. Not as flexible as my D700, but when conditions match my film, there is nothing better!

  11. They both look good, I , as a film user like the film files a little. If you use film use a good scanner! I have said this before. I use a Nikon coolscan 9000 ED. It is old, but it is excellent. Some day it will stop working and will have to find something else. Put a few bucks into a good scanner. You will see great deal of improvement over lower cost alternative. In any process, lowest IQ in chain will control your finale results.

    • Sorry, Did you tune the white balance during taking the M9? all M9 piture look un natural.

  12. I mainly shoot with my MP with all sort of films (400TX, Ektar, Portra, etc) and scan them with my Epson V600 and SilverFast 8. I just love the whole experience shooting film with a full mechanical camera.

    When I am not out shooting film, I do carry my X-E1 with me. With those shots, I would process the raw files in Aperture with VSCO. The result is amazing. It is very close to the real deal.

  13. I can frequently, especially with broad landscape scenes pick out the film. By comparison the digital images don’t look as three dimensional. I’m not sure what it is, the tonal gradations or what, there is just a slight difference when you put them side by side. On the closer shot scenes it’s harder for me to tell using this method. The film look is something for digital to strive for – at least this 3 dimensional aspect. I recall several years ago looking at a landscape photo by Tim Fitsharris and as my eyes scanned the scene the bare rock summit of a mountain in the image.caught my eye – as looking a little artificial. When I focused in on it to determine what I was seeing, I realized that it looked a bit flat (lacking in the 3d effect) as though someone painted it on. He wasn’t using a cheap camera either.- medium format digital. It’s subtle and not normally noticeable except in.direct side by side comparisons.

  14. Good effort , but I prefer the film images but digital is just more practical these days.
    I use VSCO and find it awesome however.

    • Agreed. VSCO doesn’t look like real film and it may raise a morality issue for some, but VSCO is the best compromise point for who wants film look with digital convenience. If I would do commercial photography, no reason not to use this great software.

  15. Hello everyone,

    Ben Miller here. I want to think everyone for their passionate comments. Now, let me give you the scoop.

    I wanted to do this comparison to see if I would be happy shooting with the M9 and not the M6 since I had to let it go. I felt a strong bond with my M6, now Eunice’s M6. (It’s been sold.) I felt the same bond with my GF1.

    It’s interesting to read all your comments. I need to explain that I’m not a photographer by trade. I’m an analytical chemist. I need all the empirical data before I form a hypothesis and then prove or disprove it. Here’s what I left out and didn’t tell you.

    Yes, I did shoot Superia film. I purposely showed that roll of film in the first photo with the two bodies. (That shot makes me smile. For a short amount of time I owned the Holy Grail: a M6 and a M9.) Anyone who actually shot film back in the day remembers those vivid greens that Fujifilm always gave us. Kodak was for great but Fuji is what you loaded when you were in the woods. Many of you were so quick to bash the green tones of the M9 shots. I actually made them that green on purpose. You ask why? I posted these same shots on my Facebook page last week. The photographers in my life (the ones that shot film for the last 30 years) got them all wrong. They all clearly said that you could tell which ones where film because of those great Fuji green tones that they miss with the bland, flat, and horrible digital photos.

    I actually find the film shots too red. The wood on the front of my parents’ house isn’t red at all but a dull brown. My mother isn’t up to par health wise and actually was very pale to me that day.

    I find the VSCO presets wonderful to use. Every roll of film I shoot looks different depending if it’s Superia, Ektar, Kodak Gold, etc. The presets are no different, different looks for different preferences.

    Now, ask me if I’m going to miss that M6. Yes I am. Only for the pure joy of holding it and the pleasure of shooting film. I’m overjoyed with the M9 RAW files. Film is great but a hassle to process. Post-processing RAW files also kinda sucks. I want to spend more time with my eye on a viewfinder and less time on a computer monitor. I know there are many pixel peepers out there. I’m not one of them. I’ve never looked at a phot and said “that sucks, it would have been good if the white balance was correct or maybe if the dynamic range was better”. Composition and light is everything, the only thing. My mom’s family, we are all bikers. I spend more time riding than I ever do polishing chrome. It doesn’t matter what you ride, as long as it has two wheels. Cameras are no different. The pixel peepers can all go buy the best spec equipment, correct their white balance, polish their chrome, and only ride to get ice cream on Sunday’s wearing shorts and white tennis shoes. I’m sticking with my Leica and my Triumph.

    Cheers!

  16. This comparison is really ruined by the tint issues with the M9 files. Contrary to some comments here, it’s not VSCO: I use that preset regularly with other cameras and don’t get a green tint. The problem is either white balance or the camera profile used in Lightroom.

  17. I personally prefer the M6 images overall! The green tinted M9 against vs red tinted film shots. In some shots the reds in the M6 images puts more emphasis on the facial skin pigments, but to me looks good for green foliage. The M9 images give a much more muted skin tone, and can make the subject quite pale looking. In then lamp log shot, the M9 give a much nicer rendition of the lamp as it stands out from the wood behind. The M6 same shot seems too reddish, and the red lamp seems to merge into the wood. Maybe what we need is the image to be in between both the M6 and M9, does the M240 do this?

  18. I shoot both film (Leica M3) and digital (Leica M-E/M9). I get the film scanned professionally and with that the quality between the two is a matter of personal preference. My M-E/M9 results are nothing like the greenish ones seen here. This is not a camera issue, but an issue with the VSCO post production software.
    If this was how M9s really shoot, then I would have held onto next to any 35mm film camera!
    The advantage that my M3 has over my M-E, is that it is nicer made, has a much nicer viewfinder, and has a narrower, smoother, more comfortable body. Along with that soft shutter clunk. Quite incredible really that a 60 year old camera can match up easily in build and picture quality to an 18mg full frame digital camera. The fact that they use the exact same lenses helps I’m sure.

  19. These are Real World Results as popularly put here. I don’t think you can do much with the digital capture to make it look as good as film. You only can do so much or nada to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I think we have to move on and see whether the latest M240 does a much better job.

    Author Ben, which do you prefer? Does film or the m9 more accurately depict your remembering of the shots? If it’s film, thank you for reducing the prices of the M9 or M-E for those of us willing to tolerate a lower standard for the big convenience.

  20. Both cameras deliver clear, detailed results with sufficient dynamic range.

    Imho, there are just too many variables to prefer one over the other based on these simple back-to-backs.
    Choose-film/develop/print/scan differently, or set white balance/contrast/use-Lightroom-differently, and we might easily switch our preferences.

  21. this is crap. film or digital comparison? If the leica m9 is really that bad, really? then crash it on the next road by throwing it out of your fast driving car and let it be run over by a truck.
    I doubt it. But hey, you show it. Then take a real DSLR, the pictures should be better. I say this because I never actually tried a M9 and can’t compare that, but know that from my Sigma DP2x, Fuji X100 and Nikon D50, D200, D700 all make better pictures than you show with a M9. If you want to say a M6 does take better pictures? hmmm, I have a M6, a Nikormat and other analog Cameras. They take wonderful pictures. I own a film-scanner, too, Minolta 2900 Elite ICE. Old, not perfect, but hey the pictures I scan are good, but always slightly worse, than the original, as it has to be. Those are better than what you show with your M9, too and as realistic as your M6 pictures, if not better.

    To my understanding/expectation the M9 positioning here is awfully wrong, even if it were worse than a M6. I can’t believe it’s just that shitty! Even worse than my unflexible Sigma DP2x when it doesn’t cooperate with my expectations and settings.

    Next time, before you post such an article, please re-check your ability to work with the M9 or whether the M9 has a technical issue. I don’t value both, it’s just that your output is way worse than the worst I’ve seen coming out of that camera.

    • Sorry for my rage above. Don’t want to offend anybody. I’m just impressed of the bias (right or wrong) but obvious bias.

      • look at steve’s comparison. Yes they’re different, too. But those results show how different the coloration can be, but not that this or that is better, only that both are so different from each other that they’re basically uncomparable and both results are making sense. It’s a matter of taste.

        • You could also take the flip side of the bias and say this is what minimum cost & effort will get you. Drugstore scan vs one-button preset. I tweak and fuss and fiddle with my images, applying presets is just the start. Film as well, for that mater, would be tweaked before printing. I doubt many people do true mutli-head color darkroom prints these days, so you would want to massage the colors and tones before sending them to your trusty inkjet.

          The clear advantage of the M9 files is that they can be a *reasonable facsimile* of Fuji Superia 400 … or Tri-X or Velvia. You have options afterwords!

  22. It is clear which are the film pics and they look much better.
    The M9 pics are all green looking and not as detailed with less dynamic range.
    The film pics have a nice color balance, show the reds and oranges very well.
    I would say the M9 processing of these files made them look bad and that it is not a problem with the M9 files themselves.
    Digital Post production is a tricky thing and requires often years of training to get a unique and satisfactory work flow.
    It is a skill unto itself!
    I am always learning new tricks to get the best out of my digital files.

  23. VSCO gave strong green tint, color appears not natural, like green looks blueish…which made it easy to tell

  24. This isn’t so much a comparison of m6 vs m9 as a shoot out between a mediocre or worse scan and some not-so-accurate film emulation software.

  25. Film is decidely superior here. How about a comparison with the the new M240? Or the Sony RX1? Is this typical with the latest and greatest digital captures? It hurts a bit to see this.

  26. I was pleased to see that every shot which I preferred was taken with film! Goes to show what a difference it makes, digital can look excellent but film is still regularly better looking on a consistent basis, it seems!

  27. Amazing, the film files really do look nicer. Seem to have deeper and more contrasty color. I picked my favorite photo then peaked at the source and in every case I had picked the film file.

  28. p.s. the VSCO film emulation program does not seem very impressive. As others have noted, it creates a green tinge. Because of this the film wins this comparison, despite the harshness of the drug store scans.

    • There are hundreds of VSCO emulation options with customization variants that make the number of different looks almost endless. So I wouldn’t damn the whole product based on these conversions.

  29. Using a drug store to scan the film renders this comparison entertaining but not very accurate. A pro level scan is required for a fair comparison.

  30. This would be a much better comparison if the film wasn’t scanned at a drugstore. Drugstore scans are notoriously terrible.

    Had the film been scanned by either a real film scanner or a pro lab, this would be a MUCH better comparison. As is, I don’t see much value.

    • It’s useful if that’s how the OP shoots. It’s a realistic retrospective (since he’s selling the M6) “Here’s what digital will give me vs what I had.”

      ..speaking of, how much for the M6? heheh.

  31. Very green. Yes. Who would have thought that without this very useful comparison. Thanks for sharing!

  32. The contrastier shots in each set are scanned from film. So, in set #1 it’s the first. Set #2–2nd. Set #3–2nd. Set #4–1st. Set #5–2nd.

  33. Thank you Steve for positing my photos. I challenge everyone to try and figure out which is which without looking at the EXIF data. I posted these photos earlier on my Facebook account and the majority of the photographers in my life got them wrong.

    You can view more of my photos at:

    http://www.photographsbyben.com

    Cheers.

  34. the processed images are removing way to much green. I don’t think emulating a “film look” is hard, but I think that you’d need to shoot both a film/digital shot on the same day, at the same time, of the same subject. That would be the only way to get a match, and at that point….why not just shoot film. 🙂

  35. Click the picture to expand and see the file name. The M9 is there for the M9 ones…

    • Not all the bottom ones. I looked at the pictures fist then the EXIF which confirmed I had picked correctly, like most I prefer the film shots for their colour balance etc.

      • Yes, I noticed after my comment that I had missed the one pic (set#4), but it too has the greener colour cast in the M9 file…so the point remains the same:)

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