Using a Leica M9 for Landscapes, my love and hate relationship. By Ross Tetrault

Using a Leica M9 for Landscapes, my love and hate relationship.

By Ross Tetrault – See his INSTAGRAM HERE

M9_Summilux-35mm-ASPH

Dear photo enthusiasts,

I’ve been reading Stevehuffphoto for about 4 years and photographing for 8. I’m writing today to report on my time using the Leica M9 to shoot landscapes. I’m writing this article because it was 4 years ago when I came to this site and others and read tons of reviews when deciding what camera to purchase to better my photography. I settled on the Leica M9. Full frame, compact, well built—the first of it’s kind really. I thought it would be good for me just as it was for so many other photographers. It turns out I was wrong, but let me first say, and as I will also lastly point out to you, I do not regret my decision to shoot exclusively with my M9 for the past few years. And so here begins my report:

The Leica M9 produces beautiful, crisp, vibrant, and accurate images. But just like how a two-seated sports car might be better suited for racing and an SUV preferable for a family road trip, this camera excels in some niches in photography and lags behind in others.

THE GOOD: I recommend this camera for portraits, I’ve taken a few portraits of people who matter to me that have turned out incredibly well. Street photography, ahhhh, yes, street photography. I love it. That is, I love to look at it. I don’t like shooting it myself. Small and unassuming, a Leica rangefinder is the perfect tool for street work. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about here.

THE BAD: It’s bad for sports, which isn’t surprising. Focusing and composing a well crafted shot of a guy sprinting down a sideline while also shooting 2 or 3fps or so makes it very difficult. It’s not good for wildlife. If you go birding get a 7d mk2 or 5d mk3 or the Nikon equivalent. Everyone can benefit from focal length flexibility and autofocus when shooting animals, something a Leica M body does not offer.

THE DIFFICULT: Shooting landscapes… That’s what I love. That’s what I’ve been looking for the last two years when I leave the house with my camera. But I have a love-hate relationship with the M9 when shooting landscape photography. The Leica M9 CCD sensor creates superb results when using low ISOs. I’ve heard this from many sources here and on other sites and it’s true. For landscapes that’s a big win since I shoot ISOs of 200 or less almost 95% of the time. Base ISO is where I like to be. So the outdated and pretty weak ISO performance at ISO 800 and higher is a non-issue for me (if you are looking to shoot high ISOs when in low light then do note that this is probably not the right camera for you).

barbados sun chatham

cloudy day

The following few paragraphs do not paint the M9 in a favorable light as a landscape camera. But what is written below is simply the information I wish I had known before making my purchase.
Now, as someone who discovered how much he loves to shoot landscapes after investing in my M9, there is one huge disadvantage I faced that I hope others don’t: a CCD rangefinder has NO LIVE VIEW. I can’t stress this point enough. Also the screen is pretty abysmal so I don’t bother trying to check focus on the screen, only the histogram is of any use to me.

But back to the live view issue, it’s tough not having this near-standard feature in cameras today. I didn’t actually use it much on my DSLR because I looked through the optical viewfinder since it had very good coverage and figured I’d do the same on the Leica. Unfortunately live view is actually something I wish I had on my M9 because when I change focus distance and look through the viewfinder window, the what-will-be-captured outlined window shifts slightly from the upper left to the lower right corner and vice-versa, and enough so to be quite frustrating. If you shoot landscapes you probably use a tripod almost all the time, so if you use this camera you should learn to enjoy continuously adjusting your tripod to accommodate the shifting frame while you change focus between shots (or never change focus in a specific scene, up to you).

evening waves

great point horizon

madaket swans

Although that’s a nuisance that one can learn to work with, the real problem is not being able to see the exact frame of landscape you intend to capture. The M9 and my 35mm Summicron Aspherical lens creates very minor viewfinder blockage. But, if you are serious about landscape photography you have at least heard of, if not already own and use, neutral density filters. Using small 67mm rectangular neutral density filters with compact/mirrorless cameras you can capture beautiful results, but it can take a lot of extra attempts to keep what you want in and what you want out of the photo when paired with the M9. That’s because when you use a neutral density filter attached to one of the smallest lenses in the Leica lens lineup, the filter holder blocks a portion of the frame and you must look through the filter itself or you’d see even less. You can get a bunch of small screw-on ND filters but that is more costly and always screwing them on and off to figure out how many stops of light you want to block becomes time-consuming, and from what I’ve seen, causes more color cast and vignetting than my rectangular filters. Using a polarizing filter is also a challenge since you aren’t looking through the lens and you don’t have live view. Also, in case anyone was thinking this, cropping 18 megapixel files is not really what I want to do to fix a “close but not quite right” shot out of the camera, but sadly I am occasionally guilty of doing this. In addition, the longest exposure possible with the M9 is 240 seconds. I don’t shoot astrophotography but for those of you who do, I imagine you’d want the ability to shoot longer exposures than that.

nantucket flare

nantucket marsh

nantucket plain

That was a lot of bad news about shooting with the Leica M9 for landscapes. Sorry. But I wanted to mention all of the things I wish I had known when deciding on the M9. Now let me talk about the camera’s merits.
In the M9’s defense, the CCD sensor at the heart of the camera is drool-worthy. Base ISO files are gorgeous and flexible enough for me to pull darks/shadows around 2-2.5 stops, which is enough to achieve the look I want from most of the shots I take. The result of good technique technically and artistically are files that come out the way I hoped they would, which makes it a hard camera for me to not want to shoot with time and time again. The M9 and 35mm summicron asph are tack sharp when paired together, and the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens I also use delivers nice results. If you don’t have a Canon 50 ltm for your M body, get one. I got a $300 one on eBay from someone in Japan and I love it. I’m tempted to write an article about it since I never found much information about it on digital M’s. Excellent for portraits and street work and even for 50mm landscapes. Beautiful bokeh and pretty darn sharp focus at f/1.4-f/4 and tack sharp at f/5.6. Anyway, I’m going to now share why I don’t regret getting an M9 and explain why I’ve been shooting landscapes with it for two years now.

The M9 is so simple to use. No pages and pages of menus to sift through, no ridiculous automatic modes like “landscape” and “portrait,” just aperture priority and manual (and actually bulb which I don’t use). Having only two shooting modes forced me to really work on my technique and better understand how to expose properly, so thank you Leica for keeping off all the bells and whistles while so many other camera companies think it’s a race to create the camera with the longest instruction manual.
• Although the high ISO results aren’t great, shooting base ISO or sub 800 ISOs creates exquisite files. Having rich color and low noise and images that pop, made shooting landscapes, particularly ones with lots of sky or water, my favorite thing to do thanks to this camera. The DSLR I had before this didn’t reproduce color as well and the images felt a little flat, making me want more. My M9 rangefinder delivered more in a smaller package. Speaking of smaller packages…

naples bird

naples coast

• This camera is tiny! Well, it won’t fit in your pocket, but this was one of the first, if not the first camera, to bust the myth that to create beautiful images you need a camera and lens that, together, weigh enough to also be used as a dumbbell. Having such a small camera was useful because I wanted to bring it out of the house with me more. This benefited me greatly because I shot more, and as I shot more, I began to figure out what it is I do and don’t like to photograph. Simply put, having a smaller camera encouraged me to use a camera more and in more situations, which really helped me find my passion in photography.
• I like to shoot with a rangefinder. I always knew I would enjoy looking through a viewfinder and focusing manually. Although this camera isn’t perfect for what it is I like to shoot, if you have an M9 or an M film body, try shooting landscapes. Although there are some challenges you’ll need to overcome, you’ll no doubt be pleasantly surprised at what you can do with this camera when you take it out of its comfort zone. The challenge can be extremely rewarding.

neighbors_

snowmass mountain

tunnel vision

Final thoughts:

Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.). Don’t be bitten by the bug! Use what you have everyone! Don’t focus on what the next generation of your camera has that your now-seemingly-obsolete camera doesn’t. Make what you have work. That’s what I have done for the past two years using my Leica, and although I’m finally thinking about selling it and moving to a different camera better suited for landscapes (which is all I shoot these days), I’m in no rush. My M9 is still an absolute joy to use. Now, I’d recommend the M240 to anyone who wants a rangefinder camera for landscapes, but if you have an M9 or a film M, either type will produce wonderful images. And there comes a little pride in capturing the shot when it is slightly more challenging .

If you like my images, great! Tell me why if you don’t mind. If you don’t like them, I’m sorry to hear that, but don’t hesitate to leave me some feedback. I appreciate constructive criticism just as much as, if not more, than compliments.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time, hopefully you learned something valuable from what I had to say. I’ve decided to post many of my photos on Instagram, so if you would like to see more about me and my photography hop over to my profile here: Ross Tetrault

Thank you Steve for the opportunity to write a report for this excellent website,

Ross Tetrault

Related Post

Share This!

45 thoughts on “Using a Leica M9 for Landscapes, my love and hate relationship. By Ross Tetrault

  1. Ross,

    Thanks so much for your post! One word of advice if you think about trading in for the M240 is that the flexibility for long exposures is more restricted, in my opinion, then the M9. With the M9 you take, I believe, exposures up to 240 seconds regardless of ISO setting settings; however, the M240 caps your long exposures based on ISO. At 200 ISO max exposure time is 60 seconds while ISO above 1600 is 8 seconds. This might not impact your work but thought it was worth calling out!

  2. Hey Ross, great images, the subtle colors and beautiful detail are so Leica like. I also shot the M9 for landscape, it is a pleasure to work with analog controls and simple menus. More often than not I use it handheld for landscapes on a hike and the viewfinder is a challenge, I will at times shoot a 3×3 grid of the subject, varying the camera left-right up-down, it is surprising what this small change can do to create dynamic vs. so-so composition, and it corrects for viewfinder parallax. Tripod work also benefits from first shooting the grid handheld. Filters, they are tricky with the M9 and I don’t always have the luxury of setting up a grad nd in a holder. My half-baked solution is the use of the grad nd handheld in front of the lens, not perfect but it can be done and practice helps. With larger lenses/other systems I also use the specific size grad nd on the lens, the grad in this case is fixed. I had my doubts about this solution but have found it works and quite well. I use the B+W for their more neutral grads. I find the benefits of the M9 outweigh it’s shortcomings, there’s almost a zen like feel to the rangefinder Leica and the challenges rather stimulating.

  3. beautiful tonality!

    I was wondering exactly which Canon 50mm f1.4 you use (and which adapter too?)

    Thanks for sharing your pictures and thoughts!

    loren

  4. I use 35mm Film for Landscapes.
    I think an M is really meant for hand use.
    The moving frame moves so little as one focuses.
    I don’t see a problem.
    Your exposures are way too light, bleached out?
    Landscape is dependent on light conditions.
    Perfect sun overhead or behind is fine for a box brownie.
    Dramatic light makes for more interesting images.
    I like the blurred shot of pilings and waves, close up.
    A different camera would make no difference with your method.

  5. At base ISO’s there has been relatively small improvements in sensor technology over the last few years. Unless you need the extra MP it is unlikely you will find any new cameras with better IQ. Your colors remind me of Portra, very nice. Thanks for sharing.

    David

    1. the IQ of the m9 is excellent, without a doubt. That’s the reason I’ve been sticking with it over the years. thanks for compliment.
      Best
      Ross

  6. Nice photos. Your article comes off like, “I wish I’d chosen better, as this large pile of money gets in the way of capturing an image” when the large volume of readers here would consider themselves blessed to have such a system at their disposal. Your images dont suffer from any real technical issue, only issues perceived due to having more money to throw at your problem than you know what to do with. That’s not a problem of the system, only the person behind the lens.

  7. Lovely shots — especially the long exposure one has a beautiful, dreamy aspect to it. And yes, I agree that while I love Leica (do have an M myself), it’s an ongoing challange to get tack sharp images (in the range 0.7 – 3 m) with open apertures and even more challenging (though I still try it often) to hand it to bystanders to get a photo of oneself … maybe the next version is again a step forward 🙂

    1. Haha yes it’s a difficult camera for someone to use if they don’t know what it is. Thanks for you thoughts!
      Ross

  8. Great photos, love those long exposure shots.
    Gladly to see people still talking and enjoying the camera,
    Off course I’m still loving my M9-P here.
    Cheers

  9. I love my M9 and I use it a lot for landscape. When I bought it I knew what limitations I faced with it. I rarely use filters, and the only time I would require an ND filter would be in sunny conditions, shooting almost wide open, which is rarely done with landscapes anyway. I notice a lot of your shots are into the light, mostly the sun. Those conditions make it difficult to get an ideal exposure under the best of conditions. The M9 is a great camera for landscape in my opinion.

    1. And it’s an opinion I appreciate. But I do, unlike you, use ND filters. a lot. And it blocks a large portion of the viewfinder. not optimal. But like I said, I still love the camera. It’s fantastic as you well know. Enjoy it.
      Ross Tetrault

  10. Its not the camera its the photographer. I used the M9 in Yellowstone for eight days doing landscapes and the images are just as good as if I had used any other camera.

    1. Not saying the images aren’t good. They are. You just saw 14 of them above. I just think, as I express in my article, there are a few things I wish I had known before investing in this camera to use. I didn’t know what my photographic passion was at the time, but I now do, and there are a few things about using the m9 to shoot landscapes that bug me. So I decided to write about it. But like I also said, I still love the camera. It produces great photographs. I’m happy yo hear you enjoy shooting with your m9 like I do mine.

      Ross Tetrault

  11. Ross,

    With all respect I am afraid you just pick the wrong camera for your purpose. The M9 is a great camera, but a rangefinder is not the right camera for landscape photography (or sport and other purposes for what matters). Period. The shortcoming that you rightly highlighted are indeed the reason why it’s not a good fit. Cameras are horses for courses and you’re trying to use a sport car for your removal…. don’t blame the camera….

    I love the M cameras and I enjoy them a lot but for landscape photography I use other tools designed for that purpose.

    By the way, you don’t need live view for landscape photography, it’s a nice to have but not a must…

    Cheers,
    Lorenzo

      1. Sure thing, but that doesn’t mean that a rangefinder is the optimal landscape camera, especially in the context of the several other options available today.

        Before the 60s a Leica rangefinder was among the very best cameras available (together with Rollei, Contax and few others), there were almost no SLR and the vast majority of the landscape photographers were using view cameras.

        However, even the most known street, war and reportage photographers have shot landscapes now and then, often with a Leica rangefinder, producing superb images. If you’re interested, even Cartier Bresson has a piece of work of fine landscape photography even though he was not known at all as a landscape photographer. A reportage done by a photographer could, and often does, also include great landscape photos. But if you look at pure landscape photographers, back then as today, they use view cameras (today technical cameras with digital backs), film (now digital) medium format cameras and eventually an SLR/DSLR.

        My point was that a Leica M is not the optimal tool for landscape photography, it has a lot of shortcomings and if someone really wants to use one, or if that the camera that happens to be in the bag that day, that’s fine but one should be aware of the challenges and shortcoming he/she’s facing and one should not complain about them.

        Cheers

        1. One additional comments: except for professional photographers (i.e. who makes a living out of photography), everyone else does photography for the pleasure of doing it and because it’s satisfying. To this end, if you enjoying shooting landscape with a Leica M, something that I do too now and then, then that’s great and that’s the only thing that matters.

          Happy shooting everyone…

    1. I agree live view is an accessory not a must, but something that would be helpful if trying to shoot landscapes with a rangefinder. not surpring that leica’s next model had live view. it’s useful for lots of purposes. I still love my m9 and hope to continue to shoot with it all summer long. I picked a camera before I knew my purpose as a photographer. But I figured I might as well explain how I feel about this camera as a landscape photographer. It works, but isn’t optimal as you pointed out. I don’t blame the camera. I still get good shots. But I know other cameras are better suited for my type of work. That’s all I wanted to point out with this article.

      Ross Tetrault

  12. Great and inspiring.

    Im a happy user of m9. Coming from film I was hoping that m9 will make me shift to digital. I think I found what i was looking for. The images are crazy alive and full of emotion. If I knew and wasnt afraid to just buy this expensive camera, I would have saved time and money.

    I hope to try it also with landscape. The zeiss 50 planar is fabulous on the m9. I tested the cron 50 today and hands down for my taste the planar is better.

    Thank you for sharing your m9 experience as it is now difficult to find recent reviews with it.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the article! and welcome to the digital world. enjoy your m9 it’s a great camera!

  13. Thanks for sharing some nice shots I just repurchased an m9p because I missed the CCD vibe
    I don’t care what anyone says you can’t Lightroom your way too this look this way.

  14. Nice pics, but strange colors, some have too much cyan for my taste. I guess, that is on purpose?
    It looks good for water, but I’ve never seen sand with that cyan cast…

    1. Interesting. I appreciate your criticism. Personally that is my preferred coloration for sand but I’ll definitely keep what you said in mind next time I’m editing.

  15. Nice – still at low iso, natural light it produces the best images I have seen. Even the older M8 is a gem some of the M8 groups on social media have amazing images, uses don’t care about the computer add ons just the end result.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. My m9 in daylight is stunning. The m9 flicker group is full of excellent images. Enjoy your m8. lovely camera
      Ross

  16. Nice pics; my fave is the vertical with weathered posts, bird sitting on far-post. I’m sure he new to sit still for you during your shutter-drag. 🙂 A number of your images have the same “pastel” color palate, which looks very cool.

    Had the M9, and the M240 with the multi-function grip, with 4, M lenses & one R tele. Sold my M9 first, then the M240, replaced by the SL, using the M/R lenses. Stellar camera with only a few quirky EVF issues that will be solved with a future FW update. The integrated EVF has features that can really benefit the landscape/architectural shooter. The weight/size of the SL with M lenses, is not much greater than the M240 & EVF with the MF grip. You might consider taking a look, or at least renting the SL for a spin with your M lenses.

    1. Haha yeah I yelled at the bird to stay put.
      The SL looks incredibly tempting. Although I must say, I’m eyeing the Pentax 645z or the Canon 5dsr for my next camera. Although the SL is beautiful, I’m not sure I’m willing to wait for a full ecosystem of lenses and I’m not partial to keeping my M glass. Size is no longer a concern for me since I always carry a tripod and a bag since I only shoot landscapes. Also, 50MP with circa 14 stops of dynamic range sounds like heaven to me! But yes, renting the SL is absolutely in the cards. Maybe I’ll just have to rent all three and do a shoot out then decide 🙂
      Ross Tetrault

  17. The ‘Less is more’ or use of empty space I find interesting, but not one I find an easy one to employ. I’m tempted to suggest some of your shots look washed out – but maybe that’s because I shoot the opposite way. I’ve admired Leicas for over 4 decades, used to own a Leica IIIG with a collapsable Summicron 5cm f2, but feel more connected to what I’m taking when looking through the lens. An LCD screen is not the same thing, it also ‘detaches’ me. I suppose it’s a ‘One man’s meat is another’s poison’ kind of thing. One thing that does strike me about your images is just how much detail is preserved in the highlights. Really appreciated seeing images taken differently to how I would take them, though.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful criticism. I will consider what you’ve had to say and see if I can improve my work further. Unfortunately, looking through a rangefinder isn’t looking through a lens, so I have that similar disconnect. One I’m fine with, but if I am going to feel disconnected I’d rather be 100% sure what I’m about to capture. I always shoot to avoid clipping highlights, so I’m happy you feel I’ve captured highlights well.
      Thank you for your thoughts,
      Ross Tetrault

  18. Well, nice story and pics. I sold my M240 some month ago, cause I needed a weather sealed camera and bought the Lumix GX8 with 12-35/ 2.8 and the new 100-400. Superb set, no doubt about that. But I miss the M. M is handy and fast and simple – a no nonsens camera. 21, 50 and 75 mm lenses and you’ve got a perfect travel set. Back to basic photography. Like 48 years ago, when I bought my first camera.
    Next step for me: the new MM.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/?

    1. Yes a rangefinder is a delightful camera to use. I tend to shoot only in good conditions (I like blue skies in my images) but it would be nice to shoot in rain if I so choose. My next camera will be weather sealed as well. Hopefully the new Leica will be the right one for you! until then enjoy the lumix.
      Ross T

  19. Nice pics, great space, sweet colours. For me, no live view isn’t a problem. I used (and still use) M3, M2, M6. For the last three years, I’ve been enjoying a MM (type M9) and a M240. The former has no live view. The latter has one : I never use it – never ! And I could as well go for the M60 or its recent version : no live view, no LCD.

    1. Thank you! Interesting you have both the m9 and m240 and choose not to use live view on the m240. Personally I wish I could, I’ve realized I don’t love the fact I’m not 100% sure when my frame cuts out the scene but hey, whatever works for you! No live view hasn’t stopped me from shooting my favorite type of photography.
      Nice collection of cameras 🙂
      Ross T

    2. Interseting how you never use live view! It’s just a perk I wish I had on the m9 but I have been living and working without it. Nice line up of cameras I might add 🙂
      Ross Tetrault

  20. Hi
    Ross Tetrault
    Very inspiring photographs and realy great work. Gongrats!
    Steve Huff is one of the best and his and his ‘real life’ leica reviews are so clear and full of energy!
    Back in 2009.
    I had great experience with M7, M9 and finaly settled down with CCD MM and 50 lux asph

    Looking forward to see your future work Ross!
    Kind Regards, Mate

    1. Thank you very much. I appreciate the compliment. And I agree, Steve’s site is one of the best out there. Enjoy the 50 lux, sounds like an incredible lens.
      Ross

  21. It’s the sheer spaciousness of your images I like, and among them my preference is for those where the colour is understated. I tend to think – except on rare chance occasions – that I have to fill my frame rather more, so it’s been a good learning experience also to see what you do. I know I shall never go for a rangefinder, but I can use what you show with my X1 and XV. Thanks.

    1. Thank you John! I love to let color fill space rather than more and more objects, but there is nothing wrong with shooting landscapes either way, of course. thank you for your kind words.
      Ross T

    2. Thank you John! I love to let color fill space rather than more and more objects, but there is nothing wrong with shooting landscapes either way, of course. thank you for your kind words.
      Ross T

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: