Reflecting on the Leica M9 as a hiking camera while doing without By Morgan Trimble

Reflecting on the Leica M9 as a hiking camera while doing without

By Morgan Trimble

For the past three months, I’ve been without my most-loved camera. It’s the Leica M9, which despite its high quality, had a design flaw. Its much-loved CCD sensor was prone to corrosion.

I bought my M9 second hand nearly six years ago and have thoroughly put it to the test. In this post, I’m sharing a few of my favorite hiking photos. But in general, I take the M9 everywhere. I’ve lugged it over glaciers to the top of the first and third highest peaks in Africa, to windswept sandy beaches, through freezing rain and snow, on a kayak in a drybag, through the swamps of Bangweulu, to the top of an active volcano in the DRC, trekking after gorillas and rhinos, out to sea in Alaska, on cattle drives in Kansas, to music festivals, restaurants, parades, interviews, bars, and nearly everywhere else I’ve been lately.

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So I wasn’t that surprised when I got back from the iconic dunes of Namibia this January and found out that what I thought were an excessive number of dust specks on my photos was actually sensor corrosion.

Luckily, Leica has a program to completely replace corroded sensors with a new and improved CCD design. In fact, I was almost glad the corrosion had finally appeared on my sensor. With the M9 now a few generations old, I worried that the replacement program might eventually come to an end.

The downside? My service representatives in Cape Town told me I could expect to wait 2 to 3 months to get my camera back. It was quite a blow. As a photojournalist, I use my camera professionally, and while I have a few other go-to systems that are more suited to various types of work, the M9 feels like an extension of my body. My other cameras are just tools, but I’m emotionally attached to the M9.

I was surprised how anxious I felt in the days after handing over my camera to the service department. I don’t want to make light of substance addiction, but the emotional symptoms I felt seem remarkably like those reported after giving up a drug—anxiety, restlessness, irritability, depression, isolation. The feelings didn’t abate. I’d never been tempted to upgrade to the Leica M 240, but now I found myself trying to justify buying the M10—so quiet, so thin, such an improvement in high ISO performance and the LCD screen. I was feeling withdrawal symptoms without the M9 by my side, and I would have likely bought an M10 if It weren’t backordered.

Suddenly everything I saw was a missed photo. The worst was when I went on a two-night backpacking trip to sleep in a cave in some beautiful mountains in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Without my trusty Leica, I had to choose between my 1D series Canon body, which combined with a few f2.8 L lenses is an absurd prospect for backpacking, or a 70’s era Rolleiflex TLR—itself pretty weighty, more fragile, and tough to operate on the go when scrambling over boulders. I attempted to rent a Sony A7 for the weekend, but the prices in Cape Town were prohibitive. Instead I opted to borrow a Canon 60D from a friend; it’s a reasonable size and weight and compatible with one of my favorite Canon lenses, the 14mm f2.8.

But it turned out to be a bad choice. After lugging this combo through the mountains, the results (not shared here!) were disappointing. The corners were smushy and weird, the contrast and detail was lacking, and the dynamic range left plenty to be desired.

Despite the M9’s faults, it’s still a remarkable camera that is surprisingly robust. I don’t suppose there are too many backpackers using it in the great outdoors, but for me it does a great job of capturing the majesty of nature and the joy of the outdoor experience. There’s something about the camera’s simple, purist, back-to-basics operation that just seems to fit with a long walk in the wilderness.

With my M9 finally back in hand (after exactly 3 months), it’s time to plan another adventure. Get in touch if you’re ever in Cape Town!

Morgan Trimble

www.morgantrimble.com

www.facebook.com/morgantrimblephotography

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26 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Leica M9 as a hiking camera while doing without By Morgan Trimble

  1. Hi Morgan, I use my M9, usually with a Zeiss 35mm ZM, on most of the multiday bushwalks (as we call them) I do here in Australia, the last on the 3 Capes Track in Tasmania. It feels robust for this role, makes for a compact and relatively lightweight kit, has good enough on the trail and the image quality is just fantastic, as always. Thanks for your very interesting article, for this fellow bushwalker at least, and wonderful images. Pity I can’t post any here.

  2. My first leica ever is a M10, got it in march. Last week I found a occasion M9 with sensor replacement in May this year. I use the M9 for portraits because of the kodak rendering and the shuttersound. People I photograph for the newspaper Just cheer up when they hear the shuttersound. They think Its a filmcamera, retro-looks ‘/sounds is kind of a hype to have I think? :)
    Sold my Two Xpro-2. Dont miss them.

  3. Some wonderful images on your site. I assume the Sunday Times winning picture (warmest congratulations) was shot on a DLSR and not the M9!

  4. Congrats, beautiful images! Could you give us updates on the new sensor? Is it like a new version of the old sensor or is it the same sensor? Is the new one prone to corrosion as well?
    Thanks a lot!

    1. Marcelo

      From what I have read at Thorston Overgaard’s site the sensor is totally new and not susceptible to corrosion.

      PaulB

  5. I’m still rocking my M9 as well with no plans to upgrade. I do have a Ricoh GR II for backpacking though. I love the images from both these cameras. Cheers!

  6. Great photos, and totally agree with you! I have had my sensor on my M9 replaced twice…once for a faulty one and the second because of moisture getting on the sensor….both times I was without my M for about four months. The last time, I got my M9 back just in time for my trekking trip to Ladakh! I brought both my M9 and the Sony A7Rll, but used the Leica more often!! I agree, the Leica is a great trekking camera!!

  7. I am totally understand and agreed with you Morgan. I also used many cameras but M9 and ME are something else, it so close to you and in fact I love the shutter noise as is so mechanical and assuring :)
    Lovely pictures you have there.

  8. I have a similarly deep love for my MM (aka the M9 Monochrom), and I often wonder what the sensor corrosion will look like if it happens. I have dust spots all the time, but they tend to shift when I change lenses, and at one point when they got too bad I did a wet clean *gasp* and my images were perfect and dust free… for a time. Some of the dust spots are back… how do I know?! They are discontinuing the free sensor replacement :(

  9. Your pictures are really stunning, and I like the angles you choose for capturing your subjects. Would have liked to know which lens(es) you were using.

  10. Gorgeous pics. I use the Monochrome version 1 and I love it. Although I have the M240, I consider buying a M9. Your post is very convincing!

  11. Terrific pictures and story!! Of all my Leicas (M6, M8, M9, M240 and SL) the M9 is the camera I take for a trip in the great outdoors. Can’t beat this little fellow.

  12. Morgan, thanks for sharing your story and the great photos. That M9 sensor still delivers, specially in the hands of a skilled photographer. I have had similar frustrating experiences with Leica support with respect to timeliness. In the USA repairs are done primarily at a New Jersey Leica facility, but to say that I have disappointed with the work there would be an understatement. When I had the M9 they replaced the shutter mechanism with a non-standard one, and when I went to the Leica store in Berlin to buy a cable release during one of my trips to Europe, the Leica representative at the store informed me that none worked because the shutter mechanism was the wrong one. So hopefully, your camera went to Germany for repairs, as that would assure a better service experience.

  13. Well guys… my first M was the 8, which I bought second hand and sold again within a year. My secons M was a 240, bought second hand and sold with a good profit within a year. Just bought my second 240 second hand: I can’t live without a M since I held the first one in my hands.
    If you want a backup camera turn to the Leica Q!

  14. Morgan

    Wonderful images! And a great reinforcement for me to keep my M9.

    I agree with you about being attached to this camera. I had to send mine in for a rangefinder adjustment almost a year ago, and for the first two months I really missed it. I ultimately made my Pen-F work for my needs. It is just not the same.

    Only 3 months to get your camera back from Leica service!?! You did well. When Leica USA had my M9 last year it took almost 5 months to get it back.

    PaulB

  15. Very nice pictures and write-up. I’m also in limbo, waiting for my M9 sensor replacement, which now may take 6 months. That also has me looking at the M10, but it makes more sense to use myA7, since I also really like the M9.

  16. Colour perception is very complex and our brains act as data processors . So colour is extremely subjective.
    I love the Kodachrome type rendering of the ccd sensors in the Leica M9.
    The Leica can give bad rendering as well but when it is on song it is super.
    I am told the M10 is great and the other Leicas can give excellent results when processed appropriately.
    Keep your “old ” cameras and enjoy their special qualities along with the super new stuff if your funds can manage it !

  17. Had the M9, loved it and sold it for an M240. Loved the M240 and sold it for the SL. Love my SL with my M Leica, Zeiss & Voightlander lenses. Don’t care what anyone says; you can still pick out an M9 ccd (or MF ccd) image from a group of random digital images. Call it acutance (like the old Rodinol b/w days), call it sharpness, call it whatever you want. One can still see the difference and it’s almost impossible to emulate that look with software. Great shots btw.

  18. Simply amazing. And this is why I would never sell my leica M9. BTW the first photo, of the dude jumping over the cliff, gave me the shivers, its that for real?

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