Is there an M9 “State of Mind”??

I received such an interesting e-mail today that I decided to make a post out of it. I am crazy busy right now with all of these cameras and cool lenses sitting in my house but I had to take the time to write this one. The e-mail was basically wanting an answer to the question “Is there an M9 state of mind?”. Let me post the question filled e-mail and then the answers, which will be all of my own opinions of course 🙂 So let’s get to it…


Hey Steve !!! I have a question for you ..As a photographer, do you “FEEL” differently behind a SLR, the E-P2, the X1, a P&S, and the M9 ?

YES! I feel quite a bit different when shooting the M9 over any of the mentioned cameras. I have touched on this subject before in various reviews but let me try again. When I go out with a DSLR I know I have a camera capable of delivering great images but I somehow never seem to really get into shooting with one! Your question asks about the “FEEL” as in how I feel when I shoot each type of camera. With a large DSLR I feel burdened (though smaller DSLR’s are not so bad). I know millions of people shoot DSLR’s every day with no issues and get AMAZING results but an SLR usually doesn’t inspire me like the M9 does. I have been spoiled by the M9’s file quality and lenses. I have also been spoiled by the size and weight of the M9 so when I take it out I feel a sense of freedom and I am confident in the quality I will get out of the camera. I can not say the same for all DSLR’s or compacts.

The M9 inspires me to shoot, plain and simple. I am connected to it. The manual focus, the metering, the build, the history and heritage…all of these things pull at your heartstrings and it does funny things. When you own one and get to know it, well, its all over. It makes it tough to go out an enjoy shooting with a plain old DSLR. At least for me it does.  The X1, the SLR’s, and even P&S cameras also have the capability to get great results but I do not feel the same when shooting these compacts. I also enjoy other cameras like the Olympus E-P2, and even the new Pentax K7 which is a super quality small size DSLR (review soon) but I am in a different mindset when shooting these and usually shoot totally different subject matter.

I mean, is your “STATE OF MIND” different behind each of these cameras ?

Yes. With an SLR I lift, aim, and fire away. When I am out and shooting my M9 I am in “photographer mode”. Sure, I can take my time with an SLR but I never seem to do that! Cameras like the M9 make me want to get out and shoot. The big DSLR’s don’t. The E-P2 also makes me want to go out and shoot due  to its small size and lenses. I use the E-P2 quite a bit and on occasion my Sons Nikon D3000 but my favorite is the M9. As I have already stated, it inspires confidence and I know what it is capable of. I understand it and know it’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s best feature is its simplicity, and using something so simple, so well made, and so compact is a beautiful thing indeed! I just wish it was a few thousand dollars cheaper. Imagine an M9 at $3995. I would buy two.

Do you feel more “creative” with the M9 ?

Absolutely. The image quality is so good with the M9 that it approaches medium format. Also, shooting with a lens like the Noctilux REALLY brings out the creativity and even shooting with an old 1943 50 Summitar has been a rewarding experience. The way some of these old lenses render is out of this world. For example, I shot an image yesterday of my wife Mina. I used the Leica M9 with that 1943 50 Summitar (on loan from a reader of this site) and when I saw the shot in Aperture 3 I was literally blown away at the way this lens rendered the image. The bokeh, the softness, the creaminess. THIS is the look Leica is known for and over the years that look has gotten more “modern” with higher contrast sharper lenses. But this is what is so nice. With the M, you have so many lens choices! Old lenses, new lenses…you can use them all and they all have different looks, many of them can not be replicated with a DSLR. The lenses are where it’s at for the Leica M system.

Anyway, here is the image with a 1943 Leica lens:

Leica M9 – 1943 50 Summitar at F2 – WOW!

Do you try things with the M9 that you don’t try with other cameras ?

It was because of my MP that I owned years ago that I started shooting people on the street. The small size of the M made me feel comfortable approaching people because they did not seem intimidated by it. If I had a big Nikon D3 and 24-70 I would have NEVER done that. It seems like people are more relaxed around an M camera…mainly the photographer who is shooting with one 🙂 But to be honest, the little m4/3 Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic GF1 are capable of the same thing due to their size and non threatening nature. Just don’t expect the same quality out of them or the same feeling when you shoot.

Is it all the manual settings that provide this feeling ? Is it the lens & the nice creamy backgrounds ? Is it the size of these different cameras ? Is it about the built quality that you hold in your hands ?

All of the above and then some.

What comes closest to an M9 experience? The X1?, A micro 4/3rd ?

Well, nothing is like the M experience  in digital because an M camera is a rangefinder. To get close to that experience find a small DSLR. Something like  the Pentax K7 which is small but with a pro build so it feels really nice. Buy a Zeiss 35 F2 for that camera and shoot in Aperture priority mode. You will have manual focus in a much smaller package than something like a D700. You will not have the rangefinder, you will not have full frame, and you will not get the enjoyment of manually controlling the aperture on the lens but you will have a great little kit with a pretty damn quiet shutter! I REALLY like the Pentax K7 so far and am going  to try and get a Zeiss lens or two for it to try. It has the build, features and size to make my DSLR “buy” list but I have yet to take it out for a workout, so we shall see what happens. At the end of the day, nothing really can replicate a Leica M experience in the digital world.  The E-P2/GF1 with their EVF are also close but they are not M9 quality (nor should they be at 1/7th the price)!

Thanks SO MUCH Steve !
ps : I’m a huge huge fan of your blog!!!

– jean

Thanks for the questions Jean, it felt like an interview! The short answer to your question in the title is YES, there is an M9 state of mind but it is more of a “rangefinder” state of mind. For me it’s about the size, weight, lenses, quality and manual nature of the camera. These things make it very special and a wonderful tool to take with you every day. I do have to say that I really do like ALL types of cameras but my faves are the smaller ones with high quality as they are the ones that are so enjoyable to shoot!


  1. I would say, this is true not only for M9. Any Leica M camera has a different state of mind. And I must say that film Leica is even more different.

  2. Hey Ryan, the Rd1 is nice but I would much rather spend the little extra for a used M8. The Rd1 is getting pretty old and reliability may be a problem. I have seen many RD1’s in need of repair so just wanted to throw that out there. I had one when it launched and loved it and thought the manual cocking and analog dials was a nice touch.

  3. Other cheap (~$1200USD used) alternative to M9: Epson R-D1. M-mount, great images, and even retains the shutter cocking lever of film bodies.

  4. This is my experience with the M9. If the exposure is no good, be careful with the exposure next time. Off focus? You say to yourself focus carefully next time. Or I should devise better focusing methods to salvage similar situation …. Afraid of pointing a 50mm lens at somebody’s face? Next time I should do this ….. it might work….Focus went to the wrong place? You promise yourself that you will be more careful next time. Not enough or too much depth of field? Register that in your mind and next time I shall ….. Composition no good? Spend more time with the viewfinder next time before you fire off …..So it is a lot of these “next time” vows to yourself that you propel and strife. This machine makes you do your homework and I have no one to blame but myself. You know that this machine and the lenses are so compact and yet so powerful… I should treat them like grenade in my pocket….

  5. @STEVE! : Amazing post !!! Thank you SO MUCH for answering my question in such details.
    I understand the feeling. I want this “State of Mind” !!! 😉
    Great comments guys !!! THIS BLOG IS THE VERY BEST !!!

  6. I’ve been using the E-P1 for the past 3 months and have to say I’m growing attached to it more each day. I have shot enough film in my life to not want to go back (Mr. Impatience here), and I do know the feeling you (Steve) and everyone here has when you hold that Leica in hand. It’s a proud, almost gloating feeling one gets as you go out into the world to shoot. I let one slip thru my hands a few years ago, and have kick myself ever since. One day I will again ride that high cloud in the sky, but until then I’m plugging along with my E-P1. Cheers all and thanks Steve.

  7. I sold my K10D and bought a Zeiss Ikon + Biogon 35 a year ago. I smile every time I press the shutter or adjust the aperture. There is definitely a rangefinder “State of Mind” 🙂

  8. The thing I have found when shooting a Leica camera is a confidence boost. It almost feels like you can shoot anything and make it look amazing.

  9. Perfect response, Steve. You have echoed my sentiments nearly exactly. There are times when one needs an SLR (birding, ultratelephoto, fast action sports). For everything else, the M9 is better, and the feel provides a connection…deeper than SLR’s…hard to quantify or even qualify…

  10. Hello Steve.
    Cheers from Copenhagen, Denmark. Sorry for my poor English. I’m looking at your page every day, because of its dynamic character. Tanks for it. Lively and inspirating. Your article are touching the subjet “Zen and photographing” so to say…
    From my little life I can tell you a little life-story: My Hasselblad SWC I have used a good deal, photographing in Venice. But what a heck to carry around with, a big bag including a Nikon for its superb matrix-light-messuring and a heavy tripod. But wonderfull pictures it create, but only in venice, else I leave it alone. And my Hasselblad 201F with that marvelous 2.8/50 Zeiss Distagon also takes wonderfull pictures, but rather seldom, its not a walkabout-camera, so I leave it alone, but it looks nice on the shelf. And it’s expensive and takes time with film, laboratorium, and scanning…Oh no, what a lazy man,…nevertheless it’s my life, and reality.
    My Nikon D3 I use all the time professional as an architect. Its an effective workhorse, but heavy, bulky, and takes effective pictures, but pictures are dull and little boring to look at, and no, I don’t use it at holydays and so on, people get frightened, or at least I’m convinced they do, when they see it.
    Oh my little Leica Minilux with that wonderfull summarit 2.4/40 lens, nice, nice pictures. A lot of atmosphere. Also my little Nikon 28TI took some good pictures. But my little local photoshop closed. It’s the digital area….
    And… Leica M6, with that 2,8/21 Elmarit (also got a summicron 2/50 an a 2/90 but leave them alone..), THAT I used to walk around with, at work, at holyday, everywhere. Love wide-lens, you just took it to your eyes, measured the light, 1/60, ajusted the aperture and shot from your hips, your belly, just figured out the distance so and so and because of the large depth of field, you never get lost. And your finger pressing and the picture was immediately taken without hesitation. You never had doubt whether you had taken a picture or not, a so solid and comfortably feeling. And the feeling walking around, made you smile an inner childish smile. I almost never looked through the viewfinder. It’s a lie, but almost. And what pictures…..senses, atmosphere, intimacy, texture, spatiality. And people never take you seriously, they think you have and old legacy from an old uncle. So you can shoot them right in the face, and they just smile friendly and look indulgent at you. THAT’S zen-feeling when you are photographing. And you get that creeping nice feeling through your chest……Yes you certainly feel your camera as an extension of your right hand….What a feeling….But my local Photoshop has…..its the Digital… know…
    And my Nikon Coolpix P6000 and Panasonic LX3, they never crept under my skin. But I also use them at work, because I don’t got a M9 yet! But I never know whether or not I have taken a picture, and have to controle, and not rely. Boring!….
    But I’m saving, and I’m longing for taking pictures again in Copenhagen, Venice, around places, right up in people’s faces, and smile in return at their smiles. Lovely. Leica, look up to reserve a black M9 for me….please…I’ll be there soon, so soon…..Longing for that feeling…
    Sorry for the length of my words…keep up and on Steve…
    Yours Thorkil Brodersen

  11. Hi Steve, What an interesting post. I share your thoughts regarding
    DSLR and the M series. My M8 forces me to go out and look for he
    images that are there waiting to be capured. This doesn;t happen wih
    my DSLR. I know , its’ just a state of mind, somehow the M inspires

    How differente is you experience, which you aptly describe, between
    the M8 and the M9?

    Thanks for your daily dosis of wisdom and knowledge,


  12. Ben – Doesn’t matter really but the smaller lenses do make the camera easier to carry around all day. I love my 35 Summarit and 50 cron, both great lenses.

    Gary – Yep, a Voigtlander Bessa would be a good entry into RF. It’s film of course but you still get the RF feel and experience.

    Efix – I used to own a Bessa and thought it was a great camera. Give one a try!

    Elaine – LOVE the portraits on your site! Those B&W’s are great. Send me a pic for the daily post!

    Jonathan – B&H has a used CL and 40mm right now!

    Randy – I agree with what you said, even on the old Nikon F’s. Those were/are nice bodies.

  13. Steve,

    I’ve always thought thought cameras have an aesthetic about them. Sometimes the image picks the camera so to speak and sometimes the camera totally makes you shoot a different picture. I’ve always felt more “artful” when using an M or a twin lens Rollei than a more modern 35mm or Hasselblad. I do have a soft spot for the old Nikon F’s with a plain prism though………

  14. efix – the cheapest way I have seen into rangefinder photography is the CL, it was a great camera and it can be found for around $300. It is really a leica and sometimes it comes with the outstanding 40mm lens for around $500.

  15. I’ve been applying that concept of manual shooting to my Nikon D80 when I photograph my dog Ozzy each day. The only thing I don’t do manually on it is focus, due to the viewfinder not being as bright as a Leica, I have difficulties with focusing it manually.

    When I am using the Leica, I go into “art & nostalgia” mode. I have complete control of everything, and my mind immediately slows down. It’s like I’m meditating. It’s a slower process, and a joy to shoot a rangefinder. I wish I had the M9, but while I wait, I’m happy using the M8.2. I’ve already had friends say to me that they thought the files they were looking at came from a film camera. They said the pictures look cinematic. How cool is that?

    I find I’m composing better instead of firing a zillion AF shots like on the D-SLR.

    I started a blog about my experiences. I was supposed to be doing a blog about my Leica M9 experience, but maybe someday I can combine the two experiences. LOL. It’s only been up for a few weeks, and it’s not technical, more emotional, but you’re free to check it out. Now, mind you, I’m a newbie at using the rangefinder camera. This is my first Leica. The only other rangefinders I had were years ago. (An Olympus XA which I loved, and a Bessa R2 which I hated!). Steve was the inspiration for the blog. He’s helped me so much with his website and kind words. I check on his website everyday to see what’s new! It’s like getting a package in the mail everyday, isn’t it? One day I’d like to be worthy of a “Daily Inspiration” blurb. Meanwhile, I am slowly getting to know the whole Leica mystique.

  16. Garry – I am actually considering acquring a Bessa (maybe a used one to get started) some time in the future, since those seem to be the most affordable entry to rangefinder photography. Do you have any experience with Bessas? How easy/difficult is it to get into rangefinder photography? I’d really love to try it out once, but neither do I know anybody who owns a rangefinder camera, nor can I afford a Leica at present.

  17. You can of course get the M experience far cheaper than an M9, a film M can be had for less than $1000, they are full frame of course unlike the M8, and hold their value very well. Of course you can spend even less and get a Zeiss Ikon, or way, way less and get a Voigtlander Bessa, still M mount and functions almost identically to a Leica.

  18. Nice Post! Does it make a difference shooting with the 50 cron vs 50f1.1 nokton?
    I find the bigger lens eye catching so want something smaller like the leica 35f2.5 and zeiss 1.5.
    I have the 35 1.2 and 50 1.1. worth getting the smaller lens?

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