Test Shots: The M9, ISO 2500 & B&W.

NOTE: This article was written years ago when the M9 was new. Today the new M has surpassed what the M9 can do at high ISO as its max is now 6400 and it is usable at that ISO. That happens with new technology. 🙂  See my 240 review here to see all of the improvements of the new Leica. 

To this day I still get people telling me that the Leica M9 is crippled when it comes to high ISO. This is false (in 2009). The M9, if exposed well, can give you pretty good results ESPECIALLY as a B&W camera. These images were shot as test images around my house close to midnight. The only light was from a 40 watt table lamp in the room. I set my M9 to 2500, B&W Jpeg and attached the 35 1.4 Summilux on the camera and opened it up to 1.4. Not bad at all huh? I am really digging high ISO and the in camera B&W lately. Something new to experiment with 🙂

Here are some straight from camera results at ISO 2500. No NR, no tweaks..just direct from camera B&W and shot near midnight. The Lux is a light sucker so it brightened up the scenes nicely.  Click any image for a larger 1800 pixel wide version.

TIP: As for blown highlights…yea that happens but who cares? Many of the greatest images of all times have blown highlights. 🙂 When the ISO is cranked the DR drops with any digital camera. When I go out to shoot something important I worry more about the composition, capturing emotion and getting a memorable memory frozen in time. Some worry so much about  technicalities they lose sight of what they are doing. That is when that person ceases to have passion for photography  – instead they have a passion for perfection and it never gets the anywhere. Character wins every time over perfection.

and an ISO 1600 at night


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  1. Hey Elaine! I used to own Alien Skin (still do, but it is not currently installed). I like both Alien Skin and Silver Efex but I think Silver Efex edges out Alien, especially when you go past the presets to customize a bit more. You can download a SIlver Efex demo as well. Just google Silver Efex 🙂

  2. Steve, have you ever tried Alien Skin? I’m using the demo right now, and wonder what the difference is between this and the Nik Software you use? Anyone try both? My demo is up in 3 days and I wanted to know which to invest in. Does Nik have a demo too? I would like to hear it from you though, Steve. You’ve used the Nik software extensively.

  3. Hey Elaine! Yes, I did try B&W JPEG with the M8 and liked it but it was quite a bit noisier from what I remember. Also, a slightly different look, maybe a bit “harder” (M8).

  4. Have you ever tried the B&W settings in the M8 or M8.2, Steve?

    Also, which is better Alien Skin or Nik Efex for doing black and white?

  5. I took one of your habits steve and started shooting bnw jpegs and raw as a secondary and im loving those BnWs. as can be seen here noise tends to add to the bnw shots instead of hinder them. Thanks for the idea.

  6. Since the M9 employs a CCD sensor I don’t believe a nice ISO 3200 is going to happen anytime soon. Unless Leica would switch to a CMOS sensor of course.
    As Steve’s examples show taking good photos at high ISO (M9 high ISO that is, it’s no D3s) is not a question of what the camera offers in terms of usable ISO range but rather whether the photographer knows how to archive those good results with a digital M.
    The emphasis being on the word “digital” here. Which is interestingly the biggest hurdle to overcome for most Leica shooters because their experience is solely based on film.

    One more thing, I really dig the new in camera Vintage B&W setting. Sweet.

  7. I guess the high ISO of Leica M9 is not yet perfect, we must remember that Leica has an arsenal of fast lens that we can use to suck light. In the meantime, we can shoot with fast lens and ISO 1000. During the golden age of film, we only have TMAX, TRI X at ISO 400 and fast Leica lens, sometimes we push the film but the quality will suffer and it will become grainy. Right now, we can use at least ISO 1000 or 1600 and I think, somehow it will give good results and be more film like in qualities. Most Leica users shoot in B&W, I guess the highest B&W ISO film that we can use is Ilford Delta 3200, but it is too grainy.I hope that the future Leica will have nice ISO 3200 with clean image just like the Nikon D3S, and that will be an awesome and stunning feature of the future Leica !

  8. Those look really good. I guess it depends on how well the picture is exposed – I’ve seen M9 ISO 2500 shots that looked awful, and others that looked great. Also, a good NR algorithm (in pp) can do wonders!
    As concerns in-camera b&w at high ISOs – I find the Olympus PENs perform nicely in that regard. At ISO 1600-3200, with color mode set to monochrome and contrast pushed to +2, the results look very good and usable (much more so than in color).

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