More travel with the M9 by Patrick Conaty

Traveling with the Leica M9

By Patrick Conaty

Hey Steve, I recently went on an epic journey through Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Hawaii. I thought it’d be fun to share some of my favorite shots from the trip as well as talk a bit about the process and experience in taking them.

I’m a Vancouver based visual effects artist working in film and I shoot and sell prints when I can in my spare time. Last fall I had a nice gap between projects so I took off with my gear and without any plans at all.. just the way I like it. I’ve been reading your site for a while and have been inspired by the rangefinder style of shooting as well as the results it yields.

Before now I was shooting with a Nikon and absolutely hated lugging around all the heavy bulky equipment… so much that I just didn’t lug it around any more. At the time I was also shooting with the Ricoh GRII (and now the GRIII) and loved the portability, striped down design as well as the image quality for such a little camera. The way it processes black and white jpg’s is to die for.

Anyway, the point is I ended up shooting a lot with that camera for those reasons. 28 became my favorite focal length for street photography and I was always shooting with it since it was always with me. With this in mind.. a month or so before I left on my trip I decided to sell off all my Nikon equipment and take the plunge with an M9. I wanted something that I could cary with me at all times and have to think about it. I also hate generating attention while I’m shooting (as most do). And obviously I wanted something that could deliver high resolution detailed large prints from if need be. BOOM!!.. M9! No regrets..

I picked up two used lenses. I love shooting 28 with the Ricoh so I bought the latest build of the Leica 28 Elmarit. I also got a Zeiss 50 Sonar. Both are stellar lenses for completely different reasons. The Elmarit is astonishingly sharp with high micro contrast throughout. It also has zero distortion. (see the blue airport photo)The Sonar turned out to be much sharper than I expected but of course still a bit soft compared to the Leica. Out of focus areas are very nice and the overall 3d depth rendering keeps me coming back. In fact I ended up shooting mostly with the Sonar, especially since I always had my Ricoh handy to get a wider perspective if need be. My only issue with the Sonar is the focus shift which actually becomes less of an issue the more you shoot with it. Manual focusing took a bit of getting used to but not before long it became second nature.

I’ve come to love how much more precise and quick you can get with a rangefinder over an slr. However.. during night shoots while shooting wide open it was very hard to capture a fleeting moment while getting the focus just right.

Between the Ricoh, Leica + two lenses I had a pretty rad setup that was never an issue while backpacking around for two months. I always felt safe with the compact in my pocket and the leica strung around my sholder. In fact, at one point a random guy in Bangkok asked me why I was shooting with such an old film camera. Love it 🙂

As for the photos themselves.. I shot a ridiculous amount over two months. I think what most non-photographers don’t understand is that it can often take hundreds of shots to get one or two that look great. For this reason I think that editing is just as important (or even more) as shooting. Sorting through them and finding potential through cropping, curve adjustments or even pairing with other photos can make a huge difference, and also takes a considerable amount of time. I sometimes see potential in photos that I never saw during the time that I shot them. This is why I rarely delete photos in camera unless I know they’re complete garbage.

When I shoot I usually output a raw file in addition to a jpg. The advantage to this that I can shoot and preview images in b&w and know that I will always have a color raw file. Besides having a general affinity towards b&w I find it’s much easier to judge composition/exposure/sharpness on a camera lcd without being distracted by too many things.

With regards to my style of shooting I’m very influenced by graphic design, interior design and geometry concepts. For me, composition takes precedence over anything else. I’m really interested in finding banal subjects or scenes and trying to expose some sort of objective beauty through selective composition. Obviously this always results in a subjective interpretation. When I see something that interests me I usually have a good idea of how I “see” it but it will often take many shots at slightly different angles before that vision clicks with what ends up on my lcd on the camera. I tend to gravitate towards bold shapes and uncluttered environments. Desolate/lifeless environments can always be brought alive by carful framing. It’s this ongoing challenge to bring out visual interest in everyday objects that keeps me shooting as much as I do. You never know what you’re going to find if you always keep a look out and a camera by your side. Shooting with a Leica rangefinder takes out all the unnecessary bullshit typical of modern photography and lets you focus on what matters.

Most of the photos here were shot wide open with the 50mm Zeiss and a couple were shot with the 28mm Leica. Some are jpg’s straight from camera while others are edited raw files.

The rest of my edits from the trip including a bunch of Ricoh GRIII photos can be found here:

And most of my work (both visual effects and photography) can be found here:

Thanks for reading!


From Steve: Thanks Patrick! Great article and always nice to see someone go from an SLR to a rangefinder and love the experience. The M9 is a special camera..expensive? YES it most certainly is but it’s hard to argue with the results and the way it actually helps improve your photography by altering the way you think and shoot. To those who never shot with an M9 but are curious, rents the M9 body and lenses here so anyone can give it a spin 🙂 As for buying an M9, I recommend either B&H Photo, Dale Photo or Ken Hansen! Enjoy! I’ll have some articles up soon and more Seal tour shots from Sao Paulo Brazil!

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  1. Hey everyone, thanks so much for all the kind words! Ashwin, will definitely let you know next time I’m in Seattle. Greg, we’re definitely on the same page! I’d love to see India and think I’d be overwhelmed by all the photo ops there. I love the portraits that you shot with the Sonnar. Stunning! Oh, and re: Sergey Maximishin: WOW.. good call 🙂

    • Hi Patrick!

      Thank you for your kind words about my photography and India. I love that country! It’s not just about photo ops, although there are more than plenty. It’s about its people and culture and great traditions that they managed to preserve over thousands of years. It is also about extreme suffering, poverty, inhumane conditions due to overpopulation that just break your heart and compel you to do something, to help and care.

      Maximishin is great! He is our Russian Steve McCurry. Well, kind of… If he could only lose that wide angle lens he loves so much (I hope he’s not reading this…) No, really, he’s one of the best photojournalists out there.


  2. Great story, Patrick. I also like your approach to photography very much. I try to look at and capture the world in a way similar to what you described, but I’m afraid my prowess is nowhere near yours … but I keep trying 🙂

  3. Patrick, Love the first image ! and great to hear your story and see the pictures
    Many thanks
    Mark Seymour

  4. Did everyone see the detail on the larger elephant photo? Nice.

    And there are some incredible pictures on the web site.

    Thanks for sharing Patrick – I’m inspired,

  5. Hi Patrick,

    Great shots! I especially like the title one and the last one. Precisely composed; great subjects, too. And the last one is also perfectly exposed! I know how difficult this can be.

    I am of the same ‘heritage’ as you. I had a Nikon system: the D700 with an array of some good Nikkor lenses, both manual and AF. And I left it all for same reasons as you. And, like you, I never regretted it. It’s interesting to see how people half-way around the globe feel and act the same way (I’m in Moscow, Russia).

    Like you, I also enjoy going to Asia, as I find it much more photogenic than the West. I know a great photographer here in Russia, his name is Sergey Maximishin (look him up, you will be glad you did), and he says that there’s nothing to shoot in Paris or London, whereas there is a lot of photographic inspiration in every corner of India. Of course, this is a subjective opinion and I’m sure there are many exciting things to photograph in Paris or London but I do get his point.

    The other thing we have in common is we both like the 50mm Sonnar. I just love this lens and I mostly shoot with it virtually glued to my M9. I guess, your copy is calibrated for wide open aperture (judging from your shots) but mine is calibrated at f/2.8. As I do a lot of portraiture I prefer it that way. I can manage focusing wide open in those rare cases when I need it by turning the focusing ring a tiny bit further to the left. With portraits it’s even easier: I focus on a person’s ear instead of eye and I usually get my resulting focus right on the eyes (like this portrait, for example: ). But most of my portraits are done within f/2.8 to f/8 range (like this one: ), so I am fine with f/2.8 calibration, contrary to the widespread preference.

    Thank you very much for your great article and pictures!

    Greg Shanta

  6. Love the pictures bro! I’m actually from Thailand and i can see you’ve captured some of the key essence of my country 🙂

    This setup is definitely one of the best setups for travelling! I’m waiting for my M9 to arrive and will soon find a GRDIII to go along with as well. Love the GRDIII that its not very very light-weighted and the batteries also quite long!

    Keep up the good work bro.


  7. Beautiful work, Patrick. And I really appreciate what you said about composition and finding the beauty in an otherwise banal scene through careful framing and composition. While I never could have articulated it so well, that’s what I really enjoy about photography as well. Thanks for putting words to my thoughts!

  8. Nice article, and great images, Patrick. What a trip it was for you to see all of this. I love how the M9 has become my unobtrusive companion and how it has changed by view of what a camera should be. I used to hoist around a 1DIII and L glass. That’s all gone, in favor of a compact, movable set up….

    If I am up in Vancouver (or you are down in Seattle), we should meet up. Keep up the great work!


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