My First Trip with the Leica M9 by Ricky Cheong


My First Trip with the Leica M9

By Ricky Cheong


Hi Steve and fellow readers, my name is R.C or better yet just by Inzite and I’ve been a viewer of this wonderful site for quite some time already so I thought I should also chip in my thoughts regarding shooting an RF and how it fairs against a SLR. I have been shooting for about 6 years or so with DSLRs from both Nikon and Canon, only recently this year or so have been really using my m bodies. DSLR is fine, and probably great for what I shoot and my shooting style, however there are times when I just want to go out and have less or a burden (especially when going out with the lady). This spring, I decided to only take the m bodies with me for our trip in Asia. Our destination: Macau, Hong Kong, Sanya and Phuket.

The Gears:

M6, M9, 35 Summicron, 15 Voigtlander.

Being new to the m system I don’t have many lenses for the bodies, I actually end up buying the 15 Voigtlander in Hong Kong while we stopped there. I left Toronto with M6, M9 and a 35 Summicron all inside my Crumpler 6 million dollar home. It was quite a change from lugging around a d3, 14-24, 50 1.4 in the same bag, or a 1dm3 or 5d, 24-70 and 70-200 in the same bag. The bag no longer felt like a burden and I no longer get harassed by the flight attendants regarding having too bulky of a bag beneath the seat.

The Trip:

On the way to Hong Kong, packed plane as usual.  M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/8 | ISO 800

Flight was long and tiring from Toronto to Hong Kong, with babies going off every 30 minutes or so, amidst the chaos on the plane, I did manage to fire off a shot that I was very happy with. The 35mm summicron + M9 is such a small package, great for shooting in close range with people in tight space. Had I try to shoot it with a d3 + 50 1.4, I would probably catch the attention of the woman sitting beside me because I would probably spend a good minute or so trying to yank my bag out from the seat in front, then followed with pulling the camera out of the bag, and not to mention the bold, fierce sound of the shutter going off.

Riding the ship from Hong Kong Airport to Macau. M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/50 | ISO 800

I do have to say, shots coming from the combination of M9 and 35 IV (I’ll use IV as the short form of summicron here on) is pretty 3D compared to similar shallow dof shots done with a 35L or 85L or 50 1.4 G. So carrying my dead tired drained body, I hopped onto the ship that will take me back home to Macau. I rested for a few days in Macau before flying off to Sanya to meet the lady. The short first part stay in Macau was not bad. Carrying a lighter camera in typical Asian humid climate can really enhance the travel experience. Back when I used to lug around a bag full of Nikon or Canon, I would be feeling so hot and tired that I would be really inclined to stay in doors as much as possible. Now with the m bodies, I can spend more time shooting outside and less time enjoying the ac.

Koi watching in a garden surrounded by cement buildings. M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/500 | ISO 160

So I met the lady in Sanya and we hit up some tourist spots there, it’s a nice and interesting place there, some call it Hawaii in Asia. I find it quite relaxing as all we did everyday was go out and have fun, all on our own schedule. Weather was nice, typical island climate. If you find your self in the area of Hong Kong or Macau, hop over and spend two or three days there. It is as close as it gets to Hawaii without leaving southern China. The M6 stayed in the bag at our room as a back up body, I took the M9 + 35 IV out every day, every where, bag less, free. It was a good start for the remainder of the trip with regards to the pleasure of shooting. 35 IV works great for an all purpose lens, prior to this trip, I have always wondered if a 50 would serve me better.

Visting Yanoda Natural Reserve, I have never seen so many parrots in one place in my life. M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/350 | ISO 200

Nan Shan Temple in Sanya, viewing it from the beach gives it quite a unique feel.  M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/4000 | ISO 160

The lady trying on a hat, we end up buying it for 45 RMB. Love the colors.  M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/1500 | ISO 160

Elder people give great subject sometimes. He was an old kind man.  M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/1500 | ISO 160

After our short stay in Sanya, we arrived in Macau along with my future in-laws. My second part stay in Macau is basically to act as a tour guide for the future in-laws. However, I did manage to fire off a shot or two that I can actually use for this report. Again, in warm weather like Macau, the less you bring out doors with you, the better and happier you will feel. I once carried a D3 with a 200 F2 VR lens for shooting once and despite the amazing result I got, it was a nightmare. Then of course when people ask you if it’s hard work carrying such equipment you usually man up and say it’s no big deal but deep inside us SLR folks all know that the freaking thing is big heavy and a pain to carry. Since I didn’t take much pics this time in Macau that is worth sharing, I will also attach a few I took before that I feel it will give you a glimpse or Macau and that being there is all it takes, the type of camera doesn’t matter really. (well, it does if you light to shoot natural light in dim lighting like me, and honestly, the M9 is definitely not there yet in the high iso department, see below)

Scanning Macau from on top of the Macau Tower, the tallest building in macau.  M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/1500 | ISO 160

Waiting with tickets to see “The House of Dancing Water” at City of Dreams. Yes, it’s a nice name for a hotel, but it’s true that you do feel that you are living a dream. M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/30 | ISO 800

Inside the MGM Macau VIP lobby, beautiful is understating it, it’s GORGEOUS! D3 | 14 | F2.8 | 1/60 | ISO 2800

Wide angle Venetian style. Yes, it’s in Macau and you can enjoy the famous meat jerky and eggrolls right after! D3 | 24 | F2.8 | 1/60 | ISO 2000

Moon lit Guan Yin by the shore, Macau, where the east meets the west.  D3 | 24 | 1/40 | ISO 8000

Hong Kong, the place where anything is possible as long as one has the cash. It is the place where you can buy multiple M9 in store. (at “fried” price, as locals call it). It is also the same place where you see more people carry LV bags more than plastic shopping bags. It’s a fine city. I dropped by a famous camera store in TST to pick up a 15mm Voigtlander and off I go in wide angle rf land. Framing through the external view finder and focusing or metering through the internal finder proved to be easier than I thought, it is miles ahead of the D3 + 14-24 combination in terms of weight and portability. However, based on the firmware of the M9 at the time, it did have the color shift corners issues, doesn’t bother me much but its there.

Small and portable, image quality is quite decent, I like. 

Look at the wide-ness of that! I really like this shot because it’s quite odd to see no one on the streets in Hong Kong.  M9 | 15 | F6.7 | 1/750 | ISO 400

We met Mario at an arcade place in Mongkok, Hong Kong. M9 | 15 | F5.6 | 1/8 | ISO 800

I got to try a 50 F1.4 Summilux in store in Hong Kong, it is definitely a mighty fine lens. I look forward to getting one soon! M9 | 50 | F1.4 | 1/45 | ISO 1000

Getting away from the heat in underground AC cooled pass way.  M9 | 15 | F4.5 | 1/125 | ISO 1600

Finally we arrive in Phuket, Thailand. It is basically a foreigner’s heaven, everything is cheap! The food was excellent, our resort was excellent and the weather was excellent. It was a good opportunity to test out my new wide angle! I was really glad that I did not bring a D3 + 14-24 because it was incredibly hot during the day and I simply cannot imagine carrying such heavy gear under the scorching sun. The M9 did an incredible job in the intense heat and humidity. It’s certainly weather sealed “enough” for my usage. I even took the M9 into the pool with me to get some nice shots. All in all, the results from this final leg of our trip solidify my belief in the possibility and results of the M system in terms of the practicability for traveling. It can certainly match what I can get with my DSLRs at home and if not exceed them by allowing me to shoot with less of a burden.

Fresh fruit to welcome us to the suite, mmm.. beachfront bliss.. M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/60 | ISO 200

Explosion of colors, tuk tuk rules here! It’s hot there!  M9 | 15 | F6.7 | 1/125 | ISO 200

With some practice, spontaneous shots are possible with a range finder. We caught eye of this street vendor pass by us rather quickly, we turn and ran to catch up with him.  M9 | 15 | F6.7 | 1/750 | ISO 800

Hand held over the pool water, it turned out better than I expected.  M9 | 15 | F5.6 | 1/90 | ISO 160

A rare shot done by the 35 IV, I was really addicted to the 15.  M9 | 35 | F2 | 1/90 | ISO 200

Great sunsets to conclude everyday in Phuket.  M9 | 35 | F4 | 1/500 | ISO 200

Post Trip Conclusion:

The M9 performed wonderfully through out the trip, even though it is one expensive piece of equipment but maybe because of its small size and low profile, I actually felt more comfortable bringing it to difference places, simply because it attracts less attention. The 35 IV proved to be quite a versatile lens, but there are multiple times that I simply wanted to focus closer than 0.7m, however that’s the limitation of the Leica m system. The 15 was probably one of my best buys in recently years because it was so small and so wide, it really got me getting creative and I guess the result shows. I didn’t find going manual focus was that bad of a thing, but it does certainly take some time to get used to. The large file size from the M9 did force me to get a total of 3 16 GB cards by the end of the trip but the quality is there right in the raw files. All in all, in the future when I’m going to a paradise I’m taking the M bodies and before that I need to get my self a 50. I hope you all enjoyed this write up and my experience with the M on this trip and the results I got from it. Thanks!

Feel free to drop by my flickr to see my other works


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  1. If you’re looking for a great wide angle lens choice for the M9, the Voightlander Super Heliar 15mm is okay, but the Voightlander Super Heliar 12mm is a much better choice – and even a little wider. If you manually select the Leica 21/2.8 pre-asph coding there is almost no color shifting at all.

    I personally owned the 15mm for a very short time, but exchanged it for 12mm … in my opinion a dramatic improvement in image quality on the M9.

  2. I guess if there’s no keyword M9 in the title, some people may not saying words as bad as now. I do enjoy the post and really appreciate the effort and also the courage he has to share his pics with us. It’s true that using a fairly new and not cheap leica camera can draw much attention at first, but, people, he did point out it was the first trip. how much to expect from a trip and i suppose he just got the camera not long since it was “the first”. For me, if i am on a trip, most of my takings are “memory type” rather than “artistic type” or what some of above people may expect ” master type”. Dont be so sour grapes, take it easy. Here is heaven for us, not a war field. What can you gain from saying negative, it just show the devil inside you. (yes, i am talking about you, J***n)

    I dont understand why some people think leica owner must take breathtaking photos. why shooting with leica must = master of photography, top # photographer. Camera is just a tool to express yourself, anybody agree?

    anyway… RC! thx for sharing your memories with us, i can feel the joy from your trip. and keep it going, i am sure you will be better.

  3. I don’t understand the “snob attitude” comments made by some readers here. Yeah, the photos may give you a touristy feel but he was a tourist after all, and I enjoyed this post much more than some of the others, particularly since he walked us through his pictures. So what if the photos are technically lacking? Not that I think so, but even if it’s true, there’s no rule saying that a Leica owner needs to have great framing and composition skills, aesthetics, etc.

    Steve is right when he says that all that is required is PASSION and to have fun. As much of a Leica lover that you are Steve, thanks for making some of us normal folks (like me) – who might never be able to afford a Leica M – be a part of your blog and your posts. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. I thought many of the photos were very good and properly artistic. The bw of the man in the airplane in the dark, the man with the parrots, the old man in the forest, of course the Venetian violinist and the lady floating on her back in the pool.

  5. I think my comments may be removed before everyone else reads it. But anyway, sorry to put things too forward, so here I go…

    Yes I agree with Julian, the watermarks are horrid, I just can’t help thinking why would a Leica M9 owner do something like this. Majority of the shots are touristy, it’s something almost everyone out there will do while on vacation. Yes no doubt that everyone needs to start somewhere but I wonder if he knows this is Steve’s blog and not his personal travel photo blog. Does it occur to him when he submit this post? I am seriously surprise at this rather different post from the past. And yes, I don’t enjoy this article as much as the rest.

    I do like the shot of the man reading in the plane and the violin player (the violin player is shot with a D3?), the rest are mediocre, rather badly composition, especially the shot of the koi pond. Of course I notice the clarity and the image quality of the shots, which is the result of shooting with a Leica M9, but I seriously find that the lack of aesthetics, composition bothers me a lot. Especially when it’s on a rather famous photography blog. One can have all the money in the world to buy all the Leica bodies and lenses but that does not make one a good photographer.

    Well enough of my ramblings, now that RC has got one of the best camera setups in the world, hope he will enjoy it and develop his own style (he really need to stop putting the watermarks on his shots first).

    • You have it all wrong Weilun. This blog is for EVERYONE to share their photo experience. ALL that is required is PASSION and to have fun. This was one mans experience with his new M9. I do not require every shot on this site to be a work of art, or perfectly composed. It is not about that. If so, 80% of my test shots would never make it up!

      Nope, this site is for those of every skill level to enjoy and participate in. I may shoot Leica but I am not a snob, nor should anyone else be. I am not a fan of the watermarks either but every day tourist shots are fine by me as long as it is part of an experience for the user and reader.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • I agree with you. He really need to go out and shoot more to improve his skill. These pics does not reflect any thing deep under the site seen of defferent places and peoples.

  6. Julian – great comment agree totally, leica should carefully choose who can use the M9 before letting them buy one, if the photographer us not able to express themselves eloquently with the camera they should be forbidden to use it, full stop.


  7. Leica copia antiguos colores peliculas, hoy con digital este efecto es muy artificial y no me gusta, es como pechos de silicona, hace que todo parezca muy antiguo, en foto de piloto BMW parece hombre viejo de asilo, en siglo XXI estos colores no son reales, si quiere efecto antiguo use camara de placas, esto es muy falso.

  8. La mejor foto con diferencia la del violinista realizada con Nikon D3, buenos colores y nitidez, Leica rojos parecen muy feos, Leica es una instagram igual que usar Iphone4 mas pequeño y mas silencioso, Leica no es para turistas.

  9. not to be mean, just constructive criticism.. the violinist shot was the only keeper i saw in your entire set.. your story telling is good, but your need more work on that Leica.. the rest might just as well be taken with a P&S or a M4/3s.. you’re the “touristy” type who is probably more suited to a consumer grade camera than a Leica.. but hey, more power to you.. everybody has to start somewhere..

    • Wow, someone needs to work on their “constructive criticism skills”
      A small tip if you don’t mind, try to build up the one you are criticizing instead of breaking them down. You could try saying something positive, then point out a couple concrete things he or she can work on to improve.
      What did YOU like, what did YOU not like, what do YOU think he could work on to improve.

      • @Kim Kleven: you might have missed the constructive criticisms I pointed.. so to clear it up, and make it easier for you to spot I have outlined it below as you so have kindly placed for me.. please read on..

        1.) What did YOU like — “the violinist shot was the ONLY keeper”
        2.) What did YOU not like — everything else / “the rest might just as well be taken with a P&S or a M4/3s”
        3.) What do YOU think he could work on to improve — “you need more work on that Leica” / “you’re the “touristy” type who is probably more suited to a consumer grade camera than a Leica..”

        in addition, I made a positive comment — “hey, more power to you.. everybody has to start somewhere..”

  10. I second the watermark comment. You have some nice photos but the watermark detracts from them to a point where that’s all you see. Work on finding a style that speaks for you rather then having to spell it out on the photo. Other then that enjoy your M9, I’m sure you’ll get great use out of it.

  11. Wonderful pictures, I really enjoyed your article very much. I’m sure you’ll put that M9 to great use in the future! 🙂

  12. the last two are really special images my friend, well done. Love the idea of that little 15mm too. Shoot with a 50mm myself 99% of the time but have a 28mm Voigtlander Ultron which is very cool and small. Thinking of a 35 and this shows me maybe I should think more about getting one!

  13. Hello Steve. Have you thought about just putting a simple PayPal “donate” button on the page. Maybe there is one already and I just haven’t seen it. The info you provide is well worth a donation to help fund your site. Just a thought.

  14. Beautiful pictures and commentary. It is like we took the trip with you. The 15mm is a great lens at a great price. You can set the manual lens to the 21mm 2.8 pre-asph and the corner can easily be fixed with Cornerfix or I use Viveza 2 ( Aperture or Lightroom) to reduce the red -it only take 30 seconds to fix. Taking the M9 in the pool – would scare me too much. Did the humidity cause lens or sensor fogging problems? Thanks for a great article.

    • “Taking the M9 in the pool – would scare me too much. Did the humidity cause lens or sensor fogging problems?”

      I’ve used the M9 in heat, humidity, rain, cold, dust etc. It can take the abuse. Lens nor sensor didn’t fog. Seeing your comment makes me laugh, you probably only use it indoors where there’s climate control.

      Flash news, Leica’s were used in World War and it survived. I’m sure it can take a pool trip. 😉

      • Eran leicas mecanicas con carrete, usted ahora estornuda en una M9 y dejara de funcionar y cuidado con la lluvia fina le puede dar descarga electrica en la mano o en el ojo, mucho fanboy hay por aqui, y cuidado con el polvo el sensor de Kodak se ensucia mucho, y objetivos no sellados, Leica M9 esta llena de transistores, es electronica de consumo a precios caros,

      • “Seeing your comment makes me laugh, you probably only use it indoors where there’s climate control. ”

        what an arrogant comment. It is known to everyone that Leica M9 and lenses are not weather sealed and this makes carrying them in adverse conditions pretty risky business. Having insane price in mind I think that they should be weather sealed and this is a huge oversight by Leica or maybe just shows their arrogant stance toward their customers. So I don’t see why it should be funny that a person is worried about damaging his equipment for which he probably saved a money for a very long time.

        And flash news, film Leica and other cameras were mechanical and hence possibility of damage by adverse weather conditions was not very likely.

      • “Flash news, Leica’s were used in World War and it survived. I’m sure it can take a pool trip”

        Except those Leica’s weren’t digital or use electronics

        • Yeah, exactly.

          As in every possible comparison Leica cameras “win” because of something magical about them maybe it is an idea to test weather sealed Canon 1dsMKIII against Leica M9 in 15 minutes pouring rain, I am sure that people here would claim that Leica is superior to canon even after Canon would continue working just fine and Leica be broken beyond repair.

          Maybe they would say that now M9 can be framed and hang on the wall while canon is too bulky for that.

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