USER REPORT: Leica – Love and Hate by George Sutton

Leica — Love and Hate
By George Sutton


Owning a Leica M9 has been a real love/hate experience.  I am frequently on the verge of selling it because it is outrageously expensive and limiting then I get a shot that is so stunning I just want to get out and start shooting it again.  Here is why I decided to keep the Leica and some other random thoughts after a year of use.


The M9 is unmatched if used as a smaller and lighter substitute for a DSLR in situations where there is time to manually focus.  The clarity is remarkable.  The attached photos exemplify this.  Both were taken at a 1,000 year old Hindu monastery in Cambodia named Bantay Sri.  Its carvings are among the most detailed and elegant I have ever seen and the Leica captured that very well.  Both shots are cropped yet the detail is still crisp and clear, almost three dimensional.  I hope viewers on the website can see how the clarity just jumps out of the photo.  I think even a larger format camera would be challenged to take a better shot.
Click image for larger version
That is the Leica’s strong point, and it is a very strong point.  But the frustrations can be almost as big.  


The Leica is not a replacement for a DSLR.  It doesn’t have the versatility to take most kinds of shots.  For example, it is hard to shoot people close up.  I can get many more keepers with my Canon 85mm f1.8 and even a 24-105 f4 zoom.  Both lenses autofocus and are very sharp.  Unless a person is posing or holds still, or you are able to take a lot of shots in the hope that one will work, manual focus is just too hit and miss when you want to take a shot from ten feet away wide open and hope to see the pores on the person’s skin after the shot is cropped.  I can get that shot with the Canon.  I recently spent time with a pro who mainly takes candid shots people in everyday life.  He carries two Nikon DSLRs that clip onto a belt he wears on his waist, one with a zoom wide angle and the other with a zoom telephoto.  He only shoots JPEGs because he doesn’t have time to edit raws and he shoots many shots as fast as he can and doesn’t want raw photos to fill up his card and camera buffer.  He tried my Leica and said it would be much easier to carry around but he would miss most of his shots.


The M9 is also not useful for very wide or long photos.  I shoot a lot of landscapes in the southwest.  Many of my best shots were with a fisheye lens.  The Leica can go 21mm or 18mm but as Steve points out in his lens reviews you usually need a Leica lens to shoot wide angle and avoid color problems at the fringe.  Effectively the M9 has no telephoto capability.  90mm is slight telephoto and 135mm, the maximum for a Leica rangefinder, is too inconvenient to carry in addition to a 90mm.  My full frame Canon DSLR will go much wider and longer with no fringing problems.


Leica’s software is relatively primitive and colors are hit and miss.  Sometimes they are great.  Others times there is a yellow or orange cast.  On the other hand, no other camera I have used does as good a job in long exposures on a tripod.  Take a shot in moonlight and it will come out like it was day.


I hope you find this interesting.


George Sutton


  1. George Sutton,

    Great review!, I’m a fan of Leica and canon, though I prefer Leica due to it easy to carry around. My canon gears for studio work.
    “Both were taken at a 1,000 year old Hindu monastery in Cambodia named Bantay Sri.”
    Please kindly make correction the right name for this : Prasat Banteay Srey. Thx

  2. Reading these “Leica” threads is always good for a chuckle….

    Now here is a M9 owner daring to voice some criticism while still liking his camera.
    I find this informative and respectable.

    And the replies? Simply the best! 🙂 I have cited the essence, not literally:
    M9 is expensive: ‘But it is not expensive when you have enough money’. Huh??
    For what a M9 delivers, compared to other CAMERAs, it is expensive. Of course, if you compare it to a Saturn rocket……
    ‘putting a M9 on a tripod is a sacrileg”, ‘Leica has freed us from the tripod”. Huh??
    I think that there are and were other, less noisy, low-weight cameras way before Leica.

    It is not as fast and reliable to focus as a high-quality DSLR:
    a) ‘the author just hasn’t learned to focus right’
    b) ‘hit and miss photography is not really photography’
    Sure, if aperture is set to 5.6, the subject will be more or less in focus. But for playing with low DOF, the focus process is SLOW.

    Pictures are rather noisy at high ISO:
    a) “only if you compare them to other cameras or purely technically”
    b) “I like grainy pictures”

    I really don’t want to spoil anyones fun with their M9 camera, but really wish that some could laugh about themselves more easily and not try so hard to justify their personal decision to spend very much dineros on a camera with severe limitations.

    The “break-up” letter posted by Steve was quite a relief in that sense……

  3. I used to own an M9 and a variety of lenses. It was fantastic for street and travel due to it’s size mostly. But after the initial love affair (kind of like dating someone new) the items that were niggling to me came to a head. So I think I have some insight on the matter as well, not being a Leica fanboy.

    The high ISO performance is total crap compared to cameras half it’s price. People say it is passable but to my eyes it is not. Not even close. I am talking over 800….in RAW. I read it going in before purchase but I guess I had to see it for myself. Lesson learned on that.

    Also, I enjoy nature/bird photography. Yes…I knew there was no use for this camera in that subject matter. Funny thing is a guy on Leica forums tried to show me it did work on birds with a…well…barely passable shot of a gull. Suffice it to say that proves the point.I digress. Really not applicable to the discussion.

    I also like architecture and the Leica format does not compare to T/S lenses for that purpose. PSing and stretching everything out is not what I am interested in, nor an accurate representation. And the T/S lenses are tack sharp to the edge for me.

    For landscape it is OK. I like using filters and those options are few and far between. Helps if you had live view to use those too. The colors were a real struggle this fall when taking shots of the colors. Went to the d3s and everything was a-OK.

    Again…I did like the camera for the use of travel mostly. I am not really interested in street. But I thought for landscape and architecture it would be better than it was. For my style of shooting. I was disappointed in the performance and not sad to sell the gear to be honest. Made more selling than I spent to be honest. I am happy the name Leica is being carried on. And that people will throw craploads of $ at a product for mostly the name. But performance mattered more than size. For size I can use the Sony (which I do). Ultimately, use the tool that best suits your style. The M9 did not do this for me.

    • Jon, why in the world did you buy that Leica in the first place. From what you are saying it is obvious that camera wasn’t suitable for your style. It is perfectly understandable why you felt frustrater afterwards. Wild-life and architecture are way out of Leica’s reach. It’s a known fact. Leica is a people camera. It does the job perfectly in that genre. I am a people photographer, so naturally, I am very happy with my M9.

      So, with all due respect, your accusation is irrelevant. It’s like to say that you love theatre but that award-winning movie last night was total crap. Apples and oranges…

      • As for high-ISO performance, it is all subjective. Photography is not about technical merits of cameras but rather about experience as a whole. Yes, M9’s high-ISO performance sucks when you look at it out of context or compare it with some other cameras purely on technical grounds. But when you are into the style of shooting which Leica is meant for, then you won’t feel that bad about the high-ISO business. In fact, I happen to like my images all grainy and I do often add grain to perfectly clean images in PP. I am sure there are many people like me. There are many people like you, too, so it is also natural that you and them don’t like that particular aspect of Leica.

        By the way, Leica is not the only high-end camera suffering from poor high-ISO performance. I am sure you are well aware that this limitation is due to the specifics of CCD sensors (as well as no live-view capability). All of the astronomically expensive and highly acclaimed medium-format digital cameras have quite poor high-ISO performance due to their CCD sensors. And so what? They are not meant to be used in low light. For that you have modern DSLRs. So, there is no problem with certain technical limitations if they don’t affect your shooting style. And if they do, then you are using a wrong camera.

        • I bought it for the travel/architecture/landscape. I am not at all sorry I purchased the kit. It is very good at the few things it can do. I found the experience with it to be fun. But I think the world has seen enough street performer/demonstrator shots to last us a lifetime. And in all honesty, this camera could be so much more than just a ‘people’ camera as you put it. I have never heard of just a people camera other than a point and shoot. Maybe with the new IPO they will address those opportunities.

          As I stated above, it was the wrong tool for me. And I conveyed my experiences with that. It is important for people coming form dslr to understand the limitations I experienced. I really didn’t want to have 2 systems and keeping the Nikon gear was a plus. I ended up great on the financial side of it selling the Leica gear so it was no big deal.

          Technically, every camera has it’s drawbacks and it is up to the photographer to determine the style that works best for them. Medium format has it’s place as does the Leica. I hope everyone that owns/purchases one enjoys it to the fullest extent.

          • Jon, for travel and landscape Leica is very good. I am using it in that capacity from time to time and I have no complaints. It’s small, discrete, can focus very fast (with skill) and provides fantastic picture quality.

            Your sarcastic (if not bitter) remark about street photography can be easily and just as effectively reversed. But I won’t do that so not to hurt anybody’s feelings.

            People camera is, in my view, the highest distinction that can be applied to a camera. Most of the greatest photographs in the entire history of photography were made of people and their surroundings. Your point-and-shoot example sounds kind of deprecating to the main genre of photography. If you don’t like photographing people, that’s fine. But lots and lots of other people do. And Leica is the perfect tool for that.

          • I enjoy Good photos of people. Many are made with DSLRs as well as Leicas. But the person who takes the photos I described above is a bit of a hack. That is the easiest to pull off. Just go to SF/NY/CHI and walk around 5 minutes and you are done. Well done people photographs take an artist to produce. No camera alone will do that. Nor will a rangefinder alone. I like a little more versatility in my equipment when spending that much $. To each their own. I hope you enjoy your Leica equipment. I will enjoy my Nikon DSLR/4/3rds combo for my use. See….it is the tool for the job. Not the name on the tool for the job;)

          • “Well done people photographs take an artist to produce.”

            Couldn’t agree with you more, Jon. Ditto on the idea about cameras. They are just tools.

            Happy New Year!


  4. George Sutton, it sounds like you picked the wrong camera for your style/needs.

    I love my M9 and use it daily. It’s manual focus, aperture, shutter, and uses framing lines; and this is exactly why I love it. I shoot less. I love more of what I shoot because images have to be considered.

    No one tool does it all; Ask yourself is this the right tool for you? It doesn’t sound like it.

  5. Some very good comments here and I’ll chime in a bit. There is no one camera/lens that is “ideal” for every use which I think is a big point. In my heavy commercial days we had Sinars, Blads, F3s and everything else and you took out the tool that worked best. I personally don’t like the Canons (because of the ergonomics and planned obsolescence marketing) and my Nikon pro digi drives me crazy sometimes. BUT I understand their both great pieces of kit and work excellent in some situations. I love my M8 though and carry it 95% of the time. I have shot sports magazine covers with it and huge landscapes which hang in galleries. The portraits I get in low light ARE that classic Leica “creamy” look and I love them. However, my favorite thing about the camera is the “old school” controls. Camera settings are where they should be, are quick and easy to use, and the camera and its menus are uncluttered. Something no other manufacturers can claim. It’s also built like a tank, another thing few can claim. I use it with a myriad of lenses, Heliars, Zeiss, and Leica. I’ll “upgrade” to the M9 when I see fit and KEEP my M8 as a backup too. I repeat as others have pointed out: From Capa to Leibowitz it has mattered little what type/brand of camera is in ones hands. It’s a tool much like any other profession, and what you do with it that matters.

  6. Wow quite a lot of comments!!! I would love a Leica M9 for sure but my 5N has been great so far! I sure wish I could get a hold of a Leica lens though. I’m using some Konica Hexanon and Olympus glass on it which has been working great. Here is a link to a review from luminous landscapes on the M9 vs NEX 7… Pretty crazy stuff. I’m sure the M9 is still better in some regards but the price difference seems to be a little crazy when you look at what some of these new mirrorless cameras are doing. I could see the “hate” aspect go up higher as some of these cheaper cameras start to outperform it in some aspects!

    • Cody,

      I think, Michael Reichmann is a reviewer one can surely trust. Yet, one has to have a personal experience with a camera in order to realize if it’s good or bad for him. Picture quality wise, the two cameras seem virtually identical in Michael’s review. Yet, you or I may get a different result in our own testing. I remember Steve comparing the two cameras and he had a different feeling, although he, too, seems to like the NEX-7 very much. What I’m saying is you have to test it yourself and see if it fits your shooting style and vision.

      Sony NEX-7 is a very tempting camera, no doubt. It’s impossible to resist that temptation, so I think I’ll go ahead and grab one for a few days and test the hell out of it. By testing I mean real life shooting, of course, not pixel analysis. And I know in advance that I will love the camera and the pictures I’ll get from it. I think, I may very well come to the same conclusion with Mr. Reichmann regarding its image quality. And I know it will be very tempting to just go ahead and sell my M9 and keep the Sony. The price difference is huge and having a little extra money in the pocket always feels great. Yet, I am afraid, I won’t do that. Because, much as I expect to like the NEX-7 in many different ways, I have a gut feeling it won’t replace my M9 in the way I like to shoot.

      This is the catch, guys. That’s where comes a realization why I like my Leica so much. With modern sensors image quality is no longer an issue. Put a decent glass on a camera and the sensor will deliver. No big deal. The point is in ergonomics, in the style or manner of shooting.

      Sony NEX-7 is not a rangefinder camera. Even before I get my hands on one I know for sure I won’t get the same satisfaction from the way it can be used compared to my Leica. I am not a Leica man but I certainly am a rangefinder man. Leica just happens to be the only digital rangefinder out there.

      I like to be in physical contact with my environment, so I prefer mechanical devices. Of course, I can manage looking at the world through an electronic viewfinder and still get decent pictures. But I know I won’t feel comfortable. I prefer manual focusing and see the result optically, not electronically.

      When I shoot with my wife’s Fuji X100 (a great camera in many ways) I feel disconnected from reality. There is no convenient way to confirm focus through its optical viewfinder, so I have to use an electronic one — and that’s where I lose my connection with the object.

      Sure, I have made some great pictures with that camera but those were merely accidental, I think. With Leica I can get great pictures consistently and purposely. Because I feel comfortable with it, because I feel connected to my object all the time. And because my camera (Leica, that is) feels great in my hand and that rangefinder focusing feels so intuitive to my eye and brain.

      Those are subtle feelings, seemingly unimportant and unrelated to technical image quality potential of a certain camera. Yet, those subtle things turn out to be the most important ones in real life photography. And when I say photography I mean the Art of photography, not some casual fooling around with a camera or family fun shooting. It is an Art and it’s based on feelings and emotions. If you don’t feel good and comfortable with your tools it becomes very difficult to create art.

      So, considering the above, I think, my Sony NEX-7 test will end up as predicted: I’ll most probably just adore that little technological marvel of a camera and then go back to my trusted Leica. That will be a foolish financial decision, I know. But photography is not about sound financial decisions. It’s about making Art. Passionately.

      Greg Shanta

      • Maybe not so foolish after all. I bought, tried and sold way too many of the little technological marvels the camera industry has blessed us with in the last 3 years (more specifically: in the new breed of the compact size larger sensor category). And I burned a pile of money by doing so. I refuse doing the math, because I might learn that I could almost have bought a second M9 or definitely a nice Leica M lens instead of submitting to GAS attacks. In the end, there are only two camera makes and models I always go back to: Leica M and Ricoh GRD. The Leica M system is certainly costly and the digital bodies loose value as any other camera does. Leica M lens prices, however, have only gone one way and that is up. And whilst the barrier to entry the Leica world is high (cash out), the M system is keeping its value (lenses and body) and has shown to be less expensive than most others. Bear in mind, cost and expense have not the same meaning.

        • Thanks! You are absolutely right. I will be armed with your wisdom when I get to examine the NEX-7. I know I will have a GAS attack, I’m already feeling it slowly cooking up in my brain. But thanks to you and (I hope!) my own sobriety potential, I will just have some fun with it and then go back home to my Leica-wife, the mother of my children.


          • I did it. I’ve tried the NEX-7 today. To be honest, it took me less than 5 minutes to come to a conclusion that it isn’t a camera. No way. You can call it a (great) toy, a gadget, whatever, but you can’t call it a camera. You can make great pictures with it all right but its ergonomics just aren’t even remotely there compared to real cameras. Not suitable for serious shooting. No further testing necessary. End of story. For me, that is. You may have different experience.

            I am so relieved… GAS attack is over, the patient is cured. Money is saved. Phew!

            I can talk more in detail about it but I won’t. This isn’t a review and I am not in the mood. I like my Leica and if I were Sinead O’Connor I’d sing one nice little song to it…


    • The point is….it’s just his thoughts on his use if the camera the past while. Oh, but I’m sure you’d post something better…until someone criticisized you for the same reasons in their eyes…..

  7. Server. Maybe that one gets through.

    It’s a pity this interesting thread derailed into a Leica M vs the world debate. Anyone has the right to be proud of the gear he or she uses (and the images resulting from that use), without others, apparently more knowledgeable, talking down their stuff.

    I’m not a believer, so “wow factor” and “magic quality” don’t mean anything to me. I just look atthe images, regardless of the equipment that was used, and form an opinion.

    Sharpness isn’t everything. I use older lenses (Ai-S, Zeiss) on my analogue slr’s for fun and t achieve a result I couldn’t get with the D700. I’m not a big post processor, I don’t go for effects and use the presets for the D700 in LR3 mainly. NR? Not necessary. Sharpening? Are you kidding?

    Focus where you intended it to be is essential though, with any camera. So I missed that in the image of Sean bergin, by forgetting a very simple rule.

    • Michiel, I like your points very much. Yes, it’s not about the camera and that’s a fact. Tools play great role in good artist’s hands but they never dominate over his artistic ability and vision. Yet, a good artist always appreciates some good tools. They make his work more pleasant and convenient. And he will love them for that.


    • Yep, Steve’s server does show its character sometimes. It happened to me, too. And yesterday I posted a link to a Flickr picture of mine and got 240,000 hits. And the number is growing. Today it’s already 450,000. I think, by evening time I’ll have couple of million views on that single picture! Steve, I didn’t know you had so many readers on this site…


  8. I completely disagree with the article
    My street scenes were rubbish with a 5Dii and D700. Now they are great with a M9

    Its clear that the author did not invest time in learning to focus (he just did some plinking from what the article mentions). I can focus very fast and the focus is always spot on. I never get the occasional OOF shot I did with DSLR.

    I can’t comment on JPG. I never used JPG out of the camera with a DSLR or M9. Seems a waste of a camera for me. Anyway “Digital SLR camera” UK found that out of 20 DSLRs tested, the 60D had by far the best JPGs straight out of the camera. So throw away your 5Diis and D700s if thats what you want.

    I agree that moving objects are a bitch with the M9, unless you prefocus.

    BTW Leica lenses ar ethe bets in the world bar none. So thats the other end of the deal.

    Ummm, what else did he mention ?? it doesn’t do telephoto. Duh!.

      • My words 🙂
        @harold: D700 is one of the most excellent cameras (if not the best) you can get for shooting moving objects, It is a mystery to me that you got rubbish street images with that camera. It is excellent a nailing focus, maybe you should have spent some more time lerning to use it.

        • Both Dag and Anders are missing the boat here – DSLR (and their bulk and racket) for street photography are not for everyone…just as rangefinders do not seem to be for you. If one is more comfortable with ones tools, one produces better results. “One fits all” does not exist in this field….

  9. And as to wide angle just try the M9 with the WATE (16-21) or the voigtlander CV 12mm f5.6 for some real wide angle madness

    • You can avoid colour shift almost entirely with CV 15mm on the M9 by setting it to 21mm in manual lens selection mode. I haven’t tried it with 12mm, so I don’t know how it will behave. WATE is, of course, fine without any gimmicks. But it costs to damn much.

      • a sniper can be just as deadly with a machine gun. but, it takes proper nerve and vision to be a successful sniper… not just having the necessary means to purchase and the willingness to pull the trigger.

  10. What can I say…

    Like learning to swim, bicycle, read, talk etc…… You have to practice a lot!
    What seems so natural easy, comes after many years of practice and use….
    Great Photographers, Painters, Writers needs 10-20 years to find out what they are in terms of art…

    No matter what you use …..Canon, Leica, Nikon, AF, Manual… you have to go through that…
    If not…you’ll always will stick in……. “miss that shot because of…..”

    No….it’s you and you only

  11. Interesting write up. It’s usefull to hear various experience with it and it seems that you have had plenty of time with it.

  12. Once – just once – I’d like to see someone able to post an opinion, article, comparison without everybody missing the forest for the trees…some of it’s healthy feedback, but most of the earlier part of this thread and others like it is basically photographers crapping all over another photographer because they take things way out of context. And what’s with the sudden licence people feel they somehow have…the one that says they can outright slag the composition of the photos taken. ‘Honestly, I don’t see anything too special here…your darks are too dark…you didn’t expose correctly’. It’s insulting. The M9 is a great camera, with great glass (that’s fact, not opinion BTW), but with some serious limitations…so is the Canon, so is the X100, so is the Nikon. Get over yourself people….go out and take pictures with the camera you enjoy. If you don’t like Leica, or Canon, or whatever, no one’s telling you to shoot with one. Great photos have been made with every brand out there. I think the photos posted by the author are great, show lots of depth, and are a testament to his patience, composition, and the great Leica glass.

  13. Any camera can be frustrating if you do not take time to learn how to use it. The Leica is not as feature-laden as many DSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras. Anyone that knows how to manually focus a camera and set exposure will find the Leica M9 to be much more familiar in operation than using a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Investing time into learning a new camera pays off in the images that you can produce with it. For me, the M9 is much less of an investment in the most precious commodity: time. In terms of operation, It is the closest that a Digital camera comes to a classic film camera.

  14. I always get a chuckle out of people who deride the ” Leica Man” for spending money on m8s and M9s.
    I used to be big into motorcycling and a decent bike can be close to 25K now , compared to that, my used M8 I got for 2980 canadian with a cron 50, elmar 90 and elmarit 135 is a bargain! I know co workers that spend a grand on a new putter or driver for Golf too .

    Re: manual focusing , I have trained myself ( or did the m8 train me?) to take shots of moving objects like my kids or birds, as someone said earlier, people took shots of those types of subjects LONG before autofocus showed up 🙂 look at Berhard Cahiers formula 1 shots from the 50s and 60s

    My journey started using vintage manual lenses on my rebel and then my Pentax KX, I ended up selling most of that gear ( my 2 Zeiss planars!) to fund the m8 stash and when I edit photos after a day of shooting I still get a WOW factor looking at the images and my cron 50 is from 1964. Then again Im comparing these to shots from Pentax and Zeiss soviet clones

    As My father and I discussed yesterday actually , a DSLR takes decent shots almost all the time, the Leica takes fantastic shots some of the time 🙂 but when it does………..WOW

    • Agree with you Robert 100%. While the M9 is expensive, so is a Nikon D3s or a Canon 1dX. Ive shot with all of the Canons, Nikons, etc and the M9 gives me better results most of the time. Sometimes no, but when it does it defiantly beats the DSLR’s and gives the wow factor. Totally different camera and if you think about it, the cost of an M9 at $7k is not totally off track. It IS the only digital RF made today, and a full frame one at that. Uses the best quality lenses in the world and is much smaller than a DSLR. If you lump it in with the other full frame pro cams it’s not so bad really for being a unique and special kind of camera.

          • Ha ha! A positive side of a DSLR in this respect is that it will make you go to a gym and work out those abs, which in turn will make ladies wow!

          • DSLR is almost dead(*).

            Rangefinder is a nice niche with followers ready to afford the cost.

            (*) Mirror-less cameras will in due time replace DSLR even in the pro environments – there are a number of obvious advantages for the manufacturers, and for most users as well… certainly, features required by the pros will be available, and backward compatibility will make the transition palatable.

            Only a niche will remain for (D)SLR. The followers shall be different from the Rangefinder followers. No need to fight over what is best – that is a matter of preference and use case…

            Will you stay with the 5Dx in the niche…or change boat with the rest?

    • @Robert: “As My father and I discussed yesterday actually , a DSLR takes decent shots almost all the time, the Leica takes fantastic shots some of the time but when it does………..WOW”

      A film DSLR or film Leica can takes as good or better images than a Leica M9. Have seen several examples from a Leica M3 compared to a Leica M9 with the same lens.The film was clearly better (Velvia 50).

      Recently we saw an image on this site, taken with an old Nikon FM DSLR of an african child.That picture was perfect and I am certain that a Leica M9 would not have added anything to improve that picture.

      I don’t care if people buy a Leica M9 or M8 or what ever or if other people think it is too expensive, but it is a fact that you can get as good or better images with much cheaper gear.

      • Anders, for me film is dead, so using your film example to me is a non-issue .

        I can easily pick a bad camera that has created a better image that cost a lot less, or was all bashed up. In fact on my flickr stream, my most popular shots are all taken with a lens I paid 40 dollars for and used on a Pentax KX

        But for me , I really prefer using the M8 , call it zen or chill or what have you, using the rangefinder is a different experience, and I like it. Using my example from my motorcycle days, its the difference between a Ninja Crotch Rocket and a nice BMW tourer.

        Different tools can produce different results 🙂

        Happy Holidays

      • Of course you can get good photos with cheaper cameras; no one ever claimed otherwise. As someone who uses an m6ttl alongside an m9, though, your claim about the superiority of film is simply risable. Yes, in very specific and limited ways, some subjects can be captured (slightly) better on film (if you also have an imacon and plenty of time–so much for the ‘m9 is so expensive’ gripe). For all practical purposes, however, the m9 is vastly superior to film capture–and i say that on the basis of 40″ exhibition prints from iso 1250, among other metrics.

        The genius of the m9 is that it confers all the advantages (okay, most) of a film m with all the advantages of digital. It is that simple. If you don’t “get” rangefinders or aren’t curious to learn, don’t get an m9.

        • Sorry, simply but I do not agree. Digital is usually a lot more clinical than film.

          Yes, you get a lot more detail in digital, but that does not have a lot of value for me.

          I like the way colors are rendered by film and so far digital has not been able to reproduce that in a very convincing way.

          • With decent processing you can get any colors you want from digital; even more so with files that have the depth and pliability of the m9. It is trivial to match the colors of velvia; color neg films are usually trickier, because of the color masks most include, but hardly impossible.

            I love using film, of various sorts, and even prefer it for some very specific applications, but i’m not blinded by nostalgia. And btw, there’s no such thing as “film” colors; every film is different, most dramatically so, and most can’t readily be made to look like each other. So it makes no sense to say you like film colors better than “digital”; it’s meaningless. Or are you saying you dislike the colors in every movie released over the past decade? They’ve all been digitally color graded, even the ones shot on film.

            To repeat: no one is claiming you can’t get great photos from an old film camera. But if you cant routinely get as good (and better), and as “convincing” color results from an m9, then somebody isnt doing things properly. Thats based on a lot more than having seen “several” shots with an m9 and m3.

            As a bonus, you get far better detail (whether you care about that or not), far bettter low light performance, and after a year of color shooting, much cheaper too, if you actually take photos.

            Nothing against you having your own preferences, but youre attributing them to objective differences which just dont fall out that way.

  15. Every box has it’s own uses and you must find out what’s best practice with your box, the M9!
    Shooting most of the time with a Nikon (d)SLR and when i start using an other camera i forget to set the scale focus on my LC-A+, or cock the shutter on my Mamiya Press, or close the lens before taking out the darkslide on my Mamiya Press or 4×5 camera and overexpose my film.

    Just bought myself the Fuji X100 and i think it will take me some time before i get the pictures out of it as i think they will be as i’m pre visualizing them!

    Have fun with your M9!

    • @Robert: “As My father and I discussed yesterday actually , a DSLR takes decent shots almost all the time, the Leica takes fantastic shots some of the time but when it does………..WOW”

      A film DSLR or film Leica can takes as good or better images than a Leica M9. Have seen several examples from a Leica M3 compared to a Leica M9 with the same lens.The film was clearly better (Velvia 50).

      Recently we saw an image on this site, taken with an old Nikon FM DSLR of an african child.That picture was perfect and I am certain that a Leica M9 would not have added anything to improve that picture.

      I don’t care if people buy a Leica M9 or M8 or what ever or if other people think it is too expensive, but it is a fact that you can get as good or better images with much cheaper gear.

  16. I agree with the OP’s thoughts here. I too have missed a lot of candid shots for lack of AF. I find it frustrating but I still love the camera. I am not a big candids shooter. I do enjoy the M9 but I absolutely are where the OP is coming from.

  17. I just sold my Pentax K-5 with seven lenses and bought a like-new M8 with new 25, 35 and 50mm Carl Zeiss lenses. It is the most refreshing photographing experience I’ve ever had. With the Pentax I used to take as many photos as possible – to see which ones turned out good afterwards. Now, I’m actually thinking about what I’m doing. No live view distractions, no “11 points focus”, no big camera to carry with me. But, of course, it’s just personal. There are no rights or wrongs. I happen to prefer rangefinder photography.

  18. Owning and using an M9 is in a way a twisted issue. Would you take your Bugatti Veyron to go down to Walmart for shopping every week ?

    • Of course, I would! For light shopping, though, as it doesn’t really have a trunk. A car is a car. If you can afford it and you like it it’d be foolish not to use it all the time and everywhere.

    • Yes, I would because the alternative is leaving it in the garage. And, what is the sense of even owning it if you don’t drive it everywhere?

    • They have those ads from Porshe tha say it replaces a snowmobile, a pickup truck and a school bus…pretty wise marketing…

  19. I entirely share George’s statement that the Leica relationship is a love/hate one, but on different grounds.

    I love my M5 and M6. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better performing 35mm film camera. And the glass is second to none, even the glass that’s hard on its way becoming an antique.

    The digital Leica is a different story altogether. I’ve never used an M9 but I had an M8. Lovely build, lovely to hold, great to shoot with and I could use all my lenses without a problem. But the noise from 1250ISO upwards was just not acceptable and all of a sudden people were wearing purple instead of black. And the shutter sound! That’s a very loud shutter-click, followed by the whir of cocking the shutter.

    I do realize this was Leica’s very first digital camera and that they just didn’t get everything right from the start. I know it can be fixed, but look at the cost! The M9 doesn’t have any of those problems, but again, look at the cost. I can’t justify that. And I think there are only very few people who actually NEED a camera like that. When it comes to digital, I strongly believe there are better and cheaper options out there for most of us when you look at the camera as a tool and a tool only. Forget the bling, vanity and jewellery (one of my pet hates about Leica).

    I sold the M8 and with the proceedings got an X100. Plus enough money left to get myself a D7000. For me that X100 is ten times the camera the M8 was.

    • > When it comes to digital, I strongly believe there are better and cheaper options
      > out there for most of us when you look at the camera as a tool and a tool only.

      Of course. And the same even applies to film. And it applies to any Canon or Nikon camera, too. Personally I find the M8 suits me the best. M9 should be even better but doesn’t fit my budget.

        • Thanks, Anders. I was invited to a Leica event here in Moscow and they were displaying some product info on the screen. People were moving around sometimes blocking the projector beam. I waited for some cool opportunity and when it came I just pushed the button. Leica M9 and nearly 40-year-old 40mm Summicron (Minolta CLE version).

          • Now that I mentioned the lens… I got it used for about $300 in excellent optical condition. It became my favourite travel lens, being one of the tiniest lenses for M-mount. It packs a lot of performance. Here’s what it can do in good light in terms of colour, sharpness, etc.

            Click on the image to see full-size.


          • Another great old Leitz/Minolta lens I recently got was a 90mm f/4. I paid about $150 for it. And there was something very special about this little marvel of a lens: it was in awful shape optically. Scratches all over the front element, lots of dust inside, even some scratches on the rear element. The guy who sold it to me was about to throw it away. I think I grossly overpaid, considering its condition. But I was going to India and my old beat up 135mm Tele-Elmar ($250 from ebay) just died mechanically. So I needed a tele-lens and I bought the Minolta (made by Leitz in Germany) at my own risk. And you know what? I never regretted it. It takes wonderful pictures and, miraculously, none of its defects show up. If you’d see the amount of scratches it has you’d freak out, guys! See what it can do and judge for yourself.

            Leica has the best optics around, even the 40-year-old ones. But who says you have to pay premium for them?


          • Here’s another example made with the 40mm Minolta lens.

            Click on the image to see full-size.


            This Minolta lens is actually an exact copy of Leica’s own 40mm Summicron — a result of collaboration of Leica and Minolta when they released the famed CL camera.

          • Quote: “This Minolta lens is actually an exact copy of Leica’s own 40mm Summicron — a result of collaboration of Leica and Minolta when they released the famed CL camera.”

            I recently learned this is actually not true. Minolta replaced some of the more expensive glass elements of the Leica summicron-c 40mm f/2 with cheaper glass for their own version.

          • I didn’t know that. I thought they just added some coating layers. Whatever Minolta did, it was a good thing. I have tried all three versions: Leica Summicron-C, Minolta Rokkor-M CL version and the one I currently have, the Rokkor-M CLE version. I found the CLE lens better to my taste. Anyway, its a copy of Leica’s lens based on the optical design at least, so I guess I wasn’t completely off.

            I like my handy little CLE lens. Not as much as I like my Zeiss ZM lenses or some of Leica’s other lenses. But still it’s the hell of a performer and it serves me well.

            Happy New Year!

  20. Well… Leica might not be the right stuff for hit and miss photography, but is this really photography ? I mean, taking tens and tens of pictures to get one right ??? I miss more pictures with my 5D because most of the time it does not focuses where I want and I spend time clicking on the pad to get the red square on my real subject (this is VERY frustrating)… With a Leica, I’m already there 🙂
    Don’t read me wrong, I do appreciate DSLR’s for what they are good for, Macro, long tele, etc…
    But I recently used my M9 and a 90mm to shoot a concert and found out that I had as much interesting pictures – and in-focus pictures – (if not more) than when I shot concerts with my 5D.
    So, Leica is not slowing you, it just prevents you from shooting randomly 🙂

  21. Just smiling when I see people here state that the M9 is ridiculously expensive. For most photographers that thing of beauty is almost free really when upgrading. I recently bought an M8 from a local photographer who was told by his accountant upgrading would be fiscally wise. The camera being fully deductable from his income taxes, let’s assume the median 50%, I fully paid for his M9 by buying his old M8.

    i have no plans of upgrading myself, the leica M8 with the 28mm elmarit is my perfect travel camera. I don’t understand how someone can even compare the experience of using these cameras with going down the street with two Canikon dslr’s on your body. The weight! The spectacle! I like to be semi-invisible as photographer in the streets, not the obvious circus attraction. Looking forward to my trip to Morocco next week, with my M4p, M8 and X1 for high iso.

    • I live in Russia and we don’t have those tax deduction gifts from Santa here. But I can agree with your reasoning purely on resale value point. I got my pre-owned M9 (with just 250 frame count on it, boxed and everything) for $5,500, then used and abused it beyond sanity level for two years, and now I can still fetch about $5,000 for it… Not that I am going to sell it any time soon but in my view I got myself a virtually free camera. And the optics! They actually appreciate in value.

      People often get scared by the cost of purchase without considering the cost of ownership. One has to use long-term financial strategy. And buy used!

      • Hmmm… last time I checked the X100 specs it didn’t say anything about interchangeable lenses or true manual rangefinder focusing. I might be mistaken though.

        • I’ve seen it many time on this page and elsewhere, that people strangely ignore the ergonomics part of the photographic experience. Image quality is very important but your camera shoudn’t stay in your way. Never. Great photographs come out of emotional state of the photographer, not from his camera’s IQ potential. One has to concentrate on the vision instead of fiddling with camera. Better to have a tool that fits your vision than vice versa.

  22. Nice write up, but as others said, one year with M9 is not enough. Work harder and more with it. What struck me most when reading your report is that you miss the most important part. Leica shooting is not about the M9, it’s about the unmatched Leica M lenses. M-camera bodies come and go, the lenses will continue to impress even in decades.
    You praise the sharpness of the Canon 85mm and 24-105 mm lenses almost in a way as if they were sharper than Leica glass. A couple of years ago I had the 24-105mm Canon, it’s a good performer for DSLR standards, but miles away from Leica glass.

      • Canon and other major makers make excellent lenses that are on par with Leica ones. And yes, all good lenses are good enough to take beautiful photos.

  23. “The clarity is remarkable. The attached photos exemplify this.”

    I dont see anything remarkable to be honest. I get the same amount of detail out of my Ricoh GRD III. If you want even more detail get a current high res DSLR (doesnt need to be “full frame”) and any macro lens.

    • I agree. These photos are nothing special. Nothing pops out here even after knowing how much the glass used to capture the photos cost.

  24. Well, I had to dare myself to read the comments on this post, I could guess what was coming……….

    I’ve had my M9 for 3-4 months now, in that time I have not captured every image I attempted, but at no point have I put that down to the Leica and manual focus, more so that I have not yet attained the required level of proficiency. Whatever the camera there is always a period of familiarisation, the M System perhaps just takes a little longer.

  25. Dear George,

    Though I agree that you cannot take 10 fps action/sports photo with the M9, but I disagree that you will miss shots with the M9 versus a DSLR. Either zone focusing and hyperfocal focusing will allow you to take a photo with the M9 faster than any DSLR. I suggest you give that technique a try. Also, the M9 shutter will more likely capture the precise moment more often than a DSLR shutter, because it’s mirrorless thus no shutter lag.

    • You can do the same with a DSLR and a manual-focus lens (that has DOF markings on its barrel) but then why would you need a DSLR when you could have a used Leica for virtually the same amount of money and enjoy its compact size, unobtrusive viewfinder and quiet and discreet style of shooting? That’s what I did. When I realized I was using my Nikon D700 in all manual mode with only prime manual lenses, I just went ahead and sold the whole system and got myself a rangefinder. Never looked back.

  26. Dear George,
    I’m sure you had good intentions by writing about your experience with the M9. However, your article clearly shows that you need to invest more time in learning how to use the camera more effectively and how to take advantage of its strengths. Honestly, I really think that you are a dSLR guy at heart anyway. I almost cannot bear the thought of putting a Leica M on a tripod, for example. That’s almost a sin!

    • Nando,

      I am clicking a virtual ‘Like’ button here. I agree with you and I’d say the same to George if you wouldn’t have said it already. With one exception, though. Why not using Leica on a tripod? It’s a camera, for God’s sake. If I need a good shot of a steady object in low light I put it on a tripod just like any other camera. I do that for some of my studio portraits, too. Yes, forgive me, for I have sinned with Leica in the studio as well. Many times. With artificial lighting… I think, M9 is a wonderful studio camera, apart from being a wonderful street camera. So, I use it as such. I am not a DSLR guy, not at heart, nor at any other organ. I don’t have any wet dreams over other cameras and my M9 is my only tool. So, I use it in every possible way. Impossible, too.

      I am a liar. I do sometimes fiddle with my wife’s Fuji X100. I take it for backup in critical situations or when I need a two-camera setup for fast shooting in different focal lengths. Very rarely, though.

      Greg Shanta

    • I used tripod for my landscape work with my M9. Especially when doing image stitching or slow speed work at night. I have 2 agree with Greg, M9 is just a box with shutter mechanism n sensor.

    • Ho Nando, don’t say SIN !
      You can use a camera, M9 or other, as you need.
      This is a 10 year old girl’s photo using a tripod and a led light.

    • Sarcasm, people! 😀

      One of the advantages of a Leica is that it frees us from the tripod. That was one of the things that was so revolutionary about the Leica when it first came out in 1925! The following is an example of what can be done hand-held with a Leica MP, 90 Elmarit-M and Adox CMS 20 film. This was a test shot and posted for illustration only. There is no processing except for setting black and white points – no sharpening. There is still more detail in the negative – the resolution is actually limited by the scanner.

      Personally, if I am to use a tripod, I will be using one of my medium format cameras or my 4×5. I do have a compact Leica tripod legs and ball head but I don’t remember actually ever using it with my M’s. I use it primarily with my SLR as a body brace when shooting a 400mm lens.

  27. No disrespect intended, but here we go again with Leica Man seeing and believing whatever they may to justify the ridiculous prices of Leica…

    I didn’t have to read any further than this:

    ” I think even a larger format camera would be challenged to take a better shot.”

    You can’t be serious.

    I don’t doubt that the M9 has a fantastic sensor, and I would expect the typical comparisons to MF cameras and film in general…but now we are challenging a large format negative?

    No way on God’s green earth does that smallish sensor provide as much detail as a 4×5, let alone 5×7 or 8×10 piece of film.

    This takes the Leica fanaticism to a new level.

    • Rob,

      I think he says ‘larger’, not ‘large. You’re right: no one in their right mind would be comparing M9’s output to that of a large format camera and I don’t think George was going in that direction. I am quite positive he meant medium format.

      As for Leica men being in denial about the price — there are people for whom money is not an issue, so there’s no denial there, and there are people for whom money is very much an issue but they like their tools so much that they reluctantly pay. So, again, no denial. I belong to this second group. And of course, there are people with denial. It is a diverse crowd, so please don’t paint it in just one colour.

      Greg Shanta

        • M9’s format is small format (24×36 mm, a.k.a, 35 mm, 135). Above is medium format (between 24×36 mm and 4×5 in.; e.g., 120, 220, 70), then large format (4×5 in. and above). Below are also a variety of formats (e.g., half-frame, 110, 126, APS).

          But oh well, do “small”, “medium” and “large” still apply to a digital sensors world, where most cameras would be “super duper mini micro nano format”?

    • This isn’t Leica fanaticism. I still get the best shots from my Canon DSLR but I can’t take it many places. The drawback to a DSLR is size and weight. I like the Leica because it is the only smaller camera that can take as good a photo as a high end DSLR.

      That said, I do mean to say that digital cameras challenge larger format film cameras. Comparisons at many sites show the best 35mm digital cameras are as good or better than a medium format film camera, and the latest versions of digital medium format cameras are challenging large format cameras.

      I started shooting in the days of film. I worked in a camera and photo finishing store in college so I learned photography and equipment fairly well but could not afford even a high end 35mm camera, let alone a medium format or 4×5 or 8×10 format camera. The best photo I could get from a good 35mm camera was obviously not as clear or detailed as one taken with a medium or large format camera even in an 8×10 or 11×14 print. In those days the ability to enlarge was limited by the film more than anything else and blowing a 35mm negative or slide up to 8×10 or 11×14 was challenging and obviously inferior to larger format cameras.

      Today a good DSLR or M9 makes a better photo than a medium format camera shooting film because a digital image can be enlarged much more than film and still hold the detail and color. For a year or two after it was first released the 12 megapixel Canon 1Ds appeared to have made medium format cameras obsolete. Comparisons on many sites clearly showed the digital photos were more detailed. That only changed when Hasselblad, Phase One and now Pentax finally produced medium format digital cameras, but until the latest class of 60 and 80 megapixel backs it was still a close call between the DSLRs and medium format digital cameras.

      I don’t doubt that a shot taken with 8×10 format film camera pushed to its limit would produce a larger photo than a full frame 35mm digital camera pushed to its limit, but those differences have been dramatically reduced since the days of film. It has become increasingly difficult to see the difference in smaller prints, say 8×10 up to 17×22. I am constantly amazed how much I can enlarge a digital shot and still get clear detail and color.

      Pushing this same envelope, recent comparisons on another website showed the new medium format Phase One IQ180 digital camera producing photos more detailed than 8×10 drum scanned film.

      A couple of months ago I met a guy who taught photography at a university. We were both photographing a landscape from an overlook in Canyonlands National Park. He was shooting a 4×5 view camera with film. I asked him how it was holding up to digitals. He told me he rarely shoots with it any more because in color he can get better images with a digital camera. He thought the 4×5 still had an edge with black and white but he said it is just a matter of time before digital makes the 4×5 obsolete altogether. (I wondered if instead someone might eventually make a 4×5 digital back with 200 megapixels.)

      Anyway, the main point is how liberating digital photography has become. I lost interest in photography for a long time other than vacation snapshots because I could not get the quality that made it worth pursuing. Today remarkable quality can be obtained with digital cameras. And much more importantly, a digital camera can be taken everywhere.

      So to be clear, I think 35mm digital cameras, especially high end DSLRs and the M9, don’t just challenge but surpass medium format film cameras, but not medium format digital cameras. I don’t know about large format cameras. I do know they remain film cameras and are now challenged by medium format digital cameras and 35mm digital cameras are not far behind.

  28. Thanks for the observations. As someone who did photography mainly before digital OR autofocus, I have chuckled at the comments that manual cameras can’t be used for certain shots, because there are a lot of fantastic shots of all types of action that were taken before autofocus and autoexposure were available. If you shoot everything with a Leica (there was a time before SLRs when folks did that), you can get very fast and instinctive.
    However, while we can point out the record of good shots, we can’t really note how many shots were missed, that could have been captured with today’s dSLRs. So I think there is truth to both views: rangefinder cameras can be used for a lot more types of photos than todays learned-on-dSLR would think, but there is a place where a dSLR can get “reaction” shots that would have been missed otherwise.
    Again, as an old film user, I’ve had no problem with M9 color, as I never expected perfect “white balance” with film and changing lighting. But I have to admit, my Pentax K-5 gives some lovely results that I sometimes prefer to my M9.

    • I have to agree with Tom here. All this article really shows is anyone and everyone is allowed to post his or her opinion on the internet.

      I’m not trying to be an asshole (but more often than not when someone says that……. well we know how it goes), but some of the points you’re trying to make is silly at best. No time to focus? HA, try focusing on a DSLR without a split screen – even the new-age focus confirmation is silly. Nothing quite like the rangefinder mechanism to help nail focus nice and fast. I can say without a doubt that I focus MUCH faster on my Leica Ms than any other camera. Now… If you don’t know how to focus manually, then it’s really not the Leica’s problem huh?

      I’ll give you the fact that Ms can’t do tele. Given it’s format, that’s just a natural drawback. And I live with that. But please do not confuse wide-angle with fisheye. Leica Ms are built for the wide angles. In the 18mm-35mm range its hard to find a camera to beat them.

      The “professional photog” you referred to may prefer the Nikons/Zooms for his line of work, but that does not make it a definitive statement. If you asked a soccer player how much he likes the new Adidas basketball shoes, you’ll probably get a similar answer. Horses for courses. But to say the M9 is lacking in x, y, and z ways because you can’t use it properly? Psh…

      Makes me wonder how Steve’s curating this blog. I used to come here for practically camera reviews. Now, I just come for the comedy written by a plethora of randoms. Time to clean up the blog Mr. Huff!

      • This blog has sort of always been about not only my views but the readers views as well. We all share a common passion and interest and I allow others (but not all) to share their opinions when I think others may enjoy it. I cannot write a new review every day nor do I have anything valuable to say on a daily basis, so others can post their experiences here which in turn build a huge database of user thoughts and experiences. You don’t have to like everything that is posted, no one will.

      • I can focus my m9 faster and more reliably than my 5d2, for everything up to sports sequences. (i can get the first shot, but the m9 chokes on high speed sequences.) i bet you could too if you gave it some practice.

        The suggestion that the m9 is unsuitable for midrange people shots is a real headscratcher. 90% of what i photograph is in this category, documentary and unposed, and i generally get better results with the leica, though the canon is good too.

        As for your “pro”, well, i really don’t think you’ve made a point there.

        For journallsts, a d3s may make more sense because of the zoom lenses and the ability to point and shoot for a usable shot. But when you really want to craft a limited number of better-than-usable shots, a leica is one excellent choice.

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