Olympus OMD 95% – Leica M9 5% By Neil Buchan-Grant

Olympus OMD 95% – Leica M9 5%

By Neil Buchan-Grant

It’s been about a year since I last sent you anything Steve and a lot has happened in that time. I sailed to New York on the Queen Mary and had christmas in the big apple, just me, the M9 and a Sony NEX5n. I visited B&H for the first time, (what an amazing place) and picked up the last EVF they had for the NEX. Needless to say the M9 didn’t get too much use for the rest of that trip, but I had a great time with the NEX.

In March I finally got hold of an Olympus OMD just in time for a number of European trips I had planned. I liked it so much that the Sony and all of its lenses went straight on eBay! On each trip I religiously packed the M9 into my slingshot with a 50mm and a 35mm. In France, Portugal, Montenegro, Ireland and on 2 trips to Croatia, I carried it everywhere but only used it a handful of times. I had started to wonder why I bothered to carry it everywhere. Then I had the opportunity to shoot a theatrical company visiting my local theatre. Although I used the OMD for most of the shoot, the pictures I took with the M9 really stood out and added a genuine touch of class to the set.

So the numbers in the title of this piece roughly show the usage for each camera over the last 6 months. The main reason for this has been the wonderful Panasonic Leica 25mm Summilux lens which has been almost welded to my OMD for most of that time. Wide open, its has excellent sharpness and micro-contrast and a tiny bit of CA which lightroom disposes of in a click of the mouse. Okay, you don’t get the same level of subject isolation as you would with the 50 lux on an M9, but it’s still a dreamy looking result with a sweet bokeh. I’d say the pictures look just like my 35mm lux ones on an M9, but with a 50mm perspective.

As a system camera for travel photography the OMD has to be the best I’ve used so far. I won’t go over the same ground you and so many others have already covered but its a joy to use. As for the M9, its still the daddy with a great sensor and the best glass on the planet. When you want special results and you have the time, the pictures it makes are quite unique! So I’ll continue to pack it in my bag wherever I go. Hopefully one day there might be a full frame Leica M body with a great EVF and a rangefinder.

The other thing that has changed over the past year is my growing interest in black and white photography. So I’ve been finishing a lot of my work off in Silver Efex Pro 2. I’m afraid I won’t be in the market for an MM though as I love the flexibility the colour channels give me in processing and I’m more than happy with the resolution the M9 or for that matter the OMD give me.

Here are some of the black and white pictures I’ve shot over the past 8 months with all the cameras mentioned above.

NYC with the NEX5n and the Leica 35mm Summilux

NYC NEX5n Leica 35mm Summilux

NYC Leica M9 50mm Summilux

Galway, Ireland OMD PL25mm

Dubrovnik, Croatia  OMD PL25mm

Dubrovnik, Croatia  OMD PL25mm (an Italian tourist, I told him he looked like a bald George Clooney:)

Dubrovnik, Croatia OMD PL25mm

Dubrovnik, Croatia  OMD PL25mm (sorry about this one but I think its just ‘the dogs bollocks!’

Manchique, Portugal OMD PL25

Rovinj, Croatia OMD PL 25mm

Galway, Ireland OMD Olympus 75-300mm @85mm 

Oxfordshire OMD PL25mm

Rovinj, Croatia Leica M9 50mm Summilux

Winchester, Leica M9 50mm Summilux

Winchester Leica M9 50mm Summilux

More can be seen as usual at my website www.buchangrant.com (and click on the ‘Unique’ tab to see my new ‘portraits only’ site)

Thanks again Steve, wish I could join you all on that boat, sounds like a lot of fun, maybe next year!

Kind Regards




  1. All amazing shots!

    I’m actually buying the tiny Olympus e420 as it is so portable. More chance to take it with me everywhere then. I have an entry level nikon, but the olympus is just a treat to use, find myself taking more ad hoc photos with it, which is just what I wanted. The nikon is more for: “I know I’m going to take photos, especially at night, I’ll take the nikon”. The tiny little olympus is like: “let’s just shove this in my pocket and see what we come up with”.

  2. A lovely set of images. Every one is pleasing to the eye!

    On a human level – the girl from Ireland is wonderful. Technically, the range in the Croat street scene stands out for me.

    If I am honest – if you want the M9 look and are not rich – use film, focus manually and don’t spend all that cash up front. The leica somehow captures that softness which most digital systems now lack. Just my opinion…

  3. These are all fantastic shots…. but the picture of the little girl with the dirty face in Ireland is amazing….

  4. Hi Neil,

    Im very impressed with these pictures. Its really the indian, not the arrow.
    BTW, im now torn between the voigtlander 25mm .95 and the Pana leica 25mm 1.4 for my OMD. May i ask for your advice as to which lens is more appropriate to get? im just a mere hobbyist who is into street shooting, travel, food shooting. Thanks!

    • Hi Garry
      Sorry if this is a bit late, I stop looking at the thread after a while!
      I have always found the Voigtlanders to be a bit soft wider than f2 so personally I would go for the autofocusing PL25

      • Thanks for the reply Neil. as part of my early preparation for more manual focus lens, I decided to get the voigtlander 25mm and im actually very happy with it. im sure the panaleica would bring smiles to my face as well but the voigt has not left the omd since i acquired it. i love the color and the softness when i need it. im now looking at the 17.5mm of voigt. i think i will stay with MF lenses for now as i get more comfortable with MF/zone/infinity shooting.

  5. Neil… again, as everyone else has mentioned…

    Great images. As a new owner of the EM-5, I too have fallen in love with the PL25mm. I also have the Oly 45mm and I’m torn about selling or keeping. I do like the distance it gives me, but the PL25 just has more “magic” – for all sorts of uses.

    The M9 shots are amazing… I would buy one if I could. The focus & depth are fantastic. The 3rd photo, woman’s portrait, just stopped me dead in my web surfing. The focus blends in such an interesting way with the background depth. So alien and unique. Congrats!

  6. A wonderful quality set of images Neil.

    I have a similar dilemma with my M9 and OMD. The M9 can make a technically better photograph if everything goes right (like if you can focus fast enough etc), but the OMD isn’t so far away in image quality. The point is that if the image wasn’t made with the M9 in the first place, but instead the OMD, would it be any less of a good image? And the answer is no, the OMD would still deliver something outstanding. I would say the hit rate shooting wide open is weighted very much in favour of the OMD as well, not to mention ISO etc. But, I still love to use a Leica, I fell closer to what is going on, I connect with the subject more, whether a person or a landscape. Photography never gets any easier.

    • Hi Steve
      Once again, sorry for the delay, I stop looking at the thread after a while:)
      Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head there, the way I see it is that the OMD can do a great job if not better in fast moving situations, but when you have all the time in the world, and I want that extra bit of quality, I would use the M9 or some Leica glass on the OMD which is dreamy:)

  7. I like NYC Leica M9 50mm Summilux the best, no doubt. Maybe the Leica forced you to do your best 🙂

  8. I’ve been really struggling, deciding what lens I should get next. I think I know what my problem is. I bought the PL 25mm, and I’m having a hard time thinking of a reason to take it off.

  9. Cool pics! Something I notice is coming up quite a few times with us bokeh lovers, is that we open the lens too much sometimes! If we just stopped the lens down a bit in a portrait shot, we might get both eyes in focus! or maybe even the ears too!

  10. Thank you, Neil. Your photo of the little girl in Croatia is spellbinding. Those eyes! I don’t think I will ever forget that image. It’s eerily sublime, yet at once down to earth. Thank you (And thank you, Steve, for hosting Neil’s work).

  11. Great write up. Superb images. This is yet another very convincing article leading me to potentially pair my rangefinder with a MFT. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Neil,
    What are you thoughts on the Leica Monochrom? Do you think having a B&W only digital camera, despite the increase in resolution, actually limits your post-production creativity when trying to create B&W images from color files? In other words being able to take a color pic and post-process it to B&W and having complete and subtle control of the shades of gray would be lost with a Monochrom?

    • I’ve an MM for less than 24 hours and I’m still exploring. While I appreciate the use of colour mixing in making B&W from colour files, I have never felt the lack of it when I scan and adjust B&W film, so I’m not sure why I would with the MM. It might be less versatile that way, but I suspect the increased resolution and higher ISO’s available will give it a place.

  13. Hi Neil,
    Love the photos. I’m buying an OMD as I’m going to South America for 5+ months. I don’t have the money to buy numerous lenses at this stage, so I’m wanting to know which lense you could recommend if you could only have one. I’m only just starting out in photography so any help as to what is a necessity to take when traveling for an extended period.

    Thank you

    • Hi Corey
      Thanks for the comment, that’s an easy question, if you like portraits then get the PL 25mm, but if you like working from a distance and you prefer the flatter perspective then it has to be the Oly 45mm 1.8. But if you like landscapes and bits of everything else I would suggest the 12-35 is an excellent lens. I happily go out with just my 25mm and shoot all sorts of stuff on it so that would be my choice.
      Have a great trip!

  14. Hey Neil, a heartfelt `congratulations on these powerful images !

    Great to see your work up here again… and what a set of portraits they are too. The current depth of your work since last stuff you posted is astounding – not to take anything away from the previous show at all, but it feels and looks like you are really flying right now. You have really raised the standards here! Bravo again !!! Love that Galway girl – what a portrait, Damn, ! wish I’d taken it.That OM-D or M9 shines in your eyes and heart. What a pleasure to see this inspirational post.

    You be well and safe. I am sorry I didn’t get to meet up with you in London – just been a hectic time with family duties and work this year that I had to postpone any of the personal plans this year, but maybe next year,

    Please keep it coming,


    • Hi Joirge

      Thanks for the very kind comments, once again it means a lot coming from you!

      Yes, I would agree with you that The last 6 months have been possibly the most significant so far in terms of my pushing myself and thinking about what I’m shooting.

      It really all started in Dubrovnik when after seeing the inspirational Steve McCurry exhibition there. On my last day, I forced myself to start approaching more people for portraits and it paid off. Although I did a lot of that last year in Sicily it was different because I was on a commission. Something has also just clicked on the processing side and I now seem to have a better idea of what should be converted to B&W and what should stay colour.

      And I’ve had a fair bit of luck too!!

      Hopefully we can meet up next year, indeed.


  15. something interesting about photography

    as we get more and more into it
    we read more into photos that what they actually are
    we make more of them than what they are

    when we were not so much into photography wed just look at them and say yep fine
    move along
    which actually is the more accurate assessment

  16. Hello from a fellow Dpreview member

    I recall seeing some of those shots at the forum

    Amazed by them then and amazed by them now

    It’s an honor to be a newb OM-D user when I see skilled people like you using it and liking it

    Not bad for the little guy (OM-D) being used along side a Leica M9 with Leica glass

  17. Niel, I like all your photos but honestly like the M9 images the best. Also like the NEX/Leica combination. Don’t like the look of the OMD as much. More snapshot like, at least to me. I shoot a NEX 7 with “M” mount glass which may influence my preferences.

    • hi tom, I’m not sure if this is what you mean by ‘snapshot’ but there’s a common misconception that APS sensors are closer in size and the look they give, to full frame than they are to mft sensors. I actually tested the 3 formats all with 50mm 1.4 (equivalent) lenses, looking specifically at the sort of subject isolation and bokeh one would get. in reality the mft and APS were almost indistinguishable and the full frame was much better than both:)

  18. Amazing images. Thanks for sharing!

    This is truly evidence that the person BEHIND the camera is more important than the camera they used. (…and that goes against almost everything that I practice.)

  19. Thanks for sharing these….a truly wonderful journey and visual feast.
    Count me in as another who has fallen in love with the PanaLeica 25 ‘lux.
    It’s not about the test charts, it’s about so much more, and the PL25 has enough of it to have kept me in the mu43 system. An absolute classic lens…and a pure joy to use on an EM5.

    • You do get a great feeling of being connected with the past and of using a real precision instrument with the M9 I agree but for the sort of thing I do, it needs to be backed up with a second system

  20. I have used the M8 + OM-D combo myself, probably more like 70% and 30% for each camera, respectively.

  21. Absolutely stunning. Couldn’t think of a better way of starting my Friday here in Oz!! The headline photo is amazing, as were most others. You are obviously hugely talented, as the images are consistently jaw-dropping regardless of the equipment used. Looking forward to going through your site.

  22. Really great pics Neil. All of them are really good B&W and I am very, very picky about B&W.
    I have an OMD and the Panny/Leica lens and it is a really powerful combination.
    Many times looking at your pics I tried to guess the camera and lens and was sure it was the M9 only to see it was the OMD/PL25 combo. That says a lot!
    I love to use Legacy glass on my OMD though:
    Zeiss Sonnar 50mm for that incredible bokeh and classic old world look.
    Zeiss Biogon 35mm for a super sharp contrasty and colorful portrait lens.
    The Voigtlander 15mm Heliar for landscape and architecture.
    But for a do it all lens it is really hard to top the Panny/Leica25mm, it possess characteristics of all these other lenses.
    It may be one of the most amazing lenses ever made.
    Wide open at F1.4 it is sharper than any other lens at F2 and has a nice vignette effect.
    Stopped down to F4 or F5.6 it is razor sharp across the whole field.
    I have done resolution chart tests and no lens I have ever tested on the OMD has higher sharpness or contrast.

  23. I suspect I see a little overmuch local sharpening around the eyes in three of the last four photos! Oddly I have an OM-D and an M9. The OM-D is easy to use and gives reliable results – I use it now for ‘technical’ photos when I need to post something on the web that mustn’t take too much time or effort, but needs to illustrate something clearly and precisely. It’s wonderful for this. The M9 is more effort and requires more attention, but when it works it shames the OM-D. Only my opinion, of course…

    • Hi Chris, I agree with you on the last one for sure (and I had actually ‘blurred’ her eye highlights from my original processing:) I always pay most attention to the eyes and most of the time I get away with it:) I also agree with your comments on the 2 cameras but when it comes to quick travel portraits, I can assure you the M9 would not have been able to capture some of these images so as great a camera as it is, we all have to accept the practical realities of rangefinder and manual focusing verses fast AF and electronic displays.

      • Gosh Neil. Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing these. Thank you too for helping sort thoughts on the Oly. I’m so keen to know experiences of photojournalists and the tools used. Oly digital cameras have been the preferred choice of other PJs, despite the Oly’s traditional “quirkiness”. I bit my photomedia teeth on the E-series digital Olys, even though Canon Ds were being pushed as the popular “choice” while Nikon Ds were being touted as the fashionable Holy Grail.
        But my Olys were a delight to use. Sensual design, and the standard glass was excellent.
        Of course, as everyone is saying here you “eye” is behind it all. But that goes for all of us doesn’t’ it?
        I’ve now had the chance to use the Leica M9 and the Fuji X100 Pro. Both are fine, if as you say you have the time to spare. But that’s not a luxury a photojournalist can rely on, and another thing having a Leica stolen or damaged while working would be a pain. A lot more practical to have a couple of much cheaper but still excellent Olys for work instead of one very expensive Leica.
        The Fuji X100 Pro by the way isn’t a happy camera in the field either. But the images are so very good aren’t they?
        It could be my smaller female hands, but I really like the way the Oly fits and is intuitive too.
        – Alexxx

  24. You normalized these shots in such a way that I think you should just keep the one that handles well. I am surprised you didn’t try the NEX-7 or X-1 Pro just for kicks. I don’t think your results would have been different….. still would have been excellent.

  25. Neil,

    Whenever you are in NYC let me know.. I would be happy to shoot for a few hours with you- Soho, Meatpacking District, Village, Uptown, where ever. Your work is probably the best- PP, composition, subjects, EVERYTHING, the best on this website EVER.

    Contact me through my website.. http://www.digitalandfilm.com .. and you needn’t worry about somebody ripping the M9 off your neck- I’m an ex-deputy sheriff and 6’1″ 265lbs.. no fear.

  26. Nice and Simple – Neil you have made my morning with these superb images, thank you for sharing!!

    Cheers Tenielle

  27. Those images are superb. The set from Croatia – WoW!!! The portrait from NYC is my favorite. Pure velvet.

  28. Great inspiration and wonderful pictures! To me it shows that it first of all takes a good photographer, secondly the right lens for the job and thirdly probably the camera.

  29. Really great pics. But to be honest, I am missing some grain. Without that classical touch of film grain they suppose to be kinda too perfect.

  30. While I agree with the comments that you could probably create beautiful images with any camera, it’s great to see these results from someone who uses an M9. I can’t afford and M9 and probably won’t until the M15 is out, but I do love the OM-D/PL25 combo (use the 25 90% of the time). The girl peeking out is my favorite one of the bunch. And people say you need the Olympus 45mm for portraits! You’ve proven otherwise!

    • I’m not sure I would agree with the comments you refer to:) I’ve been banging away with Canon gear for 20+ years and its only since I started using a Leica M9 and now the OMD that I’ve managed to get reasonable results! The 45mm is a tremendous lens quality wise but I have now become aware how little I use it, again I take it everywhere and hardy use it! I think its good to sometimes ‘make’ yourself use a lens just to give your pictures a bit of variety. I reckon we’ll all be DEAD by the time the M15 comes out:)

      • Just was referring to some of the others commenting before me in saying “you could make these images with any camera”. Happy to see that you can do them with the EM-5, is all!! I’m the same way with the 45mm, it’s a fantastic lens, but my best portraits seem to be less staged and since the 25mm is glued most of the time, that’s where they come from. Maybe my career will take off and I’ll be able to get an M9/M10 or something in the future, but I have other goals in life (house, family, etc.) The OM-D gives amazing results and I have many years ahead before I need something better! Thanks again for all the wonderful images and write up.

        P.S. How are you liking the 12-35? I just picked one up for a walk-around/weather-sealed kit. Here in the PNW we need to have that safeguard sometimes.

        • Hi Joe,
          I am pretty pleased with it, its really not a noticeable different in IQ from the Oly 12mm a tad slower but adds all that extra functionality of the extra focal lengths so its a useful lens to have, but where I see myself using it is for landscapes and cityscapes where framing can make the shot, or if I go on a travel assignment and have a few bodies available it would be very useful but I would always want that prime 25mm on one body! I used the 12-35 in Galway recently and got drenched with 10 minutes of torrential downpour, its survived no problem

          • That is great to hear about the 12-35, Neil! I’m thinking the same thing about the two bodies. I don’t have the Oly 12, but do have the Panasonic 14mm. I think the 12-35 replaces that because the aperture difference is negligible. The 25mm will live on either the GX1 or EM-5 and the 12-35 will be on the other. Nice thing with this system is a two body, four lens set-up, can be carried in a small bag (in my case ThinkTank Retro5). Having problems accessing your website, but I’ll tune it there also. Cheers!

  31. Wonderful stuff Neil. “The dogs Danglies”. Your pictures taken with the OM-D really show what a m3/4 camera combined with a talented photographer can do. The Leica shots of course are superb as well. Thanks for a great post.

    • cheers Zakk! You might notice that the dog eyes are not 100% in focus, but he was running around really fast so an M9 would have been useless. He managed to trick the OMD’s normally excellent eye-recognition AF, as the camera seemed to think his bunghole was a third eye!

  32. How did you get so many of these folks’ eyes to be spooky or haunting? I’m guessing that’s how you envisioned the shot and made it work, but especially with the Oxfordshire woman and the Galway girl. I mean…. WOW!

    • I have to say that luck plays a big part in shots like that Galway girl, I had no idea she would make that face into my lens, I have others where she looks as sweet as a pie:)

  33. Love your work Neil and your attitude. The Croat pipe smoking guy shot is a corker.

    Btw, your Algarve colour shots on your site taken with the OM-D are just fantastic! Did you od much PP on these? If so what? I know the light is wonderful in those areas but really interested in how you made those shots look so brilliant (landscape ones that is). 🙂

    • thanks for your comments cidereye, I do a bit of PP on everything really, with the colour work I dont adjust the colours too much (a little bit of vibrancy perhaps in LR4) but its mostly about correcting the light and dark areas to improve the dynamic range of the shot. Apart from the obvious exposure tools, I prefer to use LR’s graduated filters to do this instead of glass ones on the lens, I rarely use a brush, its too obvious. The grad in LR4 has so much control now, its a miracle tool!

  34. I think what you are saying is shoot with what you like. I find that after I got my Nikon D800E I find myself using my Leica M9…..MORE! Obviously certain aspects of cameras help you get certain images that you can’t otherwise, but you have a great eye and could probably get great shots with whatever you like!

  35. These are some of the best people/street photos I’ve seen. It shows, yet again, it’s mostly the person holding the camera that counts. Fantastic pictures.

  36. This work is absolutely stunning. A real inspiration for portrait photographers such as myself. The pictures of the children are particularly mesmerizing. Seems like the 50mm FL really suits these type of portraits. I’ll be playing with my Leica Summar to see if I can get some similar effects. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Like both the article and pictures. For me, the 50lux pictures stands out. Specially the third one.
    I just bought the 50lux yesterday, and I just love it. It almost paints the out of focus area.
    Cheers Neil.

  38. The bog girl image is wonderful. The look on her face is priceless. I also like the shop girl peeking out.

  39. I’m new to photography and these are amazing photos. But, I have to ask if these photos are post production or just from the camera? These photos seem to redifine what I understand what photography is all about. Does a lens make that much of a difference in the quality of the photography.

    • Hi Juan, Thanks for the comments, If you’re looking at a scene like the first picture in this set, then you could get a very similar shot with any 50mm equivalent lens, that one is mostly about the light and composition (although a really sharp, contrasty lens helps it out) but with most of the others where you are close to the subject, a really fast high quality prime lens accounts for about 80% of what makes those pictures work. The processing just adds the icing on the cake!

      With black and white photography, masters of film have been doing serious post production on their prints for years. Now with digital its very easy to give an image the extra impact it needs by emphasising the elements which excite you about the picture in the first place. That’s my tuppenceworth anyway:)

  40. That is a wonderful set of photos! I have got to get over to Europe one day. Great to see what the OM-D can do.

  41. Wonderful images. Between your work here and Gary Tyson’s from Cambodia I see that the OMD, when coupled with the right lens, is a powerful combination. Bravo!!!

  42. Neil, you have quite a talent with portraits. I enjoyed comparing your compositions–especially with the M9 and OMD! I must say, there’s something magical about that M9 subject isolation.

    • Thanks for your comments Tom, I like that one too and entered it into a competition here where it was shortlisted from a lot of entries, didn’t win but I was pleased with that result.

  43. Very, Very Nice! Regardless of wich camera you used, although I can’t wait for my Om-D to arrive 😉

  44. The bog-dweller ooh my God! I have to Google image search it, as I am sure to have seen it in a list of world classics… 😉 reminds me a bit of the style with the little girl smoking.
    Great images indeed. And talking about dof, it is clear you can get more than enough separation on the omd…

  45. beautiful work!!! saving for the OMD since the m9 is DEFINITELY not in my budget. not gonna lie though, it’s definitely your eye, the tool just translates your talent.

  46. Superb series! Beautiful tone and feel. I especially love the NYC M9 portrait, the dog and the horse!

  47. Nice images Neil. I too have had similar experience with the OMD, except the title of mine would be “OMD 100%, Leica M9 – SOLD….lol” Heres my views on the OMD on some recent blog posts shooting in Cambodia and Phillipines since I swapped my M9 for the OMD for this style of travel photography. http://www.f8photography.com.hk/tag/OMD/

  48. Neil, this is very good work.

    I like my E-M5 but I find that there is a richness and depth in the images created by the M9 that the E-M5 can’t quite touch.

    Great stuff on your website too. Added your blog to my RSS subscriptions.

    Hope to see more soon.


  49. Great images Neil and even more impressed when I hopped over to your website, which is superb in itself with even more outstanding images! So bottom line, which do you prefer using, any clear winner?

    • Thanks Gary, I have to say, they both serve different tasks very well. There are many times if you are out on the street and you’re shooting with a 50mm wide open with strangers, kids, dogs etc you just don’t get the time to be as accurate as you need to be with that depth of field and a manual focus lens. I like that kind of shot so the OMD is perfect for quick stuff! I also find the flip up LED screen very useful as the older I get the less well my knees work. The headline picture of the girl from Galway for instance, was near on impossible without that screen as she was only 2 feet high:) But when you have the time and the angle, the M9 would be preferred choice.

  50. Neil…

    I believe.. in your case..
    its not the camera ..

    its you.. its you and again.. its you

    Love your vision

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