The Leica M9 Does Spain by Aravind Krishnaswamy

The Leica M9 Does Spain

by Aravind Krishnaswamy

Earlier this summer I went on a tour of Spain with my 7 months pregnant wife, starting in Madrid and finishing in Barcelona. We were part of a tour group and over the course of about a week we got to enjoy the sights and tastes of primarily Andalucía, but also bits of Castilla La-Mancha, València and Cataluña. The last time I did a European tour, it was 2006 and I had only my DSLR so I lugged it along. Time time, I had the option of the Leica M9 and wanting as small and light a kit as possible I took it along with the 21 Super Elmar, 35 Summilux ASPH FLE and the 75 Summicron APO. All of this fit in a Tenba Mini Messenger along with a 13″ Macbook Air for editing my images.

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About a week before departure, the anxiety of having so much expensive equipment with me drove me to try and pack a DSLR kit into the same bag. I took only one lift of that loaded bag to my shoulders to convince me it was a bad idea. My Leica kit went with me everywhere, to all the sights, all the meals, and no point during the trip did I feel “camera bag fatigue” nor was I tempted to leave the camera behind in the room safe.

On the way from Madrid to Seville is Cordoba where there is a Cathedral-Mosque, a world heritage site. The place has a long history, starting off as a pagan temple, eventually becoming a Visigoth church. After the Umayyad invasion of Spain in the 8th century it was turned into a Mosque and over the next couple of centuries expanded much in size. Then during the reconquest of Spain, a Catholic Cathedral was built in the center, giving the place a combination of architectures you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

One of the distinct advantage of not having a big mirror flapping around is the low shutter speeds you can get away with. I made the above image hand held at 1/3s. I managed to brace myself by a railing and fired off a couple of shots to be sure to get a sharp one. You can see in the inset how much detail the 21 Super Elmar can capture wide open even at such slow shutter speeds.

On the evening we arrived in Seville, we were treated to dinner and a wonderful Flamenco performance. I didn’t want to spend the entire performance behind my camera, so I opted to make the occasional image and it was the perfect chance to use the 75 Summicron APO. I initially focused on creating images at high shutter speeds to freeze the dancer’s motions.

Then, I started experimenting with blurs. Again, since there wasn’t mirror slap to worry about, I could hand hold the 75 Summicron at shutter speeds of about 1/30s to freeze the dancer’s faces but get motion blur on their arms and dresses.

The next morning, one of the first places we visited was Plaza de España. This scene may look familiar to some as portions of Attack of the Clones was filmed here (some scenes taking place in Naboo). With the incredibly high contrast of the scene I decided to capture this scene with multiple exposures with the idea of merging them with HDR later. Since I didn’t have a tripod, again this was done hand held.

I did use the M9 for what it was intended, photographing people on the street. My pre-trip anxiety on carrying all this expensive equipment was completely unfounded as it turned out. The M9 is very discreet with most people not even noticing my presence. In fact, another person in our group with a Canon Digital Rebel and a kit lens got a lot more attention as a photographer than I ever did. The ability to shoot without having many people stare at you was somewhat new for me and was a very liberating experience.

The M9’s lack of auto focus was never an issue, a bit to my surprise. Of course, I wasn’t trying to photograph fast action, but even with this young boy moving all over the place, the lack of AF didn’t get in my way. It naturally took a bit more work to make the image but in the end I still got what I wanted. One of the things I notice about a lot of images made with the M is how the subject gets put in the center. This is understandable since you have to use the center patch to focus. I’m finding that as my experience increases with the M, I get faster with focusing and then recomposing or just estimating focus distance and using zone focus.

I made several images while just walking by and this was one of them. On a city tour of Carmona, we encountered a film crew mid-shoot. They were setting up for the next scene and we were rushed through the streets of the set so that we could get from end of the street to the other. Again, my fairly discreet set up let me grab a quick shot as we walked by these three actresses. Several seconds before, I knew I wanted an image like this one, so I pre-focused using zone focus estimating what my distance to the actresses would be as well as stopping down to ensure sufficient depth of field to account for any focus error. Then as we walked by all I had to do was frame very quickly and release the shutter.

Another example of a quick, discreet image. As I was walking up to the candles, I knew that if possible I wanted an image of someone lighting a candle. Then, as I was walking by, on my way out I saw this couple, turned around focussed quickly and released the shutter. One of the observations I’ve made in the few thousand images I’ve put through the M9 relates to focus. I find that I have virtually no images where the focus is completely off. There are plenty where there are small focus errors, but usually that’s not noticeable unless the image is printed very large. In contrast, I’ve found DSLR autofocus to actually give me more grossly out of focus images, though also a higher percent of perfectly in focus images. Its not a tradeoff that can work in all situations but in many its one I’m happy to make.

I had a great time walking through the crowded markets of Barcelona, making images of the people and especially the food. Since the first day of the trip I discovered just how much Spaniards love their ham and it turned out to be a staple during the remainder of the trip.

In one of his previous posts Steve said that the M9 has brought him more joy and passion to his photography than any other camera since his MP. I feel the same way, minus the MP since I never had the chance to shoot with the MP. I have tried to figure out what exactly it is that brings this joy and am not sure its any one thing. I know that with my Leica lenses I spend a lot less time post processing, the colors and tones are usually spot on with minimal adjustments in Lightroom. Perhaps its the interface of the camera, where everything just works as I expect it to with nothing getting in the way. Whatever it is, the M will definitely be coming with me on future travels.

About Aravind Krishnaswamy


Aravind Krishnaswamy is a nature photographer based in San Jose, California. His current work focusses on making images featuring wildlife in their natural landscape. His work can be viewed at


  1. Hi I saw a web site ( shoottokyo) and was amazed by the night shots and colours taken with M9. These shots made me want one but I don’t have this kind of loose change at the moment these shots of Spain show the beauty of the M9 were not a one off..both sites look like adverts for the Leica that can’t be bad …I like colour well done

  2. Nice pics, which brings me back warm souvenirs of my numerous trips to Spain, the last being last spring in Sevilla. I wonder how you can visit Spain in one week (I spent 3 days in Sevilla alone), but you certainly managed to capture its spirit.

    Interesting selection of focal lengths. That’s what i tend to use as well, but on an M8, where they are roughly equivalent to 28/50/90.

  3. Great photos! 1/3 handheld makes me want to switch from my Minolta X-700 as I need a tripod for anything slower than 1/60, but I can’t afford the jump to a rangefinder right now (I recently soaked my 28mm lens on a canyoneering trip and replaced it for under $40).
    Thank you for sharing what seems to be a wonderful trip to a beautiful country.

  4. This blog makes me want to buy an M9. But I enjoyed the photos more. Great composition and useful thoughts in zone focusing. Thank you for sharing.

      • Yes, I’ll take the trip to Spain and an OM-D over an M9. My vacation memories might need calibration in a few years, but I can do that at home with the pictures I take instead of sending my brain to the factory. I do wish I could afford some Leica lenses, but I can enjoy the pictures others take with them for free. Like the ones on this wonderful site.

        I am tempted to buy something nice with my mother’s thousand dollar birthday check. Is the RX100 still calling me? Yes, it is.

  5. Thanks a lot, Aravind, for a very useful article. I appreciate the comments on how you used the M9, the very process of photographing. For someone agonizing over whether to buy an M9 or wait for the M10, I could sense a bit of the “easy” handling of the M9 – no trillion-page manual describing a plethora of automated features, just basic photography.

    I enjoyed your photos on this blog, as well as those on your web page. Well-composed. Steady. Beautiful. But Spain has been photographed many times before. I think you are ready for greater challenges. I think you are ready for Javreoaivit, a small place in northern Norway, where no American with Leica M9 has ever ventured.

    • Is that your hometown, Vegard? Northern Norway does sound challenging, in a cold way. Must have been a Leica or two up there sometimes. Did they never come back?

      • I suspect those who did venture there in the summer got eaten to death by the mosquitoes!

        @Vegard. Is the spelling correct, as I can’t locate it?

  6. Great work Aravind,
    Love the images and interested to hear your choice of lenses for the trip.
    Did you miss not having a 50 with you on the trip ?
    Also did you get to use the 75 summicron .
    The reason I ask is we are off next week to Europe and am contemplating taking the same as you Super Elmar 21, 35 Lux Fle, 75 Summicron.
    I have 28 summicron and 50 lux and wonder whether to take them all .
    Cheers Ross

  7. I’m going along with everybody’s compliments, the images are great. Thoughtful composed and well taken.

    However, I also have to say that this post reads like an advertising pamphlet out of Leica marketing. This takes away much from just enjoying the images and how you got to take them.

  8. You just can’t see these sites where I live in the US. That is why I love to travel. Great photos.

    • I agree, its why I love to travel as well. That said, we also have a lot of wonderful places to see and visit here in the USA (especially nature), so those from elsewhere in the world should also come visit us!

    • Thomas, you won’t see sights like this in the USA because this is Spain. Sorry, just having a little fun, honestly. 🙂 But it is a pity you seem to believe it necessary to denigrate what is there in your own country. I’ve never visited the USA, but I have seen some fantastic images over the years – Yellowstone, the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Palouse, as was so admirably shown in an earlier post on this site, New England in the Fall, woodland forest, to mention just a few.

      True, there is less to see when it comes to old architecture, we Europeans have a head start on you here, but there this a wealth of nature in the USA which we struggle to match. You do it on a grand scale; for us it is in miniature, save perhaps, the Alps.

      I say, enjoy what is in your back garden, it’s huge!

  9. Just to start, I love the pictures.

    As to the camera debate I started out with the GF1 (a great camera and I still use it to this day) and saved and saved and finally got a M9. The difference in the cameras are there are (almost) no manual items with the M9.

    1) you have a bigger view of the world and choose the subject in the context of the wider world.
    2) You focus the item
    3) You choose the aperture
    4) You choose the ISO
    5) (optional) you choose shutter speed

    it makes the thought before the shot more and helps you get to a better picture.

    I still use the GF1 when I need auto focus and auto ISO and better high iso performance (but that is debatable)

    The real key is lenses last but bodies decay over time as the electronics erodes and eventually fail.

    Love your pictures

  10. Hi Aravind,

    Great shots. How did the 21/35/75 combo work for you? Did you feel like you were missing some other lenses?


    • Surprisingly well. I was prepared to feel like I was missing shots, but I didn’t. Similarly, an Olympus EM-5 + 12 f/2, 25 f/1.4 and 45 f/1.8 should also be an excellent travel kit.

  11. Thanks for your feedback Wes. All files were output sharpened for their intended display size. As for colors, all images were color graded on a calibrated NEC PA271, I would politely suggest calibrating your display.

    • I like the composition but I have to agree with Wes. The sharpening and saturation were too much to my liking. It’s personal preference i guess.

    • Aravind,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to the comments I thoughtfully posted. As for your “politely” suggesting that I calibrate my display — hmmm, that comes across as pretty rude pal. My monitor is very much calibrated and, I’ve been shooting professionally for nearly 30 years — like you, all over our planet… The images you offered up here on Steve’s blog ARE in fact over-sharpened and over saturated (color-balance wise). MANY of the (excellent) images on your website also appear to be over saturated — perhaps intentionally, but the signature is none the evident. If that’s simply your POV, then great, but suggesting that there is something wrong with my monitor is bordering on passive aggressive. All of that said, you have a great eye and I enjoy your images — I just feel they’d be even more compelling if they weren’t overly enhanced in the post processing department. Just my two “sense”.

      • I tend to agree with Wes. too much post processing. and its not only the sharpening, the color also look like a picture rather then a photo. in addition despite the fact its M9, it lack the 3D feel and leica special touch.

        • I like the pictures, composition and content is really good!
          Nice one, and thanks for sharing the series man and flavours of Spain. Magnificent sights there and nice selection.
          BUT my criticism is directed towards the post processing, colour, it’s garish, and the sharpening, it SPOILS the photo – that’s my opinion though.

    • If you like highly saturated images, that is your preference. These are lively and eye-catching images, but not especially naturalistic. From me, that is a description, not a criticism. Your nice calibrated monitor and processes let you achieve consistent results, a good thing, but they don’t remove your eye and tastes from the results, nor should they. Your work shows your artistic tastes, and it won’t please everyone. I hope it pleases you, and I’m sure it pleases many others.

  12. OK, some nice colourful pictures, but nothing you couldn’t have got with a much cheaper camera/lens combo (Olympus OM-D for example). With higher ISO capability you wouldn’t have been messing about at 1/3rd of a second, and the image stabilisation would have helped further. Just because the pictures were taken with an M9 it doesn’t automatically make them much better.

    I don’t want to sound negative, but If you post was titled “Pictures from Spain” and ignored the make & model of the camera, would Steve have put this post up I wonder?

    • Hi Andrew,

      No where is it stated that the pictures are better because they were taken with the M9. It was the tool I had with me and as all images were taken with said tool, including the tool in the title is entirely appropriate. That said, at the time these were taken, I would have been hard pressed to find a kit as compact with the ultimate image quality that it can provide (and that goes way beyond the camera). I own an Olympus EM-5 now along with the finest m4/3 lenses. Its a fine camera capable of superb images but it doesn’t shoot the same and it sure doesn’t produce the same image.

      • Andrew your post is immature and idiotic. Sounds like you have some sort of inferiority complex you are working through. Shoot with the camera you like, and keep the stupid comments to yourself.

        • To RIchard:

          Andrew stated his opinion and explained why he thought that the same images could have been taken with different (way cheaper camera) with the same end results.

          On the other hand calling his post “idiotic”, “stupid” just because he said something that you do not agree with IS in fact immature

          • From past experience reading your posts, I know that you suffer from the same inferiority complex.

          • To Richard:
            I agree with Mika about your unrespectful words. I don’t think is a question of inferiority.
            Every opinion can be expressed if respect other’s.

  13. Aravind,

    Thanks for sharing your images. They are magnificent in composition and subject — hats off to you! Unfortunately, on my monitor, the post-processing is simply too much (color saturation and sharpening specifically). While I am a big fan of sharp optics and rich vivid colors, over processed images often distract one from truly enjoying the wealth of talent that is often hidden beneath!

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