Quick Compare: Leica M9 & 50 Sonnar vs Leica M7 and 50 Lux by John Tuckey

Quick Compare: Leica M9 & 50 Sonnar vs Leica M7 and 50 Lux by John Tuckey

Hi Steve, given the recent interest in the Sonnar after your new review, I thought folks might be interested in a comparison I have from a recent shoot.

The shoot was simply to get some nice vintage styled images with a bit of 50’s glamour to use in my portfolio on 500px (where I still have illusions about selling enough downloads to buy a nocti, hey we can all dream!) and in a book I’m putting together. As usual I used the M9 as my main camera, but as we had some time I decided to rattle off a few with my M7 as well. So here you get an interesting comparison between the M9 + Sonnar 50, and the M7 + Lux 50. Lens vs Lens, and Film vs Digital. Not a scientific comparison obviously, but an interesting one being as its rare to get the same subject with both cameras at the ready.

The vast majority of the time I shoot an M9 – It used to be practically welded to the Lux 50 ASPH, but find myself using the Sonnar more and more. Yes, the focus shift can be an issue if you’re not chimping, but its a lens to love for its imperfections I think. These first two images are the M9, Sonnar at 1.5. The focus shift got me a little, but the end result was still compelling.

JRT-huff-M9-1 JRT-huff-M9-2

Now here’s two with the M7 and the Lux 50, I was using Ilford Delta 100, and scanned the negs in on a friends Epson Perfection 750.
JRT-huff-M7-7028 JRT-huff-M7-7029
Which do you prefer? I have to admit I much prefer the M7 shots. I can see me pushing a few more rolls through it on my next shoots πŸ™‚
All the best



  1. Right now my wife is using Fuji Instax Mini 8.So far so good.
    Personally i think Fuji Mini 8 looks beautiful but it works not really well and i prefer Polaroid PIC 300P

  2. I dont know – its always the same with these crazy “comparisons” anyone talks about
    overpriced stuff and shows mean pictures.

    A few days ago we sit in a restaurant in france and looked at the next table
    a guy playing around with his toy.
    I showed this to my girlfriend and said – look a Tumbs Up Grip made by Abrahabsson.
    She made a baffled face till I name her the price of this piece of metal – just the same
    as the gear I carry around for my street shots.
    A Nikon FE with a 50 and a 135 lens bought some weeks ago on Ebay.
    The only sense I use a camera is to make pictures and the most people who watch them
    are not interested how I get them and even if the did my snaps wont get better if I spend
    more money to the gear – they get better by spending more time on practise.

  3. Well done John. As you stated in your intro “it’s an interesting and non scientific test”. Boy have some people got bees in their bonnets. I too prefer the film shots regardless of what camera and lens combo were used. I have always hoped for a Leica M and my choice would be film over digital. I also prefer b&w and would not consider the monochrom for this as film gives the rendering I prefer.
    Thanks for a good article and for boosting my faith in film.

  4. I also vote for the M7. Just the other day I viewed a Sony 4K TV. They were playing an action move. The people looked like CGI.Digatil can look so harsh. Film is so nice and warm and smooth.

  5. The M7+Summilux portraits are closer-in, much tighter, and are better. I wish Zeiss had made the C-Sonnar focus closer, but then it could not be as compact. A Sonnar 50/1.5 modified for close-focus is really nice for tight portraits.

  6. Really different shots between the M9 and M7 with their respective lenses. So it is difficult to say one is better then the other. Since switching to digital in 2005, I personally prefer the ability to make adjustments in post. Looking back on old color slides, where most things were done on lens, it seems restrictive. The same with B&W film. It is just a different approach to photography and mind set. With that said I like #1 and #4 images the best, more the composition and feel.

  7. Personally I prefer the M9 shots as they have that softer edge beloved of fashion pics from the era. The film images are just a little too edgy for my taste.

  8. The film ones looks better obviously, but IMHO you’re not trying on the M9 either. If it was a direct comparison, I would have used the same lighting and same pose to do it. These pictures does not reflect any comparisons whatsoever. Just showing that YOU are BETTER when using film, either you’re used to it, or you can’t edit your BW photos in photoshop as good as you you’d like. (Sorry, no offense intended).

  9. Likewise, for me the M7 shots win hands down. Some thoughts…

    So film shots are preferred over digital by a wide margin, and there’s talk about should’ve, could’ve, would’ve for digital, and no beef. OMG, people, this is 2013 and Jesus Christ hasn’t still arrived. So if you’ve been contemplating how good the results are from film, and this is what you care about, just buy an M7 or MP, embrace film, have fun and gain respect… It doesn’t hurt to use digital but if you refrain from film, it might just go away forever like betamax.

  10. This is apples and oranges, not a meaningful comparison. What is being compared, lenses, film versus digital, or both? Regardless, the images taken by both cameras above are so different that the only thing interesting is how the film shots turned out. Backgrounds, distance and angle are all different in these shots. To make this comparison meaningful, assuming the goal is to play with all the variables to get the best photo, it would be necessary to take two identical shots with each camera then work each shot to get the optimal effect for comparison.

    The M9 images are flatter but that would be easily fixed in post processing and the M7 images are a little too contrasty for me. I have found that the best digital cameras take a flat but data rich RAW image. Contrast, saturation and exposure are all adjusted post processing. That is part of what RAW is about. When a camera makes a JPEG it sets the saturation, contrast, color balance, etc. automatically and not always ideally. With film you get the saturation, contrast and tonal or color characteristics of that particular film, which may work well in one setting but not in another. If the film images are too contrasty to start with, how easy would it be to reduce the contrast and get the detail back in the highlights? When I shot film I had to carry two cameras if I wanted to be able to shoot B&W or color, and a third if I wanted to shoot color negative or slide. That was both expensive and cumbersome. With digital, I take one shot and have all the options in post processing.

    In addition, I have never been able to enlarge a 35mm film photo as well as a digital image. When enlarging a film image you are stretching everything and increasingly see the grain, the color thins out and details blur. With a digital image shot with a good lens and camera at base ISO I see increasing levels of detail embedded in the RAW image and color and contrast do not change as size increases until the pixels give out and turn into squares. That always fascinates me.

    If you like the effect of a certain film then fine. It is certainly valid to show instances where a particular film produces a pleasing image, and good for you if you like playing with film and getting a certain kind of effect, and thanks for showing that to the rest of us in case it catches our interest too. But you can’t say this comparison shows film is better than digital.

  11. I don’t know if it’s the film or the lens, I would think it’s the film, but I strongly prefer the film + lux. Really nice photos.

  12. I clearly prefer the M7-Lux combo output. However, if you would have swapped the lenses to take the exact same shots again, a comparison would have been interesting.

  13. Thing is once scanned & uploaded film looks like digital that has been software manipulated to look like film πŸ™‚

  14. Great work John – just checked out your Facebook page – fantastic. I use an M9 + 50 Lux and have used an M3 with the Lux in the past. I love the ease of digital and the look of film! They both win in my books.
    Kind Regards, Geoff

  15. I like the film shots simply because they look like the way B&W is supposed to look: grain, sharpness and high contrast.
    The M9 pics are what I would consider bland dull B&W.
    The subject and composition are great, but the ‘quality’ of the B&W is poor.
    But if you use the film pics as a reference and then post process the M9 pics from raw again you can make them pop!
    I have the Sonnar and it is a killer lens.
    Here is a jpeg right out of camera with the Sonnar @ F2 on my old E-PL2:
    The Sonnar is not lacking in contrast or sharpness.

  16. This comparison is apples and oranges. Two different cameras with 2 different lenses. At least use the same camera or the same lens. It makes no sense.

  17. I prefer the M7 shots but its the film, not the lens, that does it for me.
    Seeing both lenses on the same camera would’ve been a much better comparison.

  18. Pretty cool article… Someday I’ll gain the funds needed to invest in Zeiss and Leica. Both are amazing companies. Sigh… For now, I’m stuck with the poor man’s Micro Four Thirds and Olympus! lol

    • “..stuck with the poor man’s Micro Four Thirds and Olympus..” But-but.. huh?

      With “the poor man’s Micro Four Thirds and Olympus” you can:
      (a) see the results (e.g; depth of field) before you shoot, with Live View on the rear screen or in the viewfinder, impossible with Zeiss or Leica (except the new model M/240);
      (b) use wide to super-wide lenses ..and see the shot on the rear screen or in the viewfinder (which you can’t with a Zeiss or Leica (except with the new Leica M/240);
      (c) use zooms (ditto);
      (d) use longer than 135mm lenses (ditto), as Zeiss and Leica rangefinder mechanisms are inaccurate with anything longer;
      (e) use higher ISO settings than Zeiss (film) or Leica (film or digital);
      (f) use many more assorted lenses – with adaptors – from many different manufacturers (e.g; Oly OM, Canon, Nikon, Minolta) whereas focusing with a Zeiss or Leica (except the new M) requires having a Leica cam inside the rear of the lens;
      (g) use stabilisation for slower shutter speeds and with smaller aperture lenses (which you can’t with Z or L cameras);
      (h) ..need I go on?

      Olympus m4/3 are great cameras!

        • ?

          I’m trying to be encouraging, to show – or remind – Nathan that he doesn’t need “..to invest in Zeiss and Leica..” to take good photos. He doesn’t need to lust after something else.

          Guillaume, are you trying to help, or just be smug and insulting?

  19. I prefer the Ilford shots too. It would be interesting to see what the M9 with the ‘lux and M7 with the Sonar would show, just for sake of completion. I keep going back and forth with getting the M/M-E/M9 or just staying with my M7 with 0.58 VF and M3. This comparison sure didn’t help in my decision, guess it comes down to convenience vs. end result.

  20. i think the nokton 1.5 is a better match to the sonnar. maybe Steve can swing a test?
    they are about the same price.

  21. I prefer the M7+50Lux by a pretty large margin, but that may be largely because the lighting and composition are better. Typical with flatbed scanning, it looks like you’ve lost some of the highlights in the process.

  22. I have to say the first two appeal to me. I like the soft rendering of the M9/Sonnar combo. Was the illumination constant in all four shots?

    • Hi Lance. As others have commented, no the illumination was not the same. same model, same room but different positioning within the room and to the lighting. These where sent in more as a bit of fun so folks could discuss differences. I wasn’t setting out to do a review in the shoot, the M7 shots where simply fun ‘between the frames’ shots and I felt they offered an interesting comparison to the M9 shots. Next shoot i’ll take both M7s to provide some side by side shots with the same body, same film/sensor and the same poses side by side, a slight faff, but there seems to be enough folks who would want it (if only i had two M9’s to do the M9 shots side by side!).

  23. Prefer the M9 shots. Nice tonality and the film shots look too harsh. I think the softer lighting suits the subject better.

  24. Hi, I m glad to have found this submission/post here reference this.
    Good to still see film! I have been searching/surfing the web for articles on the relevance of film in this day, 2013. I have come across older posts, here, and elsewhere, but it would seem correct that film is slowly disappearing from the photography scene. The few die hards still clinging to it, I have a M2, and a M9. I m thinking of selling the M9, and putting the money towards a MP, or Monochrome’ . The decision will have many consequences, whichever I decide. I have printed in darkroom, and studied photography before digital age, but I m nervous about Film completely disappearing from the scene, and then sitting with the MP? Maybe it wont happen for some tie, but Kodak made statements in 2011, and now?? they are Gone!
    Fuji may , and possible will follow suit, its not if, its when(I hope I m wrong, but I would not bet on it)

    I prefer the film bodies like the MP, M7, M6 to the Digital, electronic bodies, for reasons of simplicity, but maybe it is time to listen to sense, and buy the Monochrome instead?

    I enjoy your article

    Chio, to you, and everyone

    • film is not going anywhere. kodak is still making it, as is fuji and ilford. i just bought a bunch of portra 160 for an upcoming trip.
      i use am m9 but my film camera is an m3. you can pick up a great m3 for about a third of the cost of an mp and the m3 is Leica’s best film camera ever made. just look through the viewfinder – much larger with perfect frame lines and .91 magnification – compared to the mp’s much smaller view with broken lines. the mechanics are smoother and more refined on the m3 too. after the m3 Leica introduced cost cutting….

      anyway, dont give up on film! you also can get a huge selection of great film cameras for cheap. nikon, canon, pentax, olympus etc.

      • The .91 mag is nice but you can also get a different VF (.85) or magnifier need be. Also with .91 you need goggles on the 35mm. Most people still prefer the .72 for a reason, as it is very versatile. one is not necessarily “better” it’s a preference.

        • .85 is ok but it still has the weak incomplete frame lines. yes you need either the goggles or separate finder for 35mm with .91 but you will also need that if you shoot 28mm or less with .85
          All that does not take into account the mechanical difference. the m3 is smoother and more solid than any of the other Ms, and makes my M9 feel positively dinky.
          M6,M7,MP all feel much better than m8,9,’10’

          But… all take great photos.

      • Thanks for the feedback,and thoughts abt the reply on the Film M3 and MP etc. I m contemplating, the MP is very expensive new, and maybe a M3 would be a good choice, or an M4. I d love to get those in black, but then the price climbs as well.
        Anyhow I love my M2, it was dropped(by me) , I sent it to Germany for a repair, and CLA, and its like new now!

  25. this was just a bit of fun, not intended as an accurate evaluation. As it happens I also have a M9+lux set with elinchrom flash vs a M7+sonnar with ilford 3200 between the flashes, but thats just so different its just blatently not fair (the M9 has the pixels, but the M7+ilford 3200 has the soul..the M7 wins). BUT as I do more and more on film these days and have just bought a second M7 so I can do even more, you might see your wish soon. If steve’s up for posting it I’ll gladly do M7+lux+film of choice vs M7+sonnar+same film πŸ˜‰

  26. i much prefer the film shots. they pop more for many reasons, including the fact that out of focus images h render softer and less contrasty.
    it seems that the sonnar is unusable for sharp images wide open on film, as you do not know the final results until the film has been processed. and chimping each shot on digital kills the flow.
    i much prefer my planar or any of my leica lenses to the sonnar.

    p.s. great shots!

    • Agree that the Sonnar optimized at 2.8 is a risk with film if you’re shooting wide open. But one optimized at 1.5 is lovely — no chimping on the M9, either. And, at higher stops — you just have to practice. I’m 90% good at 2.8, 4, and 5.6 – anything above that is covered by the depth of field.

      But, yeah… if I’m going to be shooting at those apertures most of the day, the Planar generally goes on. The Sonnar is a very specific beast.

      And, as Huss said — nice photos

  27. For what it’s worth, I much prefer the M7 shots. The M9 photos look underexposed to me, and they don’t have the “pop” of the M7 shots. The M7 shots look like those that Life and Look used to serve up years ago.

  28. The Ilford look is totally achievable via some 3rd party plug-ins. Straight BW conversion never works under photoshop.

    • I’m interested, which one worked for you Dave W? I’ve used Silver Efex pro and alien skin, to my mind silver efex was the best but even after a lot of processing it looks great until you actually shoot the real film – and then you realise how far apart it is! For me film is less accurate, less pixel perfect, it sometimes feels capricious when using a new stock, but it’s worth it because a) i dont have to spend a lot of time in LR or PS altering or converting to get the film look I want (i’ve already got it) and b) it has something indefinable that i don’t see in digital shots that have been altered. Its so difficult to put my finger on that I think all I can really say is…. film has soul πŸ™‚ you see it our you don’t – and if you don’t see it thats cool, but I think I see it. maybe thats just because i’m putting the time in to develop and scan myself and have a bit more of ‘me’ in the film, but and having seen it I’m willing to say that what i get out of digital is convenience not quality – which isnt to belittle my M9 – if I’m booking a model the M9 is still the key cam, I do not want to waste a frame! But, when ever i show folks M9 shots and M7+portra or ilford shots I can guarantee which ones come out tops by a massive margin – thats why i went for a second M7 and my own scanner instead of a second M9!

    • There are hundreds of ways to convert using PS but if you do a straight “convert to grayscale” you need to fade it on color mode or use a desaturated layer on color mode, otherwise it changes the luminosity values.

  29. You changed both the lens and sensor/film at the same time. And the lighting on the face is flatter in the M9 shots. So you have three major factors to tease out in the pictures. I like #3 and #4 (M7 shots) best because of the tonality and the lighting. And I have a suspicion that if you’d shot film with the Sonnar and the lighting in pictures #3 and #4, I’d like those shots the best. You could also have shot the M9 and used an S-curve in post-processing, and come up with a similar (but not identical) tonality to the film.

  30. I much prefer the rendering on the Lux, far more pop. The contrast curve on the film scans looks nicer too IMHO.

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