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Leica M9 Review

Photographers who shoot with cameras in the M-series have been patiently waiting for the release of the Leica M9 camera.

It is Leica’s first digital rangefinder to be equipped with a full-frame sensor, which enables lenses to be utilized at the focal length that is most appropriate for them when mounted.

Digitally speaking, the Leica M9 builds on the M8 and M8.2 models that have been issued over the previous five years, and in many areas, it isn’t too far distant from those models. Even though it continues a line that is well into its fifth decade, the Leica M9 continues the line.

However, Leica has now conquered the challenge of incorporating a bigger sensor into a body that is the same size as it was in the past, and the company claims to have solved the problems that were connected with doing so. Although it sounds remarkable, can something so little genuinely offer photographs on par with those produced by the top DSLR cameras?

Leica M9 Build Quality

The M9 lives up to Leica’s reputation not just for the superior quality of its lenses but also for the exceptional durability of its cameras, and it does it without fail.

The rangefinder housing is constructed out of a magnesium alloy that has been die-cast, while the top and bottom plates are made of brass. To get access to the digital camera’s battery and memory card, the entire bottom plate has to be removed. While this may be a bit cumbersome, it does provide the camera with a far higher level of security than would be provided by a simple plastic door.

Even the robust spring that detaches the rangefinder’s battery from its housing is intended and constructed to last for a very long time and provide many reliable services.

The Leica M9 maintains the theme established by the M-series cameras and deviates from the design of the M8 by only a little. On the top plate of the camera, the battery display and shot indication has been removed, while the sole change on the rear plate is the addition of an ISO button in place of the Protect control seen on the M8.

Leica M9 Performance

The Leica M9, which has a full-frame sensor, performs admirably compared to the Sony Alpha 900 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. It has noise levels comparable to those of both cameras while shooting at lower sensitivities. But the results suggest that it has difficulty doing so when the level of sensitivity increases.

The dynamic range is almost the same, with good results on low sensitivities and a worse performance further up. The results are outstanding when the sensitivity is low. It should come as no surprise that the Nikon D700 manages to outperform the Leica M9 in terms of both dynamic range and noise reduction; nonetheless, this is still an impressive result for such a small camera. The Nikon D700 has a sensor that has a lower population density.

Leica M9 Image Quality

Because the Leica M9 does not have an anti-aliasing filter and instead relies on software anti-aliasing, the JPEGs that it produces can be fairly crisp in certain areas while remaining relatively soft in others. This causes the printed output to be a little more difficult to evaluate.

The ISO 80 photos (Pull 80) are extremely crisp in certain parts, but there is a touch of softness around high-contrast regions, which leads us to deem them useful even if they are not ideal at a quite big 24×36 inches. When printed at 20×30 inches, the components look their best overall. The contrast is great, and it looks as though the darker sections have been filled in.

The ISO 160 photographs are usable at 24 by 36 inches, but the red tones are lacking, so we choose the 20 by 30-inch prints.

Photos taken with ISO 200 also look excellent when printed at 20×30 inches.

Photographs taken at an ISO of 400 appear to be of higher quality when printed at 16 by 20 inches, with only a sprinkling of chroma noise in the shadows that is scarcely discernible at this print size.

Images captured at ISO 800 offer extremely nice resolution when viewed at 16×20 inches, notwithstanding somewhat hazy reds. In general, though, we’d say that the photographs are rather nice.

The ISO 1,600 photographs are extremely decent when seen at 13×19, however, there is some chroma noise noticeable in the shadows. If we were to keep a safe distance, we would still consider it a success. When printing at 11×14, chroma noise tends to be less of an issue.

The Leica M9’s maximum ISO setting produces passable shots at 11×14 but chroma noise turns shadows into a bluish-purple haze, so we’ll call it 8×10 for now. ISO 2,500 is the lowest level that produces viable images.

Leica M9 Specs

TypeCompact digital viewfinder system camera for professional use with Leica M lenses.  Microprocessor-controlled metal blade slot shutter.
Body materialEnclosed all-metal body of highly stable magnesium alloy for professional use over many years.  Black synthetic leather coating. Top panel and bottom cover are milled from solid brass and are silver or black chromium plated. Available in Steel grey (10705) or Black (10704).
Sensor *• 36 x 24 mm CCD sensor (by Kodak)
• 18 million effective pixels
• 18.5 million total pixels
• 6.8 x 6.8 µm pixel pitch
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Offset microlenses near frame corners
• No anti-alias filter (low pass filter)
• No FOV crop (same size as 35 mm negative)
Image sizes *• 5212 x 3472 (18 MP)
• 3840 x 2592 (10 MP)
• 2592 x 1728 (4.5 MP)
• 1728 x 1152 (2 MP)
• 1280 x 846 (1 MP)
File formats• DNG (RAW) 14-bit uncompressed (36 MB) * / 8-bit compressed (18 MB)
• JPEG (Fine / Basic)
Lens mount• Leica M bayonet
• Identification of 6-bit coded lenses
• Manual selection of lens type / focal length (internal database) *
Lens system• Current 6-bit coded Leica M lenses of 16 – 135 mm focal length *
Lens coding• 6-bit lens coding system (detection can be disabled)
• Reduction of edge shadowing
• Identification of lens (recorded in JPEG EXIF / DNG)
• Auto slow-sync function in aperture priority mode
Incompatible lenses• Hologon 15 mm F8
• Summicron 50 mm F2 with close focusing
• Elmar 90 mm F4 with collapsible tube
• Some examples of the Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 (not aspherical, manufactured from 1961–1995, Made in Canada) cannot be fitted to the LEICA M9 or will not focus to infinity. Leica Customer Service can modify these lenses so that they can be used on the Leica M9.
• Lenses with retractable tubes can only be used with their tubes extended otherwise you risk damaging the camera
Focusing• Manual focus via lens ring
• Superimposed focusing system via viewfinder
Exposure modes• Center-biased TTL exposure metering with preset aperture
• Light reflected from white and grey pattern * in center of blade slot shutter
• Silicon photodiode with collection lens
• Range: 0 to 20 EV
Exposure compen.• +/- 3.0 EV
• 1/3 EV steps
• SET menu / Rear dial / Rear dial with half-press *
Exposure bracketing *• No. of exposures: 3, 5 or 7
• Sequence: 0/+/- or -/0/+
• EV increments: 0.5 to 2.0 EV
Sensitivity *• AUTO ISO
• PULL 80
• ISO 160
• ISO 200
• ISO 250
• ISO 320
• ISO 400
• ISO 500
• ISO 640
• ISO 800
• ISO 1000
• ISO 1250
• ISO 1600
• ISO 2000
• ISO 2500
Auto ISO *• Slowest speed (Lens dependent or 1/8 – 1/125 sec)
• Max ISO (any ISO)
ShutterMicroprocessor-controlled low-noise metal blade slot shutter with vertical action
Shutter cockingUsing low-noise integral motor, optionally after releasing the shutter release button
Shutter speed• In aperture priority mode steplessly adjustable from 32 to 1/4000 sec
• Manually selectable from 4 to 1/4000 sec in 1/2 EV steps
• Bulb
Shutter dial• “Wrong way” shutter dial (same as M6 TTL / M7)
• Auto shutter speed position
• Bulb position
• 4 to 1/4000 sec in 1/2 EV steps
• 1/180 sec indicated as flash sync
Shutter release button• Three position soft-touch button
    1. Initiate metering
    2. Lock metered exposure
    3. Shutter release
• Advance modes *
    o Standard
    o Soft
    o Discreet
    o Discreet & Soft
ApertureSelected on lens
White balance• Auto
• Six presets
    o Tungsten
    o Fluorescent 1
    o Fluorescent 2
    o Daylight
    o Flash
    o Cloudy
    o Shadow
• Manual preset
• Kelvin color temperature (2000 – 13100 K)
• Preset white balance (immediate or from photo)
Color space *• sRGB
• Adobe RGB
Image parameters• Sharpening (5): Off, Low, Standard, Medium High, High
• Saturation (7): Low, Medium Low, Standard, Medium High, High, B&W, Vintage *
• Contrast (5): Low, Medium Low, Standard, Medium High, High
User profilesFour available *
Viewfinder type• Large bright-line frame viewfinder with automatic parallax compensation
• Viewfinder optics with reduced sensitivity to scattered light and optimum visibility of the bright-line frame in all lighting situations
Viewfinder specification• Eyepiece matched to -0.5dpt, correction lenses form -3 to +3dpt available
• Enlargement: 0.68x for all lenses
Viewfinder bright-line frames *• Automatically matched for the lens used
    o 35 and 135 mm
    o 28 and 90 mm
    o 50 and 75 mm
• Automatic parallax correction
Size basis range finderCombinationof split and superimposed image range finder shown as a bright field in the centre of the viewfinder image.  Effective measurement basis 47.1 mm (mechanical measurement basis 69.25mm x viewfinder enlargement 0.68 x).
Viewfinder information• LED symbol for flash status
• Four-digit LED display with dots above and below
• Brightness automatically adjusted depending on ambient brightness
• Memory capacity warning when the SD card is full
• LED light balance with two triangular and one circular LED for manual exp
• Display of: underexposure by at least one aperture stop; underexposure by 1/2 aperture stop; correct exposure; overexposure by 1/2 aperture stop; overexposure by at least one aperture stop
LCD monitor• 2.5″ TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixel TFT
Flash control• Leica M-TTL flash compatible
• Short calibration pre-flash immediately before main exposure
• Connection: M-TTL guide number control with pre-flash
• Flash sync: 1/180 sec *
• Manual: Bulb to 1/180 sec *
• Auto slow sync: 1/focal length in seconds (only 6-bit coded lenses)
• Choice of long flash sync times up to 1/8 sec for balanced flash in aperture priority mode
• Sync: 1st or 2nd shutter point (front / rear sync)
• Compensation: +/- 3.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Shooting modes• Single picture (one shutter button depression, one picture)
• Continuous (2 frames per second up to 8 frames *)
• Self-timer (Off *, 2 or 12 second delay)
Folder management *• Select folder
• Create new folder
• Reset folder number
Play functions• Image (simple)
• Image with histogram and information
    o Histogram: standard / RGB
    o Clipping indication: on / off
    o Exposure information
    o Can magnify and browse
• Image magnify up to 1:1 (can browse)
• Thumbnail (4 or 9 image index)
• Page by page (9 image index)
• Protect
• Delete
Delete function• Single image
• All images
Protect / Unprotect function• Single image
• All images
Set quick access menu *• White Balance
• Compression
• Resolution
• Exposure compensation
• Exposure bracketing
• User profile
Languages• English
• German
• French
• Spanish
• Italian
• Japanese
• Chinese
• Russian *
Storage• Secure Digital / Secure Digital HC
• FAT / FAT32
Connectivity• USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (Mini-B connector)
• PTP / Mass storage *
Provided software• Adobe Lightroom 2 *
• Leica Digital Capture
Power• Lithium-Ion battery pack (3.7 V, 1900 mAh)
• Compact charger *
Dimensions139 x 80 x 37 mm (5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5 in)
Weight (inc. battery) *589 g (1.3 lb)

Leica M9 Final Verdict

In general, the Leica M9 performs quite well, and it can keep very big file sizes even when the ISO is increased. When making comparisons, remember that the ISO does not reach nearly as high as it does on other available full-frame cameras.

After testing hundreds of digital cameras, we concluded that examining the photographs captured by a camera’s LCD screen can only tell you so much about the quality of the images it captures. In the end, there is no replacement for printing a large number of photos and carefully scrutinizing each one of them. Final Verdict

It is easy to understand why Leica is so confident in referring to the M9 as an “investment for life,” given the superior build quality of the camera. It is the next natural evolution for existing M-mount users, whether from analog M-series bodies or the M8/M8.2; in terms of its resolution, it is unrivaled for such a compact body.

When coupled with high-quality lenses, which is often expected from a Leica product, it truly is capable of producing spectacular photographs. The photos have wonderful detail, a sharpness that extends into the corners and borders of the frame, and lovely qualities when they are out of focus. It is capable of producing photographs with a quality that is equivalent to that those produced by a professional DSLR, but doing so comes at a cost.

Even while it can produce outstanding photographs, it does not imply that it always does, and the performance of the auto white balance tops a tiny list of complaints about the product.

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