You know what I love about having happy hour with a group of friends that all happen to love photography? It turns into our own low key version of “Beers and Cameras” and today’s location was at Ocelot Brewery, located in the industrial park area of Dulles, Virginia.
With a venue chosen and gear packed, today in particular was a special day because some of us were introducing our new Leicas for the first time.
Ben recently picked up a second-hand Leica CL.
Asif picked up a second-hand Leica M5.
Yours truly picked up a second-hand Leica M9 with a 50mm Summicron f/2 V3 (1969-1979). There is a fantastic first-hand review about the legendary Leica M9 from someone that came from DSLRs: ShootTokyo
Right away, one of the first things I’ve noticed while I ran these photos through Lightroom is the lovely color rendering and the contrast due to the combination of the Leica M9’s CCD sensor (developed by Kodak back in 2009) and the vintage Summicron from the ’70s.
The LCD Screen is Shit
The other thing that I have to get used to is not using the rear LCD screen to “chimp” after taking the shot. The LCD screen is considered “vintage” now in 2018 (think of the time when we all thought the original iPhone had “good screen” back in 2007-2010). The screen is so shitty that I don’t even bother using it to actually check the photo other than to check my exposure.
Don’t even think about exceeding the ISO past 800. We’re talking about old sensor technology where ISO 800 was considered “high-tech” back in 2009. Shoot the Leica M9 like a digital-film camera: ignore the LCD screen, learn to use manual controls, and understand manipulating exposure/light both in and off camera.
56K of Buffering
After you take a photo, give it about 10 seconds for the buffer to fully clear before your next shot. Due to the slower-than-2018 processor technology and the M9’s finicky nature with high-speed memory cards (use 16GB 40-45 MB/s cards only). Again, treat the M9 like an old-school digital-film camera.
What is Sharpness?
Despite these quirks (it’s almost a decade old), the camera is capable of pulling some amazing images from the sensor thanks to the CCD sensor designed to simulate Kodachrome film stock. Paired with a Leica M lens (Summicron f/2.0 to a Summilux f/1.4), you will get that amazing micro-contrast “3D” pop effect known as the “Leica look” that no other camera on the planet can emulate.
I’ve been drunk with this stuff since my Leica Q and its excellent Summilux 28mm f/1.7. That lens is just stunning.
Remember – you can always sharpen photos in post, but you cannon create micro-contrast in post.
Is this worth the price of admission for a Leica lens? That depends on you.
What Leica does understand better than anyone else, is that absolute sharpness (resolving power) of the lens means little if the images don’t look great. Something I’ve also been guilty of chasing since my Sony A7 full-frame days with my Carl Zeiss and G Master lenses. I loved how sharp they looked, but the images looked cold and sterile in comparison.
Almost too clinical.
A Sincere Camera
Despite these drawbacks and limitations with the Leica M9, there is also something liberating about these limitations.
No AF – learn to take your time and learn to use zone focusing like a proper rangefinder camera. You will soon learn that this method is even faster than auto-focus (unless you use the Leica Q, just throw that guy in AF 99% of the time and you will get a lot of keepers).
No EVF – learn to expose and compose with your eyes prior to taking the shot.
Slow Buffer – you can’t run and gun with this camera. This will force you to be patient and compose properly.
No LIVE View – Use the viewfinder like you’re supposed to.
Shit LCD Screen – Don’t even bother checking your images.
Pretty much what this camera is trying to tell you is this: “it’s on you”
This camera will make you a better photographer.
It will force you into becoming a better photographer.