Leica M9 – A Second Opinion

Leica M9 – A Second Opinion
This is a follow up to my original review of the Leica M9 that sparked a lot of debate, a lot of people still get hung up on the price and not the experience of using the camera. So I figured I’d ask someone else to tell me what they think about it.

I leant my friend John Fearnall from Good Noise Photography a Leica M9 and a couple of lenses to try out. The reason I chose John is because he is about the least gear obsessed person I know, the polar opposite of me.

I told him to use it, take some shots and give myself and Canon Rumors readers his impression of the camera.

The Leica M9 is going to be a relevant camera for a long time, we’re going to see these bought and sold long after the M10 is released.

John used two lenses with the camera, a Summicron 35 ASPH and a Summicron 90 ASPH.

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Without further ado
“A camera is a tool to teach you how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange

I have never placed much importance in the equipment I use to create images. Maybe it is because I came very late to film photography and early to digital. From my Minolta Dynax 7000i film camera, to my 2-megapixel Canon Powershot S300, to the original digital rebel, to my 40D – the tool was just that – a tool to capture what I saw. The quality of the image produced did not matter; The improvement in speed was most important. So I was taken a little aback when Craig asked me if I would be interested in using his Leica and writing about my experience. He wanted me to regress to a “slower” camera? A camera that I had to manually focus?

Perhaps part of the reason I was shocked was because the name “Leica” meant very little to me. I had heard it in passing a few times. I remembered once when Craig had visited my booth at an Art Show and let me hold it briefly. It felt impressive, but it was just another tool. A very heavy one and as I was soon to learn, an impressively expensive one – but just another tool.

When Craig told me its value, I once again hesitated, wondering if I could handle the responsibility. After all, this was his ‘baby’ and I wasn’t sure I would be as trusting if the roles were reversed. But after the initial wave of sticker shock, I realized this may be my only chance to ever use a camera like this. So I made arrangements to pick up the camera the following Friday. I took the camera home for a few weeks – a difficult time for Craig, I am sure – and planned on using it as much as possible in every day situations that I would normally use my G11 and in more professional situations where I would use my 40D.

After meeting with Craig for the hand off and talking with him far too briefly, I ventured out with the camera, a bag, the manual, an extra lens and the hand grip. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the camera was that, as Craig had warned me, it was too small for my hands. Putting the grip on, as Craig suggested, made a huge difference. Rather than worrying about the camera falling out of my hands, it now felt solid and worthy of my trust.

Attempting to take my initial pictures – without looking at the manual, never a good idea – the first thing I had to get used to was the rangefinder focussing. Although I used a manual focus camera many (and I mean many) years ago, I had grown so used to my auto focus cameras that focussing took a lot of time and I was not always terribly accurate. My first picture from our local “Friday Night Lights” game is a good example of what I mean. I downloaded this photo the night I took it. And I remember looking at it and thinking that even though it wasn’t focussed the way I hoped, there was something intriguing about it.

 

 

Another problem I had to overcome was that I became so focussed on the little circle in the middle of the viewfinder that I missed some chances to improve my composition. A slight shift to the left in this picture from the game would have balanced my daughter and the referees in a much more pleasing way.

 

Not being able to get close to the action of the game, I had to adjust and find other ways to use the camera. Again, looking at them that night, I was quite pleased with the pictures, but, at this point, I still was not sure what difference the camera was making.

 

 

Within a few days, however, I started to feel much more comfortable with the camera. I took it everywhere with me. And the more I used the camera, the more I felt I could trust it. I took it on my regular walks that I have photographed hundreds of times. And I started to see things a little differently with this camera. The shallow depth of field and the richness of the out of focus objects made the images pop.


I had the Leica with me almost the entire three weeks Craig allowed me to keep it. I carried it to and from work and one morning I was lucky enough to capture this double rainbow hanging over the football field.

 

 

As the photos grew on me so did the camera. The whirrs and clicks became very satisfying sounds. And the resisting smoothness of the focussing ring started to guide me to the right setting.

The only annoying thing that I found with the camera was the strap. And it wasn’t even the strap’s fault. Often, when I was in the car and I grabbed the camera, just as I was about to get it to my eye, the shoulder strap would snag between my seat and the belt clasp forcing me to work it free, often missing my shot. Either Toyota or Leica need to work this out.

Two weeks into the experiment, I was so comfortable that I started shooting like I did with my other cameras – at night with very slow shutter speeds.

 

Out of focus

 

 

 

 

Conclusion
And the camera performed exceptionally well, always creating compelling images.

As I review the pictures again while writing this review, I am, again, amazed at how good the pictures look. I am not sure how to describe their quality. The warmth of the colours, the sharpness of the focus, …

I still hold on to the idea that the tools are not the most important part of the photographic process; the photographer and his or her vision is what matters most. That said, there is no doubt that different tools create different quality of images. And this Leica, a tool that I doubt I will ever be able to afford for my own use, creates very special images. Hard to describe – ethereal almost. I now understand what a “Leica” is. And I miss it. Thanks for the opportunity, Craig.