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Field Review: Leica M9 and 35mm F2.5 Summarit (Day 1)

by Chris Gampat on 05/17/2010

At long last, I finally have gotten my hands on the Leica M9 for review. In addition to this, the nice folks over at the company have loaned the 35mm F2.5 Summarit to me as well. Here are the initial reactions to the camera as well as first impressions.

Ergonomics

The Leica M9 is a rangefinder, not a DSLR. Therefore, the entire layout of the camera is very different. For example, there is no grip for your hand to clasp onto when taking pictures. The camera is also very small and discrete in its profile while maintaining a large 35mm Full Frame sensor.

Complaints have been made by veteran Leica users that they miss the film advance lever on top of the camera. Since I’ve been shooting digital for years, this doesn’t bother me at all.

The camera feels very solid, it is essentially all metal. One can grip onto it very well and not feel like they are holding a toy. There is some texturizing on the body to promote better grip, but it still feels lacking without the front grip of a DSLR. To compensate for this, the strap usually gets wrapped around my wrist.

The eyepiece placement is going to take some getting used to. It is placed on the upper left-hand side of the camera’s back. As a DSLR user, one may be more used to the center placement.

Placement of the shutter speed dial has been implemented very well, though I still can’t decide if I like this more or the way that the Leica CL was. The latter is a camera that I was trained on.

There are also very few buttons. The ones that are there though are what really matters.

Play- Allows users to play their images back

Menu- allows users to access the menu

Delete- Allows users to delete the images

ISO- Sets the ISO. In my experience, this button needs to be held down while the dial to the right is rotated or the direction buttons are pressed.

Info- provides info about shooting modes, battery life, how many images are left on the card, and other information in playback mode.

Set- This is essentially the “okay” button that confirms settings and questions that the camera may ask you.

Menus

The menu is perhaps the most straightforward and simple one that I’ve seen from any manufacturer. It isn’t tremendously long either.

There really isn’t much to it either.

Focusing

Focusing must be done manually through the lens attached to the camera. The focusing screen shows you how to focus. My initial problem is that I wish it were brighter. Everything you see through the viewfinder looks just like it would in real life. The exception to this is the little rectangle in the middle which is a different color and shows something that should not be there. For example, if you aimed it at someone’s face and placed the center on someone’s nose, the center may actually appear to be a cheek instead. You need to fix this by focusing correctly. To do that, you need to focus until you see the nose in the rectangle lined up correctly with the person’s real face. This may sometimes require even moving back and forth as almost all Leica lenses are primes. An article on Wikipedia explains this very well.

Ruggedness

The PR rep told me a story about how someone left their camera on the ground and a dog picked it up by the strap and ran around with it hitting and scratching against the ground and hitting rocks. The camera was flawless and so was the lens. VP Christian Erhardt usually steps on the camera to show how rugged it is.

EDIT: The M9 was scratched. It wasn’t flawless.

Image Quality

With my initial samples that have come out, it seems to be very good. The image noise that is there looks very film-like and can still be very usable. Otherwise, the colors are very nice and remind me of my old Olympus DSLRs.

Extra Features

There are none, this is a Leica. They emphasize simplicity.

More to come and much more to be said about these categories in the review!

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