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The Complete Leica M9 and 35mm F2.5 Summarit Review

The review of the Leica M9 and 35mm F2.5 Summarit are now complete. Overall, this camera is recommended and is really quite good. Leica’s years of working with the M series have really boiled down to what is essentially a near-perfect rangefinder. More after the jump.

Complete Testing Index

At the NYC Photo Festival Press Preview- The Leica M9did very well here. Most of the lighting was ideal but some of it was a nightmare. Additionally, it was around my neck while traveling from building to building on a hazy evening. It withstood the haze very well on top of focused like a pro.

Day 1- This day was spent mostly trying to get a feel for the camera vs the DSLRs and higher end point-and-shoots that I tend to review.

Day 2- Did some shooting around the house. The colors in good lighting were noted to be wonderful with good versatility for editing.

Day 3- Shot around my neighborhood and at one of my assistant’s apartment’s.

Day 4- Mother’s Day. Wasn’t able to keep up with focusing on her opening her gift followed by achieving my intended composition.

Day 5- Shot random stuff around New York City. Colors were once again stellar and the level of detail obtained from the lens was wonderful.

Day 6- Talks about how focusing a rangefinder works well for a visually impaired photographer like myself.

Day 7- Shot a birthday party/event alongside the Canon 5D Mk II. Overall, I believe the latter delivered better results.

Focusing

Focusing a rangefinder like the Leica M9must be accomplished manually. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because of the fact that focusing the rangefinder allows the user to get exactly what they want in focus and the user won’t have to rely on the camera’s autofocusing to do so. As is the case of some cameras, autofocusing can be a nightmare and many photographers would just become too frustrated with it. In the end, they’d end up focusing manually anyway.

This is great for portrait takers as well as street photographers. Another great thing is the fact that it forces the user to focus and then compose their image carefully so as not to take a boring photo.

However, this can also be a curse. The problem is that in low-light, it becomes harder to focus due to the lack of sufficient light entering the finder. In a case like this, it would be best to look at your lens and shoot using the hyperfocal length style.

If your focus ever becomes misaligned, Leica will recalibrate it for you if you’d like.

Image Quality

As is expected from Leica cameras and lenses, the image quality in most scenarios is wonderful and very usable for professional purposes. The good thing is that the camera is essentially, “futureproof” because it shoots in DNG (Adobe’s own RAW format.) Though the RAW files are not as versatile as those from Canon or Nikon, I’ve found them to be on par with those from Panasonic and Olympus. However, the way that the Leica renders image noise is more organic looking and so they can be made into much better looking black and white photos without the need for adding more image noise in Photoshop.

Metering

Here’s where my main problem lied with the camera. The metering of this camera is a bit weird. Images that one expect to not be very dark will appear darker than usual. For example, I’m used to shooting with my Canon 5D Mk II along the streets of Manhattan with no trouble at all in terms of metering. That is: every shot I take I know will come out exactly the way I wanted it to. Not so with the Leica. The metering seems a bit off. Part of this problem though can be attributed to the LCD screen as it doesn’t deliver results that are true to what one sees when the photos are exported onto the computer for post-processing.

To counter this problem, one needs to spends lots of time shooting with it to learn to predict what it will do. Also, learn to read what the meter will tell you, but ignore it as well. Trusting your gut and years of photography experience will be much better.

This leads me to another big problem: One of the major flaws is that the meter doesn’t show users what shutter-speed and aperture they are currently at either. This can throw off photographers greatly as they may expect to be shooting at 1/15th of a second but instead may be shooting at 2 seconds.

High ISO

The Leica M9 goes up to ISO 2500. It doesn’t really need to go any higher as all Leica lenses are very fast and are very sharp when shot wide open. The results from high ISO images, as stated above, are best converted to black and white unless you have some serious editing skills.

Ergonomics

The ergonomics of the Leica M9are wonderful and it is perhaps the best camera I’ve ever held. At no time, was it uncomfortable, too heavy, or was I not able to manipulate a setting quickly. And that’s the great thing: Leica puts so much emphasis on just accessing the essential settings to taking a great picture. Many photographers will appreciate that.

In contrast, I wish that the textured feeling of the camera allowed for better gripping an that the finder that allows light to enter into the camera for metering/focusing wouldn’t be where it is currently positioned—right in front of the shutter-speed dial.

Build Quality

If the camera annoyed me and I threw it down the stairs in frustration, I’m positive that it would still survive. Ditto for the lens. Leica cameras are hand-made and designed to withstand the test of time. Their major flaw though is a lack of weather-sealing.

As a constructive criticism, Leica’s next rangefinder should include weather sealing for when a photographer needs to go shooting in rain.

Conclusions

Overall, the Leica M9 is an excellent camera and the Leica 35mm f2.5 Summaritis beautiful. Would I buy them though? No. They’re simply too expensive for me. If I had a collection of Leica lenses and perhaps still had the Leica CL I was trained on, then perhaps I would be thinking about it more considerably. The Leica M9 can do a large variety of work though.

Sports Photographers- Don’t get it. Not worth it at all.

Portrait Photographers- Your money is best spent elsewhere, but this can take some damn good portraits. You’re better off going for an 85mm lens though.

Wedding Photographers- Your brides will love the photos you take with this combo.

Concert Photographers- Many concerts were shot with Leica M bodies for years. Go for it if you can afford it.

Photojournalists- It can’t keep up with the majority of what we are told to cover each day. That and the battery life really cannot keep up with your pace of work.

Event Photographers- Get a flash with it and go for the faster lenses.

Street Photographers- This is for you.

Artists- Sure, why not?

This all said, I still stick to my previous statement. You can take my 5D Mk II from me when you can pry it from my cold dead hands.

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