Field Review: Leica M9 (Day 7)

In celebration of 2D-x‘s one year anniversary, we partied with a couple of other journalists from other websites. The Leica M9 was there to capture what happened as was the Canon 5D Mk II. High ISO abilities were used and tested. In summary, while the images weren’t as great as the 5D Mk II’s, the M9 still did produce very usable images when converted to black and white.

Equipment Used

Canon 5D Mk II with 24-105mm F L IS and 430 EX II

vs

Leica M9 and 35mm F2.5 Summarit

Editor’s Note: To see the complete gallery of images head over to 2D-x.com’s birthday posting.

So it was the classic duel: fast lens vs a slower lens with image stabilization and a flash. The Canon 5D Mk II was set to ISO 6400 and essentially shot at 1/20th of a second the entire time at F4. The Leica M9 was shot at around 1/15th to 1/30th of a second wide open at F2.5. It was also set to its highest ISO, 2500.

Some of you may be asking yourself why weren’t the shutter speeds, apertures, or ISO adjusted while shooting. The reason was because of the fact that the recent lighting at Gabby O’Hara’s Irish Pub in Midtown Manhattan was perhaps the worst lighting I’ve ever had to deal with as a photographer after the concert at PAX East. Manipulating settings to become brighter would have resulted in unsteady photos and darker settings would have resulted in a post-production nightmare. The said settings were the best compromise.

Focusing the Leica M9 in the dark was very tough to do—that comes from a guy who for the past two weeks has spent nearly every waking hour with it as a constant companion. Coupled with people moving around often, achieving one’s intended focusing became even harder when focusing was completed and then actually composing the photo needed to be accomplished.

The cameras were also tested out by a couple of other photo-savvy tech journalists present. They all agreed that the ergonomics and feel of it were wonderful. What they didn’t like was the back LCD, as I had to explain to them the same problems that I faced with it. Overall though, they were very pleased with the camera as well as the stellar image quality. They were surprised by the “heavy” weight of the camera, which I laughed at from carrying both an M9 and a 5D Mk II around my neck.

When it came to actually editing the images, the M9’s files were much less versatile at higher ISOs than the Canon’s. With the Canon’s, I was effectively able to eliminate all visible image noise, retain great color, lighting, and detail. This could perhaps have been possible with the Leica, but in my post-production processing, I wasn’t able to achieve it. Therefore, it was much easier to just convert to Black and White.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Steve Huff shoots and converts to Black and White often with his M9 as do many Magnum Photographers. Shooting an event with poor lighting can once again be hard though, as manually focusing the lenses is difficult. The reason for this is because of the fact that there is very little light entering the finder and so it becomes harder to focus precisely on your intended subject.

For further information: the 5D MK II was shot in sRAW2 (the smallest) and the M9 was shot at uncompressed DNG.

Originally, I didn’t want to bring the 5D Mk II, but when Editor Jeff Wilson told me that he needed the highest quality of publishable shots, I decided not to take a risk and bought my ever reliable 5D Mk II.

So how did the 5D Mk II perform in other areas besides image quality? Phenomenally. The autofocus was spot on—further proving my theory that with the right lenses the 5D Mk II can tackle any nearly situation. To be fair, I also had a flash present. However, most M9 shooters don’t use a flash as it compromises their discreteness.

And that is the end of the Leica M9 review. My summation will follow shortly.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.