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Leica m9

A lucky fluke

tomcupb

All shots: Leica M3, 21mm f3.4 Angulon 400 ISO

One of the problems of developing one’s own films is that there is always the chance you might mess up and lose all your work. Having spent a great weekend celebrating a mate’s 50th birthday at an amazing house in the heart of the French countryside I was looking forward to seeing how my pictures would look. The house was very old and very big. My friends, characters every last one of them (even Sancho the dog) made perfect subjects for photographs. I was hoping to see some really nice shots.

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The film was duly developed, rinsed and then fixed. To my horror when I lifted the spool out of the tank I saw that the film was milky and not clear as it should be. The fixer must have died. As soon as I saw that there was a problem I put the spool straight back into the tank. It was only exposed to the light for a very short moment but I suspected it was long enough to ruin it. I was very angry and annoyed at myself. I mixed up some fresh fixer and fixed the film anyway on the assumption that one never knows. Always the eternal optimist.

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When I looked at the film it seemed that my worst fears were confirmed. The negs were completely black. I held one up to a strong light and saw that there was actually an image to be seen. Maybe I could get some prints from the film after all. Instead of the usual few second exposure, they required a few minutes but in the end I did get some interesting shots. In fact, I was amazed that they were as good as they were.

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The prints all had a lovely grainy old look to them which really suited the subject matter and the only sign that something wasn’t quite right was some mild solarisation in places. Considering how black the negs were I was very pleased with what I got. I even have a feeling that the prints turned out better than they might have done had I not messed up the film.

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Leica m9

Summarit f2.5 50mm Leica Lens review

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Leica M9 Summarit f2.5 50mm 160 ISO f2.5 @ 4000 sec

When I first got my M9 I needed a lens for it. Having already spent far too much buying the camera in the first place, I couldn’t really justify a new lens. I couldn’t really justify any lens at all really but a body is useless without one. There wasn’t a great choice of lenses in the shop, either new or secondhand. I wanted a wide angle but he didn’t have one so I chose the new 50mm f2.5 Summarit.

It was quite compact and I was pleased to see that Leica had stopped using that nasty square font and had reverted to a more classical style. I took a lot of pictures with this lens under a wide variety of circumstances and at first it seemed as good as one might expect for a modern Leica lens. It cost about 1000€ which was relatively inexpensive for a Leica lens.

Shooting wide open produced sharp images with a soft bokeh but the bokeh seemed to have a double image which rather spoiled the effect. I also thought it rather odd that the aperture ring started at f2.5 then went to f2.8. It hardly seemed worth it and I found this a bit annoying. Surely it would have been better to start at f2.5 and go straight to f4.

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This picture is a 100% crop taken at f2.5 which shows the strange ‘double image’ look to the bokeh. (click to see all images bigger)

Now, one thing about Leica lenses is that they should perform well especially in demanding situations yet I found that this lens did not like shooting into the sun. Since I often do this and quite like the effect of lens flare I was rather disappointed. The lens flare was nice enough but it often created strange pink patches in the image which rendered them unusable, at least in my opinion.

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Here there is a red patch top right and it’s not even shooting directly into the sun!

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What is this strange blue patch in the bottom left hand corner? Faults like these happened often using this lens.

As far as I am concerned this lens does not live up to Leica’s reputation and is not as good overall as other 50mm Leica lens. It was returned for a refund.

Categories
Leica m9

Learning all over again

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Picture of a French cat sitting on a car. Leica M9, Elmarit 21 Asph, f8 @ 125 sec 160 ISO. Worked on in Lightroom. See below to see the original.

 

When I had my Leica M3 I used to guess the exposure and often the focus too. I used to get away with it most of the time. Imagine my surprise when many of the first pictures I took with the M9 were badly exposed, out of focus or had camera shake. What was going on? I thought I was an OK photographer but here I was making the most basic of mistakes.

All the pictures I take with the M9 are uncompressed DNGs and I work on them in Adobe Lightroom which came with the camera. It is a very powerful program which takes some learning. I was lucky that I have a mate who is a Pro who has been using it for a few years and he showed me the basics so I could at least get started.

The problem is that the images from the M9 are enormous at 18 mega pixel (4 times more than the Digilux 2 it replaced) so when you zoom in to 100% you really can see any faults. Before, these slight issues were never a problem, I never printed anything bigger than 5 x 7 and at this small size they were not noticeable.

Apparently I was not such a good photographer as I thought I was. Must do better. One of the advantages of not having a mirror behind the lens is that the camera can be held at much lower speeds. That said, one must still hold the camera steadily and not jerk it when you press the shutter. It is entirely possible to take good hand held pictures at an 1/8th of a second but only if you take great care, I had not been taking care.

My exposures were not too bad but I had been spoiled by the Digilux 2 which had three different metering options. Often when shooting into the sun, I would put the meter on ‘spot’, move the camera to the area I wanted exposed correctly, lock the exposure, then move the camera to frame the shot. This was very effective but it’s not quite the same on the M9. I can lock the exposure but I lose the soft shutter option which is a shame.

As for my focusing, well the less said about that the better. It didn’t help that the first lens I put on the M9 was a 50mm as I’d been used to a 21mm before. Again, I had become lazy. The autofocus on the Digilux worked very well and I rarely focused manually.

The great thing about the M9 is that you HAVE to use it manually and thus you regain the control like it or not. Dropping back into the M philosophy after five years  of letting the camera do everything for me was initially a bit of a shock but it didn’t take long until I was feeling more at home with the camera.

The thing is I took some fabulous pictures with the Digilux but as good as they were, I always felt they were lacking some vital ingredient. Now I know what that was. It was the photographer! It does seem strange to be going back to a completely manual system but it works. I like the way it forces you to consider everything before you take a picture.

Not only did I have to learn to use a camera properly but I also had to learn the program I needed to view the images. I used to be a bit of a purist when it came to taking pictures, I never messed about with my images or even cropped them. A true photographer does not need to correct mistakes. His pictures are perfect straight out of the camera. With the advent of digital I am beginning to change my views.

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Leica M9, Elmarit 21 Asph f8 @125 sec, 160 ISO. After much work in Lightroom. See below to view the original shot.

After all, I can shoot in colour and convert to black and white if I want. DNGs are amazingly tolerant and I can easily adjust the exposure if I get it wrong. That’s not to say I am slack when I shoot but it does mean that I have often managed to rescue an image that would have been lost using film. It seems that adjusting images post camera is perfectly acceptable these days.

Now that I am losing my purism I am having a lot of fun with Lightroom. I still prefer not to mess about or crop but I cannot deny that some pictures are improved amazingly. The quality of my work has improved because of the extra care I have to take. It’s a continuous learning experience and very satisfying because of it.

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Completely untouched as it came out of the camera. Picture was a little under exposed to begin with. Even after adjusting the exposure it was still only a mediocre shot so I gave it some more colour and contrast and a bit of a vignette too. I rather like it.

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Here again, a perfectly ordinary shot. Nothing very interesting at all. Change to black and white and increase brightness and contrast (mainly) and you have something more interesting.

Categories
Leica m9

Leica M9 is a bargain

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Leica M9, Elmarit 21 asph, 160 ISO f11 @ 250 Bay of St Tropez, March 2010

Buying an M9 was not a rash decision for me, it wasn’t a sudden thing at all. This was the camera I had wanted for 15 years, ever since I realised that the future was digital. The Leica M9 is everything I want in a camera. I had to laugh when critics complained that it could only take 7 shots continually and only two frames a second. Admittedly this is rather pathetic compared to most DSLRs but this is missing the point. Using a rangefinder just isn’t like using any other camera.

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Canal du Midi Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

How could I justify spending so much money on a camera? Well, I’ll tell you. I do not plan on buying another camera for a very long time. When the M10 comes out I will still own an awesome camera capable of taking superb images. This will never change. Leicas are built to last. I do so hate this disposable world we live in.

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Island of Porquerolles, France. Stasha nesting sailing dinghy Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Many people who love the rangefinder philosophy and those wonderful Leica lenses but can’t afford an M9 can still buy any number of film Ms to use but this may be a false economy. Asides from the damage that film causes to the planet it’s a costly process. With the amount I use my camera it won’t take more than 5 years to get the cost of the camera back in saved film and developing costs alone.

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Church pew, Portugal. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Then consider that an M9 will always be worth something. Sure, it will be superseded soon enough but historically it is an important camera, as important as the M3 was in it’s day and as such will always be desirable. I dare say it will lose much of it’s value over time but it will always be worth something which is more than can be said for most digital cameras.

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Tired girl on Metro. Portugal. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Because the M9 is such a competent camera if I do take any nice shots I can easily sell them and this too will help to pay it off. But having said all that, even if I never sold any shots from it and assumed it will lose all it’s value over the time I own it, it would still be worth it to me just because it’s so beautiful and inspiring to use.

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Mad tiled pavements. Lisbon. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Let’s look at value for a moment. Yes, £6000 is a lot for a camera but if I keep it for ten years (which is entirely feasible and likely even) it will only have cost about a tenner a week to own. What is £10 these days? It won’t buy you much , a newspaper and a package of cigarettes would cost as much. It’s a pittance that almost anyone can afford.

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A crypt in Portugal. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Everyone is amazed that I would pay so much for a camera but these are the same people who probably lose more each time they part ex their old car for a new one. It costs about £200,000 to bring a child up in the UK and these same parents are amazed when they learn the price of the M9. Yes, the M9 is expensive compared to other cameras but it’s nothing compared having children or redecorating a house, even a holiday could cost more.

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Foggy morning. Portugal. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

You could buy a lesser camera and replace it every two or three years but you will probably lose about the same as if you bought an M9 and held onto it for a decade.

Then there are the lenses. What a choice! Even other manufacturers make lenses to fit the Leica M so you are completely spoiled for choice and since the M9 can use just about any Leica lens ever made that is a lot of lenses.

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Children play at a wedding. Cadiz, Spain. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Then there’s the inspiration that the Leica gives you. I have never owned a camera that I wanted to use more. It doesn’t sound as beautiful as my M3 did but it’s pretty quiet and the discreet shutter setting is very clever and makes the camera even more stealthy than it is anyway. And it’s totally perfect, a joy just to hold and admire. The detailing is amazing and the quality of every part is obvious.

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Morning after a storm. France Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

How many cameras inspire you so much that you actually want to get up pre dawn to be ready for the morning light when it arrives? Not many. The Leica M9 is that camera. Your heart glows just thinking about it waiting for you to pick it up and point at something.

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Girl on bike, Florence, Italy. Leica M9 Elmar 50mm

Let’s also consider the invisibility of an M camera. There’s something quite spooky about this. Often you can get right in people’s faces and they just don’t see the camera. This happens a lot but I have never quite worked out why this is. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t look like most cameras, maybe it’s to do with it’s shape, perhaps because half of your face is still visible to your subject when you are behind the camera, unlike DSLRs with their central viewfinder. I really don’t know, but if you want stealth you couldn’t do much better than a Leica M9.

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Panerai Yacht Eilean. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

All this for just a tenner a week. Bargain. I really don’t understand those who moan about the price of Leicas. I think they represent fantastic value. If I have a problem, I know that I will be taken seriously and treated as a valued customer, you won’t get this with a Nikon. This alone is worth a lot to me. One might also mention that the camera comes with Adobe Lightroom which is a very powerful and clever program.

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The high mountains. France. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

The M9 has been my constant companion for about 4 months now and I just love it. I’m glad I didn’t wait, I would have missed out of 4 months of glorious picture taking. What if I had died before I got my hands on one? I’d have been really annoyed about that.

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Seagull after my lunch! Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Update September 2012

It’s been three years already since i bought my M9. My how time flies. I have just re read this article and am pleased to say that nothing has changed at all. I still feel exactly the same about my M9 now as I did when I bought it.

Next year 2013 is Leica’s 100th anniversary so no doubt it will be a year of surprises from them. Will they bring out the M10? I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Will I want one? I doubt it. How will it differ? It will surely have more resolution but I don’t need any more than the M9 can offer. I took a nice picture of a friend’s motorcycle and had a huge 1.3 metre wide print made of it. The quality was astonishing, with practically no visible grain. Each picture is already 35 meg and that causes enough headaches as is what with storage and back ups.

So I’ll stick with my M9 thanks.

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Flood! France. Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

Update: July 2016

Amazingly it has been almost seven years since I bought my M9. Still nothing has changed. It’s still a brilliant camera and it works beautifully. Values seem pretty steady and M9 prices seem to start at about £2000 so my camera has only lost half its value in seven years. That doesn’t seem too bad to me. The value of an M9 has likely fallen about as far as it will so.

My body now has a few brass areas where the paint has worn through. It has a lovely patina. Better than new.

One last observation. Recently I tried to take some pics of a friend’s kids. They have known me forever and have never minded me taking shots of them but this time they were not happy and ran and hid. Why is this? They didn’t like the camera I was using, they were intimidated. It was a compact Sony Nex7 so I don’t know why it freaked them so much but I know one thing, that never happened with the M9.

I’ll update this post again after I’ve owned and enjoyed my M9 for ten years but I can’t see anything changing. Leica did bring out the M10 but they called it a 240 or something. Is it any lighter or smaller than an M9? No. In fact it’s heavier. So I was right all along about the M9. A classic.

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Hoopy wooden bicycle. 50 Summilux

Categories
Leica m9

Reflections

marine de cogolin

Leica M9, Elmarit 21 asph 160 Iso, f8 @ 125 Marines de Cogolin, France Jan 2010

After 4 months with the M9 I must confess to being more than happy with it. After all, I’d waited ten years for it! It takes incredible photographs. The picture above was straight out of the camera. Of course the lens in awesome, as you would expect from Leica. Just using this camera is inspiring and it’s hard to put a price on a feature like that. Yes I am obsessed and will be posting a lot more about the Leica M9 in the coming months.