It’s been a long time coming: the Leica M9 is the first full-frame digital rangefinder. Does it live up to the Leica name?

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Leica M9

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Leica M9 review

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Price as reviewed:

£4,850.00

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Our verdict

The Leica M9 is a curious 
thing. In some ways the 
entire camera represents a collection of photographic anachronisms. The rangefinder method of focusing was developed to solve a problem that instant-return mirrors in SLRs arguably solved more neatly back in the 1960s.

The traditional advantages of Leica’s L and M-mount cameras, of low weight and low bulk compared to other models, count for little in these days of tiny 500g multi-mode DSLRs and featherweight kit lenses.

Centreweighted TTL metering, which was cutting-edge technology 40 years ago, is a good deal less flashy than modern multi-zone evaluative metering systems, and for that matter why on earth should you need to remove the entire bottom of the camera to replace the memory card?

It is only natural to ask why, given the M9’s limitations (and, viewed objectively alongside today’s crop of DSLRs, hybrid and compact cameras, it has a great many) is Leica struggling to keep up with demand for its new camera? To someone who has only ever used an SLR, the answer is far from obvious.

To them, a rangefinder might well seem unnecessarily fiddly, complicated and bizarrely labour intensive. But some of the finest photographs of our time were taken using these strange little machines, and many photographers wouldn’t choose to use anything else.

The M9 has faults, not least a sluggish processor and a dust-prone sensor, but most of the other things that annoy me about the M9 are inherent in the M-system as a whole and have been much the same for 50 years. After this long, it doesn’t make sense to continue being annoyed. Despite its 1950s lineage, however, it is important to note that the Leica M9 has more than just a retro appeal.

The M9 feels like both a ‘proper’ Leica and a ‘proper’ digital camera at the same time, and that could not always be said of the M8 and M8.2. The M9’s full-frame sensor is capable of recording images with a very high level of detail with very little vignetting. Its metering system is basic but effective, and AWB is very capable in most environments.

Whether or not the M9’s price tag is too high, as many commentators have complained, is almost academic to potential purchasers. Leica’s M-series rangefinders have always been expensive. Those photographers 
who swear by them accept that 
they will be asked to pay a premium, but for their part, the majority of their peers will never understand what all the fuss is about. Plus ça change…

Leica M9 Focal Points

IR cover

Unlike the M8 and M8.2, the M9’s sensor features a built-in infrared blocking cover, which removes the previous necessity for external screw-in IR filters on 
the lenses.

Flash sync

Fans of older Leica M-series rangefinders will be pleased to see that the M9’s electronically contrlled shutter can support a maximum flash synchronisation of 1/180sec. This is much higher than was possible with mechanical cloth shutters. However…

Shutter speed dial

…these same long-time Leica users will be disappointed to see that, like the M7, the M9’s shutter speed dial rotates in the ‘wrong’ direction compared to earlier M-series models.

Software

The M9 comes with Adobe’s Lightroom 2.4 raw conversion and file organisation software. Previously, Leica’s M8.2 was bundled with Capture One 4, but Leica and Phase One, which manufactures Capture One software, ended their ten-month long professional partnership this summer.

Shutter release

The M9’s shutter is louder than that of the mechanical M-series cameras, but it features two custom release modes. ‘Discreet’ offers a quieter release, and ‘soft’ decreases the travel in the shutter release button.

Details

Shutter Type:Electronically controlled focal-plane shutter
Memory Card:SecureDigital/MMC and SDHC
LCD:2.5in TFT with 230,000 pixels
Output Size:5216x3472 pixels
Viewfinder Type:Optical, approximate 28mm field of view, with brightlines
Weight:589g (without battery or card)
Exposure Modes:Manual, aperture priority
Focal Length Mag:1x
Max Flash Sync:1/180sec
White Balance Bracket:No
Field of View:Approximate, indicated with brightlines
Sensor:CCD with 18.5-million effective pixels
File Format:DNG (raw), JPEG, raw + JPEG simultaneously
Power:Rechargeable Li-Ion battery
Shutter Speeds:30-1/4000sec in 1⁄3EV steps plus bulb
Colour Space:Adobe RGB, sRGB
Drive Mode:Max 2fps for 8 frames
Compression:Two-stage JPEG
Connectivity / Interface:USB 2.0
Metering System:Centreweighted using three reflective bars on shutter curtains
Dimensions:139x80x37mm
Lens Mount:Leica M
Exposure Comp:±3EV in 1⁄3EV steps
ISO:ISO 160-2500 plus ISO 80 ‘pull’ setting
Focusing Modes:Manual focus only
Built-in Flash:No
Dioptre Adjustment:No
White Balance:Auto, 7 presets, plus custom
  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Features
  3. 3. Build and handling
  4. 4. White balance and colour
  5. 5. Metering
  6. 6. Autofocus
  7. 7. Resolution, noise and sensitivity
  8. 8. Dynamic range and Gamut
  9. 9. LCD and viewfinder
  10. 10. Our verdict
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