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?
Resolution, noise and sensitivity
As can be seen from the resolution target images on the opposite page, the Leica M9’s 18-million-pixel sensor is capable of recording a lot of detail in optimal conditions. Accurate focus is critical, but when everything goes to plan images from the M9 are stunning.
At the sensor’s base ISO setting of 160 (equivalent) images are effectively noise free, and the amount of detail captured in both raw files and JPEGs is very high, although as usual, more detail can be recovered by shooting in raw mode, as can be seen from the images opposite. This resolution does come at the expense of some moiré patterning in areas of extremely fine detail, though, as the sensor reaches the limit of its resolving power.
Noise increases to noticeable levels at ISO 640 and above, but it is very easy to remove from raw files in the supplied Adobe Lightroom software. Even at the maximum ISO setting of 2500, the noise is mostly chroma with very little ‘grittiness’. High ISO JPEG files, on the other hand, do get a little ‘mushy’ and are noticeably softer than the equivalent raw images.
The Leica M9 lacks a conventional anti-aliasing filter, but it does feature an IR blocking ‘cover’ over the sensor. Thankfully, Leica’s confidence in the new design is justified and the new camera shows none of the unpleasant false colour characteristics of the M8, which tended to turn textured black objects purple and put magenta rings around highlights unless an IR blocking filter is fitted on to the lens.
These images above show sections of images of a resolution chart, still-life scene and a grey card. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.