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?
LCD and viewfinder
The M9’s viewfinder is essentially a window with a ‘straight-through’
light path and an angle of view equivalent to that of a 28mm lens
A dedicated ISO button makes selecting this frequently accessed setting quick and easy
The M9’s shutter release is threaded to accept a standard cable release. Frame advance modes are set using a surrounding four-way switch at its base
A circular dial surrounds four control points for menu and image navigation. The control dial can also be customised to act as a direct exposure compensation input
The M9’s LCD screen measures 2.5in on its diagonal, and has a resolution of 230,000 pixels. Neither figure is particularly impressive, but despite the fairly low specification the M9’s screen serves its purpose well. The M9’s menu system is effectively split into two parts: the ‘set’ menu, which is shown on the back of the camera (see picture top) and the larger, full menu shown separately (see above right). The ‘set’ menu provides quick access to key shooting parameters. The M9’s viewfinder shows the frame coverage of the mounted lens using brightlines. An artist’s impression is shown above, representing the 50mm and 75mm focal lengths.
Speaking of the LCD screen, one area where the M9 falls down is the speed of image review. Although images appear on the rear screen promptly after they’ve been taken, it takes almost nine seconds for a high-magnification preview to load. Formatting memory cards takes an age as well, typically at least one minute for a high-speed 8GB SDHC card, but sometimes almost four minutes for slower SDHC types. Formatting saps the M9’s battery as well, to the tune of almost 10% when the ‘overwright’ option is selected.
Speaking of battery life, with a fully charged factory-new battery, charge decreases by roughly 25% per 50 or so images. After being charged and discharged a few times, I have found that battery life increases to a more reasonable 400-500 images per charge. It isn’t unusual for Lithium-Ion cells to be at their best after a few charge/discharge cycles, but prospective M9 users should be aware of the issue.
Photographers should also be aware that the M9’s sensor is rather vulnerable to dust. After only a couple of hundred images, during which time I had carefully changed lenses several times, the M9’s sensor had already picked up four or five spots of dust large enough to be seen in images.