Saturday, January 2, 2010

Leica M

My attention to digital rangefinders started a few years ago when the Epson R-D1 and subsequently the Leica M8 was released. I have always been looking for a camera that is minimalistic in design but yet able to capture high quality digital images.

However, the price of a digital rangefinder was way beyond my affordable range and the design weaknesses of the M8 (e.g. cropped sensor, IR sensitivity issue) were disappointing. Therefore I didn't consider them seriously.

The recently introduced M9 aroused my interest again but there's still a big question mark in my head: why are Leica products so expensive and is the high price justifiable? Other than the price are there really any things special?

To satisfy my curiosity I spent most of my spare time over a month researching the Leica M system. More specifically my focus was on the design and optical performance of M lenses. Since then I've gained a lot of knowledge about the challenges in optical design and lens manufacturing and appreciate the value of Leica lenses. Long story short my conclusion is that Leica lenses are expensive because they are all designed and produced to a very high standard. However, whether the extra quality (be it optical or mechanical) you get from Leica lenses is worth the extra money is a very subjective issue.

I've finally made the decision to acquire a Leica M system for myself which initially includes:
- M9
- 18mm f3.8 Super-Elmar ASPH
- 50mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH
- 90mm f2.0 Summicron ASPH APO

The main reasons I decided to invest/buy into the digital M system are:
- full-frame sensor
- compactness/stealthiness
- operational simplicity
- great manual focusing system
- top notch optical and mechanical engineering

Price is certainly a big issue for me but as I said it's a subjective valuation. I can only say my enthusiasm in this hobby has outweighed my economical sense :)

Due to strong demand the M9 is on back-order everywhere in the world. I was lucky to find a retailer in the US who happened to have one in stock that is also in the same color I wanted (steel gray). It will take a while before all these new equipments arrive. I'll write about my experience with them later.

My intention is to make the Leica M system the 'default' for my general photographic needs and keep my Sigma DSLR system for specific purposes such as macro, infra-red and long telephotos (e.g. sports, nature). My DP1 will complement the M line up as my standard wide-angle landscape camera. I imagine that when I travel I'll mostly be hanging the M9+50mm on my neck, DP1 in a easily accessible waist pouch, and the 18mm and 90mm in my bag. For a total weight of only about 2kg I get:
- good coverage of focal lengths from ultra-wide to mid-tele
- top notch (in terms of optics and build quality) lenses that I can confidently use wide-open (the only reason to stop down will be for greater depth of field)
- large aperture and shallow depth of field where needed (street and portrait)
- convenience of two bodies (so I don't have to change lenses very often)

Once my M system arrives I'll start posting my experience with it.

1 comment:

  1. M lenses are world class. You won't be disappointed. I don't have any experience with M system, but I have been using R lenses for a few years and totally love them. One of the best things about used R lenses is that they are much cheaper than the M system equivalent.

    Look forward to your experience with the M9.