Tuesday, January 26, 2010

M9 First Impression

After a long wait (well, not really compared to others who ordered long before me and are still waiting) the Leica M9 finally arrived last week, together with the 18mm Super-Elmar ASPH, 50mm Summilux ASPH and the 90mm Summicron APO ASPH.
This is how combos look like:

90 cron

18 SE

50 lux

First Impression

There have been so many reviews out there which almost made me feel so familiar with it even before purchasing it. But there are a few things worth mentioning.

Physics: The M9 and the M lenses constitute the most compact 35mm format full frame digital camera system on the market. I can practically put all the lenses in my coat pockets! It is amazing that Leica could design the lenses so small yet with large aperture and high image quality across the whole sensor area. Although being small (compared to DSLR) the M9 has a hefty full metal body though. I have never handled a Leica camera before and it feels a bit heavier than it looks to me. The 90 cron is not as big as I expected and it actually balances very well on the M9. On the other hand the 50 lux is slightly longer than I would like and is blocking a little bit of the viewfinder. But overall I'm extremely satisfied.

Build quality: The build quality of the M9 and all the lenses is just superb - everything feels solid and fits tightly with high precision. Typical Leica standard as expected.

Ergonomics: I initially had a hard time figuring out what's the best way to hold it.   It is definitely not practical to hold it with one hand - the weight plus the lack of  contour on the body will make your hand feel tired quickly. Coming from the SLR world I also had a tendency to try to grasp it with my fingers, which is in fact not needed when holding with both hands as all the weight of the camera is better supported by the palms. After a bit of getting use to it now feels very comfortable and I don't think I'll ever need the Leica accessory grip or the Thumbs-Up attachment.

Focusing: It's a joy to focus with a rangefinder. Compared to split-prism focusing screen on SLR which I'm familiar with, the rangefinder focusing patch is even easier to read and more precise. If the calibration is accurate (which is the case for my copies of M9 and lenses) it is the best manual focusing system I have ever used.

Software Menu: Being a long time user of Sigma digital cameras (which have rather primitive in-camera software) I have a rather low bar. I'm a minimalist anyway so fancy camera features don't really matter to me at all. The M9 menu system is also quite primitive. But it provides everything I need and is straight forward and quick to operate. For me that is good software usability.

Other comments

I really love the built-in metal lens hoods on all three lenses. The 50 and 90 have a slide-out one while the 18 has a fixed rectangular one. They all beat the clip-on bayonet ones I have for my SLR lenses. The design makes it very convenient to put lens cap on and off the lens, while keeping the lens compact.

I have also got the Giottos SP 8250 Schott Glass protector. It fits the LCD screen perfectly but one has to be careful with the alignment as it seems almost impossible to adjust/re-apply the protector. A misaligned protector will cause the images to appear skewed when in fact they are not. One thing I find aesthetically annoying is the extra labeling on the protector. But functionally it is very well built and resistant to reflection (thanks to its multi-coating) and scratches.


  1. I always wanted to get a Leica rangefinder camera way back when it was the M-4...just never got round to it, Did use an M4 with a 90mm f2 in the mid 90's for a while and when those negs came out the fix you could always tell it was taken with a Leica, Lots of very experienced b/w printers showed me that.
    This looks just so fantastic, I have been waiting a long time for this to happen, I thought it never would because of the design not suited to a digital sensor.

  2. In the past I always thought of Leica as being on their way to obsolescence. Their M8 was a rough start but they now manage to re-gain a lot of respect and aspiration with the M9.

  3. Very nice review. I just got my M9 and enjoying it very much. I was wondering which retailer you order yours from. I am interested in ordering a 50mm Lux. Thank you. mydarkroom @ mac.com