Shooting with the Leica M9-P
|Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH @ f/4
Los Cabos, Mexico
Photographing with the Leica M9-P is undoubtedly a more deliberate process than with a modern autofocus camera. Yet its also one that gives you a more immediate and direct connection to the images you're creating. Manual focus lenses and an optical viewfinder that lets you see 'beyond' the frame with foreground and background elements in identical focus mean that you spend a lot of time consciously thinking about composition. Indeed, there are precious few camera settings, modes or electronic controls to otherwise occupy your thoughts. It's an admittedly slower, but more immersive process.
When photographing people, the M9-P can affect the behavior of your subject as well. The small form factor of a rangefinder body and Summilux lenses, coupled with the purposefully traditional design of the Leica M9-P and quiet operation, create a decidedly unintimidating presence for street photography and candid portraiture.
Its high price tag notwithstanding, the Leica M9-P simply doesn't look like a 'serious camera' to most people you're photographing. Its small size puts them at ease and also makes it easier to engage in conversation while shooting as the camera/lens combo does not obscure your entire face. On more than one occasion, after photographing someone, I was asked, 'Is that a good camera?'; a question I never get with my much larger Canon 5D.
|Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH @ f/9.5
The lack of an image-blurring AA filter in front of the M9-P's 18MP CCD sensor, combined with high quality Leica M lenses results in highly detailed images that can provide impressively sharp A3+ prints.
A relatively compact camera system has more obvious benefits, of course. An M9-P, along with the 21mm/3.4 Super-Elmar, 35mm/1.4 Summilux and 90mm/2.0 Summicron lenses makes an ideal kit for travel photography that fits in a small photo bag and is still comfortable to carry along on a full day of shooting. Add to that an 18MP full frame sensor and you've got a a fair amount of resolution for detailed landscape images along with the option to separate your subject from the background at medium to wide apertures.
The M9-P is not without its flaws, quirks and questionable design decisions. Changing ISO is a common task that should require much less coordinated effort than it does here. The low resolution of the rear LCD screen coupled with a maximum magnification view that actually makes the image appear slightly softer than it really is, makes judging critical sharpness virtually impossible in the field. And the menu system, with its non-heirarchical list of options seems especially lacking alongside most any camera made in the last 10 years.
In general, I found the metering system to be somewhat on the conservative side. In scenes of moderate-to-high contrast, the camera tends to favor underexposure. I often found myself boosting exposure compensation when shooting outdoors under clear skies.
And not even its most ardent fans would claim high ISO performance as a strength of the M9-P. While full frame offerings from both Canon and Nikon present eminently usable files at ISO 6400, the M9-P struggles to deliver noise-free images beyond ISO 800.
But for me, the M9-P is first and foremost a conduit through which to gain access to Leica's highly regarded M lenses. Color rendition and tonality of the three lenses I used most frequently - the 21mm/3.4 Super-Elmar, 35mm/1.4 Summilux and 90mm/2.0 Summicron - were nothing short of superb. I was less impressed with the camera's default JPEG processing in terms of sharpness and noise reduction at higher ISO settings. In these instances I was consistently able to achieve more pleasing results by processing the raw files through Lightroom 4 even at its default settings. I do applaud Leica for choosing the Adobe-developed 'DNG' specification for the camera's raw files, as opposed to a proprietary file format.
The Leica M9-P is a camera that imposes its way of working on you, rather than the other way around. And it is by no means an all-'rounder that will suit every style of shooting. But at low to medium ISO sensitivities, the images you are rewarded with are nothing short of superb.