Shooting with the Leica M9-P
|Leica Elmarit-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH @ f/8
Abandoned Church, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota (Eric Becker)
Scott Everett and Eric Becker
Seattle-based documentary and commercial director Eric Becker, recently joined dpreview's own Scott Everett on a weeklong trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, where they are working together on a short film. Filming entirely with Canon DSLRs and lenses, they brought along the Leica M9-P as a 'change of pace' camera for shooting stills to document their experience. Eric and Scott, both Canon shooters, share their thoughts on what it was like to photograph with the M9-P.
The M9-P is beautiful because it's simple. There's an elegance to having it dangling from your shoulder. If I had to chose one camera to bounce across Europe with this would be it. And not just because it would make me look more sophisticated than I am. Extended time in Europe means I would be on vacation. Two things I would not want with me are my iphone or a video-capable DSLR. As a director, my working hours are spent with those devices in constant use. And that's why I love the M9-P; it's pure. Clients can't email me on it, I can't use it to update my facebook page, and it does not shoot 1080p24. It's 'just' a camera, and a remarkably well-handling one at that. Yes, the screen is terrible for reviewing photos. Its menu interface is cryptic. The shutter makes this loud, drawn out noise. It can't shoot faster than 2fps. It's hard (for me) to focus. These are the reasons that I am completely in love with it.
It's almost as if...you have to think about the photo you are making. I've shot some of the best photos of my life using it for the simple reason that it allows me to enter a type of shooting where I'm forced to pay attention. In a world where we're so distracted by images, where apps like Instagram are starting to define an era of ubiquitous social photography, I believe it is more important than ever to be able to enter a thoughtful, introspective space when composing images. That's what the M9-P allows me to do.
|Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH @ f/4
The interior of a house in Manderson, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota (Eric Becker)
My experience with the camera mirrored Eric's to a large degree. The M9-P's elegance stems in large part from its simplicity. No bells and whistles. No distractions. And this had a discernible effect on my shooting.
Typically, if I have access to a 'fast' lens I can't resist shooting wide open a lot of the time, which of course leads to an excessively narrow depth of field and ultimately a bunch of shots lost due to slightly missed focus. Yet, when shooting with a lens like the Summilux-M 50mm/1.4, and using the rangefinder patch on the M9-P, I actually increased my ratio of keepers to rejects. How? Using a rangefinder to manually focus is a slower process, which forces me to take a little more time to frame my shots, and identify more specifically the area where I want to place focus; a generally more thoughful, contemplative process. Then there's the fact that, even wide open, the Summilux is ridiculously sharp. With the M9-P I take fewer photos than I would with my DSLR, but come away with a higher ratio of in-focus and extremely sharp results.
|Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH @ f/1.7
Vintage truck, Packwood, WA (Scott Everett)
|Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH @ f/4
Rolling hills just outside of the Badlands, South Dakota (Scott Everett)
|Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH @ f/11
Alder Lake, Washington (Scott Everett
Of course, a competent autofocus system can produce the same hit rate, but the Leica M9-P simply provides a different type of shooting experience; one that forces me to consider options before pressing the shutter button. Don't get me wrong, I love my Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Paired with a 50/1.4 or 35/1.4 it's more than enough camera for most of my needs. But for certain types of shooting, if I had the option to take an M9-P instead, I probably would.
|Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH @ f/1.4
Eric Becker caight mid air (Scott Everett)
|Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.7 ASPH @ f/1.7
Portrait of a metalworker (Scott Everett)
Over the years I've read and participated in many forum arguments about the limitations of a rangefinder, the cost of a Leica, or the 'look' of its M-series lenses. There's no getting around the fact that even if you don't require autofocus, versatile metering options and other advantages of a modern DSLR, a Leica M9-P/Summilux combo, at $12,000 is a purchase that is difficult to rationalize. But each time I look through the images I've taken on the M9-P, and remember the shooting experiences I've had with it, I keep wanting to reach for it, and go shooting again.