The Leica M9, perfect street camera?


"I do a lot of work with the digital camera but it's all for editorial or commercial clients. I have tried to make my own pictures in the street with the digital camera, and continue to try to, but for whatever reason, real or imagined, I end up feeling like a pedophile. Even if I am taking a picture of a tree and a trash can I feel like a creep with a big lens and a mirror flapping away. I am sure that eventually the equipment will move on and there will be some sort of rangefinder camera that will do the job"

Full Frame Leica M9 rangefinder[/caption]

trip around the world making pictures with a small Samsung cameraphone will know that I am sincere when I say that. Owning an M9 is not going to open your eyes, give you a new vision or great ideas.

provided for that.


Handheld at 1/6th second using the M9's 'soft' mode shutter release.[/caption]

1/4 second handheld using continuous shooting mode.[/caption]

'England expects every man will do his duty' taken on the Leica M9[/caption]

Detail of Leica M9 image at 400 iso[/caption]

Further detail of Leica M9 image at 400 iso[/caption]

19 thoughts on “The Leica M9, perfect street camera?”

  1. Hey, nice, congrats on the M9. The first full frame digital rangefinder camera body for not more than EUR 2000 will be mine regardless of brand 😀

  2. Perfect except for the price… well indeed that could summarize quite correctly.

    I never had a M9 in hand and sure I would love to have one. But frankly I don’t understand the price for that thing… You pay more than twice the price of a Nikon D700 that has way lot of more technology in it. The M9 is probably great and does not need the hightech stuffs you have on DSLR for sure. But most of what is in it (rangefinder, mount, shutter, body…) is long long time proven – as great as it is. And it even comes with a not-so-nice LCD ! What was the real cost of development for the M9 ? I am fine with that. Indeed the beauty of it is in its simplicity, but then why such a price ? Also why including a license for Lightroom (assuming you don’t have it for free) ? Do you really think the kind of serious photographer who could be interested in it to make serious pictures would start with no software at all ? now maybe the wealthy people that would buy it find it cool to have it… which comes to my point : what is the market for such an item ? I doubt that it is marketed for a handful of passionate and demanding street photog (who would praise its convenience over DSLRs but won’t dare to bring it in unsecure places, what an irony…).

    Now OK it is Leica’s business but frankly that’s crazy.

  3. At the risk of opening a can of worms… how would you compare the value of a ‘near-perfect but obscenely priced’ camera like the M9 to a ‘far from perfect but still lots of fun’ film camera like a 1960s Olympus Trip that can be had for under £20 on Ebay these days?

    The ‘Trip’ has no ambition to make images you can blow up to the size of a billboard, but with more conservative enlargements for me it ticks all the boxes for street photography… small enough to be discrete, tough, quiet, and very fast to use.

    As you said, even a ‘perfect’ camera won’t see the shot for you, so maybe ‘technical perfection’ is entirely the wrong criteria to be judging street cameras by?

  4. I am as guilty as the next man of getting drawn into these ridiculous discussions about prohibitively expensive luxury bits of gear being the answer to our prayers and also being (hopelessly) tempted by them… that is until the next, even more expensive Leica M10 comes along…

    But I for one would love to see a ‘camera death match’ website where we challenge each other over a weekend or whatever and compare photos taken by the Olympus Trip (which by the way is a great camera) or some other cheap camera with those taken by the Leica M9 to show us the futility of it all…

    Of course you’d have to give the Trip owner an extra week to get the film devved and scanned but I think it’d probably be worth the wait 😉

  5. I just went through a similar problem searching for the right digital street camera to fit my needs. I recently sold my M8 because I feared that the M9 would devalue it and I wanted full frame. I went with the Sony A850 which is currently the most affordable full frame digital camera at around $2000 retail. Downside…it’s big. But, like most of us, if I could afford the M9 it would be a no-brainer.

  6. I think that the m9 is not the perfect street camera, m9 is very expensive and you have better results on a m7, m6 or any film camera.
    I prefer, actually, the film

  7. @jacques philippe I actually agree with you, it is difficult to see why the Leica’s cost so much more than slr’s or dslr’s…if anything they seem to have less parts. I guess the fact that they are bought by a small number of people compared to the millions that by a Canon or Nikon means they have to charge that much for it to be viable. I understand they have only made around 4000 units so far which kind of puts it in perspective. I wouldn’t own one unless I was a street photographer.

    @Richard It depends what you call ‘value’, and it depends what kind of pictures you want to take. I want a camera that only takes soft or vignetted pictures when I ask it to…cameras like the Holga that have a built in ‘look’ due to poor build quality don’t interest me because every picture you take with them looks the same and says more about the camera used than the subject of the picture, same with a lot of Polaroid cameras. I don’t think I have emphasised ‘technical perfection’ in my post about the M9 I think I have mostly recommended it for its small size, silent operation and discreetness. I am sure I would have fun with an Olympus trip though.

    @Paul Love your ‘camera death match’ idea! I am sure an M10 will be along in the future if Leica survive long enough to make it. The thing about the M9 is that it crosses a file size threshold that allows me to print for the gallery wall and use the files from it for a 48 sheet poster if I wanted too. If you can give an Ad agency production guy a sharp A3 file at 300dpi he can do virtually anything with it. The Canon 1dsMkII was the first camera I owned that could do this and that was when I ditched film photography. An M10 with a bigger file size wouldn’t necessarily make me buy it for this reason.

    @John Maloof I don’t know the Sony range very well John but I’ve heard good things. The size issue is a big one, I still took street shots with my Canon DSLR’s but they were a different kind of picture becasue I felt a little like Gus Powell describes in my post above.

    @Predator “m9 is very expensive and you have better results on a m7, m6 or any film camera” Er…no this statement is just plane wrong I’m afraid…No 35mm film camera can render the detail and information of even an 8mp DSLR especially at higher iso’s. The only area in which you might be right is in tonality especially in rendering skin tones.

  8. I use a Zeiss Distagon 2/28 on my 5D (not Mark II) having the 5D since 2006. Significantly better dynamic range and image quality needs still to be proven by digital competition. Although plain numbers don’t tell all in this context, here is just a small comparison with focus on image quality (see dxomark or dpreview websites for more details)

    D700 12.1 MP, 1.4 MP/cm2 density
    5D 12.7 MP, 1.5 MP/cm2 density

    5DMkII 21 MP, 2.4 MP/cm2 density
    M9 18 MP, 2.1 MP/cm2 density

    Given that the 5D dominates image quality since 2005 I am not too impressed by what Leica did so far in this area. I wonder why one should spend money on a ‘me too’ product when the next leap in image quality is already on the horizon for less.

    Speaking about money, I paid 3.150 Euro for the 5D and the Distagon while a M9 + Summicron-M 2/28 would cost 8.700 Euro. If I spent that much for a smaller, more silent camera it would bother me to see that better image quality is available elsewhere for less than half the price. That said, the 5D was already there when the M8 came out. Now look at how long the M8 was on the market until the M9 came out and guess how long it stays until an M10. Ridiculous.

    I guess it depends on priorities, whether small size, silent operation and hand made quality counts more than image quality and sustainability.

  9. “”Er…no this statement is just plane wrong I’m afraid…No 35mm film camera can render the detail and information of even an 8mp DSLR especially at higher iso’s””

    I don’t agree with you, sorry.

  10. I always enjoy real world user reviews, and this is no exception.
    This is exceptional on the basis that there is no way I can afford an M9, so your report on the experience is all the more interesting.
    Even if I could buy one, like Nick I would findthe cost of the M9 a deterrent to general use, such as street photography. I would find the camera’s value inhibiting my freedom and ease of use.
    I well remember my fear in first using the £3.5k Nikon D1, which was worth far more than my (well used)company car!
    As Leica’s have always been expensive cameras from way back, I’d be curious to know if the cost of the M9 is relatively the same as say, an M3 was in it’s day?

    “Normal non ‘Gear Head’ service will resume shortly.” Nothing wrong with being a gear head. Try being a photographer without gear….

  11. Seems like there are pros and cons to each. Without AF, this could be a detriment to those who do not have an easy time focusing in low light situations. Also, it takes only fixed lenses, right? Some of us like the capability to be a bit more spontaneous from a distance with a zoom, and sacrifice a bit of the clarity. Yes, I know, HCB with his normal (50mm) lens might be rolling in his grave, but whatever works for each shooter.

    As fine as Leica images have been historically, I still feel that there is the Leica name and status you are paying for, similar to fashionistas who are selective about their labels. As the worn-out cliche goes: it’s just a tool.

    Now, after saying all of that, the image quality of what you posted does look mighty good.

  12. Ha! Enjoy, I’m jealous. I’d love one too, if nothing else for the simple fact that it looks good, feels good and sounds good. Small, quiet, discreet, these things also make sense for street work (but so does a Lumix LX3). To be honest though I’m a bit surprised to hear a street photographer talk about megapixels. That was new.

    Anyway whatever works.

  13. I just bought a used M8.2 with a 35mm Summicron. I was on the list for a M9, but being that it was a long wait, and I’ve never tried a rangefinder digital Leica before, I thought I’d try the M8.2 before plunking down 7K. (I’ve also never owned a Leica film camera before, and I actually thought about getting a used M6 or M7 instead, but because I am mostly into digital now, I chose the M8.2). Did I make the right choice? Well, I compromised on sensor size. I wish it was full frame. I was actually thinking of getting the D700 body instead to keep up with my Nikon gear, but I wanted something much smaller, with high quality, and silent for street shooting, and general portraits, (in the style of HCB).

    There’s a lot of quirkiness in the Leica digital. It’s aggravating at times due to being spoiled by D-SLRs and point & shoot digital cameras. I do notice a difference in sharpness and film like qualities though. The M8.2 produces files that are film-like. I am not a techno-geek, but I can’t explain the difference. It’s very haunting sometimes. I do notice more noise in my Nikon, but I’m sure as I raise the ISO past 1250 on the Leica, there’s a lot of noise and the nikon would be better, especially with the newer D700 body.

    Anyway, I’m still up in the air about this whole rangefinder thing. I love the bright viewfinder, but hate the slow file writing. I prefer the menus on the Nikon, but that could be because I know the system more. I do think there is a difference between how the files look coming out of each camera. The Leica is crisper. It almost reminds me of slide film.

    Is it worth that much money though? Uhm, I don’t think so, in retrospect. It’s not full frame, and it was more expensive than the D700 body, and that’s me buying a Leica used, albeit in mint condition.

    I’m sure the files are even better on the M9. I just wish that Leica would lower prices and refine their line a bit. Make a body like a CL but digital? I don’t know. Something cheaper. The X1 would have been perfect if you could change a lens on it and use it manually.

    With all that said, I’m still liking the Leica very much. It’s a different way of shooting, simplified, but with more thinking, like the old film days.

  14. I sold my M7 and M4p; my film slrs; and got rid of my B&W darkroom. I have switched to digital-well except I can’t find a suitable camera for street photography. My wants are simple: small, optical VF, no shutter lag, 35mm lens, aps size sensor or larger, and affordable-say, under $3000 US dollars. So far the closest I’ve come to that is the Ricoh GRD3 which has a small sensor, a 28mm lens, but and external VF available and a snap focus setting that allow zone focusing and no shutter lag. About $800 US.

    It has been out about a year so I’m going to wait until the next version in hope that it has a larger sensor.

  15. I wrote: “I guess it depends on priorities, whether small size, silent operation and hand made quality counts more than image quality and sustainability.”

    Just back to report that the mirror fell off my 5D effectively ruining my photography plans for weeks. So here you are, I will give Leica a chance now.

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