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Reader thoughts on Leica M9 and lenses

Leica 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

I received two emails today in reference to my Guide and Review of the Leica M9.

My thoughts are prefixed by “DIGLLOYD:”.

From Rainer Unkel in Germany:

Dear Lloyd,
I have read all your comments and insights about the Leica M9 in the past months, and I want to thank and congratulate you for all this work and your in-depth findings.

A colleague of mine is working with a M9 daily, shooting politicians in our capital Berlin. I recently talked to him and his main points were:
 - people react differently when being photographed with a Leica. It makes him stand out from the crowd and be remembered.
- He likes to shoot wide open and loves the "look" of some of his old Leica lenses
- He could not confirm your focus and framing problems, because he does not care that much and prefers the "look" of his images over actual sharpness on a per-pixel-basis.

I guess that is the type of photographer a M-Leica is made for, though I fully agree with you that such an expensive camera ought to have Live-view and a better display, plus an in-camera correction of lens imperfections, to mention the least.

DIGLLOYD: With my monster Nikon D3x, I’m always hearing comments which refer to its size in one way or another (or the lens, non-photographers see no distinction). No such thing occurs with the M9; it’s unobtrusive, just perfect for social or people photography, and it doesn’t offend any sensibilities; it’s sleek and beautiful, it could be a fashion accessory, and people respond very differently to that.

Framing is not really an issue for street photography and “people in places” — one shoots wide, and the M9 is great for that. Experienced Leica M users also master the actual framing for a particular lens, making the necessary mental adjustments. Those two factors make it a non-issue for that type of photography. But for landscape photography, I like precisely-framed “tight” compositions, and that’s a challenge— I often have to shoot 4 or 5 frames to get a satisfactory composition, especially with a wide angle lens. Having something cut off or excess foreground or boring corners weakens many compositions.

The Leica M has traditionally been a “street shooting” and documentary camera. While loose focus can work well for some subjects, blurred eyes really bother me, and the sharp/unsharp transition is a crucial part of many images I make. It all depends on the subject.

The low-res display is a disappointment, along with lack of pixel-level zoom, since those two features could have been one way to work around the lack of Live View (confirm focus after taking a shot). Live View is unobtainable for Leica at present, because the extreme ray angles require a special CCD sensor to avoid even more severe vignetting and color shading. As for in-camera correction, it is already done for the basics right in the RAW file: vignetting and off-center color shading. Other more advanced corrections are likely a CPU speed issue. On the other hand, the way a lens “draws”, its signature, would be altered by some corrections, so it’s not a clear-cut issue.

From Alfred C in Switzerland:

Good review - since I own both I obviously agree :-)

Have you tried the WATE (16-18-21)? I actually use that more than the ultra wide Summilux'. That said, I find myself more and more using 35-50-70 range on the M only. It just ain't a camera made for the other focal lengths ... conveniently. I would have thought you'd agree.

DIGLLOYD: I haven't used the WATE (Wide Angle Tri-Elmar)... probably worth a try though. I’m doubtful that it's as good as the primes judging by MTF, and the M9 is so demanding of lens quality (to endure the usability hassles, the compensation is astounding sharpness and brilliance). In general, wide angle lenses (wider than 28mm) are a hassle on the M9 because of the need to compose through a separate viewfinder.

I would not want to load up on wide angles lenses for the M9, but if I were to buy just one lens, it would be the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (or perhaps the 18/3.8 Elmar-M). It’s a great performer, and it’s far enough away from 28mm to make sense if one owns a 28mm also (a 24mm is just too close to justify). I’m wiling to make one exception just for the capability of having wide angle, hence the 21mm.

But I do agree— the M9 is best used with a 28/35/50/70 lenses, because they offer the built-in frame lines, without the extra hassle and considerable cost of a separate viewfinder.

Leica M9 Lens recommendations

The most comfortable lens on the M9 is a 35mm focal length. For more on this subject, see Leica M9 — Choosing Lens Focal Length.

See also my handy wish list of Leica M lenses.

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