#665. Swimming upstream

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Nov 09

Cats years are reckoned to be nine of ours. Dogs, seven.


There’s agreement on that, but not much on camera longevity, especially if it’s a Leica. I’m not sure I don’t think that’s a bit disingenuous.




Got it yet? Yes, I succumbed a year ago. I bought an almost brand new M9 and do you know what? Used properly, it’s brilliant. A keeper.


Maybe I should qualify that a bit. It’s brilliant below ISO 800, providing you mollycoddle it and nothing breaks, or goes out of alignment. If you can manage that, it will take some of the most satisfying photographs you could possibly imagine.





At 18 mp, it’s pretty competitive with the 24 mp that has become today’s standard. The colour rendering from its sensor remains the envy of many and as long as there’s an M mount around, Leica’s manual lenses will never age, or go out of some kind of perverse fashion.


All in, it’s a pretty compelling option for those who no longer have a mortgage and whose kids are long out of school, university and the house. Buying new is insane, especially as there’s so much second hand kit around, so why not.





Somewhere in the depths of my camera cupboard, I have an M4, which came as a job-lot with a 35 Summicron, 50 Elmar and a Canadian-built 135 Elmarit and its huge and ugly, supplementary viewfinder.





I tried to get on with the M4, but was way too impatient and much more interested in DSLRs. So, into the aforementioned cupboard it all went, languishing until Sony launched the wonderful NEX. I bought a C3, cut my teeth with that and an M adaptor and was waiting for the first delivery of NEX-7s as the store opened.


With that, I learned patience and how to take better pictures, focussing manually and waiting for the right time, light and often, the circumstance(s) that can make or break a photograph.





Subconsciously, I knew then I wanted a digital Leica. The crop sensor M8 didn’t impress me and I was so busy with the NEX-7 that I initially missed the M9. Only when the arrival of the M10 and then the M caught my attention once more, did I look at the M9 properly and then it was all downhill.


In the interim, the 50 Elmar had been replaced by a 50 slightly battered, but optically fab Summilux. That was subsequently joined by a 25mm Zeiss Biogon, also my introduction to DearSusan, via Pascal’s review, but that is a completely different tale.


As a three lens outfit, I doubt anyone could ask for better. I rarely use the 135, it’s all too much lens/viewfinder, but nonetheless, still takes wonderful, sharp pictures and has delivered some fine long-distance landscape shots over the years.


I don’t travel with the M9 though. I’m not entirely convinced about its ability to withstand the rough and tumble of international air/train/car travel. Plus. living where I do, maintenance is ridiculously expensive as most adjustments and repairs of any significance require a round trip to the mothership – from Cape Town that’s a minimum £100 courier cost in each direction. Insurance is extra. And, who knows what Leica will charge to twiddle their knobs?





So, I carry nurse the camera and a couple of lenses in neoprene mitts in the car, along with a spare battery. It seems to get plenty of use and I really enjoy pretty much everything about it.


It needs hardly be said that I’m I glad I bought it. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.




Thanks to Adam Bonn for the idea for this article.


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  • philberphoto says:

    Paul, I don’t know if it is the camera per se or what this camera does to you and your style, or more likely both, but this is a cracking, corking set of images! Colours, rendering, composition, what’s not to love! A couple of them rank very high on my selection of Pertonian art, including the woman at a bar (B&W), and the lone farm and tree (colour). Please give us more! And thanks for reminding me that I so narrowly missed, through stupidity of my own, buying a used M8 v2.

    • paulperton says:

      Thanks Philippe. The AndyLandy (Land Rover) is almost packed and this morning, we head off for the bush for ten days or so. There are two large camera bags waiting in the garage to be hoisted in[ one full of Nikon kit, the other, Fuji.

      I’d like to add a Leica bag as well, but at turns, that’s a ridiculous amount of camera(s) to take and the dust from our unpaved roads gets everywhere, literally. That’s likely to mean a trip to the mothership for a deep cleaning, so I think I’ll content myself with a choice of either or and leave it at that.

      The pictures? To me, they’re the kind of mages that a Leica does best.

  • Graham Harris says:

    I think you might have convinced me at long last. I’ve been looking at Leica for many a year: and, yes, kids gone, no mortgage. You see, I’ve gone the same path: 650D + kit zoom, 6D + Canon primes and zooms, nex-7 + Sony primes, a7ii + Zeiss primes, and finally a7rii + Zeiss 1.4/35 ZM (all thanks to that Dear Susan review….). And that really only leaves one more step…. I also like your photos in this post, the landscapes are just the kind of thing I try to do – and so beautifully rendered. Hmmm….

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Lovely images.

    Your comment regarding cost of repair resonated with me. I have a pair of 10×50 Leica binoculars which I dropped, couriered to Cape Town to the agent, who in turn, sent them off to Germany. Quite a while later they were returned. Cost of repair – zero! Total cost to me – courier fees from Knysna to Cape Town and back. Apart from the repair there were a couple of new parts and a letter wishing me enjoyment of my binoculars.

    A real pleasure to have a business that stands behind its products in today’s world!

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Peter, that reminds me of the golden age of Zeiss, when I was the proud owner of one of their Contarex “cyclops” cameras, and the idiots in Sydney who were supposed to service it from time to time bent the main drive shaft on the cocking lever (film advance)/firing button – then lied about it. The bloody thing was bent out of alignment, and the mechanism was jammed. So – since they denied (and they’d caused it), there was no point sending it to them. Instead, I packed it off to Germany with my report on it. A few weeks later it arrived back, and I had to travel to the ends of the city to collect it from Customs – where I was made to fill out a completely ludicrous form that only a Government Department could possibly dream up, specifically designed to cover the actual situation (a repair job that could not be carried out within Australia, making it necessary to “export” and “re-import” the same goods, with the added value of the benefit of the repairs). The form was about 5 pages long, from memory – and there were boxes with so little space you could only fit the first two words of the answer to the question, and some questions were so bizarre that it was impossible to provide a sensible, serious reply.
      All this was accompanied by my camera – now fitted with a brand new, shiny shutter button of a different design and appearance. And a letter from Carl Zeiss, Jena. In the true tradition of firms like Rolls Royce of yesteryear. Telling me they’d stripped the camera to pieces, lodged all the bits on their assembly line, re-assembled it, and found there was absolutely nothing wrong with it – before or after. Thanking me for the opportunity for them to be of assistance. And although by then out of warranty, no charge. Note even for freight.
      Of course I knew from the new shutter button – as well as the fact that before, the lever was bent (now straight), the mechanism jammed (now operating perfectly), that they were lying. But they did it so nicely, I couldn’t help but laugh. I still do, whenever I think about it. 🙂
      What a pity that standard of service to customers has virtually disappeared off this planet! 🙂 I was heartened to learn that Leica treated you as well as Zeiss treated me!

      • pascaljappy says:

        Fun story ! Those days will be back, Pete. In fact they are alive and well in some small companies. And even large ones such as Zappos are pushing hard in that direction. Strategy-by-accountant all but killed that in most organisations but those dark ages are passing. Keep faith 🙂 🙂

  • Adam Bonn says:

    Why was I hoping to read this and arrive at the conclusion that I’d be mad to want one?

    It really is a special look.

    It’s hard to pin down the look of the images…

    I’m going to go with the cop out of, “they’re just so filmic”

    But I’m going to quantify that.

    Remember pre digital? Remember when compliments on ones photography weren’t just centered around platitudes like ‘awesome capture, great highlight retention, amazing shadow detail’

    Remember when people would simply say and mean “what a lovely photograph”

    That’s what I think when I look at M9 images, especially ones like these Paul.

    What a shame the maintenance cost vs longevity ratio is akin to a 1980s 2-sroke sports motorcycle

    Hold my calls… I’m just off to browse on ebay for bit…

    • Adrian says:

      I wouldn’t say “filmic”, but I know what you mean.
      For me, every print film had a very different look and could be used for a different reason.
      Do you think it’s the CCD sensor?
      I remember when earlier SLRs with CCD sensors were later replaced with CMOS sensors, with their much greater ability at high ISO, live view read out, video… There was lots of chatter amongst Minolta users about how the “Minolta colour” had been lost (the cameras were now being made by Sony too, so used a different colour science).
      Lots of people (including me) thought we liked the Minolta colours, even though looking back they weren’t particularly accurate or neutral, but people found them appealing. Fuji tend to follow the same tradition now (the jpeg colours are skewed from accurate, but people like the rendering).
      There was always lots of talk about Leica lenses are their “plasticity” and micro-contrast etc, which Minolta quite successfully aped with some of their older lenses. I don’t know if that also imbues the photos with a certain “look” or not – because with digital capture, the post processing (in camera or user controlled) can have so much influence that I think it can completely over-ride the look of the lens.
      I suspect in this case it’s a mix of sensor technology, lens and jpeg engine.

      • Adam Bonn says:

        I’m not convinced its the CCD either (although that’s part of it)

        For my OPINION it’s what in a vehicle would be referred to as mechanical grip

        The M9 has the right blend of pixel size, DR and acuity to easily make a pleasing image within the sub ISO 800 parameter in which it works best.

        A bit like a mid engined, 2 seater sports car with under 1000kg and under a 150 BHP, it won’t be setting any lap records, you won’t reach for the keys on supermarket day or for the school run, but you’ll love driving it fast down a country lane

        The modern CMOS cameras are like big engined BMW M5 type cars, they go very fast and have a lot of features and are versatile, but you’ll need to concentrate hard to take it to the limit!

        I agree about colour, but this is probably where the filmic analogy comes in, after all colours in film can often (so that’s often not always) not be very realistic but can be highly pleasing.

        • Adrian says:

          I remember Pascal and I discussed differences in the way lenses rendered on different cameras.

          The old 24MP FF sensor in the Sony A850/900 had beautiful colour, but wasn’t much good about ISO1250, whereas the newer sensors are much cleaner at higher ISO, but without the same colour.

          When I use the same lens on my A7s, it’s large pixels and weak AA filter give a much “harder” pixel level look than the A7R2 (42Mp, very small pixels), the 24Mp A7 somewhere in between. The result is that lenses look different when paired with different sensors, and in my opinion can be “better” for some types of photo.

          Generally it’s felt that Sony jpegs have quite neutral “accurate” colours, which many people often don’t really like, whereas old Minolta or Fuji colours aren’t accurate but are often well liked.

          So it’s entirely possible that a combination of sensor technology, jpeg colour rendition, and lens/sensor interaction all play a part.

    • Mel says:

      What a wonderful post! Evocative. Non-techy. What matters most. Thank you.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Sigh – I try so hard to be good about this, but I’m giving up. I’ve “played” with cameras for nearly 70 years. I
    cannot remember how many – and I’ve had fun with ALL of them. I read articles here and elsewhere, about “what can I get next” and try so hard not to stamp on it.

    Paul thank you very much for saying what I’ve been thinking so I don’t need to. They’re ALL good. Nobody could ever have sold them in the first place, otherwise. They can ALL take good photos – witness the article recently about the “real” photographer, who went off with his latest toy, took some pics, brought them back, showed them around, and was told by one & all how great the photos were – and when asked what he took them with, they all just about passed out with shock – he’d taken the lot on an old [very] second-hand Kodak Brownie.

    Which is my current favourite?

    Hard to say – the Canon PowerShot is bloody awful, except it takes wonderful photos – half the time), I’m damned if I can get it to set the controls I want, and end up just shooting & hoping for the best – which seems to get me there most times – not always – but enough to say I love the thing, no matter how infuriating it gets, at times. It’s probably about what wives think of husbands, and we ain’t all that bad, are we?

    I’m going to be the unofficial official ‘tog at my brother in law’s wedding in a month, and I’ll use the Nikon D7200 with kit lens for that. Last family wedding I shot, everyone liked my photos more than the ones the official official photographer took, with his VASTLY “better” (more expensive, larger format) lenses. Although I did get yelled at for taking my eye off the ball and photographing the ducks on the pond near the marquee – I love taking photos of ducks, I found them irresistible 🙂

    And of course my beloved D810, with all the expensive glass. Sigh – again. So yes, I have to confess – I CAN sympathise with you all, for lusting after the latest offering from your favourite camera supplier. But your photography is so good – and that applies across the board, to the whole lot of you – that I really think the main difference you’ll find when you buy the damn thing and put your mind to rest, is that your wallet will be lighter, and you’ll be drinking less Bollinger & more water.

    Paul – am I right in thinking most/all those shots were taking in Britain? Soft lighting suggests something of the kind (your local light is like ours – much punchier). And tracking through them, I sensed an Englishness about them. Bar Termini sounds wog, like me, but the Brits have all sorts of outfits with names from all over, so in their case, it’s no sort of giveaway to find a name like that.

    My favourite out of your present selection is the “Haven for the Convivial”. I love the idea, and love the photo of it. That name reminded me of the line on one of my T-shirts – “Beurai de lach, quand las vacas manjaràn de rasims”. (Pascal can tell you what that means – he’s pure blood Occitan, I’m just a mongrel with an infusion of Occitan among the mess in my veins).

    • paulperton says:

      Hi Pete. They were all taken in the UK except the Evergreen container shot, the pole on the beach and the coastal shot. Those were taken close to my home near Cape Town. In fact, the green container was shot from the gents’ window at the local craft brewery – standing thinking of not much in particular (who does?), I decided that I liked the lines and the Moon, finished my business and went to get the M9. You can imagine the looks I got heading into the Gents’ with a camera…

      • jean pierre {pete} guaron says:

        ROTFLMHAO – I’ll never be able to walk past a container again, without glancing furtively over my shoulder! Actually I guess I understand your comment – but hey, the french are much more blase about toilet habits than other nationalities appear to be. All those euphemisms – for something everyone uses several times each day! And sexual segregation – I can’t imagine what they might get up to, if they used shared facilities – it doesn’t bear thinking about! 🙂 Whatever do they do at home?

  • pascaljappy says:

    Who doesn’t love a temperamental beauty. In a day of sanitised and insipid offerings ruled by fps, af speed and other awful metrics, long live the M9 !

    Great shots, btw. That b&w hangar … yummy.

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