#680. A New Old Camera Review: Never Meet Your Heroes?

By Adam Bonn | Review

Dec 21

Never meet your heroes. Isn’t that what they say?


I’ve always wondered what that really means. Perhaps in ancient times it meant that upon meeting that big brave knight you discover that he’s actually scared of little spiders. Perhaps in modern times it means that upon running into the actor who played that delightful character in your favourite feel good movie, you discover he’s not a delightful character and doesn’t make you feel good at all.


I guess fundamentally, meeting your heroes means that whatever preconceived ideas and connotations you have about someone, they’re unlikely to be borne out in reality.


This is entirely fair enough, especially with celebrities. After all, you don’t know them, you know their work. Just because a song makes you feel a certain way, it doesn’t follow that the song writer will too. Just because an actor/actress plays a role that fires up the willing suspension of disbelief of your imagination it doesn’t mean the person will, in fact in real life they may not be anything like they are on screen.


Don’t let me discourage you. No sir. Queue for hours for that signed book or T-Shirt, buy those tickets for An Audience with ____ but once you’ve interacted, asked your question, thanked them for being them, got their autograph, then it’s time to go. These are real people, but they don’t occupy a tangible place outside of your imagination.


Cameras can be a little like this no? What’s the best camera in the world right now? No, not necessarily which camera would you personally like for Christmas, but thinking purely about what makes a camera good, which is best?


It doesn’t matter what you answered, but the chances are that you picked a modern, current, and hot of the press camera.


Did you say the Sony A7Riii? Maybe. Why didn’t you say the original A7? Because it’s old. Because the newer variants of this camera are better, better featured, better IQ. Simply better in every measurable way.


But what happens if the camera you want is in its twilight years? How is it if for whatever reason you didn’t own a camera when it was hot, not even when it was tepid and now positively cold so much time has passed?


Like buying the car you dreamed of as a teenager when you’re into your forties or fifties – are you being stupidly sentimental or will you actually have a car that you can trust to drive every day?

Hoping to catching a cracker, but did I manage that with my purchase?


I don’t know the answers. But these questions were certainly flying round my mind as I signed the DPD delivery electronic box thingamy and eagerly opened something that I’d wanted for quite a while.


Y’see… I’m mainly a Fuji guy. I love my X-Pro cameras. I won’t bang on. I have a whole website for that… except to say that the X-Pro2 is good at pretty much everything and excellent at very little. A true Swiss army knife of modern mirrorless.


True be told, I only really discovered the digital Leica Ms after I read reviewers comparing my original X-Pro1 against them.


Back then I kinda had Leica down as a lens company that still made film cameras.


I was, at the time, rather free of this modern ‘the camera as a celebrity’ culture. I spent the 1990s and most of the 2000s shooting film on a SLR. In the late 2000s I finally relented, I bought a DSLR.


And the thought process I used to select it was pretty much the same as people use to choose common, everyday practical medium sized cars from well-known manufactures.


My Nikon was like a Ford Focus to me and it served me well. It didn’t get me joining Nikon forums or craving FW updates. It got me out taking pictures.

Gentle tones, the blown highlights aren’t a show stopper and believable colour


The good ol’ days huh?!! Things have changed a bit since then.


So this Leica, this camera that you don’t even see in the regular camera stores, the camera that reviewers loved to compare my X-Pro1 against. What was it all about?

First ‘proper’ test shots. I’m happy enough with the colours


As someone who likes wristwatches, I’ve no axe to grind about things that don’t do a great deal more than their more commonly found stablemates other than have an unnecessarily high level of build quality and cost, but even so… happy with my Fuji.


Time went on and the newer Leica M developed closer to the spec of the other mirrorless cameras.


I started to pick up on the Leica world debate of the M9 sensor Vs the M240 one.

You didn’t think you’d get through a new (to me) camera review without a cat shot, did you?


I’ve no dog in that fight, but looking at many M9 images…. Including the ones from fellow DS’er Paul, which you can see here. Well I have to say, to my eye, I saw a lot of charm in them.


Not every image of course, but the ones taken by people whose PP choices and subject matter matched my own tastes. I can (and do) say this about many images from many cameras, but the M9 files certainly seemed to have a ‘something’ about them

You won’t see it at web res, but the textures/contrast and all the shades of orange in this are really quite pleasing for me


Eventually, after about three years the time came to own one. My very own M9.

50mm is a bit longer than you credit it sometimes, plus that’s one tall chimney


Pretty much at the lowest ebb of its depreciation curve (I hope) and just back from ‘the mothership’ with fresh sensor, CLA and rangefinder calibration. I paired it with a 50 ‘cron (debated the 50 summilux, but that’s rather expensive and I’m not sure that F1.4 and rangefinding were going to work out that well for me)


ISO640. You’d see colour noise if you pixel peep


It was at that moment I got the idea for this article. I was about to meet my “hero” and I had already had many warnings about this particular hero….


  • ISO unusable after 800, intrusive noise by 400.
  • If a fly farts near it, the rangefinder will go out of calibration and Leica will take 6 months to fix it
  • The sensor will break
  • The shutter mechanism will break
  • It will lock up randomly
  • It will eat SD cards (which I hope doesn’t give it wind, as that’ll presumably uncalibrate the RF)
  • It will only talk to SD cards of a low spec that aren’t even made any more


Then, if all of this wasn’t alarming enough… there’s the Leica-Rhetoric, that goes something like this.


Leica shooter: “Pah Canikon / Sonuji? Far too complicated. You need a simple camera to shoot with”

The Leica shooter often then goes on to explain this ‘simplicity

“You won’t be able to make it work. It’s a special skill using a RF. There’s no auto focus you know, are you sure you can cope?”

OK I stopped down… But moving objects and an M… maybe I’m getting the hang of it


I didn’t sign up for all of this!


I just wanted to make pretty pictures! I knew how to focus a RF, the mrs has a small collection of 60s/70s film ones.


And this boils down to my real reason of wanting a nigh on nine year old (design) digital camera.

First ‘proper’ test shots. I’m happy with the fine details and tonal transitions


It’s not just the legendary M9 secret sauce IQ – I want off the merry-go-round. Not forever. Just now and then.


Fuji are about to release a new FW update for my X-Pro2. I don’t really care about the 4K video. But I will install it, I will test it and I’ll almost certainly write about it.


One assumes that they’ll be an X-Pro3 at some stage. I’ll probably buy it.


When the X-Pro3 lands, the first questions people will have will be about the ISO and AF performance.


Owning (and especially writing about) a modern digital camera can be quite an involving affair. You need to know or find out the best application to PP the files, to keep abreast of any bug fixing and feature adding FW releases. You need to learn the tips and tricks to maximise your RAW with your ISOless sensor.

ISO640, PP’d to the dizzying heights of approx. 2400 – nothing for A7S owners to lose sleep over!


You might even find yourself writing a whole website about all of these things…


We truly live in exciting times. But some days, I just need a break.

My first M street portrait.


Do you know what future FW features I’m expecting for my M9? None.

Do you know what secret tips there are to use an M9? None.

Do you know how many film simulations the M9 offers? Two – colour and monochrome.

M9 + New User + Mono + Street = this


In terms of blogging and discussing the M9, there’s simply nothing to say. It’s been said already.


There’s only one thing the M9 is really good for, and that’s taking pictures in plentiful light.


Perhaps we can say that the files from the M9 are a little filmic.

We can debate this all day long… but this works just as well in BW but I like the colour. I love where I live (this needs no debate)


But what we can definitively say is that is that using an M9 in 2017/18 is very “filmic” in that there’s very little to care about other than focusing on and exposing for the picture you want to take. No face detection, no ‘sudden motion’ tracking AF, no instant share Wi-Fi. It’s just a camera.


It’s been three weeks now… so I’ve had a few chances to use it. But equally it’s only been three weeks, so it still has plenty of time to go wrong 🙂


One of the first things you’ll notice about the M9 is that the shutter makes a noise as it re-cocks. I’ve read people referring to this noise with great affection, but for me it’s a bit annoying and feels like one day it will stop… and I don’t mean that in a good way… it sounds like there’s a clockwork mouse in there!


This noise can be delayed, by engaging discrete mode. This stops the shutter from re-cocking until you release the shutter button. Although sometimes it doesn’t re-cock, keeping you waiting a while…. Which is pretty scary. A quick google reveals “they all do that mate” but still it would be nice if it worked consistently…


SD Cards, well I only own modern ones!


  • 16gb Sandisk UHS-ii no drama (yes seriously UHS-ii)
  • 16gb Sandisk UHS-i no drama
  • 32gb Sandisk UHS-i refused to acknowledge there’s a card there
  • 2nd 32gb Sandisk UHS-i no drama

At normal ranges you can’t really blur the background with a 50 ‘cron. I’m not sure I’d want to in this scene, the colours here are as I remember them


Rangefinder focusing. I have OK eyesight. It’s pretty easy – look for things that work well with the split window that are where you want focus to be. Pay attention if you’re using focus and recompose. Not everything has to be wide open. F4 and 1 meter gives shallower DOF than F2 and 5 meters anyway… it reminds me of using film cameras. I’m enjoying it.


Menus! Spartan. But more complex than you might think! The wheel/D-Pad to navigate is on the right; the button to select things and save changes is on the left. You’ll need two hands and the camera away from your face to change anything!


The settings are also on two different menus. (Set and Menu)


I started off by setting it to DNG only. However, the preview jpeg is pathetic, I mean it’s tiny. Like a windows thumbnail! So I set Monochrome jpegs and it turns out I quite like them and they’ll take a bit of editing.


Metering: it has one mode – centre weighted. It works well… But I’m still finding my feet with it. For example metering can be very different between holding the camera in portrait rather than landscape . Look where the light is, adjust to suit.


Exposure compensation: It has this! Something that can be set in the menu or made to work with the scroll wheel. Personally I haven’t bothered…. I look at the histogram in playback and if it’s bad I take another shot with a revised SS!


ISO: Yes…. 640 is ok. Best not to pixel peep…. You can just about get away with 640 and about 2 stops of lift in post. But best to shoot accordingly. This isn’t a modern camera; you can’t expose for the street lights then lift the street 5 stops in post. If you want a dark picture with some light bits in it then you can work with it

ISO640 and some post (taking it to about ISO2400ish)


The DNGs: Early days. I’m sure my PP of them will evolve. After 3 weeks my current thoughts are that DNGs from this camera broadly fall into 2 camps. Virtually perfect straight off the card, do very, very little and hit ‘export’ or nope no good, don’t bother – push them hard and say hello to banding. I mean they have latitude, don’t get me wrong. But you can’t expect your raw editor to get you out of all sorts of bad exposure decisions with this camera. The AWB is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes sublime, sometimes polar, sometimes a bit warm.


(I’ve always been of the opinion that you have to work a bit for an acceptably exposed shot, either in camera or on the computer. With the M9 it pays to take the former approach)


Battery life: Fairly pants to be honest. A bit better than my X-Pro2 but 5-600 shots is about what I’m getting (I usually get 450-500 from the Fuji and let’s be honest a modern mirrorless has the sensor running if it’s turned on, the M9 has its shutter closed the whole time you’re not shooting a frame)


Base plate thing… It’s funny in a sort of not very funny way. Like being the butt of a practical joke. No I’m just kidding, I think all cameras should have a detachable part than you need to store in your mouth while you rummage through your bag for a spare battery or card (not)


Leica cachet: I took the Leica out on a day trip to London. A surprising number of people stared at it (usually people holding DLSRs) so I black taped over the part that says ‘Leica’ and this stopped happening.

Yup, I could’ve grabbed this grab shot with any mirrorless. But it’s a zone focused Leica – so it’s special and not quite in focus 🙂


Nice little touches: The buttons are not labelled. Instead the label is engraved and paint filled on the body above the button, so your fingers won’t rub the paint off over time.


Tactile stuff: Everything is pretty good. Everything is easy to turn but not loose enough to get turned by accident. The SS dial has different strength clicks for 1/2 stops and a big space click for A.


Cheap feeling: The shutter action is quite abrupt and ratchety – it works well enough though


OK, that’s it folks – that was your review!! Longer than you expected? Well my X-Pro1 and X-Pro2 reviews are about 100,000 words combined and counting…. You got off lightly!

The day we were in London (city of my birth), all day was golden hour  – cold though


For an emotive review, well that’s a little harder. At the very start I asked if we should meet our heroes, and I specifically meant, would owning an old camera actually be rewarding or a let-down?


But more importantly, the files…. I saw a lot of charm in other people’s M9 work. Would this turn out to be solely the result of their skill or did the camera lay the foundation for that skill to come into play?

Away from the city where I was born and back to the city where I live, softer light and 10 deg C more heat!


The files are a little different to my Fujis and other cameras (bayer sensored ones) I own, but frankly some targeted PP towards a ‘kodachrome*’ type colour and you wouldn’t be a million miles off. Of course the M9 has a CCD sensor and nearly all other cameras are CMOS, so fine details are handled a bit differently. But that’s pixel peeping, not image making.

(*of course Kodachrome was available in many flavours from its introduction in 1935 and discontinuation in the 2000s, so I don’t think there’s an actual Kodachrome look, more like a how we think it should look look)


The Fuji (and the Sony and the Canikon etc) offer you many more possibilities, both in useful focal lengths, focus acquisition and in areas where you can take natural light pictures, eg >ISO1000

The M passed the street test


But that’s not the point of the M9. The M is very good at a narrow range of working.


I’ll give you an example.


I wanted (and succeeded) in shooting my five year old on a swing the other day.


How I would go about this on the Fuji: either use tracking AF, or use manual focus and focus peaking. But the snag with focus peaking is that it turns off when you half press the shutter, so you have to anticipate when to hit the shutter button (no big drama)


But the M doesn’t do this. When the two rangefinder images are aligned, you have focus so I simply had to watch her swing through a few arcs then set the focus and when I wasn’t looking at a double image, hit the shutter (which is pretty much lag free) and it worked.


The mirrorless cameras viewfinders are full of info to help you. Is the focus peaking showing focus where you want it, is the green AF lamp lit up? You have to commit some attention to this in order to get the shot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very easy to work like this!


By contrast the M has nothing going on in there. Some LED numbers in Aperture mode for the SS that look like they came off an 1980s calculator (I’m wondering if there’s a way to get them to spell 55378008 like we did in school) and in manual mode, an exposure meter that looks a tiny bit like Morse Code (which I find a bit dot dash dash / dash / dot dot dash dot to be honest 🙂 )


Basically, when the image in the VF looks good and there’s no LED flashing at you it means hit the go button. This is the inverse of my other cameras where I’m looking for them to tell me when to take the picture, rather than the Leica which is telling me when not to take the shot.

I’m not much of a BW guy… the M9 might just change that!


I like this methodology. But let’s not get carried away on a sea of minimalism, and a less is more narrative – it’s a camera, not a tax bill… each system I own makes it possible to get a shot, and the mirrorless cameras with EVFs can tell you some very useful stuff. (Framing, exposure, and remaining battery life to name three)


The Leica is a simple tool. I (currently) have only one lens for it. The only place it will confirm focus is in the centre of the VF. It only has one metering mode. If I want to get away from central compositions and metering, I need to get creative… no wrong word… inventive. The Leica is literally a fixed point and I must pivot around it to get to where I need. This couldn’t be my only camera, but for many applications it is indeed a nice way to work.


I don’t get home with a card full of images and find some where I think ‘oh I should’ve used spot metering for that, silly me’ like can happen with the Fuji/etc. I’m not agonised by the choice of numerous mono and colour choices in post (I’m glad to have those choices with my other cameras though)


In short this old world; SD card cranky, clockwork shutter camera is indeed a hero, an hero from an earlier age, in so many ways it can’t compete in the modern world – the kids (including the M240/M10) run rings round it, you take what few features it gives you and look to yourself to find more, if you over exert it’s buffer with a spray and pray shooting style it’ll keep you waiting for a very long time.


But in the right light, with the right attention paid to its usage, it can still hold its head high. 18mp is enough, the correctly exposed files can certainly sing and the whole process of shooting it is enjoyable. I’m getting a real “I made that” feeling to my favourite shots with it.

UK golden hour


The files are nice, a bit painterly sometimes, but I’m finding I want to believe them and that’s always been the hallmark of good story telling – a willing suspension of disbelief and the files certainly deliver that to my eyes.


Ultimately though it’s early days. I wouldn’t even say honeymoon period… frankly we haven’t even taken the ‘do not disturb sign’ off of the hotel door or opened all the wedding presents yet.


So ask me again later…. Ask me after we’ve lived in each other’s pockets for a while.


But one thing’s for sure, the M I have will never be anything more than it is now and it can only ever do what I figure out it can do. I’m happy with that and I either stay happy or I don’t and move on.

Bletchley Park Mansion. Notable because I grew up a stone’s throw from here, oh yeah, and they did something or other during the war with code breaking 🙂


And in so many ways, I can’t think of a better way to have a bit of down time every now and then from the modern world of high tech cameras – 10 jpeg settings for better RAW / How to make your custom Fn buttons work for you. None of that is applicable here


Meeting my hero? Well – he’s an OK guy. I’m not in his intimate circle, I haven’t seen him get mad, and maybe he does yell at his staff when his latte isn’t just right. It’s too soon to tell. But we’ve been hanging out together and as long as I do things his way, he seems happy enough to have me around.

I have a thing for washing lines… yes I know, but I promise I don’t touch… I’m filing the colour here under ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ rather than calibrated accurate

Image Notes: All images shot with the M9P and 50mm Summicron. Images taken in the UK (central London, along the Grand Union Canal in Buckinghamshire, and Bletchley) and Portugal (Porto). If you’ve ever in Bletchley, I highly recommend the Bletchley Park Museum – if you think I’m bleating on about old world tech being good enough for the job in hand, then you have to see what these folks did with 1940s tech to crack code, it is truly inspiring.


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  • paulperton says:

    Stupid, stupid, stupid. I should never have read this and looked at its wonderful images.

    Stupid. That’s me not you, Adam.

    Having read this piece, I’ve just tossed my plan to load Fujis in the car and go do some more shooting on my Cape Winelands project this morning. Now, I’ve re-thought it and will be using an M9.


    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thanks Paul, I think that you won’t regret taking the M9… although maybe stick the x100f in the bag too just in case the M decides to have an off day!

  • Georg says:

    Good stuff, Adam. I have an old Leica RF my father gave me in the 60s. Your trip down nostalgia lane makes me want to haul it out. But then again, they don’t make Kodachrome 25 or some of the grainy B&W films from that era. Still I have the memories. Yes, those memories.
    Love your pics.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thanks very much Georg, alas despite the hipster Instagram tags it does seem that the world of true film is edging past moribund. But that said it probably wouldn’t hurt to run a roll of something through it every now and then

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I’ve censored my first attempt at a comment, Adam, to avoid treading on anyone’s corns. I seem to have gone around in a circle – I started out with rangefinder cams, and these days my favourite cam is the D810 with Otus lenses that I can ONLY use in much the same way as a rangefinder cam. Of course I don’t use it to shoot football matches – anyway mon équipe is PSG, and they don’t play here all that often (never, actually).

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Ha! My mind boggles about your censored comment…. Possibly about the foolhardy notion of Leica ownership and the shockingly poor VFM… or maybe something about the state of GAS and feature heavy computer-cameras….

      If you’re having fun with the capable Nikon and the excellent Otus lenses then that’s all that matters

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Sprung – you hit with both barrels. I have a brother who shoots Leica, and you wouldn’t want to watch. And it would be bad manners to rain on someone else’s parade, so I am holding my tongue on the other one.
        Adam, to tell the truth I had a cathartic moment a while back, and I have had nothing but fun ever since. I refuse to allow myself NOT to enjoy what time I have left – I’ve decided that younger generations can explore the world of being miserable for no particularly obvious reason, while I get off on smiles & laughter.
        Like most other people, I can’t afford all the toys that might be fun to have – so I have to make the best of what I do have. My PowerShot might seem to be a bit of a joke, alongside the D810/Otus – but used for what it’s good for, it turns in surprisingly good shots. And both the PowerShot and the D7200 have AF, if I need it.
        I’m beginning to think the idea of chasing butterflies or rainbows – the illusion that we can ever have the “perfect” camera or the “perfect” post processing system – simply gets in the way of improving our photography. Sticking with what I have makes a marvellous platform for trying to do something extra, and hopefully become a better photographer by doing it.
        And I’m as jealous as all hell over the time you seem to spend in Portugal – only ever been there once, but I fell in love with the place.

        • Adam Bonn says:

          The “perfect” cameras are the ones you enjoy using (which you seem to have)

          The imperfect ones are those that are immediately discarded once their successors arrive

          I live in Portugal, so I get to spend a lot of time here. 🙂

  • Richard Stretto says:

    You forgot to mention (or mebbe haven’t found out yet…) that you have four (!!) user configurable menus on the M9. I set number 1 for ISO 1000, DNG+b/w JPG and the shutter on discrete. Number 2 is ISO 160, DNG, no JPG and shutter normal. Number 3 is ISO 400, DNG + b/w JPG and shutter on soft. Number 4 is labelled “ZM” and codes the frames as shot with the 35 lux ASPH (i sold the 35lux ASPH and bought the Distagon ZM 35 which i vastly prefer and which has no focus shift). You see, there *are* ways to get lost in the M9’s menu, as simple as it is 🙂

    I never had any issues with the M9-P, it has never frozen or eaten a card or what not. But it has been banged and beaten w/o lamenting, it has been drenched in rain (water sealing? uhm??) and kept on working, it has been dropped from 50 cm on concrete (accidentally, RF unaffected) — IOW: I’ve treated it no fairer than my M4Ps and M6s in the last 40 years. The 50 cron is a superb lens, mine is a “70 Jahre Leica” version that I bought back in 1983 and had it coded when I added the M9 to my stable. Since you’ve chosen a 50 as main lens, you might want to add a 28 Elmarit and/or (if you’re really into longer lenses) a 90 M-Elmarit. Both lenses won’t cost you neither an arm nor a leg and take nice pictures.

    Of course I’ve been tempted to upgrade to M-240 or M10 but so far I have resisted. Several times I have rented a 240 body as back-up when doing on-site commissioned work, but found it too clumsy and too complicated. For me, the M9 still is a highly usable camera despite its age.

    Enjoy yours and keep shooting such nice pictures!

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thanks very much Richard,

      I’ve noted the user profiles, but yet to really use them for anything… I set one to discrete and one to normal shutter (just to say that I’d used them!) but in reality I tend to leave the shutter on discrete, but flick it into continuous mode if I don’t want discrete (as it’s not a machine gun and very easy to only take one shot in C mode) that way I can move between the two shutter settings on the fly with the camera at my eye

      I’m delighted to hear that yours has been trouble free, I was out with it the other day and it suddenly started raining, and I have to admit to experiencing a great deal of fear and shoving it under my coat.

      I’ll probably find myself wanting a 35mm next. Not sure if I need a Leica one, I tried a few Voigtländer 35s in a store and I quite liked them (loved the prices in comparison 🙂 ) although the 28 Elmarit is a possible contender. I could easily find myself looking at Zeiss too

      I’m not much into longer lenses.. a 90 might be a bit much, but I quite like the 75mm view of the world (way down the want list though!)

      I’ve not been near an M10, but Leica did lend me M240 for a brief spell.

      In my humble OPINION (so OMMV) The trouble with the newer digital Ms is that the bit that makes them Ms (the rangefinder) is more or less a muchness and all the bits that make them newer cameras (ISO, LCD, Live View etc) are often better implemented on other cheaper cameras…. but like I say… just my opinion

      The M240 was a bit complicated, not X-Pro2 complicated, but certainly quite a few buttons and menu pages. For me (again my opinion) the files from the 240 didn’t seem worlds apart from many other 24mp CMOS* sensored cameras…

      (*I appreciate that once all cameras were CCD and presumably the M8/9 wouldn’t have a significantly different signature to these cameras, but these days that’s not true anymore)

      One thing I forgot to mention in my article… One of my bugbears on the X-Pro2 is that the framelines are overwhelmed by bright sunlight, the M9 which powers it’s framelines by ambient light doesn’t really suffer this.

      Anyway… sorry for the ‘mansplaining’ parts of my reply – but others will read the comments even though I’m replying to you!

      Thanks again

  • Georg says:

    Hey. What made the Leica RF experience great was doing street photos. With the RF you could keep one eye in the viewfinder and the other eye open to the world. It allow you to cobble together the unexpected into a workable image. Not easy to do with modern digital bodies. Certainly not with a DSLR.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Very true Georg, true back in the day and still true now! Of the modern cameras I can (more of less) use the Fujis in a similar vein, but the Fuji are the exception not the rule

  • Georg says:

    Hi Adam. Have you used the X-T1. I see these are being offered at really good prices at B&H NYC.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Hi Georg,

      Yes I had an XT1 for quite a while, but it got flipped when the X-Pro2 came out. They’re a good camera, closer in spec to the XT2/X-Pro2 than they are the X-Pro1

  • Georg says:

    Hi Adam. I did some quick research on Lloyd Chambers’ site. He states the cover glass on the Fujifilm APS-C sensors are 2.5mm thick. Normally Sony/Nikon are 2.0mm thick. Leica was at one time only .5mm thick, now I think they are at .7mm. A focus of Leica digital has been to insure performance of their legacy RF lenses. As they were designed for film (no cover glass there) Leica opted to keep the cover glass as thin as possible.
    What I did was to have Sony A7ii & A7Rs modified so that the cover is .7mm. That way I can use Zeiss ZM lenses. It works very well for street as you can shoot wide open without concern about smearing. But it’s only a quasi RF experience.
    Friends of mine have Fujis. They say that Fuji glass is very good. I note that the colors are bright (notably the greens).
    How do you find the look from Fuji compares with your Leica images?

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Hi Georg,

      I don’t subscribe to his site so I’ll have to take your word for it. Sounds possible that Leica where trying to keep the digital cameras as slim as possible as they were stuck with their incumbent lens flange distance from film &/or that they were concerned about light being directed into the sensor properly. I suspect it’s the M8 that had the 0.5 thickness as that suffered from IR colour shifts.

      I’ve no clue why Fuji would use 2.5mm, they buy their sensors from Sony (the same as most Nikons) anyway

      It’s great that you’re able to use RF glass on your Sony (how does Sony glass now work on it?)

      There’s a lot of schools of thought on what makes a camera a rangefinder…. for some it’s any camera that’s rectangular with a top left corner mounted VF, for others it has to be a mechanical device where two images are aligned, many would say the A7 range is neither 😉

      I haven’t really compared the Fuji and Leica yet – it’s been to soon. People get all passionate about the M9 colour, but it’s SOMETIMES relatively easy to colour grade between cameras using the HSL tool.

      The CCD sensor handles texture differently to my CMOS cameras…. it’s hard to put into words…. if I had to try I’d say that the CCD image looks sharper and more detailed at a normal viewing distance (eg ‘fit to screen’) – a bit like if you use a lot of structure or clarity slider in post

      The M9 also has quite a large pixel pitch, especially compared to the 24mp Fuji or the 42mp A7Rii – this provides a different tonal transition, and this (unlike colour) would be harder to replicate between cameras

      The Fuji glass is very good, but it’s quite expensive, a 50 F1.8 Sony APSC lens is (or used to be) about £200, the XF56 F1.2 is nearer £800. When something in the prosumer world costs 4x as much, it’s generally better. Before Leica came along with the TL/CL range, it was only really Fuji offering high spec APSC glass, so they got a reputation for making good lenses, it’s a fair reputation – Hasselblad have sold Fuji lenses under their own brand name and Fuji also make lenses for commercial TV cameras. So they know their stuff.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Hi Georg,

      OK – this is about as scientific as astrology – different days, different light, different focal lengths, different framing, different seasons in fact….

      But I happened to notice two images I had from both the Leica and the X-Pro2 which were of the same thing.

      So until (and I may never bother) I directly compare the two cameras… here’s two similar shots…

      Please do note that I’ve been working with Fuji files for a very long time and M9 ones for less than a month!

      For what it’s worth, these images weren’t PP’d together… so a while back I shot the Fuji one and PP’d it until I was happy*, then more recently the same with the M9 shot

      (*this is a scene I have photographed to see red, green and blue rather than because I’m looking for a great shot! I can’t stress that enough)

      edit: I can’t seem to insert pictures here,

      Ok, I’ve made an album on my own site


  • Georg says:

    Well this stuff gets a bit complicated, but it’s fascinating. Lloyd Chambers keeps pumping out his blog and makes some good observations. Just have to understand is just his gut feeling and that often is malleable over time. Diglloyd is a solid field resource but there are some other good ones out there.
    Yes, Fuji buys sensors from the Sony factory, but they use an unusual random pixel array which is different from Sony and Nikon’s Bayer sensors. That allows them to dispense with the AA filter, making their images somewhat sharper.
    I was fortunate to be in the right place a couple times and acquired a lot of good glass. After careful testing, I sold off what was needed but kept what seemed to fill a unique niche. For digital lenses (Batis, Loxia or GM) I purchased an A7Rii (unmodified – used for night photos). I use a Nikon D810 with ZFs, Nikon PCs, micros and teles (for gardens, sports and architecture). The modified Sonys can only be used with ZM or legacy lenses (for city and walkabout). Only a few lenses from any older system will work well with high resolution sensors. That includes Contax G, C/Y and Leica R.
    Didn’t know that Fuji made Hasselblad lenses, but now it clicks (Fujinon). The GFX seems like it’s quite a system. I was floored by its dynamic range.
    I have to hand it to Dear Susan for all the thought provoking discussions. In my own situation I can not travel far ar this time. The photos in many of the posts are not your typical postcard stuff and many are superb. Always nice to see that other people stop to smell the roses.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Hi Georg,

      Fuji change the Colour Filter Array (known as the CFA) which is the coloured part that sits between the sensor and the cover glass. That’s also the part that Leica dispensed with to make the ‘Monochrom’

      Any changes Fuji make to the cover glass are more likely to be related to light ingress than they are the CFA.

      You certainly seem to have a very comprehensive kit bag at your disposal. Kudos.

      I don’t speak for all of Dear Susan, but I suspect I do when I say thanks very much for the kind words and that we’re deeply appreciative of our readers who all seem to be highly knowledgeable, adroit image image makers. Thanks again

  • Adam, I totally resonate with you. There’s something magical, also called organic or film-like, to their M9 and also M8 photos. But Leica is too much money bond. I rather buy a whole new camera kit + a world tour to use it for the amount of one Leica camera + lens. But that’s just me …

    For that reason, I rather dabble with the original Sony RX1R (lacks EVF and is bigger than I expected but the Zeiss 35/2 with that sensor is just WOW (similar magical, organic and filmic)) and the original Sony A7S for it’s smaller footprint, small files and high ISO capabilities. And I’m also playing with the idea of an A99 because the Sony Zeiss lenses are so good and have this look. And they’re big and chunky, and Sony’s goes the big and chunky route on E mount too but a phat DSLR body makes more sense with that … You see, I’m rather the tried-and-tested man, have no fright of old technology. In fact, I believe, when really compared side by side, many people would wonder about the small difference between generations.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      I’ve been sorely tempted by the original RX1/R many times… and from what I’ve seen it has a magical IQ

      The Leica is expensive… I read this comment last night, and out of curiosity I priced up what I might of bought with my M9/50cron money…

      Basically I spent the same as a A7Rii (current new price) and 50mm F1.4 GM. (again current price)

      Of course the lens is 1.4 and the 7Rii is from far into the future compared to the M9 😉

      But equally I’ve ‘only’ (sic) spent what many have on different systems, and my Leica gear should be at the end of it’s depreciation curve, so I should be able cash out should I need too…

      Of course if one were to run to the store and buy a spanking new M10 and a suite of 1.4 lenses then you’re talking a very serious amount of hard cash, and there was no way I was going to do that 🙂

  • Bruno Chalifour says:

    Good in depth physical and psychological analysis of the M9, not that it makes me crave for one, I have handled one and just the sound of the shutter plus a list of misadventures that some people had with it have kept me watching until I could get a used M240. But the quality… (color, contrast) of the images you are showing are definitely good advocates for it.
    Now to comment and add on a few notes you make.
    1-Kodachrome had definitely their particular look (although, generation after generation, Kodak managed to correct some of the too overt potential issue such as high contrast, reduced exposure latitude (compared to color negs of the same brand), and a definite bias toward red (which made printing them on Ciba/Ilfochrome paper quite a visual explosion!).
    2-what I love with the X-pro 2 is the EVF (without any prothesis as with the Ms), especially in BW when I can tweak the exposure to meet my goals in real time (same with the Leica/Olympus EVF), the smooth sound of the shutter, the 24 Mp, the fixed (Fuji?) green bias, and the good exposure latitude.
    3-Leica let me borrow an M10 for a few days, if I had a lease on the M240 I would have swopped for it the M10’s far better handling of low lights/high ISO, and a depth of body that matches the film Ms… and my hand!
    4-You need a 35 mm with a Leica. The Ms are made for it (or vice-versa); 80% of my images are made with it. I have had a 35 mm summicron for ages (over 20 years) yet I recently invested in a Voigtlander f 1.2 and this lens is quite a treat (optical qualities and price)… the 1.4 (classic) is not worth is, really soft and dark in the corners (vignetting) as you open up. What bothered me the most was the very noticeable loss of sharpness in the corners. Thanks again for this piece Adam.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thanks Bruno,

      1. Yes kodachrome is kodachrome, but as you confirm it was available in many different flavours over the decades of its existence. A bit like how Mick Jagger has a unique voice, but not every Rolling Stones song sounds the same 🙂

      2. The hybrid nature of the X-Pro2 VF is an amazing bit of tech and still unrivalled. Of course the optical part of it is not the same quality of an M optical VF (if you’re looking through the Fuji one at an angle there’s a lot of distortion at the edges) and the EVF part of Fuji’s hybrid VF is of lower quality than the XT2 one, (to say nothing of far higher spec OLED EVFs found in a few other non Fuji cameras) As jack of all trades the X-Pro hybrid VF is unrivaled and it’s convenience unparalleled, but if you look at it in terms of it’s individual components it’s very far from class leading. The ‘picture in a frame’ mode which superimposes the EVF into the corner of the OVF is a wonderful idea. Sadly in many applications it’s not that useful as the 1:1 view is tiny and the magnified views introduce quite tangible shutter lag. However, I much prefer the X-Pro solution to the M240 one. The M240 accessory EVF, is very low res, you can’t move the focus point around, has a long black out time and when you need it, you might find it’s either in your pocket, camera bag or worse yet – still at home 🙂 with the Fuji it’s always there, and only the flick of a lever away.

      As a GENERAL comment, and NOT aimed directly at you, but I’d suggest that anyone using an M240 exclusively with the EVF would be better served by a different camera

      You can get a very, very good sense of the resulting exposure with the Fuji EVF. However the small nature of the EVF (most EVFs in fact) combined with the fact that the EVF is only showing the Jpeg and that many of the Fuji Jpegs exhibit traits (eg the crushed blacks of Classic Chrome) that you might possibly want to avoid in post, means it’s a guide only. A very handy guide to have though.

      3. Yes by all accounts the M10 is a very modern performing camera (in fact all the recent Leicas; Q/SL/TL are). With an ISO performance that’s not far behind the rest, the accessory EVF is of a far higher quality than the M240 one and the whole rig has been on a diet, both in proportions and bloat features. If I was going all into M then I’d look no further. But I’m not.

      4. 50 is my preferred FL to be honest. The M has framelines for many focal lengths, I think 50 is also the sweet spot for the physical frameline placement. With my other cameras 35mm represents about 30% of my shots. I’m not in a rush, but I do read very good things about the Voigtländer 35mm F1.2, so thanks for adding to the growing voice of reason on that choice… F1.2 wouldn’t do the M9’s ISO performance any harm either 🙂 That said, I did check out the Voigtländer 35mm f/2.5 Color Skopar which had a lot of charm. I still need to look at the Zeiss options to. Size is a factor with the 35mm options

      There’s certainly a something about the M9 images, and I’m glad many noted that I seem to be finding it 🙂 at the end of the day, I’ve read articles on how to PP your M240 images to look like M9 ones, I’ve read articles comparing how similar the M240 output is to the A7. But I’ve never seen anything about making M9 images look like a different camera.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a long and detailed comment Bruno. I’ll keep the Voigtländer 35mm f1.2 in mind when the time comes

  • Rasmus says:

    Very funny review thanks! Totally resembles my own experience when testing an M9. And yet I keep coming back to a decision whether to acquire one for a big pot of gold. Good to know I’m not a total fool (or at least others are too ;-))

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Thanks very much Rasmus I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      A secondhand, mint m9 with the new sensor costs less than a new Sony A7Rii and an awful lot less than a A7Riii

      It’s still a lot of money, but people seem to be able buy the Sonys without wondering if they should get their head examined. 🙂

      The m9 MIGHT very well be a longer term keeper than a Sony, and if it’s not then it’ll probably be worth about what I paid for it…

      • Georg Kremer says:

        Hi again, Alan (Adam’s note: my name is Adam). You may be right on point about the Leica M9. I’ve done more reading about “The Leica Look”, something full of intangibles. For myself, there’s a bit of a story line.
        Back in the ’80s and ’90s I shoot mostly medium format and Nikon SLRs, but in the late ’90s I purchased my first digital camera, a Kodak DC120. What sold me on it was it rich palette of colors. When I wanted to step up five years later from 1MB to 6MB there was no Kodak products in that range. The closest was a Sony, hence a relationship that led to the purchase of the A7s. Now I believe that the Kodak palette may have lived on in the Leica digital M series.
        My interests in photography span both the technical and artistic. From 2001 to 2014 my focus was art history over photography, developing a number of art related web sites and writing for and about artists and about art movements. In early 2014 I was in a winter auto accident and had reconstructive back surgery. While in the hospital I decided to give digital photography a try. What I soon found was that everything had changed (call me Rip Van Winkle – it’s Okay).
        So being a newbie, so to speak, digital photography and particularly post processing is an extremely complex affair. I find sometimes there’s a strong impulse to cast all the technology aside and just take photos. That’s when the memories of medium format slows me down, causing a more thoughtful approach.
        Is it a crazy idea for someone who already has enough photo stuff to even think about picking up a M9? The qualified answer is no. But maybe there’s a caveat.
        The M9 sensor appears to be only half of the equation. I could put my Zeiss ZM glass on the M9 and that would turn out wonderful images, maybe better than the Sony A7ii. But from reading further, it appears that Leica glass has something else to with the Leica look. And that becomes a search for the Holy Grail. For example, the APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH runs around 10 grand. It is probably a magnificent optic, but with all the correction will it produce that elusive Leica glow?
        Your article has got me thinking. But, I need to wait. Maybe in 2018 I will learn to master all the gymnastics of operating the equipment I already have. If not, maybe then the M9.

        Posted my first photo on 500px. “Greetings from the Cosmos”.
        Merry Christmas.

        • Adam Bonn says:

          Hi Georg,

          Merry Christmas

          I think personally that terms such as ‘Leica look’ and ‘Leica glow’ aren’t real things… also words like organic, filmic aren’t real things either (although organic is my word of choice 🙂 )

          The challenge comes when we try to categorise attribute data.

          What is the nicest shade of red? What’s the best feel good song?

          What’s the most organic picture making machine?

          However, CCD sensors do render differently than CMOS ones. Modern cameras with insane ISO and colossal dynamic range can lead to a devil may care shooting evelope, leaving the photographer to massage the image into something that sparkles in post when shooting in less than ideal conditions.

          Older cameras don’t offer this luxury, the photographer must work with the light in a different way

          This to me, is the attraction of an older camera – a chance to get off the merry-go-round every now and then

          Most cameras are best served by lenses designed to be used with that camera. This is especially true with the Leica, as there isn’t many (any?) other high end lenses really designed for a rangefinder flange distance. (Zeiss of course would be an exception)

          For my own attribute based appraisal… the Leica M8/9, possibly the X-Vario, by all accounts the Sony RX1R and the original Fuji X100 and X-Pro1 are all cameras that can deliver an image that can envoke the emotive response of a photograph. The advantge that M9 has is that it’s actually not much different in terms of features compared to the newest M, whereas the successors of the others all have a great many modern improvements that one needs to be really sure than one doesn’t need in order to be happy with the purchase.

          My name is Adam by the way 🙂

  • Georg Kremer says:

    Sorry, Adam, I’m terrible with names.
    A couple nights ago I took the Deck the Halls tour at Stan Hywet, the estate of F.A.Sieberling, the founder of Goodyear. All shots were at ISO6400 on the Sony A7ii and Zeiss 35/1.4 ZM (at f4 for a little depth of field). All the images came out nicely with DR to spare (flash was not allowed). Then out in the grounds I used a Sony A7Rii with a Nikon 85/1.4 wide open. In both cases -1.3 exposure compensation to keep highlights from blowing. The shots inside required considerable noise reduction. None would be acceptable on the outdoor shots, even in the black of night.
    I guess I can put up with too many bells and whistles. Lloyd Chambers has written alot about the X-trans sensor and what he calls fractal like artifacts. I’m not going to form a judgement about the X-Pros until I have ready all he says (he likes the lens) and have done a lot more study. I’m doing parallel research on the GFX and the possibility of using it with film era medium format lenses. Noted in the case of the GFX it does not have a X-Trans sensor. Chambers likes its DR but complains about moire issues. Leave it to him to find all the hidden potential problems. Maybe it’s like an Easter egg hunt.
    If you would like this discussion thread to stay open going forward, I would be happy to let you know how these projects sort out on my end. I really appreciate your insights. Most productive discussion I’ve had in a while.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      X-trans can be sensitive to the demosaicing tool used and finicky about how it’s sharpened. It took ACR a while to offer a solution comparable to other applications and someone wrote a well meaning article that ALL x-trans images should be sharpened in manor xyz

      These two things did little to help Fuji’s image

      Like most non-propriety solutions, x-trans has pros and cons

      In this day and age, when I want to see how a new camera’s raw is, I just find somewhere giving it away (dpr usually) and see for myself with my own workflow

      I wouldn’t be to too shocked (my hunch: no insider info) if Sony get in the MF game, so it might be an area with more choice

      Again, so free lunch – MF offers more but demands more (bigger cameras, slower lenses)

      If you go MF to use legacy glass, you’ll need one without a leaf shutter

  • Georg says:

    Hi Adam. Yes, I know about the leaf shutter issue. With Hasselblad lenses there is a preview button that allows the lens to remain open and aperture adjusted. With Rollei SLR there is no internal shuttle. Both of those film era systems used Zeiss lenses, the formulas for which didn’t change in over 50 years. Now that I check the new Hasselblad XCD lenses are made by Nittoh in Japan. The MTF charts look so much better, and the lenses so expensive!. So I guess it’s a similar situation to FF mirrorless. It’s a nice idea to try adapters and legacy glass, but it’s kind of a half way measure. The design and manufacturing of lenses has improved quality dramatically in the past 5 to 10 years thanks to computerization. The real deal is to purchase current glass to match with current sensors. Takes it out of my budget. Only pros and rich folk can afford it. (Fujifilm GF lenses are much more affordable – but I can’t find MTFs for them. I look at GFX as an in between system.)
    I’m thinking maybe the best case for my situation is probably the new Nikon D850. I held on to five ZF lenses number of good Nikon brand lenses. I can’t hike with them (bad back), but they are outstanding where the situation works. By stitching and focus stacking you can come close to matching MF.
    Maybe what we are seeing now is that FF has peaked (with the Nikon D850 and Sony A7Rii). Same may be true for APS-C at 24Mpix. It’s probably a confluence of factors, maxing out improvement in optics and image processing. Mirrorless may simply be the last peak in the consumer interest driven by the technological conversion from film to digital. Sure there will be better equipment available down the road, but what we are now in the golden age of digital photography. Might as well enjoy it.

    • Adam Bonn says:

      Hi Georg

      I agree it’s a golden time for tech, I suspect that we’re see innovation around incumbent solutions (the colossal DR of high mega pixel senors will be superseded by organic sensors, the possibilities of electronic shutters will be increased with global shutters) and things will keep getting faster operationally and more connected network wise

      For those not on the cutting edge…. things will simply get cheaper…

      I saw the original Sony A7 in an airport store, with the kit zoom, brand new, for under £800 recently. That would be unthinkable for a FF digital only a few years ago

      I suspect the digital MF market will grow, maybe Sony will join and almost certainly Fuji etc will release new products, this will make the out going bodies a lot cheaper, so the longer you can hold off, the more choice you’ll have

  • Georg says:

    Hi Adam. Yes, there are always new frontiers to explore. It would be nice to have a Dell 8K monitors and I understand that they are already broadcasting in 8K in Japan.
    I hope you’re right about MF. Will definitely be keeping an eye on those developments. I rtead about Fujifilm’s development of organic sensors. pretty interesting stuff. Gives better control of each photo site and better low light capabilities. You’re right. Best to be patient.
    I’m curious about what RAW converter you are using with your Fujifilm images. I understand that processing some images (at higher ISO?) can be tricky.

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