Regular readers of DS may recollect my pseudo M9 review from a few months back, and if you can’t, then feel free to click here and you’ll find the article.
It’s been four months now, and I thought that you might like to know how the M9 and I are getting on?
The flavour of my M9 review was that I’d finally obtained a camera that I’d wanted for quite a while, and under the adage never meet your heroes I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with such an old design of camera nigh on 10 years after it was first launched.
I ended the article with the line
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.
Well four months is plenty of time to get acquainted, finish the honeymoon and settle into the daily routine of married life.
I originally paired my M9P with a 50mm Summicron, and I’ve since been able to big that pairing up with two ‘new’ lens additions. The 35mm F2.4 and the 90mm F2.5 Summarits.
So that’s an M and 35/50/90. Probably one of two de facto trinity choices you can make for the rangefinder only Ms (the other being 28/35 or 50/75)
Before we get onto my thoughts on the gear, I think I should start off by my sharing a Leica experience that’s only vaguely connected to the camera.
I so very nearly called this post Digital Leica on a Budget because basically my outlay has been about what a single M10 costs (only I’ve got an M9, three 6-bit coded lenses, a case and spare battery), equally you can quite easily spend that sort of money on the Sony and some top end lenses, or even the Fuji and some lenses.
Of course if you go the Sony/Fuji route you’ll be getting new gear and faster glass, and more ISO, DR and all that important stuff.
But the fact remains… Person A spends £x on a rig and experiences happiness and person B spends exactly the same on a different rig, and also experiences happiness.
I would personally file this under about the same thing is happening, people buy cameras that they want
How wrong I am!
You see it turns out when you own a Leica, people’s opinion on how you spend your money is something to be shared with you and it’s seldom supportive.
So, I won’t dare suggest I’m doing this on a budget. In fact let me hold both hands up and completely confess that I’m obviously an idiot, spending as much money as you all have on a system, but not a system as technically adroit and versatile as you astute people have selected for yourselves. The happiness and joy you must feel completely trumps mine. I salute you. With Sarcasm.
You see folks, it turns out a Leica conjures up a lot of emotion from others, and not that much of it is good.
But, let’s not get sucked into camera politics. I certainly haven’t. I don’t buy cameras to belong to a tribe or a clan I buy them because I want to use them to take pictures.
The pictures I want to make with my M are basically reportage and documentary in nature.
If I wanted to go aperture large and DOF shallow the whole time, I can’t think of a camera that I’d like to use less than a (rangefinder only) M.
I like shallow DOF, but that’s what my Fujis can be used for, with EVFs, and focus peaking and even AF and face detect.
No, the Leica rig I’ve ended with up with is basically what it says on the cliche tin, small, compact and FF and used for capturing scenes, not snippets of scenes.
The die hard Leica folk would be ambivalent at best with my Summarit lens choices, and the non-Leica folk just struggle to understand why I bought any of it in the first place.
Living on outlier island, population: just me, or so it seems…
And you know what? I really like living there 🙂
Once I’d started to gel with the M I knew it would only be a matter of time until I wanted more lens options.
Originally I thought that I’d end up with a 35mm Summicron to accompany the 50. But to be honest I just ended up getting bogged down in the myriad of 35 ‘cron variants and how they were all judged on things like ‘bokeh’ and what the supplied lens hood was like. They also weren’t cheap.
As often seems to happen in life, a nearly new 35 F2.4 Summarit became available at just the time I was giving up on finding a ‘cron that I was prepared to pay for and I decided that I’d much rather save some £100s than have an extra 1/2 stop.
The 90 I was in no hurry for, but an ex-demo 90 F2.5 Summarit came along, technically brand new with the full warranty and for Fuji glass money, so I decided that a 90 ‘rit was probably the smarter choice, being lighter and slightly more forgiving with finding focus.
If you’re detecting an undercurrent of pleasure in my tale of GAS, then you’re spot on. I’m very happy with my choices.
Ironically the pick of the bunch is probably the 90. It draws like the 50 ‘cron, is very sharp and the build quality and tactile stuff is also on par with my 50. The irony? It’s not a FL that I’ll use a great deal of the time.
The (newer design) 35 Summarit shows some cost reduction compared to the other two, the focus and aperture rings don’t feel as nice, but hey-ho you at least get the leather pouch and the hood in the box (compared to the older Summarits which come with a non-leather pouch and the hood is an optional extra). Frankly I’d rather a nicer aperture ring than a real leather pouch, but I’ve no complaints with the IQ and the aperture ring isn’t bad per se (a bit better than a Fuji XF35 F1.4 in fact) just not as nice as my M 50 and 90 lenses.
So, should we see some pictures with my cheap (sic) yet overpriced Leica tat?
The previous article was populated entirely with 50 ‘cron shots, so that seems a good place to pick up from.
Even on FF, 50mm and F2 is never going to obliterate the background… The busy background also means busy bokeh. But that said the subject is isolated well enough, and the image has a decent amount of ‘bite’ to it.
As legendary as the 50 ‘cron is (and it is) – it’s not a lens entirely devoid of annoyance and issue.
The annoyance is that there is no supplied lens hood, the modern version of this lens features a telescopic hood that slides out and clicks into place. Personally I don’t feel this is a well implemented solution, and as I slide it back and forth I kinda feel like a male Jewish teenager wondering what could of been.
Annoyances aside, the issue with the 50 ‘cron is the propensity for flare.
Catch the right light in the wrong way, and there’s more flares than the 70s, Disco Stu says recolect your pre-digital high school photography teacher’s advice about having the sun behind you and my modern day advice is be careful with contre-jou style shots.
Above: A bit of flare can help an image.
Above: A bit to much flare loses it’s flair.
But overall I like the 50. Very much. It’s a solid performer and I enjoy shooting with it.
This was parked up in a local garage. In Portugal. The let me come on in and photograph it.
After two months of only having the 50mm I got the 35 and 90. So let’s start off with the 35.
35mm F2.4 Summarit
And I have to say that I’m enjoying the 35mm far more than I thought I would, and I also have to say I’m not 100% sure why…. I also own the Fuji XF23 F1.4 (35mm equivalent on APSC), and that’s a killer lens, but I’m somehow more pleased with using a true 35mm. There’s something just a little different to the look… I suspect it’s the reduction in field curvature on the longer optic.
Wide open. Yeah… yeah if I’d spent another £1500-2000 on the F1.4 one then the background could be some more blurry. Meh.
Like I said all those words ago… I didn’t want an M to do the whole shallow DOF thing… I like shallow DOF. Very much. But sometimes pictures work better when there’s some background and context. Honest. Plus with a smaller aperture that whole zone focusing thing really gets easier 🙂
As ever with an M9 (more so an M8, a little less so an M240) you’ll need to watch the ISO. Sometimes shots have to be clean, other times you can get away with a bit of noise. I took all three lenses to London that day, I’m not sure I even mounted the other two.
Not only has the 35mm surprised me by how much I’m enjoying the FL, the M9 has surprised me with how much I’m enjoying black and white photography.
When it comes to the 35mm, I’ve stopped caring how clicky the aperture ring is or isn’t, and instead I’ve just been enjoying taking pictures with it. I think that’s a good sign.
So that just leaves the 90mm.
90mm F2.5 Summarit
As I wrote earlier, in a strange way the 90 ‘rit is almost the star of the show. The cheapest of the three M lenses I own, yet it gives away nothing to the 50 ‘cron in terms of IQ, doesn’t flare like the ‘cron nor (because it’s an £80 optional extra) is the hood a bit naff. The tactile feely stuff is nicer than the 35 ‘rit and overall there’s nothing I can really find to criticise about it. Oh hang on… it’s a 90, it’s that FL that you seldom need outside of portraiture.
A freezing cold England. A freshly unboxed new lens. I found a swan. Decent subject isolation, and a nice transition to the OOF areas. My only complaint was how cold my fingers got that day.
At a max aperture of F2.5, you’re not going to enjoy Sony or Canon 85mm or even Fuji 56mm levels of subject isolation. But I don’t feel that’s a show stopper and for the days it is, I have a Fuji XF56 F1.2 anyway.
Back home in Portugal and the cat became the model. She looks thrilled about it doesn’t she?
After the swan and cat cliche-gate, I present random Portuguese horse (or Pony maybe? I dunno!) as a 90mm shot.
Stopping the 90 down a bit and being quite far away makes for a different usage case than up close and wide open.
So there we have it,
Leica on a budget erm I mean I promise to flagellate myself daily for such puerile acquisitions from such a fake deity.
I couldn’t have the M9 as my only camera. I (no doubt like you) have need of the performance and features of a far more modern camera.
I still shoot my Fujis, at first the Leica was all new and exciting, I couldn’t put it down. But now the honeymoon is over I find myself deciding on what camera I want to use that day.
It’s certainly not Leica day everyday.
But that I want days off of the merry-go-round rhetoric I sprouted way back in the first M9 post still holds very true.
You see with the M9, it’s really just you and what you do at the time of capture. There’s no real driver aids to help you get focus and exposure, certainly nothing like a WYSIWYG EVF or even a live histogram. The LCD is low res and chimping with it is a monkey’s game. The fabled zone focusing marks on the lenses are at best aimed at film users, and not really a way to ensure critical focus at anything under mid to high aperture numbers.
The ISO might not be as bad as they say… but it isn’t great either. If I remember correctly, DxO claims about 8 stops of DR at base. With the M9 you’ll need to use your nous to operate within a narrow range, with little in the way of assistance from the camera and compared to modern offerings little scope for recovery afterwards.
The art of photography becomes all about what you do at the point of capture. It doesn’t even record the aperture value you used. You live in the moment of setting up the shot, then afterwards you either take profit from the fruits of your labour or you find you’ve a bad apple.
But after a while, you start to develop your Leica technique. Muscle memory pre-focuses the lens, because it turns out that you often shoot things that are (say) 3 meters away. You start to know what SS works best in which types of lighting.
The camera demands you forge a connection with it, or else you’ll simply become despondent with it.
This missive is in no way shape or form is designed to flip the Leica nay-sayers.
You’ll know if you want one or not.
And if you do… well seeing as we now live in a world of £2000 Fujis and £3000+ Sonys, you might find that compared to the current crop of highstreet brands, a yesteryear red dot camera isn’t quite the colossal capital expenditure that it once was.
Of course, as I’m sure will get fed back to me in the inevitable comments, it’s an apples and oranges comparison.
A secondhand M9 is not a brand new Sony A7r2 (even if they cost about the same), an ex-demo 90mm Summarit is not a brand new Fuji XF56 (even if they cost about the same)
But equally a £1 is a £1 is a £1. If you want to spend your pounds on apples, rather than oranges. Then I suggest you do so.
I did and for certain days, and certain situations I can’t remember a time when I enjoyed myself this much.
But full disclosure…. I’ve a paid gig tomorrow, and it’s not the M9 that’ll be accompanying me…. aw screw it, there’s room in the bag, I might take it along, you never know.