#781. The Leica M9 Journey: Class, Crass or Fast Glass – No One Rides for Free

#781. The Leica M9 Journey: Class, Crass or Fast Glass – No One Rides for Free

I thought it was high time that I continued my tale of Leica M9 ownership…

 

If I jumped from a bridge, would you follow?

 

It’s been nearly a year now (where has this expletive deleted year gone?!) since I took the plunge and ponied up Sony A7Rii money for something that in functionality terms was akin to my late father’s Pentax K1000 (which I’ve had since I was 15)

 

The Thousand Year Stare

 

However modern and advanced cameras have become, I personally try to remind myself that we’re not doing anything new with them, simply walking the path that has been walked before

 

My previous Dear Susan featured tales on my acquisition (with hopefully self explanatory titles), can be read on the following links

 

Never Meet Your Heroes?  ¦  The M9 Dream Four Months On  ¦  Further Adventures in La La Land

 

Then the fog rolled in from the sea..

 

To save me completely eroding your tolerance to foggy verbosity, or TL:DR (thanks Paul) before getting into this latest instalment, my most recent article ended with

 

And that’s really the point of this article, the continuation of my M9 story isn’t about the camera at all. It’s about shooting pictures, feeling compelled to pick something up and use it, to look to yourself for the solutions to the challenges of the shot.

 

I really love what you’ve done with the place, Ikea?

 

Great new cameras arrive each year, that doesn’t suddenly make ruins of the old ones

 

In many ways a year is a long time for a camera, one year after getting my first Fujiflim X-Pro1, I’d long since flipped it for an X-T1. A year after getting the X-Pro2, I supplemented it with another X-Pro1, because I missed the look of the files that the original X-Trans sensor produces…

 

…..if one’s pockets were bottomless, and one’s desire for new gear was completely avarice, then a new all singing, all dancing camera a year would be easily doable.

 

Could I interest sir in a newer car?

 

But I’ve more or less spent the entire year with the M9. Yes. I’m surprised too.

 

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

 

Although I’ve had my face pressed up against the sweet Leica store window a few times (until the price of a 50mm ASPH Summilux comes a little too sharply into focus), I haven’t seriously considered adding glass or upgrading to the M10.

 

I’ve found myself  content with my choice of M9p, 50 ‘cron and 35 and 90 Summarits. If you recall… I also added a 7Artisans 50mm F1.1, which secondhand cost about as much as it does to fill the tank of a BMW two and a half times (according to google, I don’t own a car)

 

A Lazy Day

 

No, all I’ve really done with the Leica is take pictures with it… I haven’t found myself online bitching about it’s lack of second card slot, lack of 4k video or woeful auto focus  😉  I haven’t been pounding the Facebook groups and forums demanding additional features via firmware or demanding lens configurations that don’t exist.

 

I’ve just been pointing it at things and pressing the shutter. Shame on me, I mean how lazy is that?

 

Youth and Opulence

 

The Class

 

For this past year, the M9 has basically just done it’s job of taking pictures, leaving me with nothing to worry about except focus, exposure and timing. This is good, those things keep my brain pretty busy without the need to occupy my time with the menu settings that automate those things for me.

 

Fear, Love and Loathing

 

On paper, the M9 is woeful. 8 stops of DR and manual focus only. Out in the field it’s actually quite surprising just how often that that’s enough.

 

Peace and Quiet

 

My cheap-ass Summarit lenses really do an admirable job and the ‘cron is a solid performer.

 

Many of the accolades that make an M an M are now shared by many other cameras… size, discretion and IQ, but this doesn’t suddenly mean that the M can’t do those things any more.

 

Cold and Happy

 

To put my money where my mouth was I took the M (and only the M) on holiday… The first vacation I’d ever been on with my 6 year old daughter I really wanted keeper snaps, I needed a camera I could take anywhere, in any light and come home with images…

 

…and you know what?

 

Happy in Solitude

 

The M9 managed it. I got what I wanted with it… sure MUCH care was taken with it on the beach, sure it was kept away from the inevitable rain shower, in either scenario only taken out for the shots I wanted. But still, there was no barrier to using it.

 

In fact I was reminded of childhood memories of my dear Dad and that K1000, which after all wasn’t weather sealed, yet got used in many places with the necessary care and attention.

 

Vigo Street Scenes

 

The Crass

 

For reasons that it’s not appropriate to go into here, I decided that a certain someone in the peripheral of my life need not have advertised to her that I owned a Leica (more none of her fucking business rather than any wish to be deceitful)

 

Vacation Destination

 

This came to head when on the holiday a friendly chap came up to us to comment hey nice Leica, which one is it?

 

I’ve since been asked is that the monochrom as well.

 

This never happened with the Fujis and I’m not sure I like it (ok I am sure and I don’t.)

 

City Horse

 

Fast Glass

 

Swing

 

The 7artisans has been a bit of a revelation to be honest… It stayed on the camera waaaaay longer than I thought it would, as FF and F1.1 is quite an addictive look after all those years shooting APSC Fujifilm. Sure Fujifilm’s XF56 is a far better optic, but 50mm on FF means you don’t have to cross the street to get the framing you want  🙂

 

Impatience

 

The F1.1 lens is a big score for the M9 as it really helped remove the one true barrier to using the Leica as I would my modern cameras… nigh on two more stops than the ‘cron means that I can take the M9 to places and not have to employ 1950s era camera shutter speeds

 

…and into the Sea

 

I’m not sure I really want to recommend the 7artisans… if you’ve got the cash buy the Noctilux or the Summilux – sincerely go for it, to rich for you? Then buy one of the fast fifties from Zeiss or Voigtländer. My HUNCH is that any of these will give you nicer IQ…..

 

End of the Night

 

But I’m very much on a budget and the price I paid for my secondhand 7artisans was too low to pass over. It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s surprisingly well made with a well damped focus ring (makes the 35mm 2.4 Summarit feel like shit frankly) and a clucking annoying clickless aperture ring. The Blue Peter double sided sticky tape, stick on focus tab is a bit naff (it’s still there though) but at least it HAS a focus tab (I’m looking at you £1900 Summicron). The native barrel distortion could be worse (or indeed better if you’re a glass half empty sorta person) and it vignettes quite badly wide open.

 

End of the Day

 

The pièce de résistance of the 7artisans is that you can adjust the focus of the lens to be aligned with your rangefinder (Leica you need to copy this) which is a far better solution than shipping all of your stuff over to Wetzlar and waiting for ages to get it all back.

 

Flare is readily achievable (just like on the ‘cron), you can get colour shifts at the corners (which you won’t on a ‘cron) and the resultant images certainly do not have that bite that you’d normally expect with a CCD sensor camera and genuine Leica optic…. equally though it’s very fast, made with brass and brand new costs Fujifilm XF35 F2WR money… you pays your pennies, you makes your choices.

 

Yup, the Leica M9 journey: class, crass or fast glass, it’s not a free trip, but it’s one I’m continuing to enjoy. A lot. Eye of the beholder it may be… but there’s still something to be said for the look of a FF CCD image, compared to what I personally find to be a more ethereal look from most modern CMOS cameras.

 

Beach Life

 

I sincerely hope that those in internet land end up with the camera that they so desperately seem to need with the AF, the video, the size, the shape, the lens options, the touchscreen, the wifi, the quadruple SD card slots that aren’t XQD. I hope this camera is syndicated across all of the brands, so that all the Fuluminicanony folks are happy. I sincerely hope that those who know what they truly need and can separate that from what’s only nice to have, are able to make an informed purchase from the plethora of highly advanced options that are available to them.

 

Lost in Their Own Worlds

 

But for me… well contrary to Leica fanboi rhetoric – less is actually less, it really is. But being frugal can have its own rewards.

 

(Yes, it’s not lost on me that the M10P has wifi, a clip on EVF, a phone app and a touchscreen, so I really am living in all kinds of yesteryear here)

 

Close the Door and Step Outside

 

I’m sure sooner or later my M9 will have some sort of problem, and I’ll deeply lament the cost of fix or replacement….

 

….But let’s not jinx it, let’s enjoy the moment.

 

Peer Pressure

 

All images shot with the Leica M9P using a combination of the 35/2.4 Summarit, the 50 Summicron, the 90/2.5 Summarit and an awful lot of these are the 7Artisans 50/1.1

 

If you’ll pardon my indulgence and are inclined to do so, you can see more of my images on my instagram

 


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27 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron November 01, 2018

    If you feel conspicuous with it, Adrian, you could try putting a square of black ducting tape over the red dot.
    Great photos – and I agree with your sentiments, entirely.
    I also loved the captions on the photos – indicators of a highly imaginative mind! 🙂 No doubt that plays as much of a role as the camera!

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 01, 2018

      Thank you very much Pete.

      Mine’s the MP so it doesn’t have the red dot, and I’ve taped over the script at the top, but some people just know what it is

  2. Avatar
    philberphoto November 01, 2018

    Adam, I wonder what is more enjoyable in your post, the storytelling or the images. You make a compelling case for the M9, for you (YMMV)! Your images do have that CCD je-ne-sais-quoi that pulls heart-and-wallet strings of many among us (hear that, Pascal?), but it goes beyond that. The M9-and-you have a voice. A style. Something to say. It all looks effortless, and beautiful, and meaningful, and charming. If that is not enough, I wonder what will ever be. And who really cares about high ISOs and the rest, when you are one with you camera and your subject?
    This post is beyond congrats. It is “I’m really happy for you!”. And for me, too as a reader.

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 01, 2018

      Thank you very much indeed Philippe,

      I think the limitations of the M play to the photos, the need to use a deeper DOF and therefore use what’s in the background for example

      And, as you say, the CCD has quite a signature look to it, which I think draws the eye to pictures

      My life gives me a lot of time to shoot, which really helps in finding things to point the camera at

      Cheers

  3. Avatar
    Dallas Thomas November 01, 2018

    Adam a very enjoyable article and some great shots, I particularly loved As the fog rolled in. Agree we sometimes get to worried about our gear and should just get out and use what we have.

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 01, 2018

      Thank you very much Dallas,

      I think if we’re happy with our rig then there’s no need to make changes, despite what marketing tells us!

  4. Avatar
    Ken Heskin November 01, 2018

    I love my M9 and had the sensor replaced under warranty 12 months ago. I use a Voightlander 35 f1.4 and a Russian Jupiter 50 f1.8 lens. I cannot match the colours and rendering that the M9 produces with any other camera. I thinknit will remain with me until it falls apart.

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 01, 2018

      I think I feel the same way about mine as well Ken

  5. Avatar
    Dave Jenkins November 02, 2018

    “Forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention. It obliges you to make a kind of progress that you can’t even imagine in advance.”
    — Picasso

    “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
    — Orson Welles

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 02, 2018

      🙂

      I think for me wanting it too work and that it’s me that has to deliver is the driving force

  6. Avatar
    Mark November 02, 2018

    I’m loving my m9. A number of good lenses from 60s onwards covering28mm to 135mm. I have slowed my photography down and started looking around me for opportunities. It’s the pleasure I get from using a digital rangefinder that makes it the right camera for me.
    I couldn’t justify the price over the Fuji Xs that I used to own. For me it just feels right

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 02, 2018

      Thanks Mark, it sounds like you’re also in a very happy place with your system, and that happiness is not a spec sheet.

  7. Avatar
    Justin Honold November 02, 2018

    “I’ve just been pointing it at things and pressing the shutter.”

    You got it. Love the narrative and the photos!

  8. Avatar
    NMc November 02, 2018

    Adam
    These photos are giving me pangs of ‘wanderlust’, you make it look all so un-destination, much better than the tourism promotion for sure. I guess that is the advantage of living there. Thanks even though it makes me feel a bit – um- well I am not sure, but I bet the Germans have a word for it.
    Noel

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 02, 2018

      Hi Noel,

      Thank you very much.

      I’ve a bit tired of taking the tourist snaps (well most of the time, it is a stunning view) and like more the people in context with the place

      Cheers
      Adam

  9. Avatar
    Steve Mallett November 02, 2018

    Adam, some lovely images and stories to boot. I’ve never used a rangefinder much less a Leica but there has been an itch developing – and it just got worse! The pics have a 3dness about them that draws me in; I keep looking. That’s a serious achievement these days.

    Steve

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 02, 2018

      Thanks very much Steve,

      A lot of that 3d will simply be 50mm F1 on FF (you’d need about 25mm and F0.50 to get that on M43, he said mansplainingly :-D)

      But I find the M9 sensor to give a bite that I don’t get straight out of the box from my other cameras… it’s like jacking the clarity slider up, but without the negative effects of doing that 🙂

      The rangefinder part is quite fun/colossal pain in the arse (delete as applicable depending on what you’re shooting) but after a while I (maybe everyone?) starts to get their way of using it, for me I look for things that are easy to align in a rangefinder, sometimes that’s not the bit I want in focus, for example on the horse I focused on it’s leg because that was an easy thing to align in the VF and it’s leg was about in line with its head, so leg in focus = head in focus. Personally I found this took a little while to get into, as on an AF camera you just point at what you want to be in focus. On the range finder you kinda get au fait with DOF as well, as the VF doesn’t tell you it.

      I know I haven’t sold it very well, but I assure you its all warm fuzzies when the picture comes out good!!

  10. Avatar
    PaulB November 03, 2018

    Adam

    I am not surprised that you have had your M9 for a year. This camera takes root in your soul.

    In the past 3 years several cameras and lenses have come and gone from my collection. But the M9 remains, and it is still my preferred tool.

    Concerning the 7Artisans lens. I know which images I think you used this lens for and they are truly something. I don’t think the image could be better because of this or that. I just enjoy them. And some, I wish were mine. Optical perfection does not always make “better” images. Vision and personality does. And you have both.

    Finally, I meet the nicest people because I am using a Leica. I have been asked about my Leica a few times when I have been out with it. Usually the person is also a Leica user, or someone interested in the Leica experience. In my case the experience has always been positive. People that don’t recognize the camera, or or have have a negative opinion of it because of the “price” usually don’t bother to ask. Though, family, friends, and thieves are another story.

    PaulB

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 03, 2018

      Thank you very much Paul,

      Well I wanted an M9 for three long years before getting it which I think helps us bond, it really was a case of “It will be mine. Oh yes” (if you get the Wayne’s World reference…)

      The 7artisans (just like all the other lenses) plays to certain things better than others… the OOF areas can be quite gnarly (you can always eff about in LR/etc with brushing different bits lighter or darker) but it does a decent enough job (even if it cost more) and I’m not unhappy with it.

      I’ve not had any problem with the people that have spoken to me about the camera, amazingly I didn’t even have a problem with the person standing next to me when it was revealed I had a Leica (maybe she’d figured it out already, it’s not like I’d never mentioned it on the internet or never posted tagged pictures from it on IG/Flickr!)

      The only (admittedly slight) negativity I’ve had about ownership have been from fellow tog friends, who have all spent similar levels of hard earned on their own systems, but can’t get their heads round how little it does for the cash… yet without exception all immediately ask to borrow it 😀

      One year with me has trebled the shutter count it had in it’s previous five years of existence, so I’d like to think that it’s as happy with me as I am with it

      Thanks again for the very kind words about my pictures.

      Adam

  11. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo November 03, 2018

    Adam,
    Your photos illustrate well that it’s the eye – and mind – of the photographer, not the camera, that counts!

    Of course, the equipment must be adequate for the subjects…
    And, as good tools do, work as an extension of the hands – as the M9 seems to do for you.

    ( Personally, in my film days, I always preferred a rangefinder – except when close-ups needed an SLR.)

    And then, when the sensor gives that extra satisfaction without a huge PP effort…!

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 03, 2018

      Thank very much Kristian,

      It’s actually annoying how often I find I want to shoot at <1m with it. Before I got it I was aware that most of the glass offer a 'close' (sic) focusing distance of 0.7-1m and I thought "..and? So what" but it catches me out quite a lot

      The 7artisans can necessitate some work in PP, but the native glass (and all being well with exposure…) can frequently be almost a SOOC RAW camera!

  12. Avatar
    Patrizia November 04, 2018

    Hi Adam got the opportunity to read your article :
    great narrative , interesting contents, written with your heart and soul.
    Your love affair with your M9 is the story of someone who wants to express in an authentically way his personality, mood and emotions.
    Your pictures speak about reality, are frugal but sic et simpliciter beautiful and with a communicative power, capture scraps of life and people in them are kind of ethereal.
    Although your M9 is woeful for some technical aspects, it’s still a kind friend for you by letting you enjoy your daily shooting.
    The passion deployed on your pictures is more than enough to justify your choice to pick this camera 🙂
    About the pictures I like mostly “End of the day” :
    crispy aspect, stunning colors,outstanding silhouette capture,not prople overlapping ( that is great ), stillness …and pretty sharp.
    At the end I can say:
    Adam continue to walk on this path, don’t be commercial , make yourself unique and your voice out of the crowd being a storyteller that validate just you.

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 04, 2018

      Thank you very much Patrizia,

      These are lovely things to tell me. I think I have a pretty standard way of composition, but like how some dishes are always nice to eat, I believe that some ways to work with the photos are timeless.

      Thanks again
      Adam

  13. Avatar
    Patrizia November 04, 2018

    Hi Adam got the opportunity to read your article:
    great narrative , interesting contents, written with your heart and soul.
    Your charming love affair with your M9 is the story of someone who wants to express in authentic way his personality, mood and emotions.
    Your pictures speak about reality, are frugal, but sic et simpliciter beautiful, with a communicative appeal, capture scraps of life and people in them are kind of ethereal.
    Although your M9 is woeful for some technical aspects, it’s still a kind friend for you by letting you enjoy your daily shooting.
    The passion deployed on your pictures is more than enough to justify your choice to pick this camera.
    About the pictures I like mostly “End of the day”: crispy aspect, stunning colors, outstanding silhouette capture, not people overlapping ( that is great ), stillness …and pretty sharp.
    At the end I can say:
    Adam continue to walk on this path, don’t be commercial, make yourself unique and your voice out of the crowd being a storyteller that validate just You.

    “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.”
    — Robert Frank

  14. Avatar
    pascaljappy November 05, 2018

    Hi Adam, I’m back in town and joyfully discovering what has been posted to DS in my absence. Thanks for that fabulous update with far to many great photographs to name. I am stunned by the 7Artisan rendering. Impatience and … into the sea, wow ! Kertesz would have agreed with those. What stunning images.

    It’s pretty obvious to me that gentle deprivation is a tremedous help to creativity. You left on holiday with just the Leica. I used just one lens for all of mine. The results speak for themselves. Less time wasted on unimportant consideration mean more time and mindshare devoted to image making and contemplation. Maybe psychology will back me up someday 😉

    BTW, great Robert Frank quote from Patrizia ! The humanity of the moment … do they have a custom button for that, yet ?

    • Avatar
      Adam Bonn November 05, 2018

      Thank you so much Pascal

      The 7artisans doesn’t reward s/he who pixels peeps, which makes it even more charming in my book 🙂

      A lot of the time I’m a little bit too in love with the CCD sensor on my M to want to use a different camera.

      I look forward to seeing photos from your trip. (I’m about to go to England for 9 days)

      I’d like to think that everyone has a custom button for the humanity of the moment but no camera ever can 🙂

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