Hands-On At The Leica M9 Press Intro

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The new 18-megapixel, full-frame Leica M9 digital rangefinder There have been rumors of a new Leica M-Series camera for a while. And appropriately, on 9/9/09, those rumors became reality. The Leica M9 is here. I made my way uptown in NYC to check out the new Leica. As an owner of the Leica M8, I like the direction Leica has taken with the M9 – especially the full frame sensor. The new camera is available in two finishes: a standard black and an all-new version finished in steel grey. I’m digging the steel grey.

The Leica M9 rangefinder camera packs a full-frame (23.9 x 35.8mm) 35mm sensor into a body that is roughly the same size as the M8. The 5212 x 3472 pixel CCD sensor (designed by Kodak specifically for this camera) produces 18-megapixel DNG (RAW) files. You can also choose JPEG compression or RAW+JPEG as well as an uncompressed or compressed DNG files. The full-frame sensor means Leica M lenses mounted to the M9 will have the same angle of view as they would on an M-rangefinder 35mm film camera. This is a big accomplishment and should mean better image quality as well as a wider angle-of-view. They also redesigned the M9′s sensor cover to handle the UV/ infrared red problem, eliminating the special UV/IR filters the M8 requires.

The new Leica M9 full-frame digital rangefinder at the press intro in New York City

The new M9 is a positive move forward for the Leica M-Series. Right away, I noticed the new ISO button, which replaces the Protect button on the back of the M8 (I never used that button, anyway). Holding down the ISO button brings up the ISO menu and the scroll wheel on the back of the camera changes the sensitivity. The sensitivity range is ISO 80 to ISO 2500. I’m curious to see how the camera handles noise at higher ISO settings. I did shoot a few frames at ISO 2500 at the event and they looked pretty good on the LCD. But it’s not really possible to judge image quality on the camera’s LCD screen. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a camera for review soon so we can really see what the image quality is like.

The battery/shots remaining LED display is gone on the top of the camera but that and other information is easily accessible by pressing the “info” button in the back. This cleans up the top of the camera, keeping the design simple.

Key Leica M9 features and specs:

  • 18-megapixel full-frame sensor
  • ISO 80 to 2500 sensitivity range
  • 1/180th second flash sync
  • New sensor cover correctly filters infrared light
  • No moiré filter for sharper images
  • Simplified menu and controls
  • Snapshot mode
  • Electronic lens recognition and in-camera vignette correction
  • All-metal magnesium body
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software is included

The shutter speed tops out at 1/4000th second with a flash synch speed of 1/180th second. I know the M8 goes to 1/8000 second, but that’s not something that would stop me from wanting an M9. How often do you need a 1/8000th of a second shutter speed, anyway? Pressing down on the shutter is nice; there’s a really quiet click (similar to the M7) followed by an equally quiet shutter cock. The shutter also has two extra modes: a “discrete” mode when you need to be extra quiet, and a “soft release” mode. In the discrete mode, when you press and hold down the shutter release it silently clicks once and refrains from cocking the shutter until you release the button. In the “soft release “mode, slight pressure on the shutter release button will fire the camera. This is good when handholding long exposures or when you need extreme steadiness.

Leica M9 at the press intro event Leica M9 at the press intro event
Rear view of the Leica M9 at the press intro event Top view of the Leica M9 at the press intro event
Compare to the Leica M9 to the M8

Another new feature is the blinking “clipping warning” available in the menu. The clipping warning shows you areas of an image that are overexposed. I use it sometimes on my Canon camera and other manufacturers offer the same feature, so it’s nice to see Leica including it on the M9. The camera also ships with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom instead of Capture One Pro, which came with the M8. I use Lightroom and it’s got a much bigger marketshare than Capture One, so I think this was a good choice by Leica.

Overall, the Leica M9 is a better camera than the M8. For me, the M9′s main selling points are the full frame 24 x 36mm sensor, the quiet shutter and the control placement – particularly the ISO button. The price wasn’t listed in the press release, but rumor has it the M9 body will retail for around $6,900, about $1000 more than the M8 body. Is it worth it? I would have to say, yes. The M9 is definitely not for all photographers, but as the most compact full-frame digital camera system available, it sets a new high standard and doesn’t really have any competition.

Leica M9 Digital Rangefinder Press Release >>

Leica M9 Digital Rangefinder Specs >>

Photos from the event are ©Bob Scott. Bob Scott is a Manhattan commercial photographer. He also happens to own a Leica M8 so we thought he’d be great to cover the M9 announcement. You can see his work at bobscottnyc.com

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All Leica Camera User Reviews
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Leica Web Site

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